The Six "Ups" to Success in Your Career After Sports

Successful people have a way of making things look easy. This ease is on display every day in sports for all to see.

Successful athletes make it look so easy. A no-look pass on the basketball court, the outfielder who seems to effortlessly track down a long fly ball in the gap, the tennis player who seems to anticipate their opponent’s shot, and hits a winner down the line. How do they do it? How can they play at that level with such ease and consistency?

When you ask athletes about this, they typically mention two key components. The first is some athletic ability, eye hand coordination, speed and much more. The second, and quite frankly the difference maker, is the process they have followed to get to the elite level. That process, if religiously followed, can be the secret to your success as a player and in your career after your playing days end.

This same ease is on display every day in business. The only difference is it is typically not on display for everyone to see. Successful business executives follow the same process as successful athletes. As an athlete, your road to success in business (or another career) is dependent on the same things that made you successful in your sports career. The only difference is, it is often hard to see how the process works in an area where you don’t have the comfort level you had as an elite athlete.

After many years of observing successful athletes and business executives, and after practicing this myself, I have developed the following guide. The “Ups Process,” is a framework for both athletes and business executives alike. It is easy to follow, but it takes discipline and a lifelong commitment to maintain elite status.

The “Six Ups Process” to Success

No. 1: Fess Up!

The first step to a successful career is to know yourself. We all know that if someone asks you to describe yourself you could give a fair assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. That’s not what I am talking about.

I am talking about KNOWING YOURSELF!

What are your real strengths and weaknesses? What is your personality type? In what type of environment do you work best? What type of coaching or management style do you respond best to? What is your learning style? What type of job gives you the best chance for success? There are a number of assessment tools you can use to really get an accurate assessment of all the traits (and more) mentioned above. Without a professional assessment, you will be guessing at most of these areas and leave yourself open for a longer journey to success.

According to a Gallup Poll done a few years ago, almost 70 percent of people don’t like their job. 51 percent are not engaged and 17.5 percent are actively disengaged. Overwhelmingly, these disenchanted people when asked why they feel this way responded by saying they were not working at jobs that utilized their talents and strengths.

Shawn Achor, a Harvard trained psychologist stated that, “25% of success at work is predicted by IQ, the remaining 75% is based on optimism, social support, and the ability to see stress as a challenge rather than a threat”.

What does all this mean? Simply stated, if you don’t Fess Up and get to know the real you, your chances of picking a job that is a poor fit is greater than if you know your strengths, know the environment that best suits your personality and learning style and know the type of boss you will enjoy working with.

No. 2: Study Up!

Remember how good you felt in school when you had to take a test and you were actually prepared for it? How easy was that? You crushed it! It is the same feeling you get in sports and business when, as they say, preparedness meets opportunity. You crushed it! But how did that happen? And, more importantly, why doesn’t it happen all the time? The answer lies in your ability to Study Up.

Successful athletes and business executives put in many hours studying their competition, the environment they are playing in and their own employees or teammates. They study film, make mental notes of how competitors reacted in certain situations and how teammates reacted under pressure. They constantly update their written and mental files with information learned through study and experience giving them a better chance of predicting what will happen in the future and enabling them to visualize successful outcomes.

Studying for your career after sports is just like studying your opponent when you were playing!

In the beginning of this article, I mentioned the ease with which some athletes and managers are able to perform. Their secret? They Study Up, they are keen observers and they make mental and written notes for future reference.

Athletes know this process well.

Football players study game film of opposing teams, opposing players and opposing coaches. Athletes make notes of how their opponents respond in certain situations hoping to anticipate what will happen during a game or match. The result of this process is that on the field or court the play looks effortless, when in reality hours and hours of preparation went into their actions.

When opportunity strikes and you have put in the work and preparation, success will seem effortless to the outside observer, but you will have the extreme satisfaction of knowing it wasn’t luck, you worked hard and earned it!

No. 3: Show Up!

If you have completed the first two steps in this process, and done it right by putting in the time and effort, you should be prepared and confident to take the next step. Yet why do so many people fail to open the door when opportunity knocks?

We now begin to get to the steps that separate the top performers from the rest of the pack. In each of the following steps, fewer and fewer candidates make the cut. Open the door! What is the worst that can happen, you get rejected? Yes, that is the worst that can happen, and for some people that is it; they are finished. The fear of rejection will be so overwhelming they will become immobilized and refuse to open the door.

