5 reasons athletes are successful outside of sports
We are seeing a rising trend in current or former athletes finding tremendous success outside of the arena of sports. Whether it’s as business owners or high-level executives, athletes are flourishing in various roles beyond the competitive sports landscape. I want to take a quick look at some of the reasons why.
1. Time Management
I didn’t really understand it when I was a high school athlete going through the recruiting process. I kept having meetings with different college coaches on various recruiting trips and they all said the same thing; the biggest adjustment from high school to college is learning to manage your time. I didn’t really put much stock into these statements until my first week of summer school before my freshman year in college.
I was only taking two classes that summer so I could get acclimated to the campus and the college lifestyle. Two classes isn’t a lot but it still felt like a whirlwind. I had the strength coach texting me at 6 AM. Classes from 8–11. Student-athlete seminars in the afternoons as well as training. Finish it all off with mandatory study hall for a minimum of two hours each night. And this was just summer school. It was definitely eye-opening to see how regimented my schedule was but once I got comfortable with everything that was thrust on my plate, I began to thrive.
You quickly start to realize the value of every minute in your day. I didn’t have time to be exhausted after weights, I needed to stop at Einstein’s before class so I could refuel. I often had to use my time in between activities to prepare for the next activity instead of relaxing or taking a nap. I learned that not utilizing my two hour study hall window often meant I was up late in my dorm getting work done. That also meant I was exhausted when waking up the next morning for weights. It’s a vicious cycle that no athlete wants to get stuck in. Learning to manage and utilize your time efficiently is one of the biggest lessons an athlete can take from college and carry it over into the next phase of their life.
As a professional athlete and entrepreneur, this sense of time management became even more important. Maximizing the hours in your day are vital to success both on and off the field. When I first started my business, I felt good about playing soccer in the morning and working on Prime Focus Goalkeeping in the afternoons. But I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted. I just felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. I often found myself saying “I just need another hour or so” but my busy schedule didn’t seem to afford me the time I desired. And then I started waking up earlier. I always woke up before my 7 am alarm clock anyway so why not change it to 6 am instead? The results were life-changing.
I started to realize how much more work I could get done by simply waking up an hour earlier. Now, I could complete most of the mundane tasks, that I planned for the afternoon, before the sun rises and free up time later to get even more done. This revelation led to many more time management life-hacks. Utilizing my calendar to organize meetings, interviews, and coaching. Scheduling my week in advance so I know what my targets are for each day. All of these things helped to relieve my stress and boost my performance. A regimented schedule isn’t always a bad thing!
2. Competitive Drive
I was a pretty average student in high school. I had high hopes of going to schools like Brown or Virginia Tech. Those dreams were quickly dashed after several meetings/emails informing me my GPA probably wasn’t going to allow me admission into those schools. I wasn’t heartbroken; just slightly embarrassed. Fast forward four years and I was graduating Cum Laude from UNC Wilmington with a degree in marketing. So what triggered my dramatic change in attitude towards education? I contribute a lot of it to my college teammates.
I lived with the same 3 guys all throughout college. We did everything together. Practice, meals, classes, etc. It was very rare you didn’t find at least two of us in the same room anywhere on campus. We competed together on the field to prove we were the best freshman class to ever grace the program; and we competed off the field to see who was the smartest of the bunch. It’s hard to explain the feeling of being the only one of your friends in the freshmen psych class who didn’t get an A on the exam, but I know I didn’t like it. We pushed each other to excel off the field because that’s simply how we were built. As athletes, you’re groomed from a young age to constantly prove your superiority in everything you do. Who can lift the most weights? Who can run the fastest mile? Who has the most trophies? Once you hit a certain age, you don’t really consider it competing anymore. It’s just a way of life.
It may have ruined a number of family game nights but that competitive drive ingrained in me, through athletics, has helped me thrive in the difficult world of business. Just like in sports, there is talent everywhere in the business world and there is always someone looking to take your spot. Performing at a high level every day in practice is essential to maintaining your starting role in any sports team and it’s the exact same in business. Either you exceed expectations every day or you risk losing your job. Different arenas but very similar types of pressure.
