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What are the parallels between high performance in business and sport?

At O2’s Accelerate 2018 event at Twickenham in January, members of the England Rugby women’s team took to the stage to talk about their own business experience, and the parallels they see between high performance in business and sport.

Most members of the team have a business or profession alongside their commitment to England Rugby. Rowena Burnfield, for example, is an organic dairy farmer. Rachael Burford founded the Burford all female rugby academy, and Marlie Packer is an experienced plumber with Homeserve.

So how do they handle the competing pressures of a business career and their commitment to England Rugby? And what would they say are the parallels between sport and business?

Discipline & Accountability

Balancing the competing demands of running a business and playing sport at international level requires focus and discipline. Playing for England involves following schedules and meeting deadlines, just as in business, but there is a need for personal discipline that ensures that the players are fully focused on the game.

Rachael Burford, for example, works evenings and weekends to keep her business running, and relies on the support of friends and family when her time is committed to the England team. The moment she is training or competing, she has to be completely focused on rugby, dismissing any business concerns entirely.

For every member of the squad, a new day represents an opportunity to learn, and a setback provides the chance to come back stronger. Their work ethic is undeniable and requires substantial reserves of mental strength and agility.

Rowena Burnfield puts it very simply:

“Every day I want to be able to look in the mirror and say I’ve done what I needed to do. If you look in the mirror and lie to yourself then you haven’t done enough.”


In business and sport, it’s natural to feel downhearted when things don’t go well, and to consider giving up when something goes seriously wrong. But what counts is how you motivate yourself to learn from what has happened and come back stronger.

On the pitch, it’s essential that the loss of a game does not affect the composure of the team. The only thing on every player’s mind must be how to win the next game.

But what about bigger challenges, such as an injury requiring an extended break from the game? How might this affect a player’s motivation? An injury is certainly a setback, but there is always something that a player can work on. Here’s how Rachael Burford responded to her arm injury last year:

“My arm may have been in a sling, but there was still a lot that I could control. I could still work on my strength and conditioning, and my nutrition. It was also vital that I stayed mentally fit. The only thing on my mind was to come back fitter and stronger”.

Leadership & Teamwork

Despite the sense of personal accountability and responsibility, there is a real team ethic. There are the ubiquitous training camps and away days, as with most team sports, but the sense of camaraderie and mutual encouragement seems to come naturally. As Rachael Burford said:

“Even the little things matter, like us all coming out of the changing rooms together and walking across to the ground as a unit.”

As for leadership, there are a number of players who lead by example, and who the other players look up to. Certain players are renowned for staying calm under pressure, and their role is to inspire the team when the going is tough. Then there are the players assigned as buddies, ideally suited to integrating new members into the team effectively. There are no egos or team politics to contend with here. The same sense of leadership and teamwork can be found in successful businesses too. A supportive, inclusive and inspirational work environment is what drives team members to perform at their very best.

For now, business interests have been put to one side for the England Rugby Red Roses, as the team has been training hard preparing for the Women’s Six Nations tournament, which kicks off this weekend. Catch up with all the action by clicking here.



O2 is proud to have worked with England Rugby for 20 years now, and not only do we love the sport ourselves, we know that our customers do too. It has been a privilege to introduce the England Rugby women’s team to a business audience, and events like O2 Accelerate are just one example of how we help and support businesses of all sizes to grow.

For more help and support from O2 Business, click here

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