3 Lessons the NFL Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

Marques Colston
Marques Colston

Strategist. Speaker. Entrepreneur. Champion.

Helping growth-minded leaders achieve sustainable business success

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After a decade of success in the NFL,  I retired from football and dove into business and entrepreneurship full time. There I realized that many of the same insights and mindset that helped me navigate the cutthroat world of high performance sports would help me settle in as an entrepreneur. The path to success has been anything but a straight line, But as here are a few of the insights and experiences that continue to fuel my journey forward:

Plan A has to work

My journey to the NFL was never supposed to happen statistically. I was an under recruited player coming out of high school and ended up going to a small college football program that most people didn’t recognize. From there I was overlooked again, and was not picked in the draft until the 4th to last pick after my senior year in college.

Most of my friends and loved ones knew my dream was to play in the NFL. It was the case since I was 7 years old. They understood how passionate I was about achieving it, but they also understood the reality of my situation. 

Many urged me to consider my fallback plan “just in case” things didn’t work out. They weren’t wrong statistically– I had a slim to none chance of achieving my goals on paper.

But for me, that wasn’t an option. My Plan A had to work. I wouldn’t allow myself to think about life without achieving this goal- I couldn’t allow it to become part of my psyche. I fully understood the uphill battle I was facing, and knew there was maybe a 1% chance of succeeding. The question for me became- What are the other 99% going to do?

As an entrepreneur the odds of success will neve be in your favor. There will always be another idea or company to compete against. There will always be reasons why you shouldn’t succeed. It is up to you how much mindshare you give those reasons. To achieve against incredible odds takes 100% of your focus and energy. Spending those resources preparing yourself for negative outcomes or Plan B is like betting against yourself.

Potential gets people fired

Professional sports is and will always be a game of execution. Players are drafted and acquired by franchises for one reason.  They are evaluated on their ability to produce and contribute to winning games. 

Over the course of my career I’ve had teammates and colleagues who were extremely talented and physically gifted, but couldn’t find a way to translate it into production. Conversely, I’ve seen players with much less physical gifts have successful careers because they were able to produce.

In pro sports, the bottom line will never change- can you help the team win? It doesn’t matter how talented you may be or how much potential you have. At some point if it doesn’t translate to production, your value to the organization decreases. Once your value decreases, someone has to go- either you or someone higher up.

As an entrepreneur, you have a limited amount of time to build your business idea into a success. Once you introduce the concept to the world you’re on the clock.  If your company provides value to its customers you’ll have a shot to earn their business. If not, customers will rarely pay you today for value you may create down the road.

If you do have a valuable product/service and earn business, not you have to keep it. You have to continue providing value to your customers while others try to reverse engineer your success to compete. Ultimately you will be evaluated on your ability to “produce” or create value for your customers.

Create your own job security- the more you can do

As a rookie in the NFL it was a reality check to see how talented each player was. Every player, from the top to the bottom of the roster was the best player on their respective college team. Without that context as a casual fan, it is tough to appreciate just how competitive it can be to make a roster and actually become a starter. 

It quickly became clear that production was the most valued asset in building a team, especially when each roster was limited to a specific number of spots. Players that could play many roles and produce at a high level made themselves indispensable to the team.

When you have a vision for a business that you want to create, it is common to fixate on the one thing you may know well. However, the success of that business, especially early on, could rely on your ability to understand the big picture and see around corners. The more value you can provide for your customers, the more loyalty and mindshare you will gain from them.

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