Growth & Customers

Maggie Alphonsi: 5 sporting tips to apply in your business

Rugby legend turned sports commentator Maggie Alphonsi shares some sporting gems that may just help your small business strike gold.

England vs Scotland Six Nations

Margaret Omotayo Sanni Alphonsi didn’t have the easiest start in life.

Raised by a single mother on a north London council estate, Margaret had a condition called talipes equinovarus (TEV) – more commonly known as club foot – a birth defect in her right foot that caused her to walk with a limp.

As a child, she spent several years in and out of hospital with doctors who desperately tried to straighten her foot, but to no avail.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and, with unparalleled dedication and resilience, Margaret overcame the limitations of her condition and morphed into Maggie “The Machine” Alphonsi.

Margaret is now a Hall of Fame rugby union player who represented England on no less than 74 memorable occasions, scored 28 exhilarating tries and was a key figure in the England team that lifted the 2014 World Cup in France.

She even assisted the team in winning seven consecutive Guinness Six Nations championships – a groundbreaking record that stands to this day.

After retiring from rugby in 2014, Maggie embarked on an athletics career, competing in the shotput.

Shortly after retiring from professional sport two years later, she started commentating on live rugby matches and featured on various television programmes – from The One Show to Children In Need.

Drawing on the many lessons learned from her illustrious rugby career, Maggie shares five sporting tips, which you can apply to your business today.

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1. Creating high-performing teams

Tip: Find your ‘why’ and share it with your team

“Ever since I read Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team, I applied it throughout my rugby career,” says Maggie.

The book, which is famously used by NFL coaches in the US, outlines the challenges teams encounter as they grow together.

But ironically it was Simon Sinek’s business book, Start With Why, which really drove Maggie to the pinnacle of international sporting success.

“When we won the World Cup in 2014, what got our team through was understanding each other’s ‘whys’ – why we were driven to do what we do,” she says.

“My ‘why’ has changed over the years. When I was playing rugby, it was wanting to do well, so I could make my mum proud. As a single parent, she pretty much gave up her life for me to be successful.

“Once you’ve got a strong ‘why’, nothing can get in your way. It keeps you driven.”

Top takeaway

This is where your origin story comes in.

Take some time to reflect and have a think about what made you start your business in the first place.

Share (or re-share) your vision and mission with your team and set some business goals that align with them.

This process can potentially convert a task-driven team into a purpose-driven, high-performing one.

2. Using data and insights for preparation

Tip: Adopt a data-driven approach to your business performance

Maggie is no stranger to number-crunching and applying the results to her performance – both as a player and a sports commentator.

“As a player, I was frequently fed lots of data and insights to help me prepare for matches – for instance, my workload in the gym and on the field in terms of how many passes and tackles I made, how many metres I ran and so on,” she says.

“What was important for me was to find a way to digest all the insights and figure out how they related to my performance the next day.

“For example, let’s say I worked really hard in the gym or on the field yesterday, the data insights may point to me potentially needing to rest and recover today.

“Similarly, before I commentate on a game, I take data from previous games and translate it into themes. This definitely adds to the viewers’ experience because they’re getting more than just a game. They’re getting knowledge, expertise, things they can even talk about in the pub. Now, they can say a team is great not just for the sake of it, but because they do A, B and C.”

Top takeaway

Collect data that is vital to the lifeline of your business, such as cash flow, profit margin and the cost of acquiring a new customer.

Tracking your data is one thing, but it’s equally important to look for trends that inform your approach to marketing, developing products and allocating resources.

Always be prepared to adjust your strategy based on finding new information.


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3. Celebrating victories

Tip: Mark all your business milestones

Celebrating a business milestone provides motivation and momentum, says Maggie, so it’s important to acknowledge all your victories “even if they’re small”.

It’s also rejuvenating for you and your team.

