They are wise words that have persisted for the 400 years since they were first scribed in Don Quixote: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This age-old adage reinforces the value of diversification, which itself has become an enduring principle for everyone from investors looking to minimise loss to business leaders nervous about reliance on one market. And it’s something especially important for professional sportspeople.

Sports are generally the domain of those in peak physical condition. Those who are at the apex of physical fitness and who are a picture of perfect health. But because of these intense bodily demands, as well as the inherently physical nature of many sports, these careers are relatively short-lived.

According to the UK’s Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA), the average career length of a professional footballer is approximately eight years from the time they sign their first professional contract. However, this varies from sport to sport. For example, the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the US states that the average professional basketball career is a mere 4.5 years. Compare this with most other professional careers, which can span as long as 50 years, and the need for professional diversification becomes critical.

Yet the sheer intensity of the training and commitment required to become a professional sportsperson often means that sacrifices are made along the way, which often means other core professional skills aren’t as developed. So, many sportspeople at the end of their career ask the same question: what now?

The mentality and mindset required to become a good professional sportsperson are not too different from that of a business leader or entrepreneur. You need sheer determination to succeed; you will be goal-oriented, strategic and, most importantly, disciplined. That’s why many sports stars turn to business following the end of their professional sports career. A prime example of this is former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, who has actively invested in numerous business ventures and recently became the new face of Papa John’s pizza.

Beyond the mentality, entrepreneurs need a set of skills and specific knowledge to set up a successful business. Fortunately for sportspeople, these can be taught. And we’re increasingly seeing sports clubs and associations support professionals in this area.

For example, Rocketeer Enterprise recently delivered its digital start-up training program to a premier league team. This constituted part of a pilot programme funded by the PFA aimed at re-engaging young professionals with new learning opportunities.  The project was delivered in collaboration with Archetype Media Group and the Angel Investment Network.

Over the course of 12 weeks, the youth team learned everything it needed to know to conceive a business idea, develop a minimum viable product (MVP) and operate as a start-up. This included everything from business plan development to marketing strategy, giving the team the tools and tips needed to get their own business off the ground.

Crucially, the training showed how to achieve this in a flexible way, allowing them to devote as much time as they wanted to their start-ups. This ability to fit entrepreneurialism around their sports career was invaluable.

Even if the members of the youth team don’t take all their MVPs to launch, the course has still equipped them with an awareness of the transferable skills they possess which can be applied to entrepreneurship and the business environment. They can even revisit the course at a later date through the recently launched Rocketeer Academy online entrepreneurial skills school, which provides a structured 12-week programme of educational material alongside useful resources and business coach support.

With Rocketeer Academy, sportspeople don’t have to hope their club alone is supporting such training. The structured online plan provides the same effectiveness in a way that is cost-effective, flexible and personalised. As true today as it was in the early 1600s, we should not put all our eggs in one basket – especially when we can only expect to have that basket for a handful of years. By ensuring entrepreneurial and transferable skills are as sharp as possible, sportspeople – and indeed, all professionals – can limit the risk of reaching the end of their current career and wondering, “what now?”

This article first appeared in the Quarter 2, 2019 edition of Think Enterprise magazine. To learn more about the structured 12-week launchpad programme that premier league teams are taking part in, click here.

Author: Rocketeer

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