Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sports Ethics: Taking Care of Business

When Rick Pitino the coach of Louisville was asked how his team will prepare for the NCAA tournament, he responded, “Nothing to see here. We’re just taking care of business.” Most great coaches would respond in the same way. Besides being the name of a great Bachman Turner Overdrive song Takin Care of Business articulates a powerful way to approach challenges and high performance.

The concept links performance and business. I think of business as a group of people committed to a common task or mission. These can range from making a great product, providing a service, or achieving a goal like winning. The metaphor creates ethical obligations upon the person who has the job to master the skills of the job. It also evokes a mindset about how to approach work. In the song self-employed musicians

And start your slaving job to get your pay
If you ever get annoyed
Look at me I'm self-employed
I love to work at nothing all day

Most of us don’t have that luxury, but sports teams and high performing professionals develop a remarkable capacity to link satisfaction to performance and even connect “fun” to high performance as in the song. (other blog) The capacity for fulfillment and fun align with high performing professionals across huge ranges of jobs. The reasons lie in a way of thinking about business

First, business involves having a job or a task. That job or task is imbedded in a project to achieve a goal. Second, having a job revolves around having a role in the goal driven process. The role covers responsibilities, obligations and skills that a person is expected to master and perform with competence and consistency day in and day out. To master a job or rule requires consistent practice, learning and discipline to maintain constant performance and improve where needed. Third, businesses mean working with others. People know they are interdependent and rely upon each other—to achieve team members learn to trust and respect each other as they work together.

Taking care of business involves a mind set and character set for individuals. Successful business and successful jobs require strong work ethic. This work ethic grows from an attitude that the worker or player or professional gradually learns. Some people may bring a natural work ethic where they throw themselves passionately into work. Others may have to be cajoled, trained, motivated or even commanded into a strong work ethic.

The work ethics has to be learned but also tempered. Just having enthusiasm and throwing oneself into work is not enough in any successful enterprise. First, a player has to temper their effort to match the endurance of the task. They often have to build up endurance and conditioning both physically and mentally. Second, the cognitive and skill dimensions matter deeply. Just contributing effort and hard work does little unless the person masters the cognitive and skill and formal dimensions of a task.

This craft knowledge unites cognitive, physical and emotional dimensions. Third, the work ethic plus cognitive dimensions require the ability to learn and adapt. Many jobs seem not change, but all the best production processes work when workers constantly contribute to improving the process even in little ways. In sports and professional life innovation is the norm as well as competition. Players and professionals must be open to learn. They need a quality of mind and character that does not lock them into only one way of doing things when the environment or conditions or opponents change. Consistency is one thing, stubborn futility another.

The simple words “take care of business” involve complex challenges to individuals. The work ethic, mastery of skills and learning need to be packaged with a particular type of commitment and endurance.

To take care of business entails a process of preparation, training, testing and learning that builds a team culture and character as well as style of learning and adapting. It narrows the focus and training for the persons to give them the space to practice, perfect and achieve despite distractions and surprises. This permits teams to keep an even keel amid stresses of different environments. Alabama football coach Nick Saban links this approach to business,

“Eliminate the clutter and all the things that are going on outside and focus on the things that you can control with how you sort of go about and take care of your business. That’s something that’s ongoing, and it can never change.”

Fine players and professionals show up for work each day. They bring it each day. Taking care of business means men and women have gained a mature and durable emotional, cognitive and physical solution to the emotional roller coasters of competition as well as the nagging costs and thrills of winning and losing. Most professional life and sports combines deep capacity to prepare and husband energy for a marathon. But this deep reservoir is not enough.

Competitive and professional life also resembles a series of sprints under intense competitive pressure. The sprint requires total commitment for a period of time, then time to recoup, renew and then give maximum effort again. Football probably resembles this most, but most sports carry this rhythm, so having a workmanlike attitude.

This approach also permits players to approach high stakes games with focus and intensity and not get overwrought or panicked—they keep balance. At the same time to take care of business also means players and professionals never take things for granted. They understand there are no “gimmes” and that upsets can occur. Players show up for what may feel like lesser games and still play with focus, skill and appropriate intensity.

Player’s don’t “lose it” either under stress of high stakes or temptations of low stakes. Business-like teams possess a steady keel and durability across different levels of competition and different intensities of experience and challenge. They possess the preparation, work ethic, skill and willingness to learn and adapt.

And I'll be...
Taking care of business, every day
Taking care of business, every way
I've been taking care of business, it's all mine
Taking care of business and working overtime