Wai Wong is its Founder, President and CEO Serviceglobal provider of enterprise service management solutions.
It has often been reported that some 95% of Fortune 500 CEOs have played competitive sports at some point in their lives. For me, the dedication to my sport continues to this day and I believe it has brought significant benefits to my life as a business executive and entrepreneur.
I started playing table tennis when I was 12 years old, hitting balls back and forth with my neighbors, cousins and friends. My game grew with me. It has grown to a higher degree of technical proficiency every year, and yet I still have a lot to do. I continue to learn more every time I step on the court with another player. My No. 1 achievement so far is winning the 2019 US 60 Spring Table Tennis Championship.
Competitive table tennis has helped me in my business life in so many ways. It has enhanced my mental focus, physical and mental endurance, competitive willpower and ability to think strategically and clearly in stressful moments and situations. When you run a company and face business challenges—from meeting technology deadlines, solving business problems, and negotiating client acquisitions and commercial licenses to collaborating with employees and team members, all of these capabilities can and do apply.
It taught me that there is always more to learn, always the need to expand your skills. There is a constant need to sharpen your skills, practice and perfect. To remain competitive in table tennis, a player must constantly maintain an open mind and assimilate new perspectives. You must learn from your mistakes, why they happened, how to avoid them in the future, and apply unique strengths to different situations.
The sheer amount of different playstyles and variations of equipment available make the sport somewhat unpredictable and challenging, especially at competitive levels. For more advanced players, the game evolves into a blitz chess type of mental activity where you have to make split-second decisions, following and even updating your strategy to defeat your opponent. Everything comes into play: your strengths and weaknesses against the opponent, play styles, physical abilities, even the gear you play with and against. Each match is like a duel, requiring extremely quick reflexes and split-second decision-making.
There are so many ways to win or lose a match and players must do everything in their power to develop a winning strategy and approach. They need to develop a big picture of winning the race and determine the steps they will take to get there. It is critical to consider your competition and how your technical abilities, strengths and weaknesses match up with the competition. Develop a realistic and true SWOT analysis (just as you should in your business) and strive for repeatable execution.
However, every game plan is tested in the heat of battle. I have learned to go back to previous races and training sessions to quickly adapt during a race. Being proactive, mentally flexible and adaptable should be key skills!
The physical demands of my sport have also helped me immensely in business. Playing table tennis at a competitive level is a full-body workout. I usually change jerseys at least twice during a race or practice because of the sweat it creates. Before even starting to play or exercise, there is a need for stretching exercises to warm up the body. Business can be a grueling experience, involving long, hard hours and plenty of stress. The conditioning I have developed through table tennis gives me the stamina to persevere.
There are other things that ping pong has helped me learn that apply to business:
• Respect to all! Whether a beginner or an expert. The same goes for life and business.
• Starting and changing always seems difficult, sometimes even hopeless – until you start working on it. In life and business, I have learned that starting and making changes is always difficult. However, putting in the time and effort will help you succeed. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Be aware and open to changing your approach as needed. Keep an open mind to opportunities when they present themselves in your game. The same goes for businesses. Be sensitive to market dynamics and anticipate the need or opportunity to modify your product roadmap or approach.
• It’s not enough to just show up. Always play to learn. It gives you and your team the focus they need to win and helps you clarify the steps you need to take to get there.
• Don’t let excuses – whether it’s a lack of infrastructure or the right racquet – be reasons to lose focus on practice and development. If you want it to happen, you will make it happen, regardless of the situation. Don’t let excuses hold you back. Focus on what you can do to move forward.
• The disciplines of time, commitment and persistence are lessons you learn in any sport. And these lessons stay with you for life. Enjoy the journey.
During my professional career, I have held senior management positions and led large business units for major technology companies. I have founded and run successful startups, including my current company, Serviceaide. Playing sports, especially table tennis, helped me prepare and achieve my goals. Competitive sports teach you a lot about yourself. It all boils down to how hard you are willing to work to make yourself better in order to compete effectively.