As a kid you had to “tryout” for most teams. Why do some kids try out for every sport and others tryout for none? You probably had the same observations I did growing up. There were some kids that were great players on the park courts or park fields, and yet they would never Show Up for tryouts. When asked why, the two most common answers were; I’m not good enough, or I would be embarrassed if I didn’t make it.

It comes down to confidence and the fear of rejection.

The more prepared you are, the more confidence you will have. It may be all that was needed was someone to tell that kid, “Hey, I watched you play. You are good and can make that team!” Unfortunately, the fear of rejection may be a little more difficult to overcome and may require some additional work. However, if it is not overcome by the time you are a young adult, it can cause you to forfeit great experiences and success. So go ahead, walk through the door, and when you do, make sure you bring your A-Game!

No. 4: Follow Up!

There are two components to following up. The first is to update your knowledge base and the second is to do what you say you are going to do.

Everything you have done to this point should serve as experiences you can use to update your knowledge base. What did you learn by going through the process thus far? Write it down or make a mental note you can draw upon later. Contact individuals that have helped you or you have met to acknowledge their contribution to your education. A simple note or email is all it takes, but it makes a huge difference and, more importantly, sets you further apart from the rest of the pack. Each step you take makes you better, more confident and increases your chances of success.

Following up, on what you say you will do and with those you are doing it with, is huge!

What separates the Top 20 percent of performers in business from the rest?

They Fess Up (they know themselves inside and out), they Study Up (they know the competition, their company and their team), they Show Up (there is no door they are afraid to open), they Follow Up (they are excellent communicators and acknowledge and appreciate other’s efforts), and finally, and this really sets them apart, they Do What They Say They Are Going To Do! They Walk the Talk! As Muhammad Ali once said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up”.

The quickest way to lose credibility, whether in sports or business, is to not do what you say you are going to do. If you tell your teammate or a colleague you are going to be somewhere or do something and you don’t, sometimes it not only impacts you but could impact another individual or the whole team.

Think of a group project you may have had and if your team worked well together during the project. If there were some problems, it usually is because one or more of the team is not pulling their weight. Granted, some times personalities get in the way, but given the temporary nature of most projects, if everyone just did what they said they were going to do or what they were assigned to do, the group would have done better and been a lot further ahead of other groups or teams having similar problems.

In sports and in business, if you follow the plan and do your part, success becomes a reasonable expectation.

No. 5 Get Up!

Up to this point we have been examining what it takes to be in the Top 20 percent of performers. These final two points are what set the Elite Performers apart from all others.

Every athlete or business person, no matter how good or how well prepared, has at some time in their life or career experienced defeat. They have been knocked down, rejected, passed over and even let go or fired. One of the traits the business community admires in athletes is resilience.

There is probably no other profession similar to athletics where failure happens on a regular basis and in front of the public eye. Despite this, athletes Get Up, dust themselves off and prepare for the next battle. Successful business people have a similar trait. They recognize that failure is part of getting to where you want to go and it is okay. All it means is you need to go back to the second bullet point and start over (Study Up)! What did you learn from this experience that will enhance your chance for success in the future? In the words of Malcolm X, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those that prepare for it today”.

It is important to recognize that repeating the process may only take minutes and not days.

The defensive back that was beat on the last play needs to process what he has learned and be ready for the next play within 40 seconds. The pitcher that just gave up a go-ahead home run needs to get it together to face the next batter. The executive that just lost a big account because the company didn’t do what it was supposed to still needs to take care of business so the same mistake is not repeated.

Sometime we need to Get Up fast! How you respond to failure, and how quickly you recover, gets you in the top 95 percent of performers!

No. 6: Never Give Up!

Want to be in the Top 5 percent of performers? Then, as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up!”

During WWII, England was taking a pounding and Churchill had to keep his countrymen engaged in the battle. Food was scarce and the German bombs just kept coming. Through it all, Churchill stood as a beacon of hope for his country. Though he tried to fight, he knew he could not do it alone. Even in the darkest of times he tried to convince his countrymen they could win. He tried everything and finally realized the future of his country, and Europe as a whole, rested on his ability to convince the United States to enter WWII. And so, the tide was turned and the rest is history.

If you follow this story, what you come to realize is that Churchill tried many things before hitting on the key to success. And, sometimes the key to success is asking for help. The old adage of, “If at first you don’t succeed, etc.” does not mean keep trying the same thing. Don’t be afraid to try something new or make adjustments to your plan. If every experience adds to your knowledge base then it makes sense that your next effort will incorporate that experience and be somewhat different from your last attempt.

If you keep running into the same wall, maybe it is time to see if there is a way around it! Never Give Up! It is the final element to making you an elite performer!

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