As a young adult, two experiences laid the groundwork for my career in entrepreneurship:The first was quite straightforward; I started a series of enterprises when I was in middle school and high school. Whether I was selling soap door-to-door (true story) or shoveling walkways during tough Connecticut winters, I learned entrepreneurship at a very young age by doing it. To this day, I think that all of the business advice and entrepreneurship scholarship in the world takes a back seat to real-world experience.
The second defining experience was my involvement in competitive sports. Sports were a huge part of my youth, and my experience playing high school football was particularly formative. It was an all-consuming passion; a mission that I shared with 50 other individuals on my team. Unfortunately, when I realized the limitations of 6 ft tall wide receiver who runs a 5 second 40-yard-dash, my hopes of playing collegiate ball were dashed, and I started to focus on other activities.
As time passed, I began to lose sight of my experiences as an athlete, and I forgot about the tremendous impact that it had on me. More than that, I even tried to actively distance myself from my experiences as an athlete. Thinking that this was a more “sophisticated” view of the world, I adopted a sort of snobbish outlook on sports and their value. My college education and academic experience, I thought to myself, were the true drivers of my development as a person. What did I ever see in that brutish sport?
Eventually, I came to realize that this line of thinking was totally incorrect. However, it didn’t dawn on me until much later when I started to hire people for my businesses. Throughout the recruiting and hiring process for my businesses, I came to realize that many of the strongest candidates had played sports at a very high level; in many cases, the collegiate level. While I was initially surprised at this, I eventually realized that many of the key attributes that I was looking for in employees were things that you can learn directly through competitive sports.
Now, it’s obviously important to hire people that are smart and capable. I wouldn’t recommend hiring someone solely due to the fact that they played sports at a high level. However, I have found, through my own experience, that athletes tend to bring a very unique set of attributes to the table. Below, I’ve listed three of these attributes that make athletes great hires, particularly in entrepreneurial environments:
- They understand the difference between winning and losing. Athletes know the distinction here. More than that, it’s part of who they are. In an entrepreneurial environment, you need people who think in terms of “win/lose” and who want to win. Like the athletic field, there’s no ambiguity between winning and losing in business. The company is either doing well (growing, profitable) or it’s not. You need people who are going to help you a “w.”
- They have mental fortitude. Most sports involve working through pain and misery. As such, you learn to preserve. I cannot speak for other entrepreneurs, but personally, there have been many times where I’ve had to work through large, taxing problems and stay focused. I think the “two-a-days” back in high school helped prepare me for that. Looking back, I have a tremendous regard for my teammates and their toughness. When you’re doing wind sprints to the point of throwing up on a field, and twenty minutes later, someone is banging you on the head, it teaches you to be mentally tough. This doesn’t mean that people who haven’t done this aren’t mentally tough, of course, but I’ve often seen a correlation between toughness and participation in sports.
- They know how to get along with people. To be successful in sports, you have to work and get along with others (with individual sports like golf and tennis being notable exceptions). This is a platitude, sure, but I have to mention it. In team sports, your success depends on your ability to communicate with people on the field or court of course. But more than that, I’ve found that being part of a tightly knit group, like a sports team, helps mold you in a positive manner. In high school, my teammates tended to hold me accountable and, frankly, call me out. It’s amazing how quickly your personal quirks, arrogance, and social faux pas’s tend to be worked out of you, when you’re around a bunch of people who are quick to remind you of them.