Sports have become a big business. From merchandise to ticket sales, endorsements to cable channels, the business of sports is an industry that generates millions of dollars in revenue every year. No longer simply a game, sports have turned into full-scale productions with commercial endorsements, announcers and news coverage. Even novice athletes have succumbed to the pressure of trying to make the cut as a professional athlete.

Oftentimes, business is referred to as a game, where the winner is the entrepreneur who finds success. In this case, the playing field is the office and the players within the game are the different companies that compete for customers in the industry. Make no mistake – the competition within the ranks of business is just as fierce as on a field, and the antics of business entrepreneurs can be strikingly similar to famous athletes.

There are similarities between the world of entrepreneurs and the world of athletes – parallels that can give direction to business executives who are trying to succeed on the playing field of economics.

Parallels between Entrepreneurship and Sports

© | Singkham

This article will explore the 1) similarities between entrepreneurs and sports, 2) ways to maximize strengths, 3) training opportunities, 4) strategic planning methods for the big game, as well as 5) ways to evaluate success. In addition, it will take a look at 6) sports athletes who became entrepreneurs after leaving the sports arena.


Before understanding the parallels between sports and business, it is necessary to understand how entrepreneurs and athletes are similar. Let’s begin by examining the characteristics of an entrepreneur. There are seven key characteristics that successful entrepreneurs possess and are worth exploring.

  • Passion. Most entrepreneurs are driven by a passion for their business. It is the force that keeps them burning the midnight oil, working weekends and holidays. A sincere belief that the work they are doing is important can keep the entrepreneur working through rough times.
  • Tenacity. When things are going well, it is easy to go to work. The successful entrepreneur, however, continues to work even when things get difficult. When faced with failure, the entrepreneur refuses to give up and will find ways to be successful, despite roadblocks that may occur.
  • Vision. Seeing a path to success is a trait that entrepreneurs possess. In spite of naysayers, the entrepreneur can set a path towards the vision that they have for their business.
  • Self-confidence. An entrepreneur has the confidence that they will be able to succeed, and is more willing to take risks because of that self-confidence. They know that they are in a unique position to succeed, due to their confidence in their abilities.
  • Flexibility. The role of an entrepreneur demands flexibility. Being able to make changes, take on additional job responsibilities or move the business in a different direction is a key characteristic of a successful entrepreneur.
  • Rule-breaking. A willingness to break the rules is another important aspect of a successful entrepreneur. By defying conventional wisdom, the entrepreneur is able to create new technologies, processes and products that revolutionize the business world.
  • Tolerance for fear. It can be frightening to assume the risk of starting a business, venture into an unknown field or ask for funding for a product that doesn’t yet exist. The entrepreneur must be able to move beyond the fear by harnessing it and using it as fuel.

Interestingly, those same seven characteristics can be identified in athletes, although they are applied in different ways.

  • Passion. Athletes who succeed in their sport exhibit a passion for their sport. Generally characterized by the person who ‘eats, sleeps and dreams’ about their sport, they are passionate about playing the game they love.
  • Tenacity. The athlete who wishes to move beyond the ‘weekend warrior’ status must possess a level of tenacity. Tenacity drives the athlete to continue to train even in the off-season, and to return to the game even after an injury.
  • Vision. A successful athlete has a clear vision of themselves as a winner. They can envision the end result of the game – and they have the victory. Regardless of the odds stacked against them, they are single-minded in their vision.
  • Self-confidence. To engage in a game where thousands of others have played, and determine that one will be the best player requires a level of self-confidence many athletes do not possess. The ones who use their self-confidence as a tool will enjoy a higher level of success.
  • Flexibility. Playing a game professionally requires flexibility: weather conditions, playing arenas, field position, teammates, coaching staffs are all variables that can change without warning. Being able to remain flexible is imperative for the successful athlete.
  • Rule-breaking. While the rules of the game can’t be broken, the athlete must be willing to break the rules of society that try to discourage someone from reaching greatness. The athlete must be one who refuses to follow the set path towards mediocrity.
  • Tolerance for fear. It can be overwhelming to train for years for the opportunity to perform at the highest level of athleticism. Competing in large scale arenas, against legendary athletes, may allow fear to cripple an athlete. The successful athlete, however, moves beyond the fear and still performs.

