business lessons

This Is What My High School Track Career Taught Me About Business

When I was in the 7th grade, I joined the track team.

I wasn’t given an event for our first meet until another girl dropped out. My coach asked if I wanted to take her place in the 1,600-meter relay and I agreed.

The gun sounded and I just ran. I had no idea what I was doing. I finished the lap, handed off the baton, and moved to the side. My coach was elated.

Apparently I had done well.

One day at practice, my coach suggested I run the 800 meters to improve my time in the 400. I don’t remember what my time was (on a gravel track, no less), but I do remember my coach going crazy with his stopwatch, telling me I had to run that race.

So I did.

For the remainder of my middle school career, the 800 meter run was my race. Schools ran boys and girls together and I would beat everyone, every single time. My best time was a 2:32 (yes, I still remember) and the feeling of being so good at something was an absolute high.

I had struggled with bullying throughout my middle school life, but once I became a “track star,” that changed. Others respected me. I had talent.

My high school track career didn’t start out as great as I wanted it to. Instead of running my two best races, the 400 meters and the 800 meters, I was given the mile, a race I wasn’t as good at. I still remember having to run in the top heat in an invitational and struggling not to finish last. I hated having to run that race and it wore on me.

The sport itself was fun, though. I made wonderful friendships. I learned how to play Euchre during the long invitational days, spending time with the upperclassmen I genuinely got along with. The girls’ team won our league that year, meaning we moved up a level our sophomore year. That separated us from the boys’ team and we began traveling separately.

business lessons

We won our league meet when I was a freshman.

In addition to that change, I gained weight my sophomore year and my times suffered. Combined with not being able to spend time with my male friends and competing against more talented individuals, my love for the sport declined. Running had always been a painful endeavor. The 800-meter run is no joke. It’s nearly a sprint (at the highest level, it is a sprint) for a half mile. It hurts.

As soon as the overall experience stopped being fun and I wasn’t getting the payoff of winning, my motivation waned. I hated practice. Hated the meets. My anxiety level around running rose.

I made the decision to quit after my sophomore year. It was a difficult choice to make – it had become an identity for me. It was what I was good at. But the sacrifices outweighed the reward. My parents were crushed. They loved seeing their daughter excel at something and walking away early was a tough pill for them to swallow.

Now, almost 36 years old with three kids of my own, I look back on my decision to quit with mixed emotions. I know it was the best decision at the time, but I do wish circumstances had been different.

I wish that I had been able to find fun in those days and that my stress levels hadn’t resulted in weight gain that hurt my performance. I’m actually in better shape now, post-kids (I have a better diet and a regular yoga practice) than I was my sophomore year of high school, which creates regret that I didn’t keep myself in better shape to capitalize on my talent. Who knows? Maybe I could have run in college.

Ah, what could have been.

Looking back on this experience provides a valuable case study that pertains to business, however. There are three things I can pull from my track career that apply to my life as an entrepreneur:

1. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

The yoga I practice is hot vinyasa, which challenges me every single session, pushing me out of my comfort zone. It is so easy to let my mind talk me out of staying in a pose while my body is on fire, especially since no one is forcing me to stay.

But the benefit of learning how to shut my mind voice off and find a way to be calm in an uncomfortable situation translates to all areas of my life.

Finding a way to be comfortable in the uncomfortable means I can push through projects I don’t want to do, engage respectfully with people who aren’t the friendliest, and continuing doing things for my business that don’t have an immediate payoff.

2. Find a Payoff

Speaking of an immediate payoff, it’s important to have at least one. As the things I loved about track fell off, one-by-one, enduring the pain of running became less and less tolerable.

This is true in business as well. So many entrepreneurs push way further than they should without allowing themselves something fun or gratifying from their businesses.

This results in burn-out.

Mike Michalowicz talks about this in his book, Profit First. He suggests putting a small percentage of earnings (as low as 1%) in a “profit account” each month and then spending it on yourself at the end of the quarter.

This improves morale because it means the business is working for the entrepreneur. It is critical to receive a payoff for all of our hard work, even if it’s a new outfit or a night at the movies.

3. Do What You’re Good At

Winning was an amazing feeling … even when it hurt like hell. Why? Because I was good at it!

