Many athletes struggle with capitalizing on their pro sports career when transitioning into business. They see what they did in the sports world as “no big deal” and that it’s “cheating” to allow it to give them a leg up.
This is primarily true of those who don’t have blockbuster careers. Headliners often have no problem taking advantage of the fame, but what if you only played two or three years? What if you never made it to an active roster?
Honestly, these athletes are often the best for business for a number of reasons.
1. You Fought for What You Received
We all know about the guy who had no problem starting at every level. The player who coasted his way to starting as a freshman before becoming a first-round draft pick. For those players, it always came easy.
Not for you. You had to scratch and claw for every opportunity you received because it didn’t come easy for you. As a kid, you were always elite. You were the best in your hometown and there was no doubt you would move on to stardom.
Once you reached the collegiate level, however, you met players far better than you. Or perhaps you recognized that – while you were great in college – you weren’t physically built to be elite in the pros.
This is a tough pill to swallow and it humbled you, but it also fueled you to work even harder. It resulted in commitment and dedication to achieving your dream of playing at the pro level … and you did it.
2. You Work Hard in the Classroom
Fighting for that final roster spot meant you had to be great in the classroom. You had no choice. Not only did you have to be as easy to work with for the coaches as possible, you had to know how to fill in at more than one position to carry value.
Non-starters have to be flexible, regardless of the sport. In baseball, you’re called a utility player. In football, you have to learn new plays at multiple positions each week. It’s an added burden that requires greater commitment.
You may have also experienced moving between teams during your career or during the same season. Each move requires learning a new playbook, system, or strategy. Often the primary hurdle is picking up new terminology, signals, or signs, but it still requires quick learning or going home.
3. You Possess Discipline
Pro sports is a hierarchy. All players are not treated equal. Though touted as “just a game” by fans, sports is a business that requires winning. For that reason, starters receive preferential treatment, regardless of the sport.
This means you had to work overtime to hone your skills because you didn’t get as many reps as the starters. You had to pull coaches aside for extra work because they put their focus and energy on the starters during practice.
You were responsible for putting in the work required to keep your job … no one was going to do it for you. That shows discipline and integrity because nothing was handed to you.
4. You Are a Team Player
During games you may have acted as a bench coach, encourager, or scout … and you did all of that knowing you were one injury or extra inning away from getting into the game.
I was always in awe of the inactive or reserve players during my time in the NFL. They were often the most charismatic, fun, and supportive guys on the roster and put the betterment of the team ahead of their own personal goals.
A good sense of humor is also common among these players. I remember one guy in particular who was added and then released multiple times each year for many seasons. Each time he came back, we would see and laugh, “You’re back?”
He would smile and say, “Yeah, I’m back,” even though this constant back-and-forth meant moving multiple times throughout the year and staying in shape year-round just to be ready in case he received a call.
Let Pro Sports be Your Brand
Whether you played two seasons or two minutes at the professional level, the fact that you made it there at all is something to build your brand around. Recognize that playing professional sports is a job that requires a number of high-functioning skills to succeed.
Leverage it to build the business you are passionate about. Tell potential employers you played at the highest level of your sport and articulate why it matters. If the people you’re working with don’t recognize it for what it is, maybe they’re not the people you should be working with.
The bottom line? You put in the blood, sweat, and tears … now go ahead and own it.