Understanding the similarities between entrepreneurs and athletes can be helpful when drawing parallels between the sports arena and the business office. Possessing some of the same characteristics, the entrepreneur and the athlete may wear different clothes to work, but go about their jobs in the same way.

How Sports Prepare You to Be an Entrepreneur


The similarities between the entrepreneur and the athlete are striking. To be successful in either arena – the business office or the playing field – the participant must learn to maximize their strengths and negate their weaknesses.

For an athlete, knowing the particular strengths one possesses is vital to success in the game. A soccer player who can master the left-foot shot is a key player when the score is tied and there is a play in the goal box. The runner who can maintain a reserve of energy until the last lap of a four lap race will have an advantage over the other runners who are gasping for every bit of air.

For the entrepreneur, understanding the strengths one possesses is equally as important. The businessperson who excels at bringing in new clients will not thrive if they are trapped in the office every day. A salesperson who can confidently ask for million dollar contracts will thrive when given the opportunity to make the presentations.

In order to maximize strengths, both the athlete and the entrepreneur must identify the strengths that they possess, and then move into a position to use them. The entrepreneur who can target new business should leave the daily office work to others, while focusing on acquiring new work. The athlete who maintains a reserve of energy must be able to identify when to call on that reserve to move to the front of the pack. Regardless of the strength, it is useless unless it can be put to work. Identify the strength, and then harness it.

Through discovery of strengths, weaknesses can often be identified. Establishing ways to minimize the weakness within a company will help in gaining an advantage over competitors. Often, finding a way to solve a weakness can become the means to new revenue, thus turning the weakness into strength. Look for ways to maximize strength, while minimizing weakness.


A remarkable thing happens at the beginning of every sports season: the athletes report for training. Players at the top of their game are side by side with the new players, conditioning and training. The successful athlete knows that if they are to continue to compete, they have to stay in shape; the only way that can happen is through training.

Entrepreneurs must approach growth and development the same way. It must be a continuous part of the business cycle. Find opportunities for development within the industry through trade shows, conferences and conventions. These can be ‘boot-camp’ type sessions that add value and knowledge, helping the entrepreneur remain at the front of their industry. Join networking groups that meet regularly. By meeting other entrepreneurs, even ones who are not in the same industry, there is a sharing of information and ideas that keep skills sharp and toned.

Another way that entrepreneurs can remain ‘in shape’ is by subscribing to (and reading) trade magazines and journals that deal with business applications. Management books, business practice methods and other books that can give guidance and ideas are all valuable tools in keeping an entrepreneur at the top of their game. No time to read? Consider using podcasts, audio books and electronic books and blogs to supplement reading time.

Maintain certifications, acquire additional education credits in the industry or take courses to broaden the scope of the business. By continuing to grow and develop, the entrepreneur can maintain a competitive edge, while improving their business.


A successful athlete knows that it is impossible to become successful alone. That is why an athlete may have a coach, a trainer, a nutritionist, a physical therapist and more who are all working together to help propel the athlete to success. There are several aspects that must be taken into account when preparing for sports and few athletes can consider all of them adequately. The athlete’s coach, then, is often one of the most important people in the athlete’s arsenal; bringing together the different aspects of the athlete’s training for strategic planning. It is often the coach who establishes a training schedule, outlines nutritional plans and prioritizes the physical conditioning. The athlete who wishes to be successful will follow the coach’s plan.

