6 sports lessons from a pro ballplayer turned entrepreneur

My favorite quote from the classic baseball movie “A League of Their Own” comes when one of the players tells the coach, played by Tom Hanks, that she wants to quit the team because it’s too hard. 

“If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it,” Hanks tells her. ”The ‘hard’ is what makes it great.”

Brandon Roberts

Brandon Roberts

Maybe it’s my passion for baseball talking, but that quote has resonated with me from the time I was a college baseball player to playing in the minor leagues to running a revenue organization at a global SaaS solutions platform.

All those in the business world find their leadership styles in a variety of ways. My foundation was a lifetime of playing sports. One question a lot of athletes face when they’re leaving professional sports is: What’s next? In my case, I played college baseball and then went on to play in the minors for the Cincinnati Reds and the Minnesota Twins.

After seven seasons, however, I started seeing signals that it was time to move on. It was then that I reached out to my friends and colleagues and was able to land a part-time job cold calling at a software company during spring training. Every day until the season started that year, I’d spend four hours in the morning cold calling and then head to the field to train with my team — an experience that would set me up for the next decade of my life.

As I started transitioning out of professional sports and into sales, I began to see how my sports mindset translated to a business mindset. For instance, my first job after retiring from baseball was in a company with a sales team of 100 people. I quickly realized that to stand out, it wouldn’t be enough to practice my sales pitch one time and move on; I’d need to practice it over and over until I mastered it, similar to hitting thousands of baseballs off a tee. My continual desire to get better every day, every week and every month was embedded in me from my years of pursuing a sports career where such a mindset was required.

What I know now is that professional athletes and entrepreneurs — including financial advisory players working to build a better team — share a common “hustle culture.” So, if I could pack my professional sports career into six takeaways for entrepreneurs looking to develop a growth mindset and build confident, passionate teams, they’d be:

Professional athletes never get to a place in their careers where they stop trying to master their skills. There is always room to improve the level of production regardless of what you are focused on. To operate like an athlete means to have an unrelenting pursuit of improvement.

Establish self confidence
Self confidence is simply a choice. Implement strategies that can help elevate your confidence so that you can perform at a higher level than you’re currently at. Reiterate affirmation on a daily basis and establish future abilities by developing them in your mind first. 

Rehearse positive outcomes
Most people rehearse negative outcomes because they feel that it will protect them by preemptively identifying the worst-case scenario. This ultimately leads to activities based on fear as opposed to activities inspired by a challenge. If you use positive mental imagery and visualize highly successful outcomes, it will be much easier for them to come to life. 

Discipline creates freedom
The more disciplined you are in your work ethic, the more freedom and creativity you have in performance. Take practicing a baseball swing: the more you master the mechanics of the swing, the less you have to think about when you are competing against a world-class pitcher. 

Focus and stack your development
Athletes are always trying to improve, but there are many aspects to their games. Rather than continually developing the same part of the game, I would focus a certain period around a part of the game that needed improvement. As I moved on to other areas, they would eventually stack on top of each other. One memorable offseason, I worked for four months on hitting the ball only to left field. I knew if I improved this aspect of my swing, it would make me a more effective, well-rounded hitter. 

Receive coaching wisdom
These days working with my own team, not only do I tap into these five learnings, I also think about my former coaches who instilled confidence in me early on. For instance, Larry Lee was my college coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California. He coached from a positive leadership standpoint and boosted my confidence. He only focused on the things that truly mattered and spent no time or attention on the things that didn’t.

Right now at Xplor, I’m tapping into Larry’s leadership style as I build up a sizable sales team and work to establish a winning culture built on helping people succeed — which is one of my favorite things to do. I played for over a dozen different coaches in my career and vividly remember the difference in culture on a championship winning team versus teams that ended up in last place. I try to mimic the positive, supportive, engaging environments that my most successful coaches like Larry were able to create. 

If I could offer one last piece of advice, it would be:

Only you create your limits
There will be many people that impose judgments and give opinions on what you can and can’t accomplish. They typically do this in an effort to help you, but it may establish limiting beliefs. When I played minor league baseball, I was told that I would be a career minor leaguer. I got to a place where I believed I didn’t deserve to make it to the big leagues and, subsequently, my work ethic declined. 

The belief system you hold drives your behaviors, which lead to the outcomes you produce. As an entrepreneur, that’s the philosophy that drives me and one I work hard to instill in my teammates. 

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