professional sports rick elmore

Former NFL Player Rick Elmore on What Aspiring Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Professional Sports

Success is not something that is delivered on your doorstep; it’s something you have to constantly chase after. In an oversaturated market, crowded with bright ideas and aspiring entrepreneurs, it can be difficult for a new business to break through and reach a dedicated customer base. Today, it takes more than an interesting product to make it big. Entrepreneurs need to strategize like athletes and have a game plan to succeed.

Before I became the founder and CEO of my company, Simply Noted, I was a college and professional football player. My lifelong passion for sports has led to me to adopt a certain approach when it comes to my professional and personal life—meaning I like a tough challenge and enjoy delivering great results.

While I’m no longer playing football for the NFL, I’ve learned that becoming a successful entrepreneur is no different than training to win a big game. I went from tackling opponents on the football field to tackling the business world successfully because of the strategies I learned from my professional sports background.

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Common professional sports strategies can help entrepreneurs grow their business and become better leaders. Here are 10 sports-related strategies that I have taken with me to build my own successful business:

Always strive to be the best

It can be easy to cut corners, make excuses or settle for second place, but that’s what will leave you behind and put your competitors ahead. Wanting to be the very best or number one in your industry will help keep you motivated and pushing for better results. Always strive to be the best, as it will give you a competitive edge.

Coach yourself (and be coachable)

Coaches help their team improve for the next game. They’ll notice your weaknesses and provide advice to become better. As you start your business, you won’t always have a coach analyzing your every move, so you’re going to have to coach yourself to promote personal development. When you don’t have the resources, look for mentors to learn from.

Reflect on the challenges and successes you have encountered thus far throughout your journey. What could have been done better or improved to make the process easier? What was the biggest barrier you encountered? What should you do next time? Coaching yourself will help you improve your planning, decision making and productivity.

Push yourself past your comfort zone

Throughout my sports and entrepreneurial career, I have always pushed myself outside of my comfort zone in order to become better at what I do. This includes learning about and building from scratch the technology that is the basis of my business. It can be an uncomfortable process, but in the end, this strategy results in finding new perspectives, discovering new solutions and meeting new people who can bring new opportunities. If you limit yourself to what you know and what you know you’re good at, you’ll never discover new potential.

Related: Former NFL Player Kamerion Wimbley Tackles Entrepreneurship Post-Football Career

Embrace change

Situations and individuals are constantly changing. As a result, things may not go as planned and it could be entirely out of your control. Naturally, everyone takes time to adjust to any kind of changes, and change can make us uncomfortable and worried about the unknown. But this fear can seriously hinder your personal growth, because change is necessary.

Don’t deny opportunities or progress because you fear what will change, or you will end up limiting yourself and keep your business stuck in its current spot with no possibility for growth. Changes you should embrace (or at least consider) can involve adopting new processes and systems in your company to improve efficiency, rebranding your business to attract new customers or introducing new schedules and routines to build a better work culture.

Don’t let losses hold you back

One bad performance does not define a football star’s career. The same goes for you and your business. Don’t give up even in the face of a challenging situation. While a setback can be difficult to overcome, you can move forward by viewing the challenge as an opportunity or gift for growth. A loss can inspire you to look at your situation differently and learn to take a different direction.

Prepare a plan

Coaches prepare a detailed game plan so their team is ready with strategies and tactics. During my football career, creating a plan involved studying the team we were playing against, knowing our strengths and weaknesses and determining solutions when problems arose. Similarly in business, without a plan, your team or business will not be ready to act when opportunities or challenges arise. Look at what your customers want, what your competitors are doing, what is or isn’t working, and use that knowledge to prepare a business plan that details all of the logistics, including your business’s next steps and long-term goals.

Listen to fans (and critics)

Feedback, both positive and negative, is essential for your business. You need to listen to what customers and reviews are saying so you can continue to deliver great results. Listening to your biggest fans and supporters can help you determine what you’re doing right, but be purposeful in listening to other perspectives, as well. If you dismiss criticism or negative feedback, or if you never hear it in the first place, you might be caught off guard by a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

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Have a great team by your side

When you think you can do it all, just remember that it takes a team to win a Super Bowl, not just a talented quarterback. It is hard to start and run a business without support. Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed and who are positive influences. This doesn’t mean surround yourself with “yes” people. Instead, your startup’s team should comprise of people who encourage you to do better and want to help you achieve higher goals.

Celebrate victories

It is important to recognize your achievements, including small wins and special milestones. You can celebrate daily moments when an employee does a great job, or a customer makes a big purchase. Celebrating goals will help you reach the next one and will keep your business moving forward.

Never forget to say thank you

I believe your relationships and the connections you make are important. Always acknowledge the people who have helped you succeed. Coaches, mentors, friends, family and supporters. On and off the field, they have given you advice and support that helped you along the journey. Without them, you couldn’t have achieved your success. Be sure to show appreciation and thank them.

Although I traded in the jersey and helmet for branded polo shirts, the strategies and lessons I learned on the field as an athlete have guided my growth as an entrepreneur. Fellow entrepreneurs can also put these lessons to work in order to find success, just like professional sports athletes.

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