Teamwork is the number one skill, but it is more than just functioning perfectly as a team. It is getting through the times when you are “stuck.” It happens every day in business, and being a professional athlete helps you understand all the times that you have got yourself and others out of jams.
As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewingTip Fairchild.
Tip rose to baseball stardom at Monmouth Academy and the University of Southern Maine, and then to the professional ranks as pitcher in the Houston Astros organization. During his baseball career, his mind, drive, and compassion always matched, or perhaps even surpassed, his arm. When he retired after the 2009 season, he turned his sports experience into a successful role as corporate sales strategist. He joined SquadLocker, a company that provides online tools for teams, organizations, and schools to manage custom apparel and equipment purchasing and is currently Director of Sales. Tip is an avid user of SalesForce and powerful data during and after the initial sale. His specialty is developing sales processes from introduction of a lead to execution of a sale and beyond.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Excited to be a part of it! I grew up in a small town in central Maine called Monmouth. It’s a beautiful lakes area so I spent my childhood playing sports with friends, on the lake, and mowing lawns as my first job. My parents created an atmosphere around the house that brought mine and my sister’s friends over. We had a half court lit basketball court as well as a little league size baseball diamond in the back yard. It is hard to total how many hours I spent in those two areas growing up.
My parents were both educators, so my friends and I learned a lot of lessons out there. How to win, how to lose, how to take a punch, and how to deliver one. But I think most importantly, I learned how to work hard, and play the next day, no matter what.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete?
I would say it was coaches all along the journey. My goal was always to just play at the next level. If I was in little league, I wanted to make the all-star team. If I was in high school, I wanted to play in college. I was somewhat naïve to how talent is not geographical. Because you are from small town Maine, that didn’t mean that you could not be as good a baseball player as an athlete from a powerhouse state like Texas or Florida. There were just not as many of us. I didn’t learn this until I was really halfway into my college career developing into my young body and with the help of the coaching staff at University of Southern Maine (USM). Ed Flaherty, our head coach, believed I had another level in me, and in June 2005, I was drafted by the Houston Astros. I continued my baseball career for five years in their organization.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Over the years, I’ve felt like a broken record, but the answer is for sure my parents. Their support, the ability to always be places on time, the weekend sacrifices for long tournaments, and the list goes on. If you have played at a high level, you have experienced that. There is a big part of your growth path though that you don’t have the ability to do many things on your own yet. Also, when you go through good or bad, there is always the car ride home. A lot of lessons happened in the car, or at the kitchen table.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I have always thought the greatest story tellers are the guys who like to talk during stretch. If you are familiar with professional baseball, whether it be spring training or during the season, the day starts a lot earlier than the 7:05 first pitch. We are at the field normally around noon, and we run through stretching and agility to get ready for the day. I called this “story time.” A lot of books could be written with the stories you hear in the stretching circle.
My biggest mistake though was thinking that the best way to be ready to pitch a 4:05 game after a 12 hour bus ride the night before was to stay awake through that bus ride. I usually could sleep fine on the bus, but knowing I had the ball literally a few hours after we arrived, I couldn’t rest and just stayed awake. Double A hitters in the Texas league would feast on days you didn’t have your best stuff. Add staying up for almost 48 hours, and sitting up straight on a bus for 12 hours and it resulted in a pretty lousy outing. That day, I learned the body needs rest for a reason!
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
I think that is why athletes are in such demand in these types of roles with companies. We have to make decisions that have consequences all the time during our athletic careers. The catcher wants to throw a fastball here, but I want to throw a slider. I know that if I shake him off, that is on me, and I better execute on it. If it goes well or badly, I deal with the consequence as the decision maker. We are doing the same thing daily as leaders of organizations. This decision affects a lot of people, and there is pressure behind it.
My first strategy is that you have to be comfortable in the situation to begin with. Act as if you have been there before, and hopefully — you have! The way you train prepares you for each one of those situations, so being ready for anything and preparing for it is the first part.
The second is understanding what pressure and stress is. Knowing what signals your body provides understanding and can help you identify it when you are in the middle of it. Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I agree with this. You can prepare as much as you want, but until something flies off the rails, you don’t really know how you are going to react. I always have relied on a team to help with this process. I might not have every answer, but I have a phone to call someone who has the answer that I need. Having a great team around you helps with those times that you get punched in the mouth and have to recover.
