Bearing the Torch

“Olympic Finish” by Ernie Barnes

Throughout his 39 books and countless articles, Peter Drucker referenced a huge range of subjects, including sports. Today, as the 30th Olympic Games officially launch in London, we’re serving up a half-dozen pieces of Drucker’s advice that apply to the world of athletics—but you may also find useful whatever line of work you’re in.

1. Innate talent still has its place: “No born athlete ever had to learn how to catch a ball.”

2. Still, even the best can’t go it alone: “It is clearly understood by everybody that the top-flight athlete . . . needs a manager.”

3. Choose your team carefully: “There are only three kinds of teams. One is the sort of team that plays together in tennis doubles. In that team—and it has to be small—each member adapts himself or herself to the personality, the skills, the strengths and the weaknesses of the other member or members. Then there is the team that plays European football or soccer. Each player has a fixed position; but the whole team moves together (except for the goalie) while individual members retain their relative positions. Finally, there is the American baseball team . . . in which all the members have fixed positions.”

4. Remember, the physical is only half the battle: “There are only simple, repetitive motions. What makes them productive is knowledge, that is, the way the simple, unskilled motions are put together, organized and executed.”

5. Why you shouldn’t mix soccer and doubles tennis: “You can’t mix soccer and doubles tennis.”

6. If you want to be a management god, be fussy about the sports you engage in: “I swim a great deal and walk a great deal. But . . . going bowling, no.”

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve ever taken from sports and applied either to your work or to other parts of your life?