From Professional Athlete to CEO: 6 Important Crossover Skills

From Professional Athlete to CEO: 6 Important Crossover Skills

With a limited career lifetime before age-related challenges or injury triggers a decline in performance, many athletes start lucrative second careers after retiring from professional sports.

Athletes are natural achievers, with many transferrable skills. From teamwork, to adaptability, to positive mental attitude, here we identify six top traits that translate well to the business world.

1. Robust Work Ethic

To be successful in professional sports, an individual must push themselves further and work harder than all of their competitors. A great sportsperson does not merely arrive on time. They arrive early, not just because they want to stay on the right side of their trainer, but because they are eager to get started. A professional athlete recognizes the need for self-sacrifice, doing whatever it takes to succeed.

Professional sports are not just physically demanding. They can also be draining mentally. Athletes possess extreme mental fortitude, continually striving to improve, training incredibly hard just to improve their time by a fraction of a second.

By rechanneling their drive and motivation into the business world, ex-athletes can maintain their momentum and continue to achieve, succeed, and thrive, setting themselves new goals and breaking through new barriers in the corporate world.

2. Teamwork

Athletes who compete in individual events still need a strong network of likeminded peers around them. Training becomes a huge part of their careers. They recognize the importance of working together, maximizing each other’s strengths, sharing team successes, and inspiring each other to greatness.

The finely tuned teamwork skills of ex-athletes are particularly beneficial in a business context, uniting employees in the pursuit of company goals, and driving organizations to success.

3. Organizational Skills

A top athlete must maintain peak mental and physical fitness at all times. Achieving this requires an extraordinary level of organizational skills. From ensuring that they get a solid 10 hours’ sleep every night to boost athletic performance, to finetuning their diet, to avoiding indulgences that the rest of us take for granted, professional athletes are incredibly self-disciplined. This is a skill that can be equally beneficial in the corporate world.

4. Adaptability

Just like an athlete, a CEO must be committed to their strategies, but they must always be prepared for surprises. A CEO must show agility in the face of market disruptions, possessing the wherewithal to adapt if the need or opportunity arises.

An endurance runner enters a race with a strategy, but they are open to alternatives. From injury, to interference from other competitors, the professional athlete must be ready to adapt, make quick decisions, and recalculate their course if and when surprises arise.

A CEO typically has a very clear vision for their company. Nevertheless, market conditions can change quickly, making products obsolete, as well as creating new opportunities. Just like professional sportsmen and women, business leaders must be dynamic, capable of formulating and changing tactics at a moment’s notice in order to maximize the full growth potential of the market and enterprise.

5. Motivation

Athletes do what they do for the pure love of the job. If they did not, it would be impossible to maintain the level of motivation required to drive them right to the top.

A career in professional sports requires a commitment to ongoing, competitive training that many people would find intolerable. Nevertheless, the CEO presenting the same pitch 100 times to numerous potential investors, customers, and employees will need the same level of excitement, passion, and tenacity to deal with the same difficult routines, day after day; routines that many people might struggle to endure.

6. Positive Mental Attitude

A concept first introduced by the 1937 Napoleon Hill bestseller, Think and Grow Rich, positive mental attitude centers around visualization, leveraging every situation in life to increase achievement, creating lasting, positive change.

Individuals who practice this philosophy continuously seek out opportunities, finding ways to win or achieve a desirable outcome irrespective of circumstances. Adherents reject negativity, hopelessness, and defeatism, believing that by embracing an optimistic outlook, they can increase achievement in their lives.

In sports as in business, the occasional failure is inevitable. It is how the individual processes those setbacks that really matters. Rather than being crushed by defeat, or growing despondent, accomplished athletes recognize setbacks as what they are: teachable moments, showing them how they can grow and improve.

Many successful athletics embrace this ethos as a way to break through pain barriers, providing them with the motivation they need to stay on course. Similarly, maintaining a confident, optimistic outlook in business helps entrepreneurs and business leaders to cope with daily stress. After all, achieving positive change in life starts with a positive mindset.


Some former athletes struggle with the transition to normal life, wrestling with the loss of identity and purpose. Nevertheless, the athlete’s predilection for hard work and growth transcends the world of professional sports, poising them for success in the business world.