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How lessons from the field work in the office

  • Ithaka’s Rahul Singh says the sport has improved his confidence and work life
  • Cricket is one of the few sports where strong leadership on the field has a massive impact on the game

Rahul Singh, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ithaka
Rahul Singh, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ithaka

The Men in Blue may have fallen in the semis at the recently concluded World Cup but that hasn’t dented the passion for cricket in the country or at Ithaka, a chat-based travel planning marketplace and social network startup. Cricket is still the favourite sport of Rahul Singh, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ithaka. “Cricket was my first choice for a career," says 30-year-old Singh, who plays the game during weekends on the rented synthetic fields in the suburbs of Mumbai. Singh has put together a team, consisting of friends and colleagues, which participates in amateur tournaments organized every season under the banner of the Mumbai Cricket Association.

Singh has been playing cricket since his early teens. He was part of the school and college teams but was forced to take a break from the sport shortly after bagging his first job as an analyst at GulfTalent, a recruitment website for professionals in the West Asia. The Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay alumnus returned to cricket when he moved to India from Dubai in 2015 and set up Ithaka.

A straight drive

The leadership team members are so passionate about cricket that they treat Ithaka as “a high performance sports team comprising talented people with unique strengths who work together to achieve overall goals." They just don’t focus on cricket though. Singh says, “We have a habit of going camping once a quarter. On these trips, we mix trekking and some other sports activities (kayaking, frisbee and football), in which teams need to work together. This improves communication, engagement and coordination. The games are competitive with rewards for winners."

Singh, like many Indians, describes cricket as a passion albeit one that has a great bearing on his confidence and work life. “Pushing yourself hard in training, honing a specific skill to fix a flaw in the game or simply the joy of being able to run around the field puts me in a great mental shape. A really good example of this is timing. Hitting a perfectly timed straight drive boundary is one of the sweetest feelings I have ever experienced. It’s hard to explain this to someone who has never played cricket professionally, but the weeks that I can find good timing in my batting shots, I am in a different dimension altogether mentally," says Singh, who is also enthusiastic about scuba diving and goes on one diving trip every year.

Lessons learnt

To Singh, however, the best impact cricket has had on his professional life is in the way he handles bad situations. “Even on bad days on the field, you know it’s just a game that you lost. After that you need to go back to focus on how to get better. I often transfer my mental state from cricket to work and vice-versa, and it’s an outlet to manage myself well, mentally," he adds.

Singh, who captains the amateur league side he plays for, has also found cricket to be a good leadership guru.

“Cricket is one of the few sports where strong leadership on the field has a massive impact on the game," he says. “A single game spans a few hours at the very least and the key moments play out slowly with each ball and there is a lot of thinking time," he adds.

There are three leadership lessons he has learnt from cricket. Firstly, having the right preparation. “Cricket is a complex sport where you need to be skilled in three different departments to win. There is management needed in mental set-up and fitness levels as well. One also needs to understand the competitor and plan in advance to counter their strengths. As a captain, you build a process of preparing perfectly before big games. Good captains make their plans meticulous and well balanced while attacking critical issues that can be a concern."

Secondly, using the right people at the right place and time. “Every team player has unique strengths and weaknesses. Using the right bowler in the right situation or shuffling the batting order according to how the game progresses are just some of the things a cricket captain needs to do each game. Similarly, a good business leader knows how to get the best out of his/her team," he says.

Finally, being proactive and adapting to the situation. “Cricket can be a cruel game where even after doing everything right, you might lose a game because of one tiny mistake or one standout player might take the game away from you. The size of the field and the length of the game means your team might lose focus in the middle and the execution of plans may go off track. This is pretty much a metaphor for any start-up or business. As a captain and a business leader, you need to be super energetic and proactive to ensure you are ahead of the game and controlling the situations perfectly."

Fit Boss is a series in which startup founders talk about how sports activities help them stay more productive in and outside office.

Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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