4 Things Sports Can Teach Us About Trading

July 17, 2023

As sportswriting legend Bill Simmons once said, “The secret to basketball is that it isn’t about basketball.”

To Simmons, who built his media career off of being an unabashed fan of Boston sports, watching sports isn’t necessarily about the sports but about everything else that affects it—relationships, personalities, and internal struggles. 

While this might be a fairly reductionist view, Bill Simmons nonetheless presents an invaluable perspective for understanding sports. Sports, at their core, are about appreciating the facets of humanity that we either hold dear or seek to understand. Things like success and failure, cooperation and competition, all elicit thoughts and emotions shared by the everyman and the sporting Superman alike. 

Viewing sports as a means of understanding people is something that can be applied in pretty much any field. However, as a domain where success and failure often hinge on psychology, trading in particular enables us to learn and apply lessons from the world’s greatest athletes.

Here are four of the very best takeaways:

1) A Strong Foundation Is Key

First in, last out is the mentality carried by many of the greatest athletes of all time. It’s clear how this type of mindset is beneficial—the more hours you put in, the bigger of an advantage you’ll have. But this mindset comes with a caveat: it’s not just about the hours you put in, but the quality of them and the foundation you set.

Look no further than three of the most talented athletes in the world right now—Virat Kohli, Shohei Ohtani, and Victor Wembanyama. 

Virat Kohli, one of the greatest cricket players of all time, trains five to six days a week and adheres to a strict vegetarian diet. More impressively, Kohli also owns an entire chain of fitness gyms, demonstrating his sheer dedication to physical preparation.

Similarly, you have Shohei Ohtani—arguably the best baseball player in the world right now—who has lived and breathed baseball since he was a kid. Look at Ohtani talking about his essential items, and it’s easy to see how he attained his current level of success. Everything he values—ice machines, compression machines, accessories to improve his sleep—is solely dedicated to making him a better baseball player, and he cuts the fat from everything else.

Finally, Victor Wembanyama, the most hyped NBA prospect since LeBron James, prioritises taking care of his feet, the key to his mobility as one of basketball’s best big men. At a whopping 7”5, Wembanyama is acutely aware of the dangers that his height and chosen sport pose when it comes to foot injuries, which is why, even as a teenager, he spends millions of dollars making sure his feet are safe and strong.

What all these athletes have in common is that they put an emphasis on building a good foundation. Regardless of sport, they all share the notion that time and money invested into their bodies will translate to success in their chosen discipline.

The same holds true for trading. Success in trading isn’t just about the hours spent placing trades but also about the hours put into skill development. If you consistently view education and continuous learning as a priority, you’ll likely reap the same rewards that Kohli, Ohtani, and Wembanyama have enjoyed thus far.

2) Adaptability Opens Up New Paths to Success

Ever wonder how legends like Lionel Messi and LeBron James still manage to be top-tier athletes, despite both pushing 40 years old? It isn’t just natural ability; it’s in the way they view the game.

LeBron is essentially a basketball genius whose greatest strength is in his ability to analyse the floor. At a macro level, this manifests in how LeBron has been able to change his game throughout the years and add different skills to his impressive athletic frame. When LeBron’s lack of post moves was exploited by Dallas in the NBA Finals 2011, he added them to his already-impressive repertoire. When his lack of a three-point shot was exploited by San Antonio, he added those too and sent the Spurs packing. Now, as an older player, LeBron plays a slower, more precise game than ever before.

Just like LeBron, Messi evolved from being a hyper-athletic youngster into a more complete player. Under the guidance of his former coach, Pep Guardiola, Messi evolved from using his natural speed to score goals, into being craftier and creating more scoring opportunities for others. Then, when Luis Suarez arrived at Barca, Messi became more of an inside player, reinforcing the team’s front line.

Similarly to basketball and football, trading is an extremely dynamic endeavour. Trends shift quickly, and new technologies and ways of thinking often come in to change the game completely. As a trader, it’s important to be ready for these changes. As with Messi and LeBron, there’s a lot of value in staying ahead of the curve and keeping up with change when it gets ahead of you. Be on your toes, and allow yourself to grow as the trading world evolves around you.

3) Winners Can Be Patient When the Pressure Is On

In a fast-moving endeavour like sports, where split-second decisions are constantly made, being patient might seem counterintuitive. However, patience has also played an indispensable role in allowing Tom Brady to become the greatest NFL player ever.

Brady, noted for his excellent passing arm, supplements his physical gifts with an innate ability to survey the floor. Perhaps Brady’s greatest moment came when his Patriots came back from a 28-3 deficit to win the Super Bowl in 2017. This feat wouldn’t have happened without Brady’s incredible patience in assessing the situation, carrying out smart play after smart play, and tying the game with an insane throw to Julian Edelman.

Had Brady let the pressure of being behind get to him, the Patriots would’ve never beaten the Falcons. And if Brady had constantly let his nerves get the better of him, he would probably have a lot fewer than seven Super Bowl rings. 

As any trader is well aware, things move fast in the world of trading. Prices change almost instantly, and trades which looked terrible yesterday might look absolutely inspired today. This often pressures traders into making immediate decisions they aren’t always comfortable with. 

Just like Tom Brady, traders should be patient before making any rash decisions. While old, the oft-given advice to separate emotions from trading is absolutely gold. Emotionally-charged decisions like trying to compensate for missed trades or trading in something you haven’t studied is a fast track to ruin. Like Brady, it can often pay to embrace discipline in high-pressure situations: slow down, understand the situation, then make the game-winning play.

4) The Biggest Lessons Can Come From Failure

Finally, perhaps the most important thing anyone can learn from sports is how to bounce back from a loss. Pretty much all of the greatest players ever have suffered some sort of humiliating loss, but their ability to manoeuvre through it and stay the course is what led them down the path of greatness.

Take for example tennis superstars like Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. Nadal has had some embarrassing losses, including his semifinal loss to Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 US Open and when he failed at the break point against Novak Djokovic in the 2019 Australian Open. 

Serena Williams, similarly, has known the ignominy of defeat: her crushing 2018 stinker against Johanna Konta saw Williams committing a near-absurd 25 unforced errors.

Despite these setbacks, both Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams refused to quit or allow themselves to crumble mentally. By adopting a resilient mindset through the tough times, they were both able to bounce back and eventually etch their names into legend.

While traders might not vie for points or championships, the stakes they play for can be just as high as any. Bad decisions—even bad luck—can result in huge losses and days where it feels like you have no option except to quit.

In these moments, think of Nadal and Williams. Think of Jerry West, who lost eight NBA Finals but still found immortality as part of the NBA logo. Think of every athlete who has failed and dealt with that failure with the entire world watching. And then, like them, try again.

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