Why Athletes Make For Great Business People

Ryan Malinowski

What’s the first thought you think of when you hear the word athlete?

Maybe you think of:

  • yourself or someone you know
  • a particular sport (football, soccer, hockey, etc)
  • physically fit people in general (muscles, strength, flexibility)

If you put me (or any other athlete) in a social setting of complete strangers, I could probably point out which others in the room were athletes (PS: there are always a few outliers).


Besides the obvious cues such as being in great physical shape, athletes generally carry themselves in a particular manner.

……both on & off the field/ice/track.

The best athletes seem to have an even greater aura & confidence about them as well.

Rickie Fowler holds a natural swagger about his game on the course, without being too cocky.

Serena & Venus Williams both have a fearless competitiveness demeanor on the court that is evident to every viewer on the other side of the TV.

Ray Lewis holds a natural swagger & top notch competitiveness as well….but his greatest strength on the field was his relentless passion and work ethic…day in & day out.

So how does this relate to business??

Let me explain.

The title of this post doesn’t paint the entire picture…..

When I say that athletes make for better business people, I don’t strictly mean “athletes” in the athletic sense. I’m speaking more to the athletic traits that these individuals hold or develop over their tenure as an athlete (leadership, work ethic, and so on).

A little while back, I even reached out to speak with various CEO’s of successful companies to ask them the following question:

What type of people do you look for when hiring?

One CEO responded with the following….

“For me personally, I like to hire people that have been athletes in the past. They know how to compete, are more disciplined, and know how to go the extra mile when needed.  They don’t whine as much, are generally sick less, and they know what being on a team feels like/looks like, and what is expected of them.”

Whether you’re striving to build your own online business or to become an indispensable employee for a “rock star” company, the 7 traits below are what help make athletes great business people.

(even if you’re not an athlete, you too can hold, learn, and develop all of these traits as well)

#1- Perseverance

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” –Thomas Edison

In sport, as in business, you’re going to get knocked down mentally.

People will tell you NO & life won’t seem fair at times. Your journey in business will not all be sunshine in rainbows (this is okay).

It’s imperative you keep your eyes on the final outcome that you desire.

Don’t let petty obstacles hold you back from reaching your full potential.

#2- Team Work

Being a team player is not always easy…….it is essential though if you are going to succeed.

Igor Larianov (3 time NHL Stanley Cup Champ & 2 time Soviet Olympic Gold Medalist) recently said this quote in reference to the Soviet style of play as a team.

“You didn’t have to see your line mate. You could smell him. Honestly, we probably could have played blind.”

Soviet hockey dominated the world hockey circuit for decades due to the fact that each player understand their role on the team.

Each player trusting & relying on one another fully to accomplish their goals.

Five players on the ice played cohesively, not as lone individuals.

The same exact concept holds true for being a team member within a company or organization.

#3- Stubbornness

Being stubborn can be looked at as a negative trait, such as “the patron is being stubborn by not admitting their viewpoint is completely wrong.”

Stubbornness though, can also be a strong asset in business & life.

There are countless stories of artists, professional athletes, and business people who have all reached great heights in large part due to a raw stubbornness they held.

Stubbornness keeps you from giving up in your pursuit. When this trait is applied correctly, it can do you wonders.

#4- Work Ethic

You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t work on your craft everyday, you’ll never amount to the success that you would have if you put in the work. 

The best athletes in the world have the strongest work ethic.

The best individuals in the business world share this quality too.

Work ethic isn’t a trait you’re born with.

No one is born with a great work ethic, but rather a trait you develop.

So many folks talk about wanting to make it to the top…..but their work ethic doesn’t always align with their goals.

As motivational speaker Eric Thomas (pictured above)  says, “when you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.” 

His quote is very literal, but it speaks volumes of what it takes to make it. 

#5- Goal Setting 

Setting goals is the framework to all success……

All the baby steps you take up hill each and everyday will ultimately add up to you sitting atop the mountain (the hypothetical mountain of your choosing).

Whenever you hear the term overnight success, someone’s either lying to you OR not telling you the full story.

There’s no such thing as an “overnight success.” (NOTE: lottery winners don’t count. External forces gave them a winning ticket).

The overnight successful person that you think you see today, whether it’s a millionaire, a pro athlete, or an artist, is made up of years of tireless hard work, sweat, & time equity to get to the level that person is currently at.  

There are no exceptions to this…. if you find one, please introduce them to me (I’m yet to meet one).

One of my favorite examples of putting in the work is shown in this 8 minute Youtube video from a while back by Gary Vaynerchuk: Overnight Success.

Gary V embodies the athletic mentality of what it means to set goals, by putting in the hours & working fiercely to achieve greatness.

We can all take something away from that.

#6- Coachability

Lewis Howes (professional athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur) has briefly mentioned in interviews that from being an athlete, we are wired through sports to being coachable, gain feedback, & learn how to take constructive criticism.

If you want a great read, I strongly advise you check out Lewis’s new book The School of Greatness (NYT Bestseller).

The feedback loop from coaches, mentors, and teachers lets us all improve on our craft. 

These skills are imperative in all facets of life in order to grow.

#7- Continuous Learning

During the 2012-13 NHL Lockout, I had the privilege to get invited to practice/train with the Buffalo Sabres everyday.

I can tell you first hand that each of the players were constantly seeking advice & learning more through daily drills to enhance their game.

One of the worst characteristics anyone can hold is thinking that they know it all.


Even if you are the best in the world at what you do, there’s always room for improvement……whether you’re Peyton Manning or the kid who just picked up a new sport/passion.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” -Henry Ford


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