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The Off-Season

By Walter Bond

How many people do you know who are glued to ESPN every day, watching the same highlights over and over again? The industry of professional sports is a multi-billion dollar industry that has been embraced worldwide.

Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, Wayne Gretzky and others have become household names, even to non-sports buffs. Sometimes they are considered heroes and sometimes villains, but we all respect their tremendous talent, skill and productivity.

While these professional athletes spend most of their time in the spotlight, we aren’t competing all year long. Here is the dirty little secret to our success: We don’t compete for 12 months, we only compete for a portion of a calendar year and then we get what we call an off season.

The off season is a time I came to value when I made it to the National Basketball Association. Playing in the NBA was a dream that started in my early childhood. It was a long journey to get there, but I finally had the chance to share the stage with greats like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Kevin McHale, Mark Eaton, John Stockton and Karl Malone.

Playing in the NBA was an amazing experience, but the most amazing element is how what I learned from that experience has had a profound impact on my speaking business.

In professional basketball, we compete for seven months and get five months off, it is called our off season. My off season became the most important part of my year. I made it in the NBA because of my hard work in the off season. That is when I got bigger, stronger and faster. That is when I made my move on the competition.

When I first retired from sports and began my career in corporate America, I let the business community lead and influence me. I was a blank canvas. I needed someone to paint for me.

First, I needed to make the transition from sports to business, and enjoy the rest of my life. Second, I desperately needed to replace some serious income. There was no transition money available. The moment the ball stopped bouncing, my checks would be gone if I didn’t do something quick.

My wife Antoinette and I started our speaking business in 2001. Things went well, but after about three years I started to feel lethargic, unmotivated and stale. I needed several cups of coffee just to make it through the day. “What has happened to me,” I wondered. What was happening to that competitive athlete who was a warrior on game day? Oh no! I was becoming a corporate person! Yuck!

Panic was starting to set in, so I sat down and I talked to Antoinette about it. I told her, “Something isn’t right, but I can’t put my finger on it. What is going on with me?” Then it hit me: I need an off-season.

“That is not how the real world works,” she said. “I am not talking about five months off, honey.” I explained. “What I need is a little break so I can evaluate my year and make plans for performance improvement for the next year. You know, just like I did in sports.”

How about the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year? Maybe 10 days? Or a long three-day weekend? I didn’t know how long I needed, but I knew I needed to get back to my roots of excellence.

The key to my athletic success was my off-season times. They were sacred to me; I would never have been able to play professional sports without them. That is when I made my move on the competition in sports. I thought it might work in business, too.

I noticed on my speaking calendar that between Thanksgiving and New Year my schedule was lighter. Most of my clients were in holiday mode, and didn’t schedule as many meetings. I thought that would be a good time to take my first off season.

We went for it, and evaluated every part of our business: content, products, website, bureau relationships, opening, closing, fee, branding, office processes, releases, follow-ups, keynotes, workshops, power points. We looked into everything you could think of regarding the speaking business. We took our business apart from top to bottom and put it back together with new ideas and strategies for the New Year.

In my basketball career, I would evaluate what I did well during the season and then what I needed to improve to be the most improved player on the team the next year. In my basketball career I couldn’t wait for a new season to begin. I put in so much work in the off season, I expected success and it always happened.

Now, I was so happy and excited about the new year in our speaking business. Just like in sports, a new season represented unlimited possibilities and the next level; I knew I could reach that next level based on how I managed my off season.

I’m happy to report that it is has worked immensely. Professional athletes have an off-season. Why don’t you?

My business is as strong as ever, despite a recession. We recently had a financial services organization book us for 15 events. How’s that for an off season?

What would happen to your business, personal life and/or professional career if you incorporated this system that professional athletes have used for decades?

Let me make this clear, professional athletes work year round, but only compete for a portion of the year. The
non-competitive portion of your year is called our off-season. The off-season is when athletes prepare for their work; the off-season is when you get bigger, stronger and faster.

What you accomplish in your off-season has a direct impact on how well your actual season goes. What if MHEDA members practiced what the NBA and all professional athletes have preached for years? What if you embraced this off-season concept into your business?

An off season is designed to not only give you an edge in your career but your personal life as well, by isolating areas to improve and giving you the opportunity for continuous improvement.

It’s not a vacation, it’s not a sabbatical, it’s an annual break dedicated to retool, regroup, refresh and refocus for optimal performance improvement. If you have been looking for something that can take your overall life to that elusive next level, this is it.

The off-season is the answer. The time is now.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a BA in Communications, Walter Bond overcame a devastating injury to become the first NBA rookie free agent ever to start on opening night. Walter went on to have an eight-year professional basketball career, playing as a guard for the Utah Jazz and the Detroit Pistons. Toward the end of his basketball career, Walter developed the ability to apply on-the-court success and teamwork to the business world when he and his wife became owners of a national franchise. Walter changed his profession but never changed his winning attitude.