Beyond the Baseline: Tennis Lessons for the Entrepreneurial Spirit! – James Cluskey

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Show Notes:

Professional sports and business are much more similar than you think. In both business and sports, your results speak for themselves. And our guest today is the best person to talk to on this matter.

Meet James Cluskey. James is the Founder of Give Learn, an e-learning platform offering classes around soft skills from global experts to inspire people’s personal and professional development. Even though he’s currently a committed entrepreneur and business owner, James has a background in professional tennis. A former professional tennis player, James represented Ireland in the Davis Cup from 2006-2015 and won 15 professional titles, with a career-high ranking of 145 in the world. He even broke the Guinness World Record with three others for the longest doubles tennis match, playing continuously for over 60 hours. A fun fact about James is that he was also a private tennis coach to the one and only Sir Richard Branson.

Ever since he retired from tennis, James has carried his passion for high performance, connections, and community into entrepreneurship. He believes in connecting people to develop their life and career, and his company is the perfect reflection of this.

In this episode of the Think Business with Tyler podcast, we talk about the similarities between professional sports and business, building habits, the importance of community, and how to find your tribe.

If you want to hear James’ valuable lessons from sports and business, make sure you tune into this episode to learn more.


💡 Name: James Cluskey

💡 What he does: He’s the Founder of Give Learn.

💡 Noteworthy: As a former professional tennis player, James represented Ireland in the Davis Cup from 2006-2015 and won 15 professional titles, with a career-high ranking of 145 in the world. He even broke the Guinness World Record with three others for the longest doubles tennis match, playing continuously for over 60 hours.

💡 Key Quote: “Sometimes, in terms of sport and professional sport, I think the results don’t lie.”

💡 Where to find James: LinkedIn

Key Insights

Results don’t lie. Just like in professional sports, in business, you also reap what you sow. But that’s not the only similarity between the two. In both business and sports, your results speak louder than words, so it’s important to stay focused on the end goal at all times. James says, “Sometimes, in terms of sport and professional sport, I think the results don’t lie. So, you can easily look up my name and my ranking and where I played, and all that sort of stuff you’re kind of examined every week in terms of your performance in professional sport, and people know how you did or didn’t do.”

Building habits is about raising your standards. According to James, building habits is all about setting higher standards for yourself. He believes that every small habit can lead you to a big result, but you have to stay committed to each and every one of them. He shares a pro tip for building habits. He explains, “When I think back to tennis, one of the things I did when training wise, fitness wise was every time I had a shower, I made a commitment that I had to do, I think it was like five minutes of core exercises and shoulder rehab because I had problems with my shoulder. So it was like, it became a habit that before I jumped to the shower, five minutes, shoulder rehab, core, and then over time, it becomes ingrained, right? So I think it’s small steps, it’s achievable things, it’s little steps, and you can build those habits and raise those standards.”

Community building matters. Never underestimate the power of community, especially when it comes to your business. There’s always going to be someone who is passionate about the same things as you, so make sure you find them and build a loyal community around those shared interests. James says, “The community thing is not easy. I think, again, people think it happens overnight as well. But I think it’s around consistently showing up. […]  It’s not easy to build a community, but if you’re passionate about the topic and the tribe, just stay with it. And you will find people that are also passionate about that topic. And then you will kind of build that community on top of that.”

Find your tribe. Finding the right people is particularly important if you’re a business owner. You need to be around people with shared interests and values. Otherwise, you will be stuck in the same place with the same people in your comfort zone (where nothing ever grows). James explains, “Surround yourself with the people you want to become. So actually, as tennis is an individual sport, small businesses, and medium-sized businesses, and so it can be quite lonely if you’re at the top, so actually again, back to that community piece, but find your tribe in terms of that community, find people that you can go find mentors and that you can go and speak to.”

Top Quotes

“When you think of where or what one phone call can lead to in terms of your personal life, your professional life, your business, and how those people can open doors for you and so on, that kind of sixth-degree of separation, right? You’re never more than a couple of people removed from someone.”

“He [Sir Richard Branson] is relentless when it comes to his physical fitness. But then also the thing that I learned from that was, sometimes I wake up in the morning, I think I don’t have time to go for a walk, I don’t have time to do something because I have to send Tyler an email on something, or I have to do a proposal or whatever it is. Whereas with him, it’s almost non-negotiable that fitness is in the diary. It’s not moved. So that was something that I picked up from him.”

“It’s a business for profit, but I believe in the better of humanity and doing well and treating people well and all those types of things. So in terms of my business, our vision has always been to link learning to doing good in the world, that a user person will come to one of our classes, they invest in their own personal and professional development. They’re doing good for themselves, but then they’re doing good for someone else somewhere else.”

“Our platform is gamified, so when you attend a live class, you earn points, points equal dollars, and then you can use those points to go and donate to social causes and charities. So we were partnered with a giving platform called B1G1, so they have 500 vetted social causes, so we link that learning to doing good.”

“For me, in terms of my philosophy, it was always to practice, to put in the work, and because that will give you the confidence then in terms of your performance.”

“I think the community that you’re involved in is really important. I think if you relate to Give Learn, the community of the classes in terms of inspiration, but even people’s local business community or having a business coach, I think for small businesses in terms of having that kind of accountability person.”

“The most important thing is, What is the vision? So what is that overriding vision? What are you looking to achieve? And then working backwards from that as much as you possibly can. So I think that’s very similar in terms of when I play tennis, what’s the vision, what’s the ranking, what are you trying to do? And then what can you do on a daily basis to help you achieve those goals?”


Advantage: Lessons from Sport and Business to Achieve Your Goals by James Cluskey

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