How Being an Entrepreneur Is Like Being an Athlete

The playing fields may be different, but athletes and entrepreneurs have more in common than you might think.

Bryce McKinley · 8 Oct 2020
How Being an Entrepreneur Is Like Being an Athlete

At first glance, business professionals and athletes might appear pretty different. As it turns out, though, entrepreneurs share a lot of elements with sports players, so much so that anybody who wants to begin a company would likely benefit from hitting a gym or arena. Here’s why:

Related: 5 Questions That Reveal Whether You’re an Effective Leader

Coordination with a Great Team

In most sports, there are different positions players can take. Each player has a particular job to do — that is, everybody contributes something specific so that all the players on the team can achieve a fast time, score a goal, or get a point. The players don’t just know their own positions but understand the positions of the other players on their team as well. Real coordination on the field requires this — otherwise, they’re not working as a true team. There’s also usually a team captain or coach who directs what the team members do. Similarly, in a business, as an entrepreneur, you do not try to complete everything yourself. Rather, you delegate tasks to employees who have the skills to make your vision reality. Each team member has their own role to play, contributing soft skills, hard skills, or information to projects. Like a sports coach, you motivate your team members to push forward, inspiring them to work together.

Establishing Strategies

Most teams and individual athletes study their competition very carefully, trying to identify specific areas of weakness. A boxer, for instance, might watch to see how a competitor carries themselves when they’re starting to fatigue or whether they have a specific, predictable combination they tend to lean on too much. Based on this research, and based on the strengths that the team or individual has, they develop specific plays or overall strategies for how to win single games or tournaments. In the same way, when you’re an entrepreneur, you look at the current market to see what other companies are doing and where there are gaps in meeting demand. You carefully consider everything from budget to materials and advertising word choice, forming plans for manufacture, release, market penetration, updates, and more.

Development

Many athletes have natural talent that sets them apart from others, but even so, to truly reach their fullest potential, they must train. They often put in many hours of physical work per day, paying close attention to what they eat and using sophisticated tools to measure progress. They hold on to what enhances performance and let go of what holds them back. In the business world, it’s rare to have an idea or product so perfect that it can immediately go to market. Most of the time, you’ll start out with a good concept, make some prototypes or put together a general protocol, test it out, get feedback, and, if needed, repeat the process over and over again. Thus, just as in sports, success in business is a process that doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, continuing adaptation and growth are hallmarks of an entrepreneurial career.

Recuperation

Sports players push the limits of what is physically capable on a regular basis, constantly setting new records. Even the best athletes, however, cannot go on forever. They need adequate rest to perform their best, so they are careful to watch for signs of overtraining, smart about how they schedule workouts, and generous with their sleep allotments. Recovery is just as vital to an athlete as training. As an entrepreneur, you might not have as many physical demands, but your mental requirements are enormous. To keep your creative juices flowing and avoid burnout, it’s wise to use relaxation methods, participate in fun activities, take regular vacations, switch up your routine, see your doctor regularly, and yes — sleep! Just as an athlete is careful to home in on specific drills or muscle groups to maximize performance results, focus your efforts on just a few projects that have great potential, rather than trying to chase every opportunity that could yield some small benefit.

Regulations and Ethics

Most athletic organizations have rules about performance-enhancing substances, age, accepting bribes, and so forth. Players or coaches who do not abide by these regulations risk being suspended or banned from their team or, in the worst-case scenario, from any events held for their sport. Entrepreneurs similarly must abide by certain standards. Stealing someone else’s idea or design, for example, is a major ethical violation. Embezzlement, misleading shareholders or other investors, mistreating workers, and discrimination are additional problems, with specific laws applying on both the state and federal level. Approach your business improperly and you could rip apart your own reputation, doom your company, and even wind up in jail. Sportsmanship is as alive and well in business as it is respected on the field.

Recruitment

If you are a sports player, your goal is to catch the eye of a team or recruiter capable of providing you with a good salary and other perks. If you’re a coach or recruiter, your goal is to find individuals who can outpace, outlast, or otherwise outperform members from other teams. It’s not unusual for coaches, recruiters, and players to bounce offers and requests back and forth throughout this process. Entrepreneurs are in the same position as players are in that they need to catch the eye of lenders and investors. Without financial supporters, your business will be much more difficult to get off the ground, maintain, and expand. However, you’re also playing the role of coach in that you have to find business partners and employees who will not only fill the unique needs your business has but who can also give your company an edge over others in your industry. Like athletes and their administrators, you must handle formal contracts related to your partners and employees, negotiating for a deal that, ideally, benefits everybody.

Related: A Guide to Making Difficult Business Decisions in a Crisis

Conclusion

Athletes and entrepreneurs are not so dissimilar. Their playing fields may be different, but the commonalities extend through team coordination, recruitment, regulations and ethics, development, and other areas. If you’re starting a business, take cues from sports players — give it everything you’ve got, play fair, and get in your field to win big.

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