Sandy Hatfield-Clubb
Sandy Hatfield-Clubb

I am a huge fan of Iowa State University football, and one of my first real memories of watching Cyclone football in my youth was seeing the Iowa Hawkeyes march into Jack Trice Stadium and put a 63-20 pounding on the good guys during the 1997 season.

My older brother, a Hawkeye fan, was actually at the game. When he got home that night, I don’t remember him trash-talking much. He didn’t have to. 

Long story short: Iowa State was bad, and everyone knew it. The Cyclones went 1-10 that season. At that point, they hadn’t made a bowl game since 1978, and had never won a bowl game.

Ben Bruns was on that team. Bruns, one of four panelists on this morning’s Business Record Power Breakfast Panel, was also a senior on the 2000 Iowa State football team that went 9-3 and won the first bowl game in school history. He’s now director of business development at The Weitz Co. 

Bruns joined three other former college athletes on the panel: Michael Sadler, assistant vice president for public policy & government relations at CenturyLink and a former basketball player at Simpson College; Jim Swift, director of development opportunities at Holmes Murphy and former football player for the University of Iowa; and Rick Wanamaker, agent at Iowa Realty and a former basketball player and national champion decathlete at Drake University. Drake’s director of athletics, Sandy Hatfield-Clubb, was the moderator. 

Each athlete had his own stories of success and failure, of lessons learned on the playing field or court that translate to the way they do business. 

For Bruns, the lesson learned was to put in the work and do things the right way, always, no matter if times are good or bad. For his athletic career, that philosophy paid off.

That focus on the fundamentals was a common theme, and was also common in the pre-event meeting we had with panelists, which editor Chris Conetzkey wrote about in his “On The Record” column set to print in our June 6 issue.

Here are five more lessons that you can learn from sports that will help you in your business.

Prepare for success:
The word “preparation” was interwoven throughout the discussion. That includes repetition of the fundamentals. It includes knowing your opponents. It’s about setting your vision and priorities (though not being afraid to adjust when necessary). As Sadler put it, “it’s not about the will to win, but the will to prepare to win.” It might sound simple, but Sadler said he uses the same fundamentals in his role of lobbying to lawmakers as he did as a basketball player at Simpson: Know who the players are, and what their tendencies are. When the “clutch moment” happens, you’ll be ready for it.

Set clear expectations:
Swift shared a great story about legendary Iowa Hawkeye football coach Hayden Fry, who, going into his first year on the job, told players that he had everything prepared for the following season’s schedule. The only thing he hadn’t figured out yet was when the team’s plane would leave for the Rose Bowl. Point made. The new expectation for Hawkeye football was a berth in the Rose Bowl, one of the most prestigious games in all of sports. The next season, Iowa lost close games to some good teams to start the year. Fans were happy with the competitiveness their team was showing, but Fry was not satisfied. “Fry said in the newspaper, ‘If I see one person smile about this, I’ll smack them in the face,’” Swift said. Iowa went 5-6 that year, but it only took until Fry’s third season for the team to make it to the Rose Bowl. Not bad for a program that hadn’t posted a winning record in the previous 19 seasons. 

Celebrate the good, learn from the bad:
Another Fry-ism was to celebrate wins with a “high porch picnic.” Swift’s translation: Take time in your business to celebrate accomplishments.

One theme that multiple panelists touched on was how to move on after a loss. As Sadler put it: Take your loss, learn from it, move on, come back the next day and try again. Wanamaker pointed out that most people learn more from losing than winning, and that winners will bounce back after a loss. Bruns said that at Iowa State, the team had the rest of the night after a game to reflect, win or lose. Then it was time to get back to work.

Know your role, and put your team first:
Wanamaker recalled when he first came to the Drake basketball team; he was on a diverse team where everyone was fighting for a starting spot. That created conflict, and took a little getting used to. Real estate is often like that. What Wanamaker learned was that sometimes you have to work your way up. And even though you are competing within the team, a diverse group of people with a common goal can do great things. He should know; Wanamaker was on Drake’s 1968-69 Final Four squad, which eventually lost by 3 points in a hard-fought game against John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. 

Bruns also shared a good lesson in teamwork. When things go well, make sure to give everyone around you the praise, and avoid taking it yourself.

Positive reinforcement is a difference-maker:
Hatfield-Clubb ended the discussion by talking about the effects of a leader who cares about his or her people. It is a difference-maker, she said. When people know their coach, or manager, truly cares about them as people first and foremost, they perform at their highest level. Wanamaker, earlier in the discussion, pointed out the importance of positive reinforcement, specifically referring to Iowa State basketball coach Fred Hoiberg as a positive coach who builds up his players. “Be a cheerleader, not a critic,” Wanamaker said.