For the entrepreneur, the business ‘coach’ may be called a consultant or mentor. Establishing a relationship with a mentor who can provide guidance and advice is a key to a successful business. Another important aspect of being successful in business is the development of a strategic plan. A well formulated plan can give direction and guidelines for growing a business, and can help maintain an advantage within the industry.

Putting together a team of people to act as coaches and mentors for a business can be tricky. To help engage the people who are in a position to offer assistance, it may be worthwhile to find an accelerator. The start-up community is rich with mentors and businesses that have navigated the waters of starting a company and can be vital to helping entrepreneurs succeed.

In sports, as well as business, establishing a plan for success is vital. Identifying the people who can help propel others to success must be included in the plan.


In athletics, it can be easy to identify success: it’s the team (or athlete) who wins. An athlete, however, typically wants to be a consistent winner and is not content with a one and done success rate. That’s the reason so many athletes continue to return to a sport year after year – determined not to be considered a ‘lucky’ winner. For these athletes, success can be measured in the long-term. While it is impossible to win every game or match, an overall winning standing can be an indicator that the athlete is successful in their sport. Athletes who repeatedly deliver a win are regarded as the elite in their sport. These athletes set records, hold titles and collect trophies and medals that indicate their mastery of the sport.

In the business world, trophies are generally not handed out as an indicator of success. Similar to their counterparts in the athletic world, however, most entrepreneurs are not content to be a one shot wonder and seek success for the duration. The way that success is measured, however, can be different for every entrepreneur.

Monetary success is certainly a clear indicator of ‘winning’ the business game. Achieving financial successes can be exhilarating as a company realizes it’s potential and reaches sales goals and targets. Companies can exhibit the reward of winning this match through IPOs, sales quotas and revenue figures.

Another indicator of success to the entrepreneur may be the ability to live a particular lifestyle. Having flexibility to establish one’s own office hours, determine where to live and what possessions to spend money on are often a way that entrepreneurs demonstrate success.

For others, the ability to act in humanitarian efforts may be the largest indicator of success – being able to help others is their ultimate in entrepreneurship winning.

No matter what winning looks like, it is important to have a clear picture of success. Identifying the end goal of the game will help the entrepreneur know when they have reached it. A periodic evaluation of the success of the company can provide direction and inspiration to the entrepreneur as the company gets closer to its goal.

SEA Conference Presentation: The Connection between Entrepreneurship & Competitive Games & Sports


George Foreman 2007

George Foreman © Wikimedia commons | Paul Dickover

Finding athletes who have traded the playing field for the business office can be instrumental in understanding the parallels between entrepreneurship and sports.

George Foreman: Legendary boxing champion, George Foreman started a line of kitchen appliances designed for healthier grilling. After hanging up his boxing gloves, his company earned more than he ever made in the ring. He added to his collection a line of cleaning products and clothing.



Dave Bing © Wikimedia commons

Dave Bing: One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, this basketball legend was a seven time all-star. When he stopped making three-pointers, he started a steel mill in Detroit and propelled it to become one of the top 10 African American owned companies in the United States, with sales of over $200 million.






Roger Staubach © Wikimedia commons

Roger Staubach: Five time all-NFC choice, this star quarterback led the NFL in passing yards during his career. When he retired from the grid-iron, he formed a real estate company that had 50 offices in three countries and was eventually purchased for over $600 million.

Tony Hawk: Skateboard superstar, Tony Hawk has mastered (and invented) skateboard tricks that are mind-boggling. While continuing to perfect his sport, he began a company to provide skateboarders with top of the line equipment, established a clothing line and partnered with a video production company to create video games about skateboarding.

Wayne Gretzky: Legendary hockey player, Gretzky holds 61 NHL records. When he gave up his rink time, he started his own restaurant and winery.

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Seeing the parallels between entrepreneurship and sports can help give entrepreneurs motivation as they enter the business arena.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons | Paul Dickover under Attribution 2.0 Generic, Dave Bing © Wikimedia commons and Roger Staubach © Wikimedia commons under public domain.

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