Ajay is a good friend and a fellow Michigan Ross alumnus. He runs a fabulous sports management startup by the name of Sport365. Earlier this year, I was helping him organize second edition of The XWarrior Race, the first and one of its kind commando style obstacle race in India. In the course of putting the event together, I visited many stadiums and practice workshops where I had the chance to see many sports men and women practicing.

This post is about my observations on the field as I saw people in the stadiums and practice arenas. I saw strong parallels with the people I have come across in the course of my career and mentally classified the folks into two main categories. I have come to call them Players and Punters.

The difference between the two groups of people is stark and with just a little bit of time on the field you can usually tell them apart:

Players

Punters

  • They seem to have certain intensity about them. As they step onto the field, it seems like they are on a mission. They are focused, sure about what’s coming next and seem to be mentally and physically preparing for it. Once on the field, they waste no time in getting down to their practice.
  • They seem relaxed and chill as they enter the field. They look around who is on the field, hangout, walk around for a bit. May be even ogle at a group of pretty girls for a while before they get down to start their own practice. Once they start, they seem a little unsure of what to do next, so they hem and haw for a bit before starting with something
  • Players have certain consistency and rigor to their practice. They push themselves just a little further past the point of failure: trying to get a few extra reps if lifting exercising, or trying to sprint a little faster or go a little further if running. After each set, players then take a short break just enough to recover before they get ready for their next set.
  • They seem to end their set before reaching their point of failure, before giving it their all. Between their sets, punters again look around, speak with someone, take a phone call or do something else other than their next set.
  • Players embrace pain and know that it is their friend. Because, if they feel pain they know that their practice is working
  • Punters seem to avoid pain at all cost
  • Players show up regardless of the weather, temperature, holidays, weekends or any other reason. They try to find a reason to be on the field
  • Punters want to remain comfortable and it is difficult find a punter on the field when it’s raining, too cold, too hot. Punters try to find an excuse to not be on the field and show up only when convenient
  • Players’ shoes, clothes and gear look a little worn out and used.
  • It seems that the punters go out of their way to get the best looking shoes, clothes and gear and their stuff looks brand new and unused. They seem obsessed with looking good and impressing others on the field with their stuff not their performance.
  • Whatever is the behavior of a player off the field, on the field players seem too busy to engage in chit-chat and long conversations. They seem focused and engaged in their practice and will not let bystanders distract them from their goal
  • It is nothing easier than engaging a punter in a conversation on the field. They seem to invite chit-chat and distractions. It’s almost funny how easy it is to have a punter stop their practice. Almost as if they are looking for an excuse to stop.
  • Players seem to have picked and chosen a sport or a way to practice and stick with it for some time. They do make constant adjustments, but those are refinements designed to improve their performance or personalize a routine
  • Punters seem to try a lot of different things, simultaneously. Consequently, it is a difficult decision after every set to figure out what to do next. They try to hedge their bets by going with many things at the same time and in doing so lose focus and direction
  • Players seem to have cuts, scrapes and bandages all over the body, some more than the others. But I am yet to see a player without one. After all, pushing oneself beyond the point of failure is all fraught with chance of injury. But this doesn't dissuade a player from continuing to do so in pursuit of their goals
  • I am yet to see a punter with an injury on the field. They seem miraculously devoid of any cuts and scrapes. Staying in the comfort zone, does come with its perks.
  • Players are very clear about their needs: proper and functional gear, shoes, apparel and a few other necessities. Once the basic requirements are met they go about their practice
  • Punters seem to complain a lot and hold off on their practice till everything is just perfect

 

When Players and Punters work Together

There are times when a player and a punter start working together. More often than not I have seen the player coming down to the level of punter rather than the other way round. It seems that the gravitational pull with punters is much higher. After all, human nature is such that most people would rather be comfortable than step out of their comfort zone, endure pain and put in the focused effort and discipline necessary to achieve their goals and dreams.

Relevance for Entrepreneurs

I am not a hardcore sportsman. I used to work out regularly till a couple of years ago and have started working out again over the past couple of months. Perhaps me showing up horribly out of shape for the XWarrior has something to do with it :-). But I cannot avoid drawing the parallels between what I saw on the sports field and my own field of practice: entrepreneurship.