3. Relationship Building
I’ve been a part of four different organizations over the span of my 9-year professional career. I’ve met quite a few great teammates, coaches, and front office staff who have helped me develop into the athlete and businessman I currently am. As an athlete, you learn how to quickly form bonds and find common ground with people you barely know because you’re all striving for the same goal. The most successful athletes are the ones who know how to cultivate those relationships into something more than just on-field chemistry.
I learned early on in my career, it’s not always about how talented you are. Sometimes the best opportunities come simply by having the right relationships. In early 2014, I was recovering from shoulder surgery and contemplating my next move as a free agent. I didn’t have many options but the one option I did have came about due to my relationship with a former goalkeeper coach. He got me a preseason opportunity to earn a contract and 18 months later I was starting in a championship game and lifting a trophy.
Putting 22 different guys, from various cultural backgrounds, in one locker room can be difficult. You have to learn how to work with a variety of people, some you like and some you may not. It doesn’t always require teammates to be best friends in order for the team to be successful. Learning how to successfully navigate those tougher relationships in a group can be the biggest key to overall success for a team. I’ve been in locker rooms where guys don’t speak English and therefore it’s extremely hard to communicate. Those are also some of the guys who I had the strongest relationships with because we simply figured it out together. Building relationships, on and off the field, can be one of the greatest assets for an athlete.
I’ve played in sunny, southern California and I’ve played in snowy, upstate New York. I’ve had coaches who stood on the sideline and said very little in practice and I’ve had coaches who stopped training every 5 minutes to correct mistakes. Every year of my career, I’ve been in a new environment. The city may not change, the team may still be the same, but inevitably there is something different about the environment you’re in.
A new coach comes in with a different style of play and you have to be able to adjust in order to fit this new way of doing things. You join a new team and the organization is run completely opposite to the team you were on before. As an athlete, these are all things that can affect how successful you are on the field. You can either let these temporary obstacles hold you back or you can adapt and thrive.
In 2016, I signed a contract with a team which saw me move from one side of the country to the other. It was an eye opening experience. I went from having my own locker to sharing a park bench with 20-plus guys every morning in a few short months. From having a full training room and full-time training staff to having 8 different athletic trainers over the course of the season. I talk about my struggles adjusting to this new environment extensively on my podcast The Last Line: Soccer Podcast.
It was a massive learning experience but the main take away for me was that I have to learn how to adapt better to my environment. The most successful athletes are the ones who adapt the quickest and figure out the different paths to growth in their new environments. Once I realized I needed to stop complaining so much and focus on the positives that will help me achieve what I want, I started to see improvement in myself and my play. Adapting isn’t easy but it is often something that is thrust on athletes consistently throughout their careers.
I remember the first time I wore the captain’s armband. It was the 2015 season, our captain was injured and I’m not really sure why but the coach gave me the armband. There is a special sense of pride standing at the front of the line and leading your teammates out on the field. Even though I was only captain for one game, I felt like I had more responsibility. I’ve worn the armband a number of times since then and it’s always felt the same. It’s just different. As an athlete, I think most of us have experienced that feeling. Whether it was in high school, college, or the professional level. At some point in your athletic career, you were probably one of the better players on the team and looked to as a leader of the group.
With talent comes expectation and with expectation comes responsibility. Learning to be a leader and guiding your teammates in the right direction towards success is a long process but definitely a fulfilling one. It doesn’t always require the tag of “captain” to be a leader on a team. At 30 years old, I’ve been one of the older, more experienced guys on my team for the past couple years. My role as a mentor affords me the opportunity to lead in different ways. Not every leader is the one with the most experience. Often times, it’s the players who show the most willingness to carry the group in the right direction.
There are various forms of leadership that I’ve come across in my time as a professional. Some players lead by example and are more quiet on the field and in the locker room. Other players have big personalities and are very demanding of their teammates. The most successful leaders are the ones who figure out how to get their teammates to buy in to their leadership style and share their vision of long-term team success.
These attributes are just a few of the many skills that athletes hone and develop over the course of their playing careers which translate over to a variety of roles outside of sports. As an athlete, you’re constantly challenged to continue to develop and excel. This mentality is what drives many athletes to succeed no matter what they are doing.
Share your thoughts! How did you feel about the article? What skills do you think are most necessary for an athletes’ success off the field? Feel free to comment or reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn!