Angela Ruggiero is one of the most decorated American Olympians of all time. Playing defense for the U.S. women's ice hockey team, she competed in four Olympic Games, winning a Gold Medal in 1998, Silver Medal in 2002 and 2010, and a Bronze Medal in 2006. In 2015, Ruggiero was elected into the National Hockey Hall of Fame. Accomplished on ice? Yes. What about in the classroom? Ruggiero's a graduate of the Harvard Business School (MBA), Harvard College (BA), and the University of Minnesota (M.Ed.). So that's a yes.
Today, Ruggiero is a board member at the International Olympic Committee, chief strategy officer for the Los Angeles 2024 Candidature Committee, and serves on the IOC executive board as chairperson of the Athletes' Commission. She also co-founded the Sports Innovation Lab, a market research and advisory firm focused on the intersection of sports and innovation.
Ruggiero is the exemplary modern athlete. During our podcast with her, we discussed Olympic selection methodology, gender disparity in sports, her decision to go to Harvard Business School and how that's positioned her well in business.
Here are three methods for success at the Olympics and Harvard Business School.
1. Set goals.
Typically, this comes first and will likely change -- or “pivot” -- along the way. Ruggiero told us that with established goals, she’s more easily able to roadmap her way to accomplishing them. With a roadmap, you can locate personal and company strengths and weaknesses, begin to identify ways to improve, outsource tasks and quickly decipher who to pass the puck to that will give your team the best opportunity to deposit it in the back of the net.
Ruggiero prefers white boarding each of these exercises. It helps her get into a flow state, where she can creatively think through specific challenges, like overcoming gender disparity in sports, while eventually becoming the first female athlete to play in a men’s professional hockey match.
2. Create a calendar.
Ruggiero talks about the psychology of sports and business. She references the importance of tackling regular season matches as if they were the championship game. In practice, Ruggiero would visualize a pro scout in the stands to prepare herself so that when there were scouts at games, she wouldn’t fret. The same goes for business. The best entrepreneurs aren't above or beneath any task, giving it their full, undivided attention.
Creating a succinct calendar will help improve your attention-to-detail skills. Ruggiero uses Google Calendars on her mobile device, color coordinating different projects and obligations, blocking off time for travel and registering sleep. This level of diligence helps her review time allocations and ROI per project, make a decision on whether it’s worth continuing to pursue and to what degree. She told us, “There’s no perfect formula, [but it can be] as much about what you say no to as what you say yes to.”
3. Create strategic partnerships.
Ruggiero's first Olympic sponsor was Coca-Cola. She took her first paycheck and invested in the company on the New York Stock Exchange. She chooses her partners based on authenticity, and product or service value proposition. If both boxes are checked, she prefers equity to cash. “Being mutually incentivized makes for a more meaningful relationship that drives value.”
In the early stages of her career, she started a hockey school to teach skill development to other young women, while building an alternative, ancillary revenue stream for herself. Remembering one of her goals was to make it to the National Hockey League, she structured a partnership with the New York Islanders to leverage the Islander brand, practice facilities and amplified reach. Ruggiero says, "You need the right people in the room to have the right ecosystem.” When building a business, it’s critical to get the backing of your industry's governing bodies, federations, media and in Ruggiero’s case, the NHL. Strategic partnerships and key alignment are critical.
Ruggiero ended our podcast reflecting on the impact sports has on her life. "I got so much out of sports. It literally changed my life. When I grew up, we didn't have any money. I was able to go to Harvard and travel the world. Luckily, I realized if I focused on sports and education, I could live the American dream." Whether learning about failure, how to work with others or setting goals, Ruggiero applies to her daily practices all that sports can teach you.
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