Elite athletes and entrepreneurs seem to lead vastly different lives, but do they really?

Physical abilities aside, running a business and participating in an extreme sport present many similarities. Both require practitioners to bring their best qualities on a daily basis to continue progressing towards their goals, and both present obstacles that can reveal the differences between a dabbler and a devotee.


At extreme sports events, spectators often witness athletes performing feats the world previously imagined impossible. From death-defying aerial stunts to stunning weightlifting records, athletes thrive on constantly one-upping themselves and their competitors. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat go hand in hand to create memorable experiences for everyone involved.

Although not performing on slopes, in arenas, or on television for everyone to see, entrepreneurs often employ many of the same characteristics athletes do to build innovative and successful businesses. The risks may be different, but starting a new enterprise requires similar levels of passion, commitment, and fearlessness.

Attitudes that Contribute to Success

When it comes to the personal characteristics required to carve up a half pipe or start the company that builds them, it turns out they’re pretty similar. Individuals who excel in sports and business tend to possess similar mentalities, which give them the edge over their competitors and keep them going long after others might have given up.

As a business owner, do you have what it takes to be a champion? Consider whether you regularly display one or more of these winning attitudes.

Winning Attitude #1: Do What You Love; Love What You Do.

It’s hard to excel at something when you do it under compulsion or obligation. When compelled by their parents, children might show up to soccer practice or ballet lessons, but few will rise to the top of their sport if they lack passion.

The same is true in business. Many entrepreneurs start companies based on what seems like a sure bet or under the pressure of investors, and these businesses can produce reasonable profits. However, the most groundbreaking enterprises start with a spark of creativity or an idea the founder couldn’t get out of his or her head. They start a business because they can’t imagine doing anything else with their lives.

Winning Attitude #2: Embrace Discomfort.

Any athlete will tell you that training doesn’t always feel good. Staying fit and competitive means increasing weight and reps, trying more difficult maneuvers, and nursing occasional injuries and sore muscles.

Growing a business may not cause you physical pain, but it will often take you outside of your comfort zone. From accumulating startup capital to locating premises to dealing with difficult customers, moments will arise when you wonder whether this whole thing was worth the effort. Instead of shying away from uncomfortable situations, lean into them. It will make you – and your business – stronger as a result.

Winning Attitude #3: Make Friends with Failure.

The stories of successful people are filled with anecdotes about failure. From Michael Jordan’s relegation to a high school JV team to Donald Trump’s many bankruptcies, plenty of evidence exists that proves you can do more than overcome failure. You can use it to get better at whatever you do.

The next time a marketing campaign falls flat or a new product flops, be grateful for the learning opportunity the occasion affords. By adding this lesson to your strategic arsenal, you’ll be more likely to knock it out of the park with the next initiative.

Winning Attitude #4: Be a Team Player.

Accomplishing a goal alone may be possible, but it’s usually difficult – not to mention lonely. Even solo athletes compete as part of a larger team or enlist the support of a community of likeminded individuals, and business owners should do the same. Whether they’re business partners, employees, or peers you respect, allow the perspectives of others to inform your decisions.

Winning Attitude #5: Follow Through.

No one ever made it to the Olympics or built a multinational company by giving up. It seems obvious, but staying the course is the most important thing you can do to succeed. Similar to how an athlete sometimes can’t control whether or not an injury occurs, entrepreneurs can’t control outside economic influences or the emergence of better-funded competitors – but they can control whether they give up as a result.

Following through doesn’t have to mean sticking to a plan that’s no longer working. Adapting your approach to new circumstances is part of remaining a viable business; scrapping the whole thing at the first sign of difficulty is not.

Your Next Role Model?

Many of us can point to role models who inspire us to perform at our best. When it comes to achieving goals, athletes often exhibit qualities with which business entrepreneurs can identify. Examples of individuals who possess characteristics business owners can learn from include the following:

  • Christmas Abbot. Abbot, the first female NASCAR pit crew member, faced numerous personal and professional obstacles in pursuit of her career goal. An Iraq veteran and CrossFit enthusiast, she practiced her future job duties – which included changing two 60-pound tires in 12 seconds – on a daily basis for several years before finally receiving a job offer. She attributes her interest and success in the two sports to her “competitive nature.” Her achievements exemplify the spirit of someone destined for greatness.

  • Shaun White. The Olympic gold medal winning athlete is best known for his snowboarding career, but did you know he also competes as a skateboarder? When making his skateboarding debut, White expressed excitement at the ability to “start as an underdog again.” Over the course of his career, he has also taken on enterprises as diverse as children’s clothing lines, movie roles, and playing guitar in the band Bad Things. White is a prime example of an individual who follows his passions, takes risks, and embraces new ventures.

As you continue the adventure of business ownership, look for inspiration in the tenacity, focus, and courage illustrated by these and other athletes every day. You may never step foot in a CrossFit “box” or win a gold medal, but by employing similar techniques as you run your company, you’ll become a champion in your own right.

How do you display a winner’s mentality?