White line fever – how to deal with your Grand Final

Are the knots in the stomach of a young startup pitching to an angel investor the same knots dozens of young men will feel before playing in the Grand Final this weekend?

To an extent, according to Essendon and Hawthorn legend Paul Salmon.

As a player, Salmon played in two winning premiership sides.

Footy and business legend Paul Salmon.
Footy and business legend Paul Salmon.

In the business world he’s forged a path as an entrepreneur and brand ambassador, so he’s uniquely positioned to judge the pressures of both worlds.

He told The Pulse this week that while young entrepreneurs and business owners may feel like there’s no tomorrow if they don’t walk out of the meeting with a company-making deal, an AFL Grand Final is altogether more finite occasion.

“When you’re in business and you’re preparing for a meeting like that you could call it a Grand Final moment,” said Salmon, “but when it comes to a game of AFL it’s a very different head-space.

“There are no second chances with an AFL Grand Final so you can get overwhelmed with what you’re about to do.

“This is very rare air for an athlete – some players thrive and others struggle with the consequence of losing or not getting the result they want and never getting that chance again.”

While business may feel like do or die at times, it doesn’t quite compare to the unique pressure of 100,000 people screaming on Grand Final day.

Nor does it compare to carrying the hopes and dreams of thousands of members – let alone your own expectations.

“In business, although the meeting may be a very significant event, you do get second chances. You keep on refining what you do as you go along,” said Salmon.

Is there always a next week?

It’s in the week-to-week experience that football and business overlap said Salmon.

Both football and business offer the opportunity to refine a person’s craft, to develop skills, and deliver on what they know they can do on multiple occasions.

He said in business, there was always a next week, but in football – when it comes to Grand Finals at least – nobody’s thinking about next week.

“A players mindset doesn’t consider next week or next season when it comes to the Grand Final,” Salmon said. “All you’re focusing on is that two-hour window where you have the opportunity you’ve dreamed about since you were a child.”

In 1984, sitting out Essendon’s premiership due to injury – Salmon mentioned in passing to a reporter that he would be there the next year.

It didn’t go down well with coach Kevin Sheedy.

“Kevin Sheedy pulled me to one side, pulled me by the ear actually, and said ‘don’t let me ever hear you talk about next year again’,” Salmon said.

“There are no guarantees about next year because there’s every chance you may never get into another Grand Final again – so don’t get ahead of yourself.”

He said it was important for businesses, at times, to live in the now and not think too far ahead. No matter how much you hype up that big meeting it should still be a learning experience – and there definitely will be a tomorrow.

“If we’re presenting to an influential group for funding, or whatever it may be, it may be a big game scenario, but it shouldn’t be treated like a Grand Final where you may never get another opportunity,” said Salmon.

“Trust your preparation and do the basics well is a mantra that bodes well in both sport and business alike.”

“Although something may be important, you should not be defined by what happens in that meeting.

“It can be difficult to explain to people, but the meeting doesn’t define you. If you’re not successful and it doesn’t go the way you want, you work towards the next opportunity.

“It’s a lot about perspective and resilience when it comes to achieving your goal.”

Blurred lines

There are some similarities between preparing for a Grand Final and a big meeting, though.

“You just need to prepare well,” said Salmon. “Under pressure in AFL the best players do the basics well and trust their instincts in the big moments, the same thing should occur in business.

“You execute the basics well, you trust your product or service, and you should trust yourself to go out there and do yourself and your business justice.”

He also said while some people’s thoughts before the meeting turn to how it will go, it’s important not to get too hung up on it.

“The thing about a Grand Final, as well as that big meeting, is that you shouldn’t play it over in your head too many times,” said Salmon.

“You would have considered certain outcomes and certain scenarios so let them come to you, don’t chase them. You know you have a certain window and you just need to trust your preparation and training.”

More broadly, there are key qualities shared by those successful on the sporting field and in the boardroom.

“In both business and football you need to be able to adapt, because the football environment and the work environment change regularly, and most of the time you have no control over those changes,” said Salmon.

“You’ve got to be committed and resilient, because you’ll get knocked around. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

Paul Salmon’s company, Sit Less, has developed an adjustable-height desk for children, designed to encourage good habits around incidental physical activity and movement. Find out more here.