5 Characteristics of Athletes You Need for Business Success


Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo wrote, “The players play. The tough players win.” I would add to this, “Winning is hard.” I think that if you as a leader want to build an organization that is successful – one that wins – you first have to accept that it will be hard. There is no shortcut to success. In my 44 years of coaching, I was fortunate to have coached a lot of tough players. I believe the rigor I have seen in athletes is well matched by any organization or profession.

Athletic toughness includes the following five characteristics.

1. Work

Tough players work in practice. When they tie their shoes and cross that line for practice, they’re ready to work. They do not take any part of the practice and work hard in every practice due to which they do not get a chance to play in the games. Isn’t it the same in business? When you open that door for work, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and go to work.

2. Habit

Strict minded players are the same every day and toughness is one of their habits. They don’t need to be motivated because they are self-motivated. They know no other way than to adopt the practices. Their perseverance and willingness to work hard is their calling card and they become a deep habit.

“There may be people who have more talent than you, but there is no excuse for someone to work harder than you.” – Derek Jeter

3. Ethics Matter

They work hard but never get dirty. In athletics, we know the difference between tough players and dirty players. Tough players play within the rules; Dirty players try to intimidate opponents by doing things outside the rules – things that have no part in the game. We all respect tough players but feel that dirty players don’t belong in the game. We have seen some businesses play outside the rules and see their demise.

4. Do Little Things

Tough players do things that don’t show up in the stats, but lead to victory. They get the deflection on the defence, they get the loose balls, and they take charge. The people in the stands may not be aware of everything they do to help their team win, but their teammates and coaches know how important their job is to win. Coach Wooden used to say, “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.” Aren’t the little things important in all organizations?

5. Study

They know game plans because they take the time to study them. This is no different from being a good student. It’s hard to spend all the time to be successful in class. Isn’t it the same in business? If I want to promote the business I work for, I need to take the time to study why our business meets the needs of our customers better than all of our competitors.

Winning is tough in any venture and tough people definitely put your organization in the best place to win. The combination of these 5 key features is the blend of rigor that is required to compete and win in today’s environment.