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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Play hard, work harder
By Jennifer Quinn
BBC News Online Magazine

Athletes are increasingly being paid not to play, but to talk. Why? Because businesses want their employees to glean skills - like teamwork, patience, and strength - that will make their companies world champions.
Laurence Dallaglio

Roger Black spent much of his athletic career running around in circles.

Now that he's retired from the track, Black teaches companies how to move in a straight line towards success.

As one of the UK's most successful athletes - he won gold medals at the European, Commonwealth and World Championships, as well as an Olympic silver medal in the 400m relay - Black now leads the pack as a motivational speaker.

Increasingly, world-class athletes are sharing their experiences for corporate audiences. They can earn thousands of pounds in appearance fees, but Black says there's more to the job than just getting up in front of an audience and telling war stories.

"I think the corporate world, especially over the past five, six, or seven years, expects more," Black says.

Experience greatness

"They don't just want you to come in and say, 'this is what I did.' They expect you to give them something of value. There are only a few of us who are doing it regularly, but we run it as a business. We don't just get a phone call, turn up and then say a few words.

Roger Black
It's redefining winning - you're not always going to come first, but you can win
Roger Black on why a silver medal means as much as a gold
"You meet the client, you brief the client, you find out what the client wants and then you hopefully deliver. This is the corporate world. You don't just go out and tell a story to people who are having a few beers."

What Black - and others such as the England rugby captain Laurence Dallaglio, who has signed an exclusive contract with a City law firm - do is different from after-dinner speakers.

Instead of simply telling tales from inside the dressing room or the team bus, motivational speakers use the triumphs and trials of their sporting careers to inspire their listeners, no matter what business they might be in.

Their exploits on the track or the rugby pitch engage an audience; the methods they used to get to the top of the podium or the finals of the world championships are translated into skills employees can use when dealing with clients or selling an idea.

Team work

Dallaglio was chosen by the law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner to promote the company and to motivate its staff and clients.

He was chosen for several reasons, says marketing director Gillian Khan. The rugby team had just won the World Cup; Dallaglio was recognizable for his successes; and there was an increased awareness of how hard the team had worked.

"We had been reading quite a lot about the training they did, the precision of the training, how hard they worked and how they had gone about [winning]," she says.

"There are quite a lot of parallels between how sports people and athletes train, and the same way that you train top businesspeople.

Lance Armstrong, the cyclist who beat cancer to coem back a world champion
Lance Armstrong reportedly gets $100,000 for a session
"At the beginning it was an idea for just a one-off thing, but then we started having a conversation about how they train and how they prepare, and then we started to see the synergies between the two."

The first session with the firm's partners was called In Formation - a rugby reference, to be sure - and dealt with teamwork. Dallaglio's aim was to outline what was needed to achieve - and maintain - outstanding team performance, as well as each individual's contribution.

That's a common theme that speakers are often asked to return to by their corporate clients, Black says.

"The number one challenge in business is how do we get people to think and work as a team? If you can do that, you're there," he says. "That's a really hard thing to do. In life, it's a hard thing to do. I talk about how I ran the relay team and the concepts of that.

"I think there's a difference between coming in and telling your story, or coming in and giving some really valuable messages. I'm not a corporate trainer, I'm not a guru, anything like that. But there are some things I do that resonate within businesses.

"That's all I'm there to do - just make them think differently about what they're doing. That's all. And I don't overcomplicate it."


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