After graduating from the University of Queensland Business School in Brisbane, Kasprowicz is now the managing director of his advisory business, Venture India, which seeks to promote business relations for Australian companies in India. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
After graduating from the University of Queensland Business School in Brisbane, Kasprowicz is now the managing director of his advisory business, Venture India, which seeks to promote business relations for Australian companies in India. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Management lessons from the sports arena

Sportspersons are increasingly taking on management roles aiming to take lessons from their on-field career to the boardroom. What do they have to offer?

For a successful sportsman, getting into management is probably not the conventional thing to do. While most find post-playing careers in coaching, commentary or even administration, business management is a rather unorthodox career option. While we have examples in former Test cricketers Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath, and former hockey international Viren Rasquinha, who have made the switch to flourishing careers in management, the latest to join their ranks is former Australian Test bowler Michael Kasprowicz.

After graduating from the University of Queensland Business School in Brisbane, Kasprowicz is now the managing director of his advisory business, Venture India, which seeks to promote business relations for Australian companies in India. His primary reason behind doing his masters in business administration, he says, was to put the skills he learnt as a cricketer to a different field. “I was first picked for Queensland at the age of 17, and had a cricketing career of 19 years. Throughout my career, I never looked for the easy option. I wanted to test myself out in something entirely different; hence I went and did the MBA," says Kasprowicz.

The Aussie quickie was a key member of a blistering bowling attack that included Test greats such as Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne. And he played under three of the most successful captains ever to have led the Australians—Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting.

“What I learnt from my career is something I’ll classify in my own 4 Ps—perceptions, dealing with pressure, appreciating that there’s pain and most importantly, possession, the thought that you are in charge of your own journey," says Kasprowicz.

“In cricket, there are uncontrollables that can always influence decisions—the weather, the pitch, umpiring decisions. It doesn’t matter how well you prepare, quite often, they can dictate or change the result. That lesson in itself is the most important thing, because of the ownership of your journey, you’re not relying on anyone else. You can take control of what you’re doing," he adds.

The other important lesson that Kasprowicz says he’s tried to translate from his career as an elite sportsman onto his fledgling business is “to adapt your skills to suit the conditions"—something he’s looked to do as a bowler himself, especially when touring India. “In 2004, (when Australia won a Test series in India after 32 years), we sat down as a bowling group and decided that we had to change it around a bit. We could not be doing what we did at home and expect to do well as a unit," he says. From a management perspective, Kasprowicz extends that analogy to doing business in India. “Businesses come to India and think what they’ve been doing normally would work here in India too. That’s not arrogance as much as it is naivety. You have to be flexible, adjustable and adaptable to the market here and also see what the consumers want," he says.

Kasprowicz was part of an Australian team that hardly lost the many frontiers it set out to conquer, to use skipper Waugh’s analogy. But how does one react to losses?

“I’ll go back to my Ps, and this time deal with pressure. What pressure does to you is make you doubt your skills. When all of a sudden an organization or cricket association goes through a few losses, it’s almost like a major GFC (global financial crisis) where everyone starts doubting their skills and questions the way they’re doing it. From a sporting background, whenever you have a few losses, we have a performance review. It’s important to go back and draw the straw man again.

“I know the Australians get a bad tag for being sledgers, but all that, when you break it down, is to make someone not think about the ball that’s coming down and to doubt their skills, that’s all there is. There are other ways to make them doubt their skills—through field placements or the Three Card Trick (keep a deep-square leg, making the batsman anticipate a short ball, when the bowler delivers a fuller ball). When you’re under pressure, when you’re having a few losses, trust your skills—the ones that got you there, and the ones you’re the best at, but also have the conviction to adjust those skills to suit the conditions," says Kasprowicz.

In cricketing parlance, there’s an oft-spoken cliché: “doing the basics", sometimes described as the hardest thing to do as a cricketer. As someone who’s coaching his son’s Under-8 cricket team back in Brisbane, Australia, Kasprowicz says basics are pretty much the skills you learn at that level.

“The basics you talk about are things like watching the ball closely or keeping it straight. It is also important to trust your skills, because sport is mostly about instincts. If you think about batting, as soon as the ball’s bowled, you’re not thinking about whether it’s short, I’ve got to put my back foot across and get my technique right and all those things. You don’t have the time. That’s where the best players make it look so easy, because it is instinct. That’s where ‘basics’ come into play, i.e., trusting your instincts," he says.

“The planning and goals differ from athlete to athlete and the challenges with each individual are different. As athletes, we learn to adapt to different pressures, adversity and challenges, and that translates into management too," she points out.

As someone who’s been a part of an organization that assisted other athletes to fulfil their potential, Malhotra says, “The biggest difference is being able to identify the needs of people other than yourself, which is not always easy. However, all sportspersons have similar journeys, and having gone through that yourself definitely helps in correctly diagnosing their needs."

She adds, “The basics of management in any genre are how to be effective and productive to achieve maximum results. There are many ways to get the results, but it is up to you to choose the most effective system. Sport is no different—to be able to achieve the bottom line (winning medals), while dealing with not only the hindrances, but also competition is the biggest challenge."

Mustafa Ghouse. Photo: The Hindu

“During your playing career, you learn and pick up various aspects about not just the sport, but even life. Like, understanding relationships, going through setbacks, etc. What I’ve tried to do here is put whatever I’ve learnt and experienced from my coaches in the US and Spain into how we could improve our programme," he says. As someone who spearheads the JSW Sports Excellence Program, which like the erstwhile MCT scouts, funds and helps train athletes, Ghouse says, “Our focus is to catch them young. There is an abundance of talent in India, but most of them can’t make the step up from junior to senior level in most sport. And that’s where it’s easier to be a sportsman, who has done it before, in this role. We use our experiences to try and help them fill the gap and guide them with everything they need, especially when it comes to preparation, which I believe is the most important thing for an athlete."

P. Thiruvengadam, senior director at consulting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt. Ltd, says sportspersons, with their career experience are a welcome addition to any organization. “I think it’s a fantastic idea. They bring a lot of discipline, teamwork into any organization or business. Equally, their approach, especially planning, is something that works very well for an organization, if applied properly," he says.

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