How Physical Training Helps Me in the Workplace

Lessons from a table-tennis enthusiast.

Years ago, I used to be depressed.

These days, I balance low moods with physical training.

I run and lift weights.

I plod along. I plod to clear my head. I plod because I spend my days sitting down at a desk or hunched over a keyboard or engaged in work that’s impossible to quantify with a personal best.

I’m also not a strong weight lifter, but I still enjoy exercises like back squats, deadlifts and power cleans.

A lot of the time I’m beaten up after these workouts, but I feel better about myself and more motivated to push through on a difficult work or creative projects.

I’m hardly unique. I’ve interviewed many successful entrepreneurs and executives and a lot of them prioritise their physical health.

Johnny Quach is vice-president of product for AirHelp and believes his love of table tennis helps him cultivate valuable skills for work.

His company has helped over seven million passengers claim expenses after encountering problems like a delayed flight or lost luggage. AirHelp has offices in 30 countries and employs 550 people.

Quach started playing table tennis around 2014. Today, he plays for approximately fifteen hours a week after work.

He cites five reasons why table tennis, like most sports, can help an entrepreneur or executive become more effective at work.


1. You’ll Appreciate the Value of Preparation

Quach, like most table tennis players, spends hours preparing for what may or may not happen in a game. After all, it only takes ten points to win a ping pong set.

“You practice over twenty different shots that you might use within those ten points,” he said.

Similarly, an entrepreneur or manager may spend hours preparing for a big client meeting, a product launch or a key presentation. And their big moment may last just a few minutes.

“In a startup, you just have to be prepared. You can’t be perfect at everything, but you have to have a little bit of knowledge…to really make decisions quickly,” said Quach.

Personally, I’ve spent hours preparing for longer races like marathons. It’s a good way of switching off from problems at work.


2. You’ll Embrace the Chaos

A table tennis player gets two serves like his opponent. According to Quach, each serve represents the only time a player has 100% control over what’s happening. The rest of the game is chaotic, much like day-to-day work in a fast-moving company.

“Working in a fast-growing company, as well as playing ping pong, there’s a huge amount of order, and there’s a huge amount of chaos,” said Quach.

“As a startup, you should always try to have order in the things that you understand, but…there’s an unlimited amount of chaos that’s always chasing you.”

For example, an airline may change their baggage policy. Or it could even go out of business.

“It’s really, really important to embrace the chaos that comes. You’re always prepared for new information and new data,” said Quach.


3. You’ll Value Team Members More

Like with most competitive sports, a player can’t train for table tennis by themselves. They must play against a partner. A weightlifter needs someone to spot them too.

Similarly, a leader and managers must work with their team members to succeed. Even an entrepreneur in a business-of-one deals with customers, clients and suppliers.

“People are constantly giving you direction, or constructive feedback,” said Quach.

“I’m with people who struggle with the same problems, who can see those issues and give advice that’s very relevant.”

I’ve learnt over the years success on the track, in the gym or at work only comes when you rely on others.


4. You’ll Thrive Against Competition

Quach has competed in several table tennis tournaments in Los Angeles. He’s trained for months to win one game, much like a startup committing all its time and resources to a big project.

“AirHelp as a company, positioned in the market that it is, is extremely competitive. One of the main reasons why we’re much further ahead, is we constantly work on ourselves as a company,” he said.

“I couldn’t imagine a more parallel phrase to how you would improve well in sport. You’re constantly always working on yourself.”

Even though I usually finish a road race mid-pack, I enjoy the challenge of competing like Quach. This applies to work or business too. A more talented colleague or a competitor could force you to raise your game.


5. You’ll Learn How to Work With a Coach

An entrepreneur who wants to succeed may enlist the help of a mentor who can help them solve thorny business problems. Although they may stand a chance of solving this problem alone, a good teacher will help them find a solution faster.

“The best managers in the world are not great teachers, they’re great coaches. “A good manager really finds your weaknesses and helps you fine-tune those things,” said Quach.

“I would say that is the exact same thing when it comes to a table tennis coach, or a basketball coach, or any sports coach.”

Even if you don’t play table tennis or like running or weightlifting like me, almost anyone can appreciate the value of preparation, teamwork and working with a coach or mentor.


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