From Shawn Johnson and Lindsey Vonn to Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova, women athletes are starting businesses. And why not? They already have the right mindset.
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On Sunday, the U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) hoisted into the air its fourth World Cup trophy (Go, U.S.A.!). Tomorrow, Wednesday, the team will be honored with a ticker tape parade in New York.
In fact, this is a trend: Retired MVPs, including a lot of women MVPs, in almost every sport, are leveraging their talents to become entrepreneurs.
Former Olympian Shawn Johnson, for example, co-founded TheBodyDepartment.com, an online forum for healthy discussions on fitness and body image. Tennis sensations Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova launched an athleisure and candy company, respectively. And, later this year when she retires, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn plans to start a beauty brand.
As an athlete-turned-entrepreneur myself, I find that this trend makes perfect sense. After winning a national gymnastics championship and securing a spot in the 1980 Olympics, I went on to found multiple successful companies. The main thing I learned? It’s all about having the right mindset.
As sports psychologist Stan Beecham, Ph.D., noted: “You could be gifted, and you could be in great shape, but if the way that your mind is functioning is counter to that, you’ll never realize that physical potential.”
The same is true of entrepreneurial potential. Here are some lessons the athletic world offers that help its alums become great entrepreneurs:
Overlook the odds.
Athletes face slim odds. Just 0.02 percent of girls who play high school basketball go on to compete professionally, according to National Collegiate Athletics Association statistics. And only 0.08 percent of high school football players go pro. Entrepreneurs also deal with fierce competition. Nine in ten startups never make it.
The key is to perceive risks as challenges, not threats, according to sports psychology expert Jim Taylor, Ph.D. Taylor has noted that fearing competition nearly guarantees you won’t take the necessary risks to succeed. I can personally attest that that’s true: When I trained, I didn’t think about those coveted spots on the Olympic roster; instead, I stayed present and strove to achieve my personal best.
Sweat the small stuff.
High aspirations are important. But big dreams need to be broken down into achievable goals. Sure, you can aim for a gold medal or a multi-million-dollar investment. But what’s more important is to think, “What can I do here and now to get one step closer?”
USWNT co-captain Alex Morgan, for example, has said that a good night’s sleep and a consistent morning routine are integral to her success. According to Morgan, something as simple as a crossword puzzle can help her mentally prepare for the pitch.
In fact, earlier this year, her team tapped an online company called Headspace to provide each player with a personalized meditation program. Taking those small steps every day to reduce stress and improve focus surely helped the team pull off its win last weekend.
Similarly, entrepreneurs should be laser-focused on the important details — no matter how small. Every hire, every brainstorming session — even every morning to-do-list — should be thoughtfully executed.
Leverage your losses.
Successful athletes and entrepreneurs all made mistakes on their way to the top. During the 2015 U.S. Open, Serena Williams, ranked No. 1 in the world at the time, lost in a major upset to Italian Roberta Vinci, ranked 46th. Instead of losing focus, however, Williams let that loss fuel her, going on to win the 2017 Australian Open — while pregnant.
Great athletes anticipate failure. They give themselves permission to fail — and they turn those failures into learning opportunities. (Sounds a lot like great entrepreneurs.)
In the midst of training for the Junior Olympic Games in high school, I blew out my knee, tearing my ACL, MCL and meniscus. I didn’t quit, though. Instead, I bounced back to win my first national championship.
I brought that same resilience to my entrepreneurial endeavors. When my first company failed, I went on to build and sell numerous companies, one of which became one of the largest preferred provider organization networks in Texas.
Athletes are flexible, and not just physically. Soccer teams, for instance, constantly adjust their formations to adapt to rain or injuries. Consider last week, when USWNT’s top scorer Megan Rapinoe sat out of the semifinal with an injury. Instead of just subbing in someone else, the coach reshuffled the whole starting lineup to adjust to her absence.
Adapting to obstacles requires creativity and “cognitive flexibility” — meaning you approach every possibility with an open mind. Entrepreneurs must be similarly flexible. They need to constantly reevaluate what their strengths are and realign their business plans.
Finally, enjoy the ride.
People don’t choose to play sports or start a business because it’s easy. They do it because it’s challenging, and they enjoy healthy competition.
Next time you’re frustrated by a business setback, think back to this past weekend’s USWNT win: Get in the right headspace, learn to adapt and kick some butt. Then bring home that trophy.