Athletes experience extreme situations in their sports careers that they have to evaluate in fractions of a second in order to be able to make decisive decisions in competitions. The Handelsblatt once asked: Are athletes the better managers? The insightful article by Michael Scheppe and Yasmin Osman sheds light on this question by presenting the career paths taken by former elite athletes and current managers Katja Kraus, Oskar Deecke, Max Günthör, Michael Ilgner and Thomas Lurz. We now want to go beyond that and ask the question: Are athletes the better entrepreneurs? In this context, we want to present the work and findings of Lukas Meissner and Finn von Appen. In their research, they have worked out what can be learned from sports entrepreneurs in terms of risk-handling. In the course of this, they interviewed active sports entrepreneurs who can draw on a successful career as a top athlete and are active entrepreneurs in different sectors.
In their study (Learning from Sports Entrepreneurs – Development of a conceptual framework for entrepreneurial risk-handling) Lukas and Finn give a strong indication of how much all entrepreneurs can learn from sports entrepreneurs and their risk handling strategies. We provide an insight into the results of their work in this and a following blog post in the coming weeks. In detail Lukas and Finn will present their findings and the conceptual framework for entrepreneurial risk-handling at our Entrepreneurship for Athletes Seminar.
Professional careers in sports have a limited time horizon and therefore, even top athletes are forced to actively engage in the search for a second career, whereby entrepreneurship represents a suitable option for athletes. Athletes like Marc Zwiebler, Martin Strobel, Tobias Duffner or Andreas Bechmann who we have already interviewed on this platform, are just a few more examples of athletes who have found their way into entrepreneurship.
Jan Jagla, managing partner @Patparius and CMO @Vibadou is another former professional athlete who obviously stands for the parallels between sports and entrepreneurship. After his sports career, he first gained experience in the corporate world before deciding to take the risk as an entrepreneur.
“I completely agree with the findings and conclusions of Lukas and Finn’s study. Today, as an entrepreneur, I recognize many aspects that I have already gone through in other ways in my life as an athlete. In terms of managing risk, my perspective is a very similar one as expressed through the study’s findings. Many athletes I know who are also now entrepreneurs have not only found a similar passion through their work as entrepreneurs, but also deal with the challenges ahead and the associated risks in a more focused and sober way than others who don’t have that background as a former athlete.“
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Athletes´ risk-handling advantageous for entrepreneurs
According to the research of Lukas and Finn and an earlier work by Ratten (2011), as one of the leading researchers in the field of sports entrepreneurship, there is a strong relationship between entrepreneurship and athletes as both rely on the use of the same skills (e.g. innovation or risk-taking). The studies show athletes are more suited to entrepreneurship than non-athletes because of their higher risk tolerance, which is particularly pronounced among athletes in high-risk sports (Steinbrink et al., 2020).
The present analysis allows an understanding of how professional athletes developed fundamental risk-handling strategies already in their sports careers. The findings show how these strategies are then applied in the second career as a sports entrepreneur to handle risky situations in the uncertain world of entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the study gives a strong indication of how much all entrepreneurs can learn from sports entrepreneurs and their risk handling strategies.
A current example is the athlete and entrepreneur Andreas Bechmann in his last decathlon in Ratingen where he had to weigh up very carefully in disciplines such as the long jump or discus throw whether he should continue to put strain on his ailing foot with an additional attempt in order to take advantage of the opportunity to improve his performance, or whether the risk of the strain was too great in view of the disciplines still to come. Here it was important for him as an athlete in competition under immense pressure to rationally weigh opportunity and risk and to make decisions with regard to the big goal. Experiencing and learning this way of thinking and acting in top-class sports helps him to successfully implement his risk-handling strategies as an entrepreneur at his venture Preventio.
Conclusion and remarks
In the context of the purpose of the study by Lukas and Finn to determine whether and to what extent a conceptual risk-handling framework can be developed by analyzing former professional athletes with respect to their risk-handling strategies in their sports career, they:
- first, found that the experience gained by former professional athletes in their previous career is contributing to their subsequent careers as entrepreneurs.
Second, in particular, the handling of risks and the more or less consciously developed risk handling strategy have a positive influence on entrepreneurship.
Based on the analyzed data, it became clear that a large proportion of the interviewed athletes demonstrate a pronounced, in some cases even a trained, mental strength. This allows them to act very conscientiously in uncertain and risky situations. Decisions are made very rationally. Furthermore, the analyzed data showed that the majority of the athletes tried to divide the main problem (i.e. risk) into several smaller problems in order to achieve the overall goal in small stages and in “best time”. This overarching goal was also an important driving factor in accepting risks and uncertainty in the first place.
It was clear to see that all former athletes exhibited a strong winning mentality. This means that reaching the defined main goal is achieved with a great deal of perseverance and also setbacks are anticipated and perceived as a chance to learn from. Rather, the interviewed athletes were clearly aware that there exist risks, but they were also able to deal with them. It is often the same risks (e.g. financial risk or risk of failure) that arise in both careers.
The conceptual framework developed on the basis of these insights has been illustrated and described in the study by Lukas and Finn – and will be presented at our Entrepreneurship for Athletes Seminar in Berlin. Thereby this conceptual framework describes what has been learned about risks and how to deal with them from the career as an athlete is applied almost unmodified to the risks during the entrepreneurial career. Furthermore, the study identified that prior experience as a top athlete influences the risk handling strategies as a sports entrepreneur to a large extent. Therefore, a clear and strong parallel to sports and entrepreneurship can be seen which on the one hand is beneficial for athletes who become entrepreneurs, but on the other hand can also be to the advantage of entrepreneurs in general if they follow and learn from the developed concept.