Focusing on what we’re good at keeps us in flow. Even if it’s boring (or it hurts), doing what we’re good at has a special sort of payoff. In business, it pays with money and confidence.

So often we focus on bettering ourselves in areas we aren’t good at while avoiding what comes easy. In fact, for a long time, I felt guilty charging for what came easy to me.

The truth, however, is what comes easy for one person doesn’t come easy for most, which is why we should actually be charge more for what comes easy to us!

Left in the Past

I still run in the spring, summer, and fall months (you won’t find me running in the snow or freezing cold), pushing myself to get better.

I have found a “happy place” with running, averaging 3-to-5 miles at a time and listening to my favorite podcasts or audiobooks during my runs. I used to run with my kids in jogging strollers.

I time myself from time-to-time, getting “competitive” to prove to myself I still have talent. I do, but I haven’t run competitively since I hung up my cleats in high school. I’m afraid that I’ll push myself to the point of massive pain in an effort to win, and I’m not up for doing that just yet.

Maybe in another 10 years.

About Chrissie Wywrot

Chrissie Wywrot is a LinkedIn specialist who works with passionate entrepreneurs and professional athletes. To learn more about her services, visit her LinkedIn profile or email her at chrissie@chrissiewywrot.com.

Michigan basketball

This is Why Winning Isn’t Everything

I remember getting the call. I was confused. My husband was supposed to be in the air with the Michigan Basketball team on the way to Washington D.C. for the Big Ten Tournament.

I picked up the phone.

The wind howled in the background. He was emotional. He told me their plane nearly crashed, stopped just short of a ravine. He and the team had to exit the plane through the emergency exits, but everyone was alright. He had to go, but he loved me so much.

Complete and total shock.

My husband came home for the night, leaving first thing in the morning on a new plane with new luggage (his was trapped under the plane with the rest of the team equipment). Families wouldn’t be taking the new flight, so all of us watched from home as the team took the floor in their practice jerseys.

I said to myself, they are either going to be one-and-done, or they’re going to win it all.

They played like they were going to win it all.

As soon as I saw that win, I knew we had to get to Washington D.C. I called around and learned there would be a bus departing with staff families who wanted to go. I made sure my family was on that bus.

We took a 13-hour, overnight bus trip to Washington D.C. My kids were 6, 4, and 2. The trip was amazing. We made memories as we caught cabs, went to museums, and watched the Wolverines win three more games. They won the tournament, becoming the lowest seed in tournament history to win it all.

Fast forward a year. The Big Ten Tournament was being held in New York City. Remembering the amazing run of a year before, I wanted to take my kids, but it wasn’t in the cards for our family. Instead, my husband and I decided that – if we made the championship – I would fly out on my own.

We made the championship and I woke up at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning to take the only flight available to New York City that would get me to the game in time. We won and I had the pleasure of being there to watch the team cut down the nets.

Next was the NCAA tournament.

I was on a yoga retreat for the first two rounds without a television in my room, so I watched the games on my iPad. I casually watched the first game and the majority of the second, readying myself to accept defeat as time wound down against Houston.

Then Jordan Poole hit that magical shot as the buzzer sounded, taking laps around the court. Michigan was in the Sweet 16.

I watched the next two games from home, my husband in LA with the team. The strong showing against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 meant one game stood between Michigan and the Final Four.

I couldn’t believe it.

The 2013 Run

The last time the Wolverines were in the Final Four, it was a magical year. Future NBA draft picks Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Nick Stauskas, and Mitch McGary were all part of the team. My kids were 2 and 10 months old. I made the trip to Atlanta while my aunt stayed home with my kids.

Michigan dominated the first half, led by bench player Spike Albrecht, who scored 17. I thought we had it. Then Louisville stormed back in the second half and ended up taking the win.

It hurt.

Bad.

The start of the 2013-14 season was actually tough for me. We raised the Final Four banner at Crisler Center and it brought back the disappointing ending of the previous year.

I have since talked many times about that night as being the most difficult sports loss I’d ever experienced. That’s why, after Michigan beat Florida State to earn its second Final Four appearance in six seasons, I was nervous.

“The one thing I don’t want,” I told people, “is to make it to the championship game and lose again.”

