Entrepreneurship can be a daunting career path. But for anyone participating at a high level in athletics, you already possess many traits that are needed to be a successful entrepreneur.
While I consider myself to be a lifelong athlete, I am only three years into my entrepreneurial journey. I have always leaned on the correlations between sports and business and have read Thinking Bodies, Dancing Minds multiple times. But the past few years of entrepreneurship have me looking back on my athletic career with even greater gratitude.
Here are 7 ways athletes have a head start in entrepreneurship:
- Athletes Believe They Can Win
Athletes know that mindset is everything. If you walk on the field (or the court, or the course, etc) with doubt in your mind, you will not win that game. Your opponent can sense the fear and will capitalize on your lack of resolve.
The same is true in entrepreneurship. You must play the game of entrepreneurship with an “Any Given Sunday” kind of mentality. Any game. Any day. Any team. You know you have a chance at winning. Your team will feed off of your conviction.
2. Athletes Understand Team Dynamics
In athletics, a strong team is greater than the sum of its parts. The magic is in how the pieces come together in complementary ways to function as a whole. Athletes have also witnessed firsthand how super-talent individuals can often get out played by a team that has less talent but works well together.
The same is true in entrepreneurship. Whether you’re a founder who collaborates with a co-founder who has complementary skills or you’re a solopreneur who is building a team of vendor partners and resources, your team will determine whether or not you win.
3. Athletes Are Comfortable in Comeback Season
Athletes experience both wins and losses. Some athletes experience setbacks like injuries or school transfers that impact their trajectory. Functioning and thriving through those moments builds resilience that will serve you well in entrepreneurship.
Most entrepreneurial efforts will fail. According to the Small Business Administration, only about 50% of startups survive for more than five years. The best entrepreneurs learn from the fails and apply the learnings to the next business they build. In fact, founders of failed start-ups have a 20% higher likelihood of success in their next venture.
4. Athletes Are Hard Workers
Athletes live by the Fred Devito quote, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” Or more generally, the phrases, “No Pain, No Gain.” and “Hard Work Works.” When training sessions are difficult, athletes can focus their mindset around the challenges being necessary in order to unlock the next level of performance.
The game of entrepreneurship is very similar. If you’re pushing yourself, you will consistently encounter challenges and face obstacles you’ve never faced before. A winning mindset knows that difficult work unlocks a higher level in your career. Entrepreneurs who bring a consistent work ethic to the table will win.
5. Athletes Are Coachable
Coaches are a critical component to any successful team. Great coaches bring out the best in their players and their team, helping them reach their highest levels of performance. Athletes will often choose schools or programs simply on the merit of the coach and their ability to drive results.
Coaches and mentors are of similar importance in entrepreneurship. Start-up efforts with a good mentor have been shown to grow 3.5x faster and raise 7x more money than entrepreneurs launching on their own. For entrepreneurs, it is important to find strong mentors and then approach the relationship with an open mind and a willingness to do things differently to achieve results.
6. Athletes Play Infinite Games
The best athletes have a mindset of constant improvement. Sure, there may be a championship game or a personal record they are chasing, but they know to achieve that goal, they have to show up every day and get better. They are chasing infinite improvement, not just a finite destination.
The game of entrepreneurship, or more broadly, business, is an infinite game. There is no endpoint unless you define an endpoint and retire. Every day brings new challenges that can be tackled as if they are stepping stones to level up your abilities. The daily grind must be seen as part of the process. As an entrepreneur, you have to fall in love with the process.
7. Athletes Are Obsessed
If you want to play at high levels in athletics, you need to be obsessed. Obsession means constant practicing… constant improvement… constant commitment to the cause. There is no “balance” in life when you’re chasing big goals.
The same is true in entrepreneurship. Starting a business will completely consume your world. Your hours will exceed a 9 to 5 schedule. “Balance” will come at a cost, not the least of which will be guilt for not maximizing your time or business runway. Before jumping into entrepreneurship, it’s worth having that conversation with yourself to understand if you want a life driven by this business obsession. If you want more balance, there is nothing wrong with climbing the corporate ladder and largely playing in 9 to 5 spaces.
It’s common for athletes to feel lost when their athletic career comes to an end and there is no outlet for the passion and hard work that used to organize the day. Where traditional 9 to 5 roles can feel uninspired and small for those who are used to chasing big goals, entrepreneurship can be a new game to play.
I am grateful that I found entrepreneurship as a path to living out my passions and I can’t wait to introduce my newest start-up, FlexSociety, to the world.