Success in Sport, Success in Business

Duncan M
Peter Simmons, Steve Lewis & Duncan Mathieson after Steve's Commonwealth Gold in Glasgow.

Since finishing my athletics career back in 2002 when I failed to make it to my third Commonwealth Games due to injury I fully entered into the world of business.

In the era I was competing there was no such thing as lottery funding, and sponsorship and prize money was hard to come by, particularly in my chosen event, Decathlon. I therefore made a conscious decision early on in my athletics career that I must make what I believe was my first business decision. Yes a business decision even before going to University. I had to decide between my love and passion for athletics, or accept I must look to my future beyond athletics even before my international career had started. I made the decision to follow in the footsteps of my brother and worked diligently to qualify to become a Chartered Surveyor whilst still doing everything I could to succeed in track & field.

There is no place in business for a lack of knowledge

I went on to have a successful athletics career but never achieved my great dream of representing my country at an Olympic Games. Do I still years on live with this regret? I do, but I don’t believe there to be one successful sportsman or successful businessman, who when they look back, doesn’t say, I should have done better, I should have won that competition, I should have won that tender.

But did I make the right decision?

Yes, I definitely did.


I of course didn’t appreciate the benefits when I made my first business decision all those years ago whilst still at school, but my successful athletics career has without doubt benefitted my approach to setting up and managing my own business.

What benefits did I inadvertently gain that are crucial to managing a successful business?

Discipline – It was everything and the key to success. There is no place to hide in track & field, you are not part of a team, it’s just you against the next man, your rival, your competitor. If you are not disciplined in your training, in your preparation, in your diet you simply won’t succeed. You can say it’s the same for all sportsman, but I believe such a life skill is greater in non team sports.

Duncan with 5or6 clients James Dasaolu & Jamell Anderson

Duncan with 5or6 clients James Dasaolu & Jamell Anderson

Business is no different, discipline is crucial to a companies success. You must prepare carefully for making decisions, you must make sure you control budgets. In business all decisions are important and however small they seem they should be treated with the same respect. One mistake can be the difference between success and failure.

Managing highs and lows – Decathlon was unique in this regard. Yes you have highs and lows in training for any event, but in decathlon you had to deal with highs and lows far more than an individual event athlete during competition. Decathlon in my mind is not ten events. It is ten disciplines, but only one event. All that mattered was the final result following the pain of the 1,500M, and the one event was finished after two arduous days.
In my line of business, property development, there is no greater attribute required and I believe no greater training than that of being a Decathlete. Developments can last many years and managing highs and lows is fundamental. Not only to the health of the business but more importantly to the health of the employees.

Listening to those you trust – athletics may not be a team sport on the track, but it certainly is off it. Athletics taught me the importance of listening to my coach, listening to my physio amongst others, but also listening to my body. Without doing this we would perform poorly, or even worse get injured. It is an art to listen, and it is essential to achieve success.

In business all decisions are important and however small they seem they should be treated with the same respect.

Listening to people in business is equally important. Without doing so will lead to failure. You also need to listen to market conditions, and what your competitors are doing. There is no place in business for a lack of knowledge and continuing in this art form I honed in sport through to business has been extremely beneficial.

Summary – For the above reasons I did make the right decision, which was reaffirmed by my recent appointment to become a non executive director of 5or6. When I was asked to consider such an appointment, I laughed to myself thinking what do I know about websites and branding? Taking a little time to think about it and using the business skills I gained in track and field I realised there is no difference, and I could take on this exciting opportunity.

The business is now growing considerably. It has diversified its work load and growing in sectors it did not believe possible. The success of 5or6 is of course not down to me, it is due to the great people involved, who also have benefitted in the business world through their great love of sport.

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