Adopt The Winning Habits of Elite Sports Stars to Unlock Entrepreneurial Greatness The traits acquired by elite athletes are strikingly similar to those acquired by the most successful entrepreneurs in the world.

By Evgeny Kireev

Key Takeaways

  • Drawing wisdom from the playbook of champions:
  • Resilience and persistence
  • Embracing failure
  • Humility in success
  • Set realistic short and long-term goals
  • The power of teamwork
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Entrepreneurs have much to learn from the dedication and strategy of elite athletes. The parallels between these two worlds are striking, with high achievers in both fields displaying a determination and single-mindedness that helps drive their success. Digging deeper into the psychology of an elite athlete can yield invaluable insights for those looking to make their mark in the business world.

From the boxing ring to the boardroom

Boasting an incredible record of twelve world championship titles across eight different weight divisions, Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao is without peers in the history of boxing. Originating from Bukidnon, Philippines, Pacquiao didn't let a tough start in life dictate his destiny. Recalling his childhood, he revealed, "When I was younger, I became a fighter because I had nothing. I had no one to rely on except myself. I realized that boxing was something I was good at, and I trained hard so that I could keep myself and my family alive."

Manny Pacquiao's trajectory in more recent years is a testament to the parallels between sport and business. The former boxer has now diversified his success: He's a celebrity, an endorser, a businessman, and a Senator of the Philippines. Pacquiao has been pivotal in bringing renewable energy to the Philippines with other ventures, including business partnerships.

Pacquaio's journey presents a valuable lesson. He may have come from a family that couldn't even afford to put food on the table, but his bravery, ambition and determination overcame a lack of wealth and resources. What makes athletes like him so special, and what are the traits that have driven this success across disciplines that appear, on the surface, to be radically different?

Related: 7 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Elite Athletes

Drawing wisdom from the playbook of champions


Elite athletes aren't just born lucky. Innate talent certainly plays a role — many have a physical advantage — but the foundation of their success is an unwavering commitment, relentless hard work and a positive attitude in the face of both success and failure.

Resilience and persistence

At the heart of an athlete's journey is a steel-clad resilience and focus on achieving their dreams. Take Michael Jordan, for instance – famously cut from his high school basketball team, he only saw this as a motivation and went on to become arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, winning six NBA championships. In the world of business, resilience means preparing for unpredictable challenges and bouncing back when events veer off course. Adaptability plays a crucial role here: as markets change and new challenges arise, being agile and open to change becomes a cornerstone of sustained success.

Related: The 4 Most Common Business Setbacks and How to Recover

Embracing failure

An athlete understands that every setback — be it a missed shot, a lost game or even an injury— paves the way for a potential comeback. Likewise, in the business realm, entrepreneurs will face myriad challenges, from market downturns to product failures, but it's how they respond to those challenges that matter. It's often through failures that both athletes and entrepreneurs gain the most profound insights and lessons. A determined individual will learn from mistakes and bounce back better than before.

Humility in success

How an athlete deals with success is just as important as how they deal with failure. Here, humility is vital, as it allows an athlete to reflect on a victory, to consider how it has been achieved, and to put it in context. Elite athletes, despite their victories, remain grounded, always seeking ways to improve. This humility is reinforced by continuous feedback; whether it's a coach pinpointing a flaw in their technique or a teammate suggesting a new strategy, athletes understand that improvement comes from listening and learning. Humility helps entrepreneurs stay grounded during both fruitful and challenging times and will help to prevent ego-driven decisions — such as taking excessive investment risks to recoup losses. Like a top athlete, a successful entrepreneur will also value advice and mentorship.

Set realistic short and long-term goals

Every elite athlete sets goals — some for the immediate future, like improving a specific skill and some long-term, like winning a championship. These goals are anchored in reality, taking into account their abilities, the competition and other factors. Entrepreneurs, too, should constantly be setting and recalibrating achievable goals based on industry innovations and market dynamics.

The power of teamwork

Behind every successful athlete is a team that supports them — and not just fellow players; the team includes coaches, medical staff, etc. In the corporate world, success is seldom down to a single individual. Entrepreneurs must recognize the strength of collaboration, valuing each team member's unique perspective and skill set. By fostering an environment where everyone is encouraged to think critically and make decisions, leaders can ensure a more resilient and high-performing team.

In pursuit of excellence

Although they may seem like radically different professions, elite athletics and entrepreneurship share a number of similar challenges — and achieving success in either requires many of the same characteristics. Both the entrepreneur and the athlete require mental fortitude, unwavering dedication and adaptability in the face of ever-changing challenges. In both fields, initial achievements might come from a blend of talent and luck, but sustaining success is invariably a product of continued hard work.

Understanding and embracing the qualities that drive top athletes can equip entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed — and might just help them achieve a personal best in the business world.

Evgeny Kireev

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Investor, entrepreneur, and motorsport enthusiast.

Cyprus-based investor, entrepreneur and motorsport enthusiast. My passions for innovation and thrilling adventures go hand in hand.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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