Another Fairy Tale

Michigan basketball

My family before the Michigan vs. Villanova NCAA Championship game.

I took all three of my kids to San Antonio for the Final Four. We swam in the hotel pool, went on a riverboat tour with the Michigan Basketball family, and visited Fanfest.

Winning the first game was amazing. My kids – now 7, 5, and 3 – were into it. It felt right. It felt different.

This was going to be it. I thought. We are going to win it all.

Michigan head coach John Beilein deserved this win, after all. Voted “the cleanest coach” in the NCAA, Coach Beilein is an amazing teacher, coach, and human being.

Special to me has been he and his wife, Kathleen’s, support of The ChadTough Foundation, an organization I work with. He helped us to a back-to-back $100,000 donations and invaluable awareness for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) and pediatric brain cancer research through the Infiniti Coaches Challenge.

This was going to be his moment. I knew it.

Then it wasn’t.

Michigan got off to a strong start, but Villanova took over midway through the first half and swiftly won. The loss hurt. I wanted to win so badly. For my husband, for Coach Beilein, and for the Michigan Basketball family.

I thought about how tough it must be for Coach to get so close – again – and not come away with the title.

Then I read this quote:

“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I would love to win a national championship for those guys and for the University of Michigan. All those great students and all our alums and everyone. But for me, this is why I coach. To be in that locker room right now with these kids.

“And to have the opportunity to tell them: ‘This is life. You have highlights and then, all of a sudden, your season’s over and there’s sadness.’ But in the long run, there’s a lot of joy with what we just went through.”

The Journey

I never imagined I would learn a critical life lesson following that loss, but – somehow – Coach Beilein drove it home. It’s not about the win or the loss, it’s about the journey.

That message can, and should, be translated into every single area of life. Coach is right – this is life. Whether it’s personal or business, the trials and tribulations are what refine and grow us.

I’ve experienced it in the four years since I set out on my own to start a business. The process has been scary at times, because I didn’t want to fail my clients or myself. Little did I know, those failures were necessary.

I can talk to a client with confidence and knowledge I didn’t have two years ago because I’ve gone through those failures. I’ve seen what doesn’t work. I’ve relied on myself and doubted myself and learned that I can – and should – trust my gut.

Coach Beilein is an amazing coach because he sees beyond the game. He recognizes that preparing young people to weather life’s storms is a far bigger victory than personal accolades.

And because of that, these players had the opportunity to learn something during this NCAA tournament run that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

I know I certainly will.

ABOUT CHRISSIE WYWROT

Chrissie Wywrot is a B2B lead generator and personal brand strategist who works with passionate entrepreneurs and professional athletes. To learn more about her services, visit her LinkedIn profile or email her at chrissie@chrissiewywrot.com.

Chase Winovich

The Athlete Effect: How Chase Winovich Raised $200,000 for Charity

As a college or professional athlete, you deal with a lot. Fans can quickly forget that you are a real person and not a caricature to be scrutinized.

Then, just as quickly as fans cast you aside for a poor performance, they embrace you for a job well done – on or off the field. As frustrating as that is, it’s a phenomenon can be leveraged for so much good.

University of Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich took full advantage of that this past month, recognizing that he could use his platform to help a charity. He wanted to make a difference and thought through what set him apart from others.

“The one thing I really had that a lot of people don’t have is the long hair,” he said. “It’s very noticeable (and) it’s very divisive. It’s a hot topic. I figured there would be some really cool things we could do to help kids in need.”

After careful consideration — Winovich chose The ChadTough Foundation as his beneficiary, a nonprofit with Michigan roots. Chad Carr, the grandson of former University of Michigan football head coach Lloyd Carr, passed away in November 2015 after a 14-month battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). The ChadTough Foundation raises research dollars and awareness for pediatric brain tumors with an emphasis on DIPG, a disease with a 0-percent survival rate that desperately needs attention.

The ChadTough Foundation is a cause near and dear to my heart and I am proud to serve as the foundation’s Director of Communications. Please visit chadtough.org to learn more about Chad’s story and DIPG.

Winovich started a fundraiser on Crowdrise, stating that he would dye his hair orange for the Outback Bowl if $15,000 was raised for ChadTough. That happened in 13 hours. Soon, other players and coaches joined in the effort, setting lofty goals like $38,500, $73,000, $100,000, and $125,000.

