5 Things About Overcoming Adversity That Athletes Can Teach Entrepreneurs

While the hustle demanded by the startup game is slightly different, the survival and success of an entrepreneur has more in common with athletes than one might think.

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By Chris Smith

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On the football field, lessons are learned at the speed of the game. The clock is ticking, your opponent is constantly sizing you up and your team is depending on you to do your part.

While the hustle demanded by the startup game is slightly different, the survival and success of an entrepreneur has more in common with athletes than one might think. Potential pitfalls and missteps make it critical for growing companies to remain nimble and able to think on their feet, and entrepreneurs can learn a few things from athletes who have triumphed through trial.

Here are five lessons:

1. Flexibility is key.

One of the first things you learn in athletics is that the uncontrollable is always going to happen. Whether it's injury, weather conditions or something else, you really only have two options. You can get flustered and lose your composure, which is almost a guaranteed recipe for failure, or you can pivot and adapt. Great athletes are able to adapt and adjust to whatever comes at them. Even when things are not ideal, they find a way to work with it and pivot the situation to their advantage.

Related: What Two Pro Football Players Can Teach You About Business

Many entrepreneurs convince themselves having a definitive plan in place makes entrepreneurship a safer risk to take. Unfortunately, the plan often becomes a form of false security. In a perfect world, things would go as planned 100 percent of the time. In reality, you have got to have goals, but you also need the insight and humility to know when it's time to slow down, zoom out, reevaluate and adjust.

2. Persistence pushes you to the next level.

In athletics, quarters, periods and innings create a sense of urgency. Time limits allow you to know where you stand, so you can decide when it's time to stop holding back and go all in. If you're down and you've got 10 minutes left on the clock, that's the time to push hard and start implementing the little steps you need to reach your goal.

There is no time clock in entrepreneurship. There's no countdown on a scoreboard that makes it clear when it's the right time to sell or go all in. You cannot survive as an entrepreneur without a self-imposed sense of urgency. If you don't give yourself a time frame, everything begins to feel insurmountable when you find yourself up against the inevitable obstacles or challenges. When you get in a rut, you have to set smaller steps and smaller goals that keep you moving toward the greater win. Small wins create big wins.

3. Mental fortitude helps push past obstacles.

Reality check: Bad things will happen, and they will often be entirely out of your control.

When I was playing for the University of Hawaii, I tore my tricep tendon. The injury set me back, and while it did eventually heal, I never bounced back to where I had been prior to the tear. Ultimately, the injury led to me transferring to Missouri State University. Some people might have perceived that as a great loss, but I choose to believe it was meant to be. Not only was Missouri State where I discovered my love for business, it was also where I met the woman who eventually became my wife.

Related: What Elite Athletes Can Teach You About Dealing With Pressure

Let me say it again: Bad things will happen. Your attitude is more important on the outcome than anything else. Some people get defeated in those instances, but I have convinced myself that when something bad happens that means something amazing is about to happen. We call it a "momentum shift" in sports -- you've probably seen it. Just when it seems all hope is lost, something clicks. Entrepreneurs need to embrace the exact same mindset. Sometimes, in order to understand the lesson behind the struggle, you just have to push through.

4. Put it all in perspective.

As an athlete, it's up to me to know my body. I have to be able to tell the difference between pain and an injury, because that awareness can make the difference between an uncomfortable game and a game that jeopardizes your entire career.

There will be issues in every industry, every company and every department. As an entrepreneur, it's up to you to determine the difference between the things that are worth your energy and attention, and the things that are just nagging hassles or annoyances. So much energy is wasted on things that don't really matter. If you're faced with something that doesn't threaten valuable relationships or the outcomes of your business, is it really worth your time and attention?

5. Have humility.

You can't start a business without being confident in your abilities. No matter how good you are; however, sometimes things will be hard. In many instances, it's simply because you weren't good enough.

As an athlete, there were plenty of times things didn't go my way. Instead of getting down when I didn't get the outcome I wanted, I worked harder. I knew the reason I wasn't getting the outcome I wanted was because I needed to get better, faster and stronger. Now that I own a business, disappointing outcomes have taken on a new form. When a partner doesn't renew, it would be easy to get down about it. Instead of passing the blame, I look at the opportunity. I try to pinpoint what we could have done different, and use that knowledge to get better.

It's important to remember that growing a successful startup is not winning a game – it's setting your sights on winning the championship. It takes commitment, effort and expertise. If you want to win, start with you. Because when you get better, your business gets better.

Related: 4 Strategies Used by Superstar Athletes to Become Super Focused

Chris Smith

Founder and CEO of Athlete Network

Chris Smith is the founder and CEO of Athlete Network and is on a mission to inspire the world’s athletes to thrive in their personal and professional lives. 

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