On Resilience, Entrepreneurship and Volleyball

Before being entrepreneurs, we’re humans.

“You don’t say?”, you’ll think.

Well, the truth is that out there there’s way more stuff written on how to do sales, or gain more users, or on [insert startup topic here] than articles on how to go through the emotional, physical and psychological roller-coaster that defines your life from the day you decide to set up your company and be your own boss.

One of the most touching and open-hearted articles I’ve read on this topic has been written recently by a fellow Italian entrepreneur, Armando Biondi (you can check out his article here). Reading his words, and especially observing the reactions of other people across this sector, made me reflect on how liberating can be to have a space to express this side of the story too.

The side that is not about the product/company and its growth, but about our growth and our evolution while working on our project.

As soon as you get to speak with investors, or any other entity that seeks the diamonds in the rust of the entrepreneurial sector, you’ll hear it right away (and very often from then on): “the number one thing we look at, search for, and care about, is the right team. The talents.”

But talent alone is not enough, is it?

Talent alone won’t make you a success. Neither will being in the right place at the right time, unless you are ready. The most important question is: ‘Are your ready?’

Talent is nothing without hard work, capacity of adaptation and aim to practice — to become better and better everyday. But especially, IMHO, talent is nothing without resilience.

Resilience (n):

1. the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
2. the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.

This made me immediately think about volleyball.

I’ve spent 12 years playing volleyball, also professionally, and I’ve recently discovered how much of what I’ve learned as a volleyball player is a powerful tool for my life as an entrepreneur today.

For example, if you’re a middle blocker (like I was), volleyball teaches you to know very well that the opponent’s attack is your problem first, way before being a problem for everyone else: you’re the one in charge of blocking, in nullifying the “issue” that is coming your way — and your speed, agility and position will be the reference for the defence, to get into position.

In volleyball you have to know your role, because you’ll have specific movements and muscles to train, and specific responsibilities. You never lose coordination with your team, and at the end of every playing action, won or lost, everyone gathers in the middle of the court and join hands. “We are all together in this“.

Sounds a lot like leadership and entrepreneurship, doesn’t it?

Insights like this made me reflect a lot on how much of my resilience comes from my years of volleyball — and it’s about something more than just having determination, or the generic ability to train and work hard for a specific goal.

You learn resilience when you push yourself to do something that is usually not possible or natural for others — like jumping up in the air and, meanwhile, coordinate your entire body to hit a ball with strength, elegance and efficiency.

You learn resilience when you run to catch a ball, throwing yourself to the floor if necessary and, while keeping your eye on the target, you catch the ball, fall, and immediately stand up again — to get back to your position.

You learn resilience when you train to do this without getting injured, without letting pain or fear distract you or block you, without losing focus on the action in game.

“You can’t become a champion until you become an Athlete first”, they say. And I, personally, agree.

So, as former volleyball player and entrepreneur, my two cents advice to you, fellows: do (any) sport. Encourage your team members, friends, children and significant ones to do sport. It’s not just about keeping our bodies in shape.

It’s about training our hearts and minds to go through this challenging journey (being it founding a company or something else) with more strength, tools and abilities than we would have ever imagined.