Athletes and business owners have a lot in common. Leadership, stamina, and mental and physical endurance are all essential in both arenas. Professional athletes often capitalize on their celebrity to succeed in the business world–George Foreman, Maria Sharapova, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, and many more–but you don’t have to be famous to transition from winning at sports to winning in the business world.

Since we’re in the midst of March Madness, let’s explore how college basketball prepared these entrepreneurs for success.


Where Does the Magic Come From?

What is it about basketball that sets entrepreneurs on the right path? Well, some things just can’t be learned in business school. Playing college basketball isn’t just about having talent, it’s about executing plays, knowing when to take the shot, and when to pass. Learning how to take direction from coaches, excel as a leader, and work with a team are skills directly applicable to a career in business.

According to a survey by Ernst and Young, most female executives were athletes in college. Jamilah Corbitt, entrepreneur and former college basketball player, provides insight on why athletes make great entrepreneurs. More than physical/mental toughness and perseverance, it was the “systems thinking” that gave Corbitt the extra edge:

“In basketball, we had a series of offensive plays—this was our system. The designated functions for each position remained unchanged despite player substitutions. All players were required to learn the system so we could perform as a cohesive unit during the game. Our coaches understood individual strengths and weaknesses, and placed us in positions to thrive within the system. In the business world, the most effective companies are built on systems.”

In the business world, managing a team effectively is a tough skill to learn. Textbooks and success stories provide plenty of philosophies, but nothing gives real-time experience like the basketball court.

Speaking of Success Stories…

Remember those female executives who played college sports? Ellen J. Kullman, entrepreneur and retired CEO of DuPont, played college basketball for Tufts University. The co-founder of Marvell Technology Group, Weili Dai, played semi-professional basketball in China. Sunoco CEO Lynn Laverty Elsenhans–the first woman to run a major oil company–was also a player on her alma mater’s first women’s intercollegiate basketball team. According to Business Insider, “While the rookie team went 0-11 in their inaugural season, Elsenhans used the losses as a learning experience, and went on to letter from 1974-1975.” Turning losses into lessons is entrepreneur 101, after all.

“Bottom line, you’re either a risk taker or you’re not. And if you don’t take risks, you’ll never win big.”

Geno Auriemma, UConn Huskies coach

When Trevor Booker and Jonah Baize played basketball at Clemson University (and were members of three straight NCAA tournaments), their locker room talk was all about entrepreneurship. They knew early on that they wanted to go into business together, and they’ve done just that. In their six-year career as true “serial entrepreneurs” they’ve kept close to their athletic roots. Booker and Baize have opened postgraduate programs and private high schools for standout basketball players, along with training academies for youth to NBA players. They also own eleven real estate properties and an energy snack and recovery supplement that takes the place of a protein shake. All of this was accomplished between 2011 and today; just think how much more this entrepreneurial duo has in store!

Sports are about so much more than competition and physical fitness. The lessons learned in athletics, especially when you work your way up to the college level, leave players with ingrained entrepreneurial instincts.


Recommended Reading:

32 Ways to be a Champion in Business by Earvin “Magic” Johnson