What startups can learn from a college tennis player: Focus on results, not the appearance of results.

In my last year at UNC-Charlotte, I was the assistant tennis coach. I had played tennis at Charlotte for two years, having transferred from a smaller school where I played two years prior. Unfortunately, barely half of my credits from the smaller school transferred over, so I had to take a full 5th year to graduate. The men’s tennis coach — one of my idols because of things like this — was kind enough to extend my scholarship that final year while I assisted him.

Coach Boykin (with me and my doubles partner, Kuchma) will always be one of my idols.

During that year of assistant coaching, I was able to watch the team members and see how differently they trained. Some of them loved the 3+ hours of practice time each day, while others simply lived for the matches themselves. When it came to conditioning, some would go through the motions of running the Cooper Test, while others would be trying to beat their best times. Oh, and if you’re wondering, I HATED the Cooper Test.

Obviously there was a correlation between the players that worked their hardest at every element of training, and their success on the court. But it was in the weight room that I witnessed something special.

While hitting 1,000 forehands and running a fast mile are indisputably going to help your tennis game, lifting weights has the added benefit of making you look good. And there’s nothing more that most college males want than to look good.

In the weight room, almost all of the team members focused on the type of work out that would make them look good. Bench press. Curls. You know, the muscles that people see that make them say, “That dude must work out.”

Our #1 player, Ola, did the exact opposite. See, he knew that having a big chest and large biceps were almost counter to what a tennis player’s body should have. Look at the top players, see any of them with giant, Schwartzenegger-like chests? Instead, Ola would work all the little muscles that would never impress anyone on the beach, but they’d help him be a better tennis player.

Ola knew that it doesn’t matter how you look, it matters what results you get.

Sure, if he walked out on the court with a few of our “bigger” guys, he’d look smaller, and therefore less imposing. But when he played, his body was more prepared for the rigors of a competitive tennis match.

Startups can learn a lot from Ola. Often times, the focus of a young startup can be on making sure they “look” like they’re succeeding. The startups that I see do the best are the ones that are hustling and grinding it out. If the team is at too many networking events, or to wrapped up in social media, as examples, then they likely aren’t spending enough time making the business work.

Putting the time in isn’t enough. You have to put the right time in if you want to build a successful company.

Over the course of his career, I watched Ola become an amazing player. He took that work ethic — and the importance of improving not for looks but for results — and became one of the best players that UNC-Charlotte ever had.

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