The initiative ended up raising more than $200,000 for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Initiative at Michigan Medicine, where Jason and Tammi Carr chose to have the funds directed. That total will also be matched by University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser.

So, in all, more than $400,000 was raised for pediatric brain tumor research and these players had orange hair for the Outback Bowl, which resulted in national TV coverage for the cause.

This is something every athlete with a platform should take advantage of. It’s impactful, selfless, and fun.

Here is what Winovich did right:

1. He Did Something Newsworthy

Raising money for a charity is great – plenty of people do it – but Winovich thought through what would make him different and, therefore, generate news coverage. He saw the potential in doing something with his hair and embraced it.

If he had simply posted a fundraiser to raise $15,000 for ChadTough, would it have worked? Perhaps, but it wouldn’t have had the same newsworthy element as dying his hair orange.

2. He Rallied Others

Players that joined the initiative said (during the hair dying, actually) that they never thought the money raised would reach the levels it did. Boy, were they surprised.

It is a fantastic example of how excited fans get when they see athletes doing something selfless.

It’s like the quarterback in football: he is criticized too much when the team loses and praised too much when the team wins. It’s not “fair,” but it’s a phenomenon more athletes — especially the high profile ones — can take advantage of.

3. He Was Genuinely Excited and Involved

Winovich’s excitement for this fundraiser was infectious. He wanted to help and it showed. Choosing a cause that speaks to your heart is just as important as choosing a cause at all. If you aren’t into it, it won’t be as effective.

He was also involved. You may pick the best cause out there, but if you hand it off to someone else without putting your personal stamp on it, it won’t be as great as it could be.

Winovich recorded videos for social media, engaged fans and influencers on Twitter and Instagram, and made himself available for interviews. He did all the right things.

Making A Difference Matters

Winovich, his teammates, and his coaches (count head coach Jim Harbaugh who fully supported this initiative) who participated in this fundraiser had fun with it and probably have no idea what kind of impact they made on the Carr family, who struggles through the holidays without Chad.

They also have no idea the impact they made on the DIPG community, which desperately needs this kind of attention.

This was a win all the way around and it’s something every athlete can participate in. Not every player can put something together that will catch the attention of the mainstream media, but every player has the benefit of social media and influence.

Even if your initiative begins as a grassroots effort on social media, watch it take off if you do all the right things like Chase Winovich did. Make videos, engage fans, and really believe in and have fun with what you’re doing.

It’s one of the best things about being an athlete — embrace it.

The “Extra” Worry That Comes With Being an Athlete in Business

Becoming an entrepreneur is a vulnerable experience. We put ourselves out there as the product or service, putting a price tag on what we’re worth. It can be intimidating, especially for a professional athlete who has only done one thing for his or her entire life: focus on sports.

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

Beyond that, though, is another reality that many of us don’t experience: dealing with the court of public opinion. I suppose some of us may grow our businesses to the point that we are spoken about publicly, but it isn’t the norm.

Professional athletes have to keep in mind that their business will be seen through the filter of having once being in the public eye. This can be a blessing and a curse. The blessing? I wrote in early November that athletes must capitalize on their status as playing in the pros or in college.

The curse is being under a microscope. So many fans believe athletes are entitled millionaires because the cliche guy throwing around money is typically the one covered in the media. Sensationalism sells.

So, what do you do if you’re a professional athlete-turned-entrepreneur to keep your name and your business out of the mud?

1. Hire Well

First, it is important to know that there will always be naysayers. Some people enjoy blasting others on social media — that’s how they get their kicks and pro athletes are a great target.

I know it’s frustrating to see the ignorance in the face of trying to make an honest living. It’s frustrating for me to see people I know, like, and respect spoken about as though they are selfish and wrong for wanting to build a business.

Make sure you invest in quality public relations or marketing professional who can screen your social media and guide you in how you present yourself to the public. You always want to be one step ahead.

2. Recognize Your Differences

Even if you didn’t finish your pro career as a millionaire, you must recognize that the public sees you as one. That might mean you have to showcase the nonprofits you support, give away “scholarships” to the coaching program you run, or simply be ready to ignore criticism.

