What Sports Teams can Learn from Playing a Business Simulation

Case Study by Ken Thompson

Recently we have been running our popular COMPETE Business Simulation via Zoom with youth teams at St Judes Gaelic Football and Hurling Club in Dublin who have not been able to play matches or train during lockdown. The goal was NOT to develop their business skills, as we normally do, but to refine individual and team skills so as to improve results on the pitch, and possibly even more importantly, to nurture the morale and team spirit during what is a very challenging time for both players and coaches!

The Simulation

To run the Simulation we formed 10 teams of 4-5 players per team (one team was made up of the coaches which became exceptionally competitive and made for some very interesting banter plus attempts to hack into the other teams decisions). The goal of each team was to compete with the other 9 teams at running coffee kiosks at a 4 match top-flight tournament to see who could make the most money for their individual Clubs.

It was a win-lose game – if someone buys a coffee from one team they won’t be buying one from somebody else. But its not just about selling your coffee cheap as this won’t fully cover your costs and you won’t actually make any profit. You also need to think about your strategy/plan and your tactics for executing them. Also very importantly you need to anticipate what the other 9 teams are likely to be doing and how you might differentiate yourselves.

The Learning Gained

The Simulation lasted 4 hours (spread over 4 weekly one-hour sessions) and allowed the teams to experience and discuss key skill areas including mental preparation, training, match planning, team set-up, on-pitch tactics and post-match analysis.

Over the 4 weeks a huge range of key learning points were surfaced and explored including:

  • Hitting the ground running – starting strongly
  • The Importance of “Doing Your Job” on the team (Bill Belichick)
  • How the game can be won or lost in the changing room
  • The importance of communications on the pitch and not just the team Captain
  • Knowing when to compete and when to collaborate in the Club
  • The importance of good time management on the pitch
  • Taking and managing risks at an individual and team level
  • The importance of listening (when nobody else is!)
  • The need for “calm concentration” under pressure
  • Nearly is not good enough – the importance of continuous improvement
  • Objective setting – the difference between good and bad objectives
  • Eating the Elephant – the importance of micro-goals
  • Strategy versus Execution – what is the difference and why is it so important
  • Resilience – recovering from disappointment and putting it behind you
  • Times when you can choose to be a leader (or not) 
  • Adjusting your plan - when to stick and when to twist
  • When to focus on yourselves and when to focus on the opposition
  • The surprising importance of relationships and reputations on performance

The Final Results

At the end of each round we showed the results on a leaderboard with a different team usually in the lead each round. Then at the end we had a final “Big Reveal” of who had the best overall results. 

Just like our other Simulations it is facilitated so there may be many winners so no losers. Feeling like losers in front of your peers not a good frame of mind for learning that sticks!

Finally we closed out by recognizing all of the teams for their achievements including:

  • Best Sales
  • Best Profits
  • Best Market Share
  • Best Customer Loyalty
  • Most Improved Team
  • Best Teamwork 
  • Most Resilient Team
  • Best Insights Shared

The Benefits

Billy Glennon, one of the St. Judes coaches summed up the value to the club of the sessions:

“The facilitators style during the sessions was very appealing and insightful – they were able to impart lessons to the team that we as coaches struggled to get across. They were always alive to the messages the coaching group wanted to deliver and aligned his sessions with those.”

“The programme ran for four weeks delivered to a group of about forty 17-18 year old boys. The group  was made up of three different teams within the club that are now combining into one. The primary aim of the programme was to keep the boys engaged during lockdown and to get them interacting with each other. We were really building a team from scratch. By the end of the fourth week they were speaking out in the group sessions and the groups were actively engaged in competitive banter back and forth, a big step forward for this group.”

“This was a step forward  for this group who have come together in lockdown and have not yet played a game as a team. I wish we had run it for a few weeks longer.”

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Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

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