4 Success Strategies I Took from the NFL to My Business


If football taught me anything about business, it’s that you win the game one play at a time. It’s an analogy I’ve used in the past. As a small business owner and entrepreneur, I face many of the same challenges I did on the field and I use similar strategies for tackling them.

1. Never underestimate the value of preparation.

Throughout my NFL career, I found there was a direct correlation between my preparation and my performance.

If I watched every film available of my opponent’s defense, I was readier to combat any defensive formation. I prepared by talking with my teammates and coaches. I talked to quarterbacks from other teams who had played my opponent. It all went into my complete and thorough preparation for each and every game.

In business, preparation is just as important. When you take the time to prepare for a meeting, a product launch or an interview, you put yourself in the right mindset to handle whatever someone might throw at you.

2. Utilize all available information.

The amount of sports data available never ceases to amaze me. We used that data to build our offense and game plans.

I could review which plays worked against which teams in which situations. Does this play work best on first and 10 or third and long? Is it better suited for the red zone or deep in our own territory? What about left hash versus right hash? There’s limitless data you can study. I analyzed all the numbers I could get my hands on to install the entire pass offense for my teams for 14 years.

Business is no different. As in sports, the data and players constantly change. Look at the numbers every day. Track conversion rates, website traffic and level of engagement. Look for the signs and react to what you see. Remember, bad news does not get better with age. Follow the data and plan your business around the reality of what’s happening today.

3. Involve your teammates in the process.

My years in the NFL have made me a strong believer in the team dynamic. From my linemen and my receivers to my running backs and my offensive coordinators, I talked to my teammates all the time.

I wanted to know what was going on and what they thought we could do on the field. I wouldn’t have been as effective if I’d just barked orders. We were a team, and 11 minds are much better than one — not to mention the camaraderie we built in the process.

The same rules apply to a business team. Talk to your people, from the most senior to the newest hire. Leaders listen to people and make them realize they are valued team members. Give your employees a say, and encourage them to have a strong voice in any given situation. Teams win; individuals don’t.

4. Learn from losing.

Losing a game taught me so much more than winning one. When we won, the team went out to dinner with our families. We talked, laughed and reminisced about the game, the plays and even a fumble or two.

But the team didn’t go out when we lost. Instead, I went home and studied. I watched film. I needed to understand what went wrong and how I could have played better to change the outcome. I talked with my teammates and coaches and applied my learning to our next practice and game, which helped the team to constantly improve.

Similar to sports, failing at a venture can teach you valuable lessons about business. It’s OK to fail, as long as you learn how to identify and quantify a failure before it compounds itself over time. Use what you learn from your failures to inform your business’s next steps.

People will tell you that business is like a game, and they may be right — to a certain degree. Sometimes you need to take a risk to enjoy a reward, but this doesn’t mean you should enter the field unprepared. Have a plan, involve those who matter most and never ignore what the research is telling you. If things don’t go your way, fail fast and learn from those failures. You’ll be better equipped the next time around.

This article was originally posted on Entrepreneur.com.

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of GoSmallBiz.com and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as GoSmallBiz.com, SmallBizClub.com, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.