Some industries are easier to navigate than others. Real estate, for example, won’t be met with a great deal of criticism. If you plan to work a lot with the public, however, you may run into some. It’s completely unfair, but the public doesn’t see you as a “real” person — to them, you are a caricature.

Take that into account as you’re putting together your marketing plan.

3. Be Transparent When Necessary

Are you just starting on your business journey? Let your fans and followers know you are figuring out your workload as you go and, therefore, won’t be able to accommodate everyone just yet.

If you’re offering coaching for youth sports, for example, be transparent about the number of kids you can take at any given time. Begin with a “soft launch” so you can determine how many clients are realistic and how you should price your services.

You don’t want to present yourself as a bumbling newbie, but you can talk about wanting to do things right and, therefore, beginning slow.

Customize Your Plan

I am speaking in very general terms — customizing a plan is essential in this space. If you are just starting your business or need help re-branding or putting together a marketing strategy, reach out to schedule a free consulting call.

About Chrissie Wywrot

Chrissie Wywrot is a B2B lead generator and personal brand strategist who works with passionate entrepreneurs and professional athletes. To learn more about her services, visit her LinkedIn profile or email her atchrissie@chrissiewywrot.com.

You May Not Think It’s a Big Deal, But It Is

I don’t care if you rode the bench for three years at Nowheresville College. If you are (or were) a college or professional athlete, you can leverage it in business. This is something I am deeply passionate about.

I make my living digging into businesses to uncover what makes them special and then I turn that into successful marketing. My favorite businesses (or entrepreneurs) to work with are those who are killing it at what they’re doing but don’t have the slightest clue how to market themselves.

Many athletes fall into this category, but have an even greater advantage than the successful businesses. They can actually launch a successful business (or at least get off to a great start) around being an athlete.

Again, I don’t care where you played or whether you played. Our culture loves athletes. Simply carrying that label will open doors.

If you are currently an athlete, network NOW

Make your current experience section within LinkedIn your status as an athlete and search for anyone and everyone relevant to what you want to do (or think you want to do) in business.

There are three kinds of connections you can make:

  • Fellow athletes. You have street cred simply by playing college or professional sports. Look for athletes with successful businesses and connect. Ask for advice. There are waters they’ve already navigated and they can provide invaluable insight.
  • Business pros. Do your research and find business professionals you respect. If you are a higher profile athlete, you have many people bugging you for attention. They want you to start a business with them. They want you to work with them. Make sure you find the business professionals you want to work with.
  • Influencers. Depending on the type of athlete you are, this may include media, performers, speakers, or authors. You will capture attention simply by being an athlete. Use that to your advantage.

If you are a former athlete, leverage your past

Whether you have a business or you’re working for someone else, your past as an athlete will open up conversations. Maybe you’re in sales and being a former athlete is a point of connection with potential clients or customers.

Perhaps you’re starting your own business and bringing up your playing career will open doors for sponsorships or partnerships. There is a way to leverage your past — regardless of what you do for a living — if you do it the right way.

The key is to look at what you do and strategically work it in. This may be in the public eye or behind the scenes, but there will be a way you can benefit from playing college or pro sports.

If you don’t believe me, I am living proof and I didn’t even play professional (or college) sports. I managed a website for an NFL team and my husband works in media relations for a college program. Mentioning what we do (and who we know) opens doors.

The same will happen for you.

It’s never too late to start

Even if you’re 10 years beyond your playing career, it’s never too late to start. Optimize your LinkedIn profile to include your playing career and start connecting. Add custom notes to your connection requests mentioning your past as an athlete.

Connect with big-time influencers who went to your college or university or businesses associated with the pro team you played for. Reach out to other former players and athletes. Take the same determination you used to compete and leverage it in business!

About Chrissie Wywrot

Chrissie Wywrot is a B2B lead generator and personal brand strategist who works with passionate entrepreneurs and professional athletes. To learn more about her services, visit her LinkedIn profile or email her atchrissie@chrissiewywrot.com.

How My Competitive Spirit Has Made Me A Successful Entrepreneur

Once an athlete, always an athlete.

