What Curling Can Teach You

Believe it or not, there are significant life lessons to be learned from the rather obscure sport of curling – powerful lessons which transcend not only that winter sport, but sports in general, and speak to our everyday pursuit of success. Among the keys to success (and there is no single recipe, especially as there are many definitions), strong relationships built on trust and shared purpose are often central.

Did you know that, even at the highest levels of competition, there are no referees in curling? The players police themselves.? Success in that sport isn’t a function of referees enforcing rules, but of the trusting relationships shared by the players – including those on opposing teams. Imagine that ethos working in day-to-day life!

When all players in a game or business negotiation agree to a shared purpose among them, a short-term loss is worth incurring because it keeps the overall game on track.

It’s not that rules are unimportant. Whether in curling or in life, rules are an essential component of living well and succeeding in our endeavors. Even the most maverick personalities among us couldn’t operate successfully without some system under which we all operate. So if rules are essential, that leaves open the question of who should best enforce them.

Certainly, referees are necessary in a variety of situations. However, imagine how much healthier it would be if the relationships in our lives were sufficiently trusting – so much that each of us was able to referee ourselves, even in moments when it’s to our immediate disadvantage. That’s what they do in curling. Imagine if the relationships among the players of any game, be it curling or life, operated that way (or, at least, aspired to).

Many factors contribute to people’s willingness and capacity to self-enforce the rules that govern their lives, but none are more important than mutual trust and a sense of shared purpose.

When all players in a game or business deal or policy negotiation agree to some shared purpose among them, a short-term loss is worth incurring because it keeps the overall game/goal on track. Those players are more likely to referee themselves, trusting in each others’ adherence to regulations. And when they genuinely trust that the people across from them (be it across the ice, or across the table) will do the same, refereeing can take a back seat to relationship-building and shared respect.

Cold, quirky winter sport that it is, I don’t imagine curling is going to become hugely popular in our country any time soon. Nor do I imagine that we can do away with all external enforcement. That said, the lessons we can derive from the skilled teams who play this sport are a reminder that yes, rules matter – but relationships, not referees, are critical to success.

?Image credit: Herbert Kratky/Shutterstock.com


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