Sport this year has shown – yet again – that it can teach us all something about the value of strategy in business and life

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Sport can be a great metaphor for many other aspects of life and sportspeople sometimes demonstrate approaches that can be applied in other areas.

A number of lessons could be learned from the end of the Australian football seasons this year.

The weekend the footy season ended also featured the Ryder Cup, between the USA and Europe, and so many strategies were on display that historic weekend that it provided a riveting spectacle for any sporting tragic.

The footy finals and Ryder Cup all reinforced the same lesson: when the pressure is on, leadership with a plan, and a calm influence, can make all the difference.

The AFL final between Collingwood and West Coast was a real ding-dong affair.

Collingwood was always on top and seemed destined to win, so it was surprising when West Coast came within range.

But, with two points between them and five minutes to go, West Coast marched down the field, one controlled kick at a time, and slotted the critical goal.

The Ryder Cup also unfolded against the odds. Team USA had the greater depth and track record and were 3-1 up after the first morning.

But the leadership demonstrated by non-playing captain Thomas Bjørn, and the obvious commitment of the players to do what he wanted, created a swing in fortunes from which they never looked back.

For the sports aficionado, however, the NRL final is unlikely to be repeated ever again.

In all my years of playing and watching sport, I have never seen a team purposely go into a game (let alone a grand final) with a player carrying a significant injury.

The Sydney Roosters chose to effectively play 12 against 13. As one of the commentators said, “They’re playing with 12 and an on-field coach.”

Cooper Cronk ran onto the field with a 15cm fracture running the width of his scapula.

Clearly, he is so important to the team as a leader and strategist that they were prepared to cover for and protect him.

He called the plays and kept the structures under pressure.

He knew what the opposition were going to do and organised his team to counter every move.

He slowed it down and speeded it up when necessary and kept their emotions in check. The Melbourne Storm, known to be a clinical team, were completely outwitted.

Mark Metcalfe/Getty ImagesCooper Cronk of the Roosters

In the end, having a strategist and cool head watching the plays proved the difference.

In all these examples, a clear strategy, together with the ability to remain calm under pressure and redirect resources as required, was critical to achieving the desired result.

The value of strategy, leadership and refocusing are equally important when managing a business or personal finances.

A business or financial plan is important, but it’s only really words on paper.

The real difference is highlighted when circumstances aren’t quite going to plan.

When asset prices fall or the business struggles, when circumstances are tough or the unexpected becomes a reality – that’s when the cost of having someone observing from a higher level and redirecting resources is worth every cent.

Everyone, no matter how astute or successful, needs a sounding board – even if it’s just to test one’s thinking and get a second opinion, but often it’s much more.

Cronk’s pure playing statistics were diabolical – probably the worst ever seen in any rugby league match, let alone a grand final.

Yet, the overwhelming story of the match covered in the media over the following days was the dominant role he played in the victory.

Ironically, when things are ticking along smoothly, the value of management isn’t questioned. But, as Michael E. Gerber explains in his well-known book, The E-Myth, there is greater value in working on the business than in it.

“If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business – you have a job.”

Success doesn’t come from the most talented teams or the greatest plans.

At the top level of any field, there is very little difference between talent and plans – the difference lies in the intangibles like mindset and leadership.

A high-quality manager will have the ability to adapt the plan to changing circumstances.

They will call the plays and opportunistically reallocate resources when required.

They will throw themselves into the fray when needed but, most of the time, their value will be their influence on the intangibles.

The Australian cricket selectors would do well to change their philosophy on how they select the captain.

For many years, it has been the best captain from the group of players already chosen for their playing ability.

It may be better to select the best captain in the country who can hold their place in the team. It could make all the difference.

Justin Hooper is the managing director of Sentinel Wealth and a financial strategist, speaker and author. In a supplement recently published in The Australian newspaper in conjunction with Barron’s magazine in the US, he was named one of Australia’s top 50 financial advisers in 2018.

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