From the time I was a child, I loved competition — playing basketball, volleyball, tennis, and running track in middle and high school. Sometimes I was the best (in middle school I would beat girls and boys in the 800 meter run) and sometimes there was plenty of room for improvement (as a point guard, I would frequently get stuck in the right corner of the court because I couldn’t dribble left-handed).

I peaked as a runner as a freshman in high school, gaining weight and subsequently slowing down my sophomore year. I have since resurrected my love of running as an adult, running 3-5 miles daily at a 7:15-minute-mile pace.

Hey, it allows me to feel like I’m still a “real” athlete.

As someone who has worked with professional athletes, however, I recognize the shortcomings of my athletic ability. Sure, I can pretend I’m an Olympic star, but the truth is that I avoid structured races because I know my competitive spirit would attempt to win and I may keel over while attempting to keep pace with the top runners.

At least that’s what I tell myself. Maybe I avoid them because I don’t see the point in competing if I can’t win.

That’s why I love business. I’ve transferred my relentless desire to compete to another medium … and it’s one I win frequently.

An Athlete in Business

Leaving a professional sport (I was a digital media coordinator for the Detroit Lions) in early 2014 to be an entrepreneur presented an unexpected zing of feeling like the underdog. Engaging in business as an entrepreneur is one of the most intense competitions there is, and I felt it 100-percent.

I experienced a two-year journey of uncovering my strengths, ultimately learning that what fueled my love of athletics also drove me in business: strategy, competition, and the thrill of the win.

Whether it’s closing a new client or closing a lead for my clients, that feeling of winning is everything. Putting together a plan for myself or a client and seeing it come to fruition reminds me of how it felt to pass the boys’ exhibition team on the final lap of the 4×800 in high school. I relished it.

I clearly remember the look of fear on the face of my competition at the thought of being beat by a girl (God forbid) and swiftly passing him on the straightaway.

Don’t mess with me. I’m strong and I possess a relentless hunger to beat you.

My Perfect Clientele

This is why I love working with professional athletes — I speak their language. I get that they want to win and be the best at everything, but I also recognize that they must see the parallel between sports and business to realize that success.

The truth is that some don’t.

The ones that do — and see how they can leverage sports to be even better in business — do amazing things. It’s a combination of confidence and humility; understanding they aren’tthe best at everything, but knowing a certain amount of natural ability and hard work can result in greatness.

The Non-Athlete Athlete

Not all of my clients are athletes in the traditional sense.

I also work with entrepreneurs out who — like me — carry the mentality of a professional athlete. Those who love the thrill of the chase and passing competition on the final straightaway.

Sometimes that comes in the form of winning business deals. Other times that comes in the form of helping others. Achieving a “win” through seeing a client get physically healthy, build his or her own successful business, or develop a business strategy, all embody the clients I work with.

It’s about setting and achieving goals.

Successful Swag

Whether you’ve competed at the highest level of professional athletics or simply carry a business swag reminiscent of Steph Curry shooting a three at the buzzer, I want to hear from you. Reach out to talk business strategy, sports, setting goals, or getting wins.

There is always room to get to the next level.

Photo: NFL.com (http://bit.ly/2rVtBS1)

Don’t Forget to Focus on Life After the Game

Playing professional sports doesn’t come without consequence. The grueling schedule of college athletics means certain educational opportunities aren’t always available. Film sessions, practices, and travel leave little room for anything other than sports.

There are many players who have done things right, however, maintaining a focus on life after sports while playing in college and professionally.

Here are a few I have the pleasure of knowing personally:

Nate Burleson: The Media Mastermind

I met Nate when he signed with the Detroit Lions in 2010. A likable person and a natural-born leader, Nate quickly become one of the most-liked players in the locker room.

From a business standpoint, he did a number of things right to set himself up for the media success he’s experiencing now.

  • He always made himself available to the media, building respectful relationships. This is critical, because the ability to go to the well of media relationships when promoting a business is huge.
  • He built strong relationships with the front office, allowing him to take advantage of broadcast bootcamps and guest anchor opportunities while he was still playing.
  • He networked like crazy.

Now Nate is living in New York, co-hosting Good Morning Football on NFL Network, and looking ahead to The NFL Today on CBS in the fall.

