Do Athletes Make Great Entrepreneurs, Leaders and People?

I think so...

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Quick background: I’m from Canada and was a semi-professional athlete. Can you guess which sport? Well, if you guessed hockey – YOU ARE CORRECT! I grew up playing competitive hockey as a goaltender. Check me out here:

Nunzio Presta, South Carolina Stingrays, ECHL

I had a taste of the world of professional hockey while playing in Germany, Italy and the USA (Elmira & South Carolina), but sadly during the recession (2009) the team I was signed with decided to fold (went bankrupt/shut down). Hockey was a big part of my life – it shaped the person I am today, especially from a soft skill perspective. But I think one of the hardest decisions I had to make was choosing whether to walk away or try harder. The time came when I saw all of signs saying, “you’ve tried your hardest. Now it’s time to walk away.” I don’t regret it at all; I have so much respect for the game and the journey. A journey that brought me to business school, where I was taught the business commerce and leadership skills needed in order to help me execute my entrepreneurial imagination. So no regret, just another important chapter in my life that brought me to where I am today, and taught me that letting go is simply about personal empowerment. Realizing what you’re in charge of, realizing what you control, and more importantly, what you don’t control is a big part of being an athlete. This type of thinking and resilience was ingrained in my veins growing up as an athlete – so staying positive, having faith and pushing forward was natural. I can concur that most athletes have had similar experiences; experiences that in my opinion form great entrepreneurs, leaders and people!

One of the hardest decisions I had to make was choosing whether to walk away or try harder.

As mentioned, ‘sports’ in general helped me develop my soft skills. Skills that I believe are going to continue to be extremely important and valuable as we face pressure coming from AI and Robots. As athletes, we take for granted the skills that we develop from such a young age; skills such as Grit, Communication, Resilience, Self-Motivation, Teamwork, Leadership, Responsibility, Problem Solving, Decisiveness, Ability to Work Under Pressure, Time Management and Flexibility.

I’m not saying you need to play sports or be an athlete to be a successful entrepreneur, leader or person, but it definitely helps and I’m not alone. There are many successful entrepreneurs and business leaders who played competitive and professional sports. Here are some of my favourites:

1. Kobe Bryant: In 2013, he formed Kobe, Inc. A multimedia content-creation company intended to help young athletes learn how to maximize their potential.

2. LeBron James: Runs a media company called SpringHill Entertainment. It has launched numerous TV shows and movies as part of a contract with Warner Bros. and other television and movie studios. In addition, James founded and runs a sports marketing company called LRMR.

3. Michael Jordan: After retiring, Jordan became an active investor and entrepreneur, opening steakhouses, buying car dealerships, and continuing his endorsement deals with Nike, Gatorade, Hanes and other companies. In 2006, he became part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats (now the Charlotte Hornets), before becoming principal owner in 2010.

4. Magic Johnson: Magic Johnson Enterprises is his holding company for the numerous franchises he owns throughout the country. These franchise investments include 163 locations in 19 states, with well-known franchises like Burger King, 24 Hour Fitness and T.G.I. Friday’s. Hey! I know where you can find more great franchise opportunities Mr. Johnson

5. George Foreman: Familiar as a commercial pitchman, most famously for the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine which made its debut in 1994.

6. Shaquille O’Neal: Shaq got into the entrepreneur game early, especially to pursue his love for technology. He is a gadgets guy, and has invested heavily in tech startups and business ventures. His head is in business, and it shows within his portfolio of entrepreneurial pursuits. It includes being a pre-IPO investor in Google, along with ownership of fitness centers and Five Guys Burgers franchises.

7. Venus Williams: Founded EleVen by Venus Williams, her athleisure company, which sells workout gear that Williams also always plays in. The company is thriving, growing 300% year over year.

8. Tony Hawk: Hawk’s entrepreneurship has taken him into retail revenue schemes such as clothing and video games. In fact, his skateboarding video game is one of the most widely bought video games ever.

9. Wayne Gretzky: He has embarked on several entrepreneurial ventures following his retirement, including No. 99 Estates Winery on the Niagara Peninsula and a restaurant in Toronto called “Wayne Gretzky’s,” which features some of his personal sports memorabilia.

As a parent, I implore you to encourage sports. It will help to develop soft skills in your children, skills that will become an advantage for future employment and entrepreneurship. Sports also keep kids off the street, giving them less time to go down the wrong path with the wrong people.

Every day, I am thankful to my parents for sacrificing their money, and most importantly their time for getting me up early in the morning on the weekends, consistently. I am forever grateful for what they did for me as I aim to do the same for my children. I am also extremely thankful for all my coaches that helped shape the person I am today. 

Are you an athlete and now a business owner/entrepreneur? Share your story by sharing this article. Make sure to mention me, as I am interested in your story. As entrepreneurs, us athletes need to stick together and help each other as well! 

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