Last is having a routine. When I was playing ball and it was my day to take the mound, I had a very specific routine I went through that started four hours before the game. It included the exact same warm up procedure all the way down to the order in which I put my uniform on. Some call it superstition, but others call it routine. Having a routine calmed me, because I knew that I was following a process to maximize my execution. I do the same thing now in business. Wake up around the same time, go to the gym, trying to do all of the things that get me as close as I can be toward maximum output. Doing this helps relieve the feeling of being stressed out or rushing to get prepared last minute. Have a routine and write it down. If it works, keep following it, and if it doesn’t, tweak it until it gives you the feeling that you want to have.
Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
I am sure no one is comfortable having to make that shift. You are going from a game you played as a kid, turned it into a career, and now have to transition away from the fun. I had Tommy John surgery on my elbow in 2007 after having an excellent 2006 campaign. I played for a couple more years, but the feel was never quite the same as before the surgery. I finished my business degree from USM during the off seasons and my mind was ready to enter the business world. The body soon followed as I just could not get my arm ready for another spring training and 150+ game season. I was always a “gear” guy and liked to see what brands were out there and learn about them. I had moved to Rhode Island from Maine to live with my girlfriend (now wife, which we have two beautiful daughters) and had a jacket I bought from a company called “Turfer.” I noticed they were based out of Rhode Island. I had a moped as I lived on the East Side of Providence and parking was a pain. I jumped on the moped and walked into their office. I chatted with a few people and met the CEO and founder, Gary Goldberg. I mentioned to him that I think I might be able to help sell his product, as they were selling pretty heavily into the team sports space. He didn’t have a job available at that time, but took a shot, as did I, and we have been working together ever since in the textile consumer goods space. Take a chance was the lesson that I learned that day.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
I have worn a few hats within the family of companies since that May day in 2010. I am back to managing a talented sales team now from business development roles, sales enablement, account executive and account managers at SquadLocker, a company that provides online tools for teams, organizations, and schools to manage custom apparel and equipment purchasing. It’s fun because it feels like you are putting a team together, kind of like a GM. To reference the bus again, you have to have people in the right seats on the bus, and I learn every day what makes different individuals tick. It gets me really motivated to see people understand their roles and succeed in them. At Squadlocker, we are making the lives of league admins and athletic directors easier by allowing them to do more of what they love. Coach, mentor and help change kids live for the better. Focus less on the gathering and organization of uniforms and apparel. Let us focus on that. Coaches should focus on the kid.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?
For sure. Teamwork is the number one skill, but it is more than just functioning perfectly as a team. It is getting through the times when you are “stuck.” It happens every day in business, and being a professional athlete helps you understand all the times that you have got yourself and others out of jams. My best example is when you have a great short stop, and you walked the leadoff hitter in a one-run game. He calls time, gives you a quick pat on the back and says, “Give me the ball.” He wants the ball hit to him so they can turn a double play and get you out of the jam. It feels just like when a deal is starting to go off the rails a bit in the office. You pull the team together real quick, and that is where the leaders stand out. The leaders want the ball. Being comfortable with others getting the ball is such a great analogy because you cannot solve everything yourself. Whether you are on the mound, or in the boardroom, trust that a ground ball to short gets you out of it!
Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Make yourself irreplaceable
It is tough to tell people how they can do that because every situation is different. But you have to have something about what you are doing, that people say, “This person has to be involved.” You can get released in professional baseball in a second, and someone else comes right in. There is always someone looking for your role, and trying to outwork you. Beat them out, and earn it, every single day.
Be impeccable with your word
This is taken from the book, “The Four Agreements,” but is a great lesson and narrows down the focus. Do what you say you are going to do. Become the person that gets things done this way. You become a pillar on a team whether it is sports or another team. There are countless times training for a season, and going through throwing programs, and workouts, and the grind of 150+ games during the heat of summer that your word to others and yourself can slip. If you say you are going to go through your band exercises for your shoulder every day to help build that strength, you owe it to yourself and others to do so. Same thing goes with getting tasks done throughout the course of the work week. If you are taking it on, be certain that you can do it. It might not always be right, but you learn lessons that way. If you take it on, and not act on it, you will never know.
Be ready to change on the fly
In 2006, I was coming off a season in which I jumped two levels, had the best ERA in the Astros organization and was gearing up to break into the big leagues the following year if I could follow the same track. In 2007, I was sitting in a physical training facility learning how to squeeze a tennis ball and hold a pen again. Life will punch you as hard as it can sometimes. You have to be versatile. Learn new skills all the time so you continue to outpace what might be thrown at you.
