5 Reasons Why Running a Business and Refereeing Sport Are The Same

By day I run a marketing agency called Creare, then at weekends for the best part of 20 years, I have put on a pair of ice skates, a stripey shirt and a lot less padding than the players and officiated professional ice hockey.

I don’t know how much you know about ice hockey, but it can be a pretty brutal sport. Played by tough characters each carrying around a piece of timber in their hands, shooting a solid rubber puck around the ice at 100mph and crashing into each other at high speed. And then there are the officials who are in the middle of all that trying to make split second decisions and maintaining the peace, all whilst being yelled at by the thousands of fans in attendance.

It certainly is a random mix of career choices and one I wouldn’t change for anything, but it got me thinking about the skills required for each role and I quickly realised that refereeing professional sports and running a business often aren’t too dissimilar.


  1. Dealing with characters: The sport of hockey, much like many sports is a game loaded up with unique and sometimes firey characters. As a referee, just like a leader in a business, you need to know how to manage these individuals, but not constrain them too much because often, they are the team players that deliver enormous value.
  1. Communicating with clarity: The key for any leader in business is to communicate with clarity, getting your ideas and decisions across to the necessary audience. Communication is also a big part of officiating professional sports, you need to have a good relationship with the coaches and clearly communicate your decisions to the teams and all those in attendance.
  1. Great team work: Just like the two teams competing, team work is a big part of officiating professional sports, we go out there as a team and work together to make the best decisions possible. A leadership team in a business is no different. It would be a pretty lonely ride if you didn’t have a good relationship with your team mates and you weren’t all heading in the same direction, backing each others decisions and forming a united front.
  1. Staying cool under pressure: Sometimes in business times can be hard, just like those moments in a heated game where the players and fans are on your back, you need to maintain a calm and controlled appearance. If you lose it in either job, the situation will likely descend further and then you really have lost control.
  1. Not being afraid to make unpopular decisions: Probably the most fundamental thing is simply knowing that if you’re the boss, or the referee in charge of a game, you aren’t always going to be popular. You have to make decisions and take action that won’t be universally agreed upon, but you must always base those decisions on the best information available and with total integrity every step of the way.

Back at the beginning of my career, I was criticised by a potential employer for having ‘Ice Hockey Referee’ as a job on my CV. The day has always stuck with me, because in that moment, and every step of my journey since, I fundamentally disagreed with that mindset, always believing that the wealth of transferrable skills from my ‘other’ job were vast.

The beauty of the world of business and the world of sport is that both are fast paced, challenging and rarely feature a dull moment. I believe more businesses should look to the wider skills and experience people possess, because it’s that broad set of experiences that make people successful, and ultimately it’s those people that make businesses successful.

Check out more articles about business, technology and digital marketing on Creare’s Advice Centre.