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Life Advice

What Sport Has Taught Me About Purposefulness

By David Nicholson

The great paradox of sport is that by doing it, you gain energy rather than lose it.

“Going for a run in the morning makes me more energetic for the rest of the day,” says Anthony Goodwin, CEO of global recruitment company Antal International. Like many runners, he is constantly amazed by this quirk of human biology. Shouldn’t you feel tired after running around a park for an hour?

Sport achieves this alchemic reaction in all kinds of ways. The minute you book a competitive sporting event, your subconscious mind begins to prepare for it.

As the day of a race approaches, I find that my weight drops, I’m more motivated to train, the training itself becomes more purposeful, even my physical form changes: my running action starts to improve, I’m more deliberate in each stride, my posture is taller.

It frustrates me when people say: “I’d love to do a triathlon, but I’ll only book it when I’m fit enough.” That’s not the attitude! Book the race a few months in advance and fitness will follow. Sporting challenges create purpose, just as surely as business deadlines do.


The epicentre of everything


In Anthony Goodwin’s experience, purposefulness is also the key to a successful business. “It’s at the epicentre of everything,” he says. Goodwin recently hosted a video conference for 100 new employees – Antal International is growing at an amazing pace, as global demand for quality staff soars.

When I first saw the new hires, it was a disheartening sight. They were a disjointed group, there didn’t seem to be any strategy behind our recruitment. But this despondency drove me to act in a positive way,” says Goodwin.

“I said, ‘You’re all new, you all want to be successful, and we want you to be successful.’ So I asked them to draw up an A list, B list and C list of prospects, and contact each of them right away.”

Soon, the 100 new hires started acting with purpose and energy, tackling measurable yet ambitious goals. 


Goal setting


In sport, setting goals is just as important. Whether running 5,000m, swimming 1,000m or simply cycling for an hour. It’s crucial to set targets just outside your current capacity, just beyond your imagination, so that you become someone new, someone like the people you most admire.

As head of Antal India, Joseph Devasia reports that the company is growing rapidly in the subcontinent, taking on dozens of new franchisees in recent years, with more registering every month. He now oversees almost 50 businesses with 270 employees.

What we’re looking for is people who show incentive,” says Devasia. “From their school days, through college, into their work lives. And people who see things through to a conclusion.

Sport is a useful indicator. “If they’ve been captain of their cricket team, then it shows their leadership abilities. Or if they’ve run a marathon, it shows planning and determination to get to the end point. They need to be up and about, rising early and getting to the gym.


Real world connections


Devasia prefers to work with people who are connected to the real world, rather than subsumed in the virtual reality of social media platforms. “Some Generation Z candidates give up too soon,” he has found. “They want quick results. They try for two months and then look for another job. They want success from 50 per cent effort.

Like Anthony Goodwin, Devasia is clear-sighted about the effort-reward ratio in recruitment. “Our business is like that. You get 90 per cent rejection. Only 10 per cent of clients are actually prepared to talk to you. The current generation isn’t used to calling people up. They’re used to swiping or scrolling.

Having the self-discipline to call a hundred people, knowing that only 10 will reply, is tough. Probably too tough for most young people raised on social media and instant gratification.

Equally, being purposeful enough to go out training six days a week, rain or shine, even when you’re feeling rough, is the key to athletic achievement.

Anthony Goodwin admits that purposefulness does not always come naturally to him. “You can draw it from all kinds of sources,” he says. “From sport, but also from family, hobbies, loved ones. You feel good that they feel good. The negative is when you lose purposefulness and start to wonder what the point is. A lack of purpose can then descend into despondency or even depression.”


Don’t be a victim


He recommends mindfulness programmes like those produced by Headspace, which help you avoid becoming a victim of negative thoughts. “Purposefulness is determined by how we judge our own thoughts,” says Goodwin. “It’s also about how to deal with purposelessness, how to react to setbacks.”

In a post-Covid world, there are more incentives than ever to do nothing, to allow purposelessness to take over. We work from home, communicate with our fingers, avoid travel, crowds, human interaction.

It takes determination and purpose to book events, risk infection, go out into the world and rediscover the joys of community, the magical serendipity of meeting new people, forging unlikely connections and taking on new challenges.

Since taking on competitive sporting challenges a decade ago, I’ve given up alcohol, lost more than three stones (20kg) in weight, enjoyed better relationships with my wife and children, made a whole set of new friends and built a thriving journalism business.

I feel like a different person: fitter, healthier and definitely more purposeful.

If you’re not already taking part in sport, why not try it out? You could find a whole new purpose in life.


David Nicholson runs – providing journalism to publications and companies. Contact David at [email protected] or mobile 07802 834477.

Anthony Goodwin is founder and CEO of Antal International – – with more than 800 people in 35 countries.