She says: “If you don’t celebrate your successes, you’ll feel like you’re on a treadmill, which is quite tiring because, as an athlete, you never know when your next pause is going to be.

“Acknowledge your wins and it will give you some respite before you go out again.”

Top takeaway

Set milestones that chronicle the progress of your business, such as reaching the break-even point, securing repeat business customers and diversifying your product or service line.

Make celebrating all your victories become a habit.

You can always highlight your achievements in any number of ways such as during team meetings, in newsletters, on social media and the like.

Once you hit a milestone, you can also schedule some downtime for yourself and your team to relax and unwind, so you’re all refreshed and ready to embrace the next challenge.

Anyone for a team away day?

4. Overcoming challenges

Tip: Adopt a mindset of continuous development

During her sporting years, Maggie didn’t find it particularly difficult to pick herself up after a defeat – even a major one.

“Weirdly, it was easy for me to pick myself up after the lows of my rugby career,” she says.

“My natural mindset was to get back into the gym and on to the training field to show what I’m really capable of doing.

“I’d watch the game, analyse my performance, consider all the practical things I could do to improve in the next game and spend my time working on those areas.

That’s typically how I’d bounce back.”

What was more challenging for Maggie was lapsing into complacency after victory.

She says: “After a win, you can start to rest on your laurels a little bit. You almost become quite complacent. So, in my mind, I was always number two. I was never number one.

“That way, I was always striving to be better than I was the day before.”

Top takeaway

In business, constant improvement is the order of the day – whether that’s your skill set, products or services.

To stay ahead of the curve, it’s important to become your biggest critic by continually making an honest assessment of how your business is doing – warts and all.

Then, invest in courses, tools and training and encourage your team to participate.

If you lead the way, they will, in all likelihood, follow you.

5. Finding support to elevate business performance

Tip: Find trusted advisers who challenge you to think differently

“Coaches gave me different knowledge, expertise, perspectives and different ways of doing things,” says Maggie.

“Interestingly enough, the coaches that had the biggest impact on me weren’t the ones who told me what to do, but the ones who challenged my thinking and knew the right questions to ask in order to get me to reflect more.

“They pretty much left me to develop my own ability and they didn’t always feel the need to give me the answers. I personally think it’s better to let people experience some autonomy and figure things out for themselves.”

Top takeaway

Embark on the journey of finding a business mentor, particularly one who is renowned for their lateral thinking not to mention outstanding results.

It could be an accountant, who not only can offer support with tax returns and compliance requirements, but can also share advice that can help you grow your business.

Then there are business mentors and coaches who can share advice and help you put plans in place to keep your business moving in the right direction.

Need support with payroll processes or managing your people?

Look no further than HR and payroll experts, who will be in the perfect position to help you overcome challenges in these areas.

But be mindful that you’re willing to be open and receptive to probing questions that encourage you to reflect on your talent, ability, work ethic and results.

Final thoughts

Finding the right support for your business is only half the battle. Then, it’s up to you to bring all these resources together and make them work for your business.

Here are Maggie’s three top tips to keep you focused in and out of the boardroom.

Firstly, as a leader, it’s really important to treat people as individuals rather than as a collective. Take a customised approach to each person you meet, get to know them as well as possible and find out what makes them tick,” she says.

“With certain people, there are seasons. There’s a time to put your arm around them, there’s another time to push them and yet another time to pull them.

Secondly, step outside your comfort zone. When leaders do this regularly, they indirectly encourage the people around them to do exactly the same.

Thirdly, create ‘Team YOU’. In other words, surround yourself with people who are going to do their level best to help you become the best version of yourself.”

For some business purists, sports and business are completely different disciplines and never the two shall meet.

But this perspective discounts the many valuable business lessons that some elite sportspeople – past and present – can teach us.

After all, there’s no shortage of sports personalities who have made a successful transition to entrepreneurship and other business ventures – oftentimes, on account of the very skills they honed during their sporting careers.

Maggie is just one of them.