What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Former NFL Athletes
What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Former NFL Athletes
This week I spoke with serial entrepreneur Adam Mendler about the things I’ve written on the power of athletes in business. (He’s CEO of the Veloz Group in L.A. and a fellow sports enthusiast who particularly enjoys the Los Angeles Angels.) I’ve written many times about the advantages athletic experience brings to entrepreneurs, and am even counseling a business in Colorado, InXAthlete, that has built its entire model on the placement of former collegiate athletes in successful careers.
Adam Mendler is CEO of The Veloz Group in L.A.THEVELOZGROUP.COM
As a lifelong Angels fan, Mendler notes he is well-accustomed to the highs and lows of rooting for a team you love: the joy of watching great games and big wins, the heartbreak of tough losses and getting knocked out of playoff contention (or, occasionally, the playoffs). Like me, he knows the emotional rollercoaster of sports is similar to the journey of entrepreneurs: One day you’re on top of the world and the next it seems the world may end.
Today I’d like to examine these parallels more closely and the lessons from athletics that can benefit us all. To that end, Mendler shared his interviews with several players who’ve enjoyed successful careers in America’s most popular sport, football, who are also entrepreneurs. As Marques Ogden, a former NFL lineman who went through the school of hard knocksas an entrepreneur before finding success as a public speaker, has said, “The NFL teaches you how to be your own CEO. You need traits like leadership, perseverance, dedication and teamwork to thrive in the NFL [and] these skills are pivotal in the business world as well.”
Here’s what Mendler said.
Set a Bold Vision. Football fans likely remember Doug Brien from the two decades he spent as an NFL placekicker, that last lasted for over two decades, but as the co-founder of two successful startups, Brien on his way to an even bigger legacy as an entrepreneur. When Mendler asked Brian about the connection to success on and off the playing field, he said, “To be in the NFL it takes a bold and audacious vision with the self-confidence to back it. To be a successful entrepreneur takes a bold vision, the ability to pull a team together around that vision and create values, goals and, ultimately, a plan to execute on.”
Embrace Pressure. One of the first things Mendler learned upon leaving the corporate world to start The Veloz Group is that the pressures in entrepreneurship are completely distinct from the worries of a traditional job. You quickly become less concerned about happiness and more concerned with survival. Professional football, however, is anything but a traditional job. As former Pro-Bowl cornerback Shawn Springs said, “To have success in playing in the NFL, you have to learn to function in an environment of high stress.” Springs is currently the CEO of Windpact, a startup focused on improving helmet safety. He noted, “Facing that level of stress everyday had me well prepared for the challenges and stress I’ve encountered as an entrepreneur.” Entrepreneurs must find a way to effectively manage pressure. While lifting weights, doing yoga and watching baseball are great outlets for many, founders may also de-stress by boxing, meditating, reading or listening to music or podcasts as well.
Manage Fear. NFL athletes and entrepreneurs go similar experiences in laying everything on the line to play football professionally or start a business from scratch. Athletes risk their short-term and long-term physical and mental health, while entrepreneurs take significant financials risks. Both are playing in areas defined by immensely high rates of failure. Those who succeed, however, can set their fears aside and focus on winning. As Pro-Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis, also the co-founder of TuMe Beverage Company, said: “When I step out onto that field, fear is not an option. The same holds true for every entrepreneur who is taking a risk on starting a business.”
While entrepreneurship comes with highs and lows, entrepreneurs mired in worries are actually blocking themselves from pushing ahead at full force. However, even the most fearless among us have days when the gravity of our work gets the best of us. You must develop a strong support system that allows you to lean on others who’ve been in your shoes and can relate to what you’re experiencing. Talk things through with someone you trust as often as possible, whether it is your business partner, a mentor or a fellow entrepreneur.
Never Make Excuses. In entrepreneurship, the path is to success is anything but linear. We face challenges of varying degrees virtually every day, We can only build thriving businesses by overcoming obstacles, including those that result from mistakes. To push forward, it is critical to “fail forward,” as I freuqently say. Mendler agrees. You must embrace your mistakes by taking responsibility for and learning from them, rather than making excuses and relitigating the past. As former Pro-Bowl running back turned entrepreneur Justin Forsett, founder of ShowerPill, said, “I definitely had my fair share of obstacles during my NFL career, but I never took no for an answer, never made excuses and always committed to improving myself and achieving my goals. While the obstacles we come up against in business are obviously very different, it’s that same mentality that fuels me to keep pushing.”
In short, success in football and entrepreneurship require the mindset that anything is possible, and the grit and tenacity to do whatever is required to get to your goals.