Ryan Broyles: The Saver

Ryan is a perfect example of what one should do after signing a contract: he lived well below his means and saved. This is rare in our society, let alone professional sports!

What happened with Ryan’s career, however, revealed the choice he and his wife, Mary Beth, made to be even more critical. Ryan suffered multiple injuries throughout his three years in the NFL and never saw a second contract.

He and Mary Beth made headlines with the way they lived on $60,000 per year, giving interviews to a number of different media outlets.

He is now enjoying a career in real estate, but — as an avid reader and student of business — I have no doubt he will continue to grow as an entrepreneur.

Drew Stanton: The Connector

I spent last weekend in Lansing with Drew, his wife, Kristin, and two of my former colleagues, Kim Doverspike and Chad Walker, both of whom work with Drew’s High 5ive Foundation.

Drew enjoyed a decorated career as the starting quarterback at Michigan State before he was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2007. Remaining in the state he grew up in and played college football, he started his foundation right away.

That foundation has continued for a decade thanks to the way Drew leverages his Michigan State and NFL connections. He has one primary event each summer — his celebrity golf outing and charity auction — which funds everything the foundation does.

His foundation has done work with Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Special Olympics of Michigan, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Now a 10th-year veteran with the Arizona Cardinals, Drew is a great example of working a network to create a successful foundation.

Doing it Right

Leveraging a career in pro sports is about more than showing up — Nate, Ryan, and Drew are great examples of actively taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them. When players truly see what they have open to them, the possibilities are endless.

4 Reasons Reserve Athletes Make Up the Best in Business

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.

How to Pitch a Story to the Media

Pitching a story to the media is truly an art form. There are a number of components to consider from the individual writing or reporting your story to the audience that will be reading or watching it.

I have pitched a number of stories in my role as Director of Communications for The ChadTough Foundation as well as in my consulting work with professional athletes. Therefore, I recognize what it takes for a story to be picked up.

Whether you’re looking to promote an event or simply promote yourself or your business, here are questions to ask yourself as you look to media to cover:

Is your story newsworthy?

There are two types of professional athletes: those who generate media attention when they wake up in the morning and those who are asked if they know the athletes who generate media attention when they wake up in the morning.

You know who you are.

I greatly appreciate the players who have a sense of humor when they show up to a kids’ charity event only to be asked if they “know Miguel Cabrera/Lebron James/insert megastar here.”

Point being, if you aren’t generating news simply because you’re breathing, you will have to ask yourself if what you’re doing is newsworthy. Note: stories that seem newsworthy to you may not be newsworthy to the general public.

Did you become the first in your family to graduate college? Live on 10-percent of your salary to set yourself up for after you’re done playing?

These may be worth covering for someone in the local media.

Is your story any good?

Let’s just lay it out there: will anyone care what you have to say? Often times — especially when promoting an event — perspective on whether a story is good or not is lost.

Think about browsing social media or reading ESPN — what catches your attention? What makes a good story?

When you’re trying to promote an event and you’re not Lebron James, the best way to get it out there is to pitch it along with an accompanying story.

For example, let’s say you’re putting on an event to raise money for foster kids. That’s really nice, but it isn’t a news story. Add in the component that you grew up in foster homes and persevered through it and you have a fantastic story.

Is your story mutually beneficial?

This is a big one.

When you’re pitching a story to a member of the media, you must think about whether it is mutually beneficial. If all you do is tell a reporter what you want out of their coverage, you won’t be doing the most critical thing of all: building a relationship.

Once you’ve shown a member of the media that you will help them look good by giving them quality stories, he or she will be more likely to pitch their editors to your events or initiatives.

Note: The mutually beneficial part also comes after the story runs. Push out the coverage via social media or link to it from your website with a thank you to the person who wrote or produced it.

What if your story isn’t picked up?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, you may consider a different way to get your story to the general public. Blog it yourself, write a press release, or post a video to social media talking about your event or initiative.

Bonus: Sometimes stories aren’t big enough for media to cover it themselves, but they will highlight your coverage. Send what you write or record to your media list and you may get coverage regurgitating what you’ve already done.

Do you have to do all of this yourself?

No, you don’t! When you’re just starting out, however, you may have to do a lot of this yourself.