As an entrepreneur, you really need to look at yourself and determine if you are acting like a player or a punter. More often than not when someone has decided to make an informed decision about jumping into entrepreneurship, the person is already a player or is on the path of becoming a player. As a next step, you have to figure out whether you are dealing with players or punters on your team. I would strongly advise avoiding partnering with or hiring punters. They will slow you down, delay your decision making and erect road blocks in your path. They have human nature and, in the early stages of a venture, inertia on their side. So, if you are at all interested in achieving extra-ordinary success for your venture, avoid punters at all costs.

Last few years as a professional and entrepreneur brought me in contact with many people. Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority acts more like punters. So beware! odds are stacked against you. But when you find a player, nurture the relationship, make sure that they are properly incentivized and give them the space to perform.

Identifying punters around you

Identifying a punter however can be difficult. On the first blush, they might actually look better than a player. They seem better dressed, more relaxed, easy to talk to and more engaging than a player. I have also observed that they usually talk a big game and many sound extremely convincing. Only after working together for a bit can you start to identify whether you are dealing a player or a punter. So, have some preliminary milestones for everyone. Timeliness, quality and communication in the course of achieving these short, early milestones will tell you a lot about the person.

The extra effort and scrutiny is worth it. After all, have you ever seen a punter winning a medal in Olympics!!!

I posted this originally on my website http://www.rajeevsoni.com/players-and-punters/

Follow me on Twitter @rajsoni

Image Credit: CBS Detroit http://detroit.cbslocal.com/

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Comment by Abey John on April 7, 2014 at 4:09pm

:) Just what I needed to shake off those punter blues. Thanks Rajeev!

Comment by Rajeev Soni on March 30, 2014 at 9:00pm

Asha,

Thank you for the encouraging words and the reference to Sushrut's post. I hadn't read that. Like you, I found the phase "A King nonetheless" inspiring!

~Rajeev

Comment by asha chaudhry on March 30, 2014 at 11:17am

rajeev, 

YOU ROCK MAN!!!

perfect perfect sunday read. LOVED EVERY SINGLE WORD AND ANALOGY!!!

pls pls keep writing rajeev - this is so awesome.

"Players’ shoes, clothes and gear look a little worn out and used" reminded me of sushrut's post 

http://therodinhoods.com/forum/topics/startup-muddy-shoes

[first published on Medium]

As startup entrepreneurs, we attend events and parties. We network with the rich and the famous. We’re young and have just started out, yet we dress to impress. It is an investment, we ought to dress for the job we want.

There have been times when I've been fortunate enough to borrow my Dad’s car and maintain a crisp look thanks to no public transport. Yet, there have been times when my shoes were muddy, my sleeves were wrinkled. Though my smile was happy and confident, the gaze of the folks I met lingered on the exhibited shabbiness.

“How do a few wrinkles and muddy shoes matter?” is one side of the argument, while “caring enough to be clean, prim and proper..” is the other side. The latter needs money. ‘Investment’ again?

Muddy Shoes Symbolism

It is of perfect poetry material- young, brave individual with feet on the ground, completely hands-on as he builds his own enterprise. What can represent this admirable trait more than artsy dirty shoes and rolled up sleeves?

It is difficult to travel by public transport anywhere in India without being sweaty and without ruining your shoes a bit. There is mud on the uneven streets, dust in the cabs, the paths are crowded and the humidity manages at least a trickle of sweat from your armpits. Did I mention a sweaty forehead?

While the situation is inspiring on paper, turning up shabby for an important meeting or an event is considered unprofessional and irresponsible.

Acceptance & Ambition

It is natural to feel tad embarrassed at the prospect of wearing shoes that are not clean & expensive enough, clothes that are not crisp & rich enough and not owning wheels. However, the comparison happens in our mind when we imagine ourselves to have “reached there” already. But have we?

A helpful thought process would be to understand and accept where we currently stand. The next step might be to look around and see the path we’re on. Question the embarrassment, question the doubt and question the lack of self esteem. Do you see the path ahead? Isn't it towards prosperity? Aren't the people we’re meeting way ahead than us at present?

A King Nonetheless

A King should dress like one. Smart investments are required. And about feeling low about the things we discussed- if you’re an entrepreneur doing the right things, the good life is on its way. It cannot come too soon, but ensure you’re on your way. You’re building an empire, it takes time for the trade to boost. Once it does, it makes you rich. You’re a King after all. Be proud and be honest.

:)

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