This is an easy one for all the athletes reading. This is how you move along in your career, but more importantly…stay there for a long time. In baseball, you must have a few things happen. Stay healthy, catch a break, and when you get that break, be as consistent as you can be for as long as possible. If you can do that, you can have a nice, long career. Repetition. Being able to repeat simple tasks, or simple skills over and over flawlessly is what helps with consistency. This has to be replicated with the mind as well. Patience goes along with this. Rushing those tasks, and those activities does not get you there faster. Doing them correct does. I have found the same thing has worked with scheduling a day with our Squadlocker Sales teams. The people who can come in and have their day organized and planned, and repeat that process, have great success. That doesn’t mean that it is repetitive in what they are doing every day, or things don’t sometimes get thrown off the rails. It just means that the system that they go about it remains the same. They check the right boxes every time something comes up.
Find another outlet to put energy into
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE to be on the grind. The competitiveness of professional baseball and the transfer to business has brought a very similar competitive drive to my day to day. Sometimes I have to take some of that energy and put it somewhere else. Playing baseball, it was gym, field, game, rest, repeat. Always looking for what is next to help me increase my chances to continue to do this.
Managing our sales group can feel the same way. Meetings, check-ins, performance, coaching, execution. We hear the word balance a lot. Putting it down and being present with your family, having a great weekend, maybe unplugging, and making sure you are at every event that you only get one crack at with your kids. Perfect, we all need that. There is one extra piece though. In competitive athletes who have played at a high level, there is this extra gear that lives somewhere probably in a dark corner of the mind. You want to win at something. For me, I like to take some of that energy and put it into another outlet, and I chose golf. Finding a place to put that little extra juice is important. It is nice to take that part of our brain out for a drive once in a while, and I choose for it to be an 18-hole trip.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
Talk to everyone. I didn’t do this enough in a few different spots. You can learn so much from people, and you do not know when someone says something that catches you the right way, on the right day. When you are in the minor leagues as a starting pitcher, there are two games a week that you sit in the stands behind home plate and you chart pitches and scout hitters for your upcoming outing with them. You go about the task at hand. There were so many times that I might have sat beside a family watching their first ball game together, or a WWII veteran who might have been watching their last. Or now in business, the travel, the conferences, or maybe just having lunch beside someone in the company you do not know well. It doesn’t need to take long. Relationships and conversation should be natural. Talk to people, it could change your day or theirs. Also, sign every single autograph that you can. You never know which one is going to be your last.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Thank you. This one is much simpler to answer, and it feels natural. There are charity events, and boards, and community giving programs that all feel great. The best thing though is seeing a kid shooting hoop, throwing a ball against a wall, maybe throwing a football around with friends and jumping in with them. You do not need to be successful to do that. You just need to break away five minutes of your time to rebound for the kid shooting free throws in the neighborhood. Or grabbing my Rawlings Pro Preferred glove that is always in the back of my car still and teaching a kid at a little league field how to hold the ball correctly. They might not recognize or know who you are, but that is the goodness about it. An innocent act keeps the games moving on.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Woah! I would have to help add influence on movements that have already started. Getting out to play sports is where I started this interview with you. Having the basketball court at the house kept me and most of the neighborhood outside, staying active, and playing. Most of the major sports are doing this. The NFL and MLB with their initiatives, and the PGA Tour helping to get youths involved in their game. The movement is to continue down this path so that everyone can be included. As I mentioned in an earlier question… talent is not geographical. The best hockey player might live in Florida, and the best beach volleyball player might live in Montana. Giving access to all youths for activities they want to participate in is a movement that I can certainly get behind.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I’m a big quote guy. I usually jot them down in my planner, and in December, take some of the ones I liked — rip out the page — and tape it in the new daily planner. My current hand written planner (I’m much more of a SalesForce person now, but still love to keep a hand written planner) has pages from the past probably 8–10 years. Right now, I have been going with a very recent quote that Joey LaCava, who is Tiger Woods’ caddie told him before he won the 2019 Masters. “Intense but loose.” I want to be intense and focused on my goals at hand as small or as big as they might be, but I want to approach them as loose as possible. Not tight and nervous, but free and easy. Intense but loose.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
As a massive New England sports fan… Tom (Brady) if you are reading this, we hated to see you go, but man, did you give us a great run! If not Tom, I would love to have a discussion with Marc Benioff (SalesForce CEO). I mentioned SalesForce briefly in a previous question, but it has really changed how not only my day, but anyone who uses this application approaches their day. Anytime someone had an idea that affects the efficiency of someone else’s life, I would like to pick their brain on what started that idea.