Once you’re more established, it’s a good idea to hire a public relations professional who already has established relationships with the media, writing skills, and the ability to come up with quality stories to pitch.

When you get to that point of hiring someone, make sure you have a specific goal in place such as growing a business or a foundation. That way, you are putting your money to good use and will eventually get a return!

Happy pitching!

5 Myths About Professional Athletes and How to Leverage Them

There are a number of myths out there regarding professional athletes, most of which fuel bar talk among fans. These myths are irritating to professional athletes and many who work in the industry, myself included.

But, as a professional athlete, it’s important to recognize the advantage that can be had by defying these stereotypes publicly. Notice I said publicly. The majority of athletes defy them privately, but that doesn’t pose much of an advantage.

It’s when these actions are promoted within the media that an athlete can benefit through his or her business or foundation.

Let’s take a look at some of the myths.

The Myths

“All professional athletes are rich.”

This one is frustrating. There’s nothing like being treated like scum due to the perception of making millions. Hell, if I’m going to be treated like crap for making millions, it would be nice to actually be making them.

Considering only the marquee players receive mammoth contracts and the life span of an average pro sports career is between three and six years, money is rarely there and — even when it is — it doesn’t go far.

“Professional athletes have the easiest job in the world.”

I’ve seen players limping out of a locker room the day after a game, covered in ice packs, only to suit up the following Sunday. Sports are grueling, and the ones at a national level are punishing beyond compare.

When there are throngs of fans expecting a player to suit up and contention is on the line, there is little room for choice from the player’s side.

Then — to add insult to injury (literally) — fans call players weak when they sit the bench with a broken bone, bad sprain, or other injury that could provide life-altering setbacks if aggravated.

“All professional athletes are self-centered.”

Let’s be honest: athletes are caricatures to the average person. Pawns in a game of entertainment that is far more than entertainment to most. Many fans hold their quality of life in the hands of sports and don’t care that the men or women playing the game are, in fact, human beings.

I truly believe the idea of all athletes being self-centered is a way to subconsciously justify the horrible things fans say about them, but I digress.

“Professional athletes have no idea what it’s like to be me.”

Could this be the most frustrating of all? Yes, there are the celebrity-status athletes who live life differently than most, but most professional athletes couldn’t be picked out of a crowd when wearing street clothes.

“Most professional athletes are immoral.”

Not even close. There are plenty who give all a bad name, however, primarily because the media pounces on the negative stories. We live in a day and age where sensationalism is the way to be. It’s tough to turn our eyes from a train wreck, let’s be honest.

Making the Myths Work

Why bring all of this up? Because professional athletes can use it to their advantage. As painful as it is to look the other way when a drunken fan is hurling insults their way, actively defying these myths or stereotypes can result in great things.

How do they do this?

Here is a step-by-step guide:

1. Have a plan.

Athletes shouldn’t throw money at products or services without an end result in mind. When building a foundation, have a specific timeline laid out before getting started. Recognize what will be accomplished, how funds will be raised, and a plan for growth.

When building a business, athletes must recognize the products or services being provided, who they will be provided to, and how money will be made.

2. Hire a public relations rep.

Whether an athlete played three years or three days, there is an advantage, and it’s important to hire someone who knows how to work it.

Here are some guidelines:

  • They must know how to frame a story. This is critical to getting it picked up. Hosting a holiday toy drive is nice, but it isn’t a news story. Talking about a father of four, recently laid off, who will be able to provide Christmas to his kids because of your toy drive is absolutely a story.
  • They must have a great network. Between media contacts and people of influence, make sure your PR rep has relationships to leverage.
  • They must have basic communication skills. The last thing you want is a piece of content — press release, flier, etc. — published on your behalf looking like a child put it together. Your PR rep is your rep.

Make sure he or she knows how to speak and write. Design experience is a plus, but good taste (and a willingness to defer to someone with design experience) will do.

3. Work your network.

Whether it’s online or in person, athletes must be visible. They can leverage social media (which doesn’t have to be Facebook and Twitter … it could be LinkedIn!) and take advantage of these myths by being open about how they defy them.

They should allow a PR rep to pitch stories (so they don’t appear to be boasting), promote via social, and then follow suit with the right actions.

Fans will eat it up when presented the right way.