Business Lessons From the NCAA Basketball Tournaments

I coached my younger son and his basketball teams from third to ninth grade at the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club.  Along with teaching individual skills and team plays, the most important lesson I tried to teach was…


I even preached this during warm-up/layup drills.  Finish.  Make the layup.  Fast break?  Finish.

I am a college basketball fan, and I love this time of year with the conference championships and the NCAA tournaments (both men’s and women’s).  Unless a team I have particular interest in is playing, prior to the Elite Eight I will typically only watch the last 5 minutes to go in the games, and then only if they are somewhat close.



Winning teams finish.





Inevitably, during those last 5 minutes the winning teams’ players make key shots.  They make their free throws.  They don’t turn the ball over.  They don’t commit untimely fouls.  The winning team may not have the most athletic or skilled players, or be from the biggest school or a major conference.

The winning teams finish.

Just like a basketball game, owning a business has a beginning and an end.  Just like a basketball game, it is critical that a business owner finish the last 5 minutes, in order to exit their business with the amount of money needed for their next stage in life and for establishing their personal and family legacies.

How do business owners best prepare for a winning finish?  By creating businesses that have the same characteristics as successful, winning basketball teams.

Players (Staff)

Successful basketball teams have recruited the players with the best athletic ability and basketball skills that they can.  These players must qualify academically.  They must fit the head coach’s system and positively respond to the coach’s leadership style.  They must fit the culture and abide by the rules of the team, the college/university and the community.   Above all, they must be committed to the team and the team goal of winning.

Successful business owners do the same.  They have hired skilled, competent employees who thrive in the culture of the business and are committed as a team to achieving the business goals and objectives.

Coaches (Management)

Successful basketball teams have a head coach who has been a successful coach, either at the head or assistant level.  Successful head coaches hire the best assistants that they can to complement their own skills, and to assist in developing their system and the team’s players and culture.  An assistant coach must also be able to act as an interim head coach if circumstances warrant.

Successful business owners have achieved a level of success, and have hired and mentored a management team that in turn mentors and develops their staff.  The management team is not only committed as a team to the business goals and objectives, but can also operate the business in the owner’s absence.  This last point becomes more critical the closer the owner is to their exit.

Trusted Advisors

In addition to their assistant coaches, successful head coaches have a network of trusted advisors that includes family, friends and professional associates that they turn to for guidance as needed.

Successful business owners have a similar network.  Their trusted professional advisors include their wealth manager, estate planner, contract CFO, banker, accountant, attorney, etc.


Successful coaches develop, communicate and obtain team buy-in of the team’s season goals (e.g., achieving a winning record, winning the conference championship and advancing to the NCAA tournament, achieving a specific GPA, etc.).  The coach also identifies tactical goals for key performance indicators (KPI’s) (e.g., improve shooting percentage, decrease the number of turnovers, etc.).

Successful business owners do the same, working with the management team to develop, communicate and obtain team buy-in of an annual strategic plan.  This plan identifies the goals of the business and the tactics to achieve those goals.  The plan includes KPI targets and a budget containing profitability targets, which allow the owner and management team to measure progress toward the stated goals.


Successful basketball teams have the physical facilities, systems and support staff for weight training, nutrition, tutoring, etc., to put the teams’ players in the best position to win and to achieve team goals.  They also have a meaningful fan base that is a vocal advocate for the team.

Successful business owners have the physical facilities/equipment needed for their businesses.  They also have the accounting/information systems to provide the financial and operational information needed to make timely decisions and to track progress against business goals, and budget and KPI targets.  They have satisfied customers of the company’s products/services and positive relationships with their key vendors.  These customers and vendors are often advocates for the business.

Preparation (Execution)

Successful teams practice, practice, practice.  They review video of themselves to identify areas of improvement.  They review video of their opponents.  The coaches develop specific game plans designed to defeat their opponents, and the teams practice these game plans.

With the staff and management, trusted advisors, strategic plan, budget and infrastructure in place, successful business owners know how to execute every day to achieve their goals.  They have fostered a culture of teamwork and continual improvement that contributes to their success.


At any given time during the season, the head coach and players of successful teams tell us that they are focused only on the next game.  They are focused on executing their game plan and finishing in the last 5 minutes of the game.  They don’t talk about the ramifications of the conference standings or the possibility of winning a championship later in the season or current media stories.  They focus on winning the next game.

Successful business owners focus on executing their plans and achieving their goals.  They “know the business they’re in” and do not allow themselves to be distracted by suggested opportunities outside of their business.  In their last 5 minutes with the business, they stay engaged with the business and remain focused on having the business running on all cylinders.


After all of the planning and effort have been put in, successful basketball teams and business owners…


B2B CFO® partners and our networks of complimentary advisors can help business owners finish.  Please contact me to discuss how I and my network can help you.

photo credit: Hoops via photopin (license)

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