3 NFL Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Bring to Their Businesses

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By Joe Fairless

We’ve all heard this story: small town guy is drafted into the National Football League and has an outstanding career in the spotlight, making a boatload of money. Then, they retire and lose it all. However, we sometimes hear the exceptional tale of an athlete who made it big in the league, retired and then leveraged the skill sets acquired from the NFL to launch a career as a business person, achieving similar or even higher levels of success.

Most people have trouble mastering one area of life, let alone two. So, what is it that differentiates these two types of athletes?

As the host of a real estate podcast where I interview guests and share advice, I’ve wondered what some of the sports superstars turned business titans would attribute to their attainment of the highest levels of success in multiple industries. Here’s what they shared with me.

Start From the Ground Up

Undoubtedly, one of the most famous plays in NFL history was the "Immaculate Reception," which was caught by NFL Hall of Famer and four-time Super Bowl Champion Franco Harris. After a legendary NFL career, Franco transitioned into the business world. Harris believes that the main reason many NFL athletes fail after retirement is that they try to purchase companies, as opposed to starting at the bottom and building from the ground up. “The advice I provide to NFL players when they’re transitioning out of the league is don’t buy your way to the top. Learn the business. Learn every aspect of the business,” Harris told me.

He attributed this philosophy to his ability to successfully scale superfood. Instead of just buying his company and immediately assuming the duties of a CEO, he started off by learning the day-to-day operations. He spent time working in the warehouse, delivering products and unloading trailers in order to truly understand the job duties that made the business function properly.

Unless you have access to a large amount of capital, you won’t be tempted to buy your way to the top of a company. But Harris’s experience shows us that going through the day-to-day grind of a startup is meaningful and necessary to scaling and maintaining a business. Moreover, once you do assume a higher-level role, you’ll have a more humble and gracious perspective of the lower-level roles in the company, which will ultimately make you a better leader.

Always Stay the Course

Former San Diego Chargers running back Terrell Fletcher has cultivated a skill that enabled him to successfully make the arduous transition out of the league: the ability to overcome adversity and stay the course. After a brief stint as an NFL coach and sports commentator, Fletcher found his new identity and purpose as a motivational speaker, author and Senior Pastor of the City of Hope International Church.

He said, “Barriers, enemies to our success, whether they’re external or internal, are guaranteed to show up on the journey. But don’t give into them. Fight them, because those barriers are not there to stop you. They’re designed to make you stronger.”

Facing and overcoming challenges is a vital part of growing as an entrepreneur. In fact, if you aren’t running into barriers in your business, that means that either your goal isn’t big enough or you aren’t taking the risks that are part and parcel of every business person’s journey towards success. And in the long run, you will look back with gratitude on these barriers because of the skills you obtained and the person you’ve become from gaining victory over them.

Don't Underestimate the Value of Teamwork

Emmitt Smith is arguably one of the greatest NFL players of all-time. After setting three rushing records (career yards, touchdowns and attempts), winning three super bowls and being inducted into the Hall of Fame, he began to build his off-field legacy as the owner of a real estate investment and development company.

A trait Smith learned in the NFL that he’s applied to his business endeavors is teamwork. He said, “Checking your ego at the door and understanding that you do not become successful by yourself. I did not hand the football to myself. I did not block for myself. I did not call the plays. And the same thing applies to business.”

Each employee on a business team has their own unique abilities and responsibilities, and when in harmony together, it results in a smooth and successful organization. Moreover, one superstar cannot carry you to the promise land.

Additionally, in today’s competitive landscape, having key people who can competently perform multiple functions is extremely advantageous. In football, the best running back can convert on a one-yard fourth down play, but when called upon, he can also catch a quick swing pass or throw a block to avoid a sack. Having a team member who can do high-level strategy and understand the day-to-day operations is a beautiful thing.

Interestingly, something that none of the NFL players stated as the main contributor to their business success was the money they earned while in the league. Instead, they found success by learning the day-to-day ground level operations, never giving up and surrounding themselves with a stellar team, which is something that the novice entrepreneur with little or no capital is capable of acting upon immediately.


Joe Fairless controls $191M in real estate assets and hosts the world's longest-running daily real estate podcast: Invest With Joe.

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