Not so very long ago (1965 to 1972) you had to do two years of National Service with the Army in Australia if you were a male of 20-years old. Three years of service then followed this in the Army Reserve. Over 800,000 men registered for National Service. Over 63,000 men were conscripted and up to 19,000 served in Vietnam. And really, none of these men wanted to be there. To be conscripted and taken away from your life just as it was starting was a huge wrench – being away from family and friends – doing things that you would never want to do. Interviews with the men who went through this process show that there were some significant side effects, even through all the hardship and heartache. Lifelong friendships were made, and a wide range of skills learned. People who were thrown together from all walks of life had to make the best of the situation.
Playing team sports is often the same kind of vibe, albeit in a very different way. Although it is completely voluntary to join in, there will be days you don’t want to be out on a muddy field in the pouring rain and gale-force winds, miles from home, or getting injured – and there’ll be people you just don’t gel with on the team. But, like National Service, team sports build qualities like resilience, leadership, patience, consideration, determination, and other important life skills. A sense of purpose and timekeeping (turning up for training sessions and away matches with other teams) are considered “soft skills” but are vital in everyday life.
One of the more obvious, but less prominent benefits of playing sport is getting into shape, keeping fit, and making yourself do physical activity even when you don’t feel 100%. The physical benefits of hard work from playing sports are reflected in better health and social skills – but sports teach leadership as well. You don’t have to go to Harvard Business School or take expensive executive education programs like an MBA (Master of Business Administration) or a leadership training development programme to become an outstanding leader. The business world is littered with senior executives who have never done a development programme or been involved with any corporate organisational culture. Practical experience, behavioural change and making mistakes has developed their leadership skills, over the years.
If you think of the Kerry Packer’s, the John Ilhan’s – and even the Rupert Murdoch’s of the Australian business scene, none had any formal leadership development training. Kerry Packer, of course, came from a sporting background. This helped him in launching his World Series Cricket venture (which later became highly controversial for many reasons). Greg Norman, the golfer – Cameron Ling and Luke Darcy, from the AFL, along with Abbie Holmes from the AFLW – the swimmer Hayley Lewis – rugby star John Eales, and Ironman legend Guy Leech – have all gone on to have highly successful business careers. In fact, John Eales founded a leadership development company, Mettle. It’s no coincidence that many top athletes, from many fields of sport, have built their reputations in leadership and teambuilding.
Creating and managing a high performance team is the secret to many entrepreneurial success stories. One of the most well-known is Richard Branson’s Virgin empire. In books and interviews, his mantra has always been to build a strong team around an idea and to employ people cleverer than yourself, all with different and contrasting skill sets. Team members in such high performance teams bounce off of each other and create a specific culture that is unique to them and enhanced by clear communication, defined roles, and clarity and candour. The leading organisations, not just in Australia, but around the world know that building groups of people into formidable performing teams multiply the effects of the individuals involved many-fold.
An outstanding example of a type of business where different team players bring something unique to the table is in the field of property finance and various property management services. Within property estate management, there are several distinct layers. Residential property management is completely different to commercial property management. Both have entirely separate issues. For example, at the moment, commercial property is struggling because of the COVID-19 situation. Office spaces are not being used, and shops, restaurants, bars, and other retail premises are being given up because the owners are struggling to make profits.
The residential sector is the complete opposite. Here house prices are climbing rapidly outside of city centres because people want to buy more comfortable, spacious homes from which to work. The COVID crisis has woken people up to the idea of them not needing to commute, or to “live” in an office. Managing these two separate sides of what is, essentially, the same business, means property managers have to recruit a diverse management team to oversee their rental properties and keep their property owners and property investors happy in differing scenarios.
Real estate investment is a splendid example of the complexities of teamwork and leadership. Another is in plant hire. This is the rental of building and construction equipment for site work where such equipment is too expensive to buy for occasional use, or where it is a specialised piece of equipment that would not normally be needed. Hire companies need a team with knowledge of the types of job the plant will be used for so the teams can advise architects, builders, engineers and even DIY homeowners on the best equipment for a particular task.
Crane and forklift hire companies, for instance, need knowledge of, not just the height of the building or the footprint of the site they are hiring out their cranes to – but they also need knowledge of highway codes, building regulations, health and safety assessments, operational certifications to use the equipment, first aid and emergency provision, and logistics and transportation expertise. In other words, you can’t just walk in off the street and hire a crane. The teams need to distinguish between wet crane hire, mobile crane hire, mini crawler cranes, Lift cranes and a crane hire company will have encyclopaedic knowledge within the team as to which crane best suits the particular task at hand. Again, this is a perfect example of good leadership and team building in action.
So, participating in team sports can help to build some important real-life skills. Communication, being a team player and leadership skills are all essential in our day to day lives, so why not practice these skills on the field? You are sure to see progress.