5 Ways Small Business Owners Are Like Olympians

Small business owners and athletes have a lot in common, including hard work, passion and problem solving.
Like Olympians, small business owners have passion and work ethic to thank for success. (Photo: The Department for Culture, Media and Sport/Flickr)

Running a small business is not unlike training for the Olympics. So perhaps it’s no surprise that many successful athletes often find success in business as well.

Gus Pernetz, a startup co-founder and former coach for Olympic ski racers Erik Schlopy and Lindsey Vonn, reveals what Olympians and SMBOs have in common.

They never stop working

No one understands sacrifice like an Olympic athlete — except maybe a small business owner.

“Many people who come into business have never had the opportunity to play sports in a serious way growing up, so they don’t understand the sacrifices that have to be made,” said Pernez.

As with SMBOs, time is in short supply for athletes, who must juggling training, nutrition, school or family and other responsibilities from the moment they get up in the morning to the time they go to bed. “Juggling responsibility at a young age makes you better prepared for the business world later,” said Pernetz.


Find out what you may have in common with Lindsey Vonn. (Photo: Gerwig Loffelholz)

They figure out how to deal with setbacks

Athletes deal with setbacks every day. Sometimes the impediments are logistical, such as equipment that doesn’t arrive when it’s supposed to, and sometimes they’re physical, such as a pulled muscle, a more serious injury or a cold.

“No matter what problem arises, you don’t just give up because of one issue. You deal with it objectively to determine how to solve the problem and what you can do differently to mitigate future issues,” Pernetz said. Sound familiar?

They manage risk

“Being an athlete means that you’re constantly failing, and that’s what business is all about,” said Pernetz. “It’s not about succeeding. It’s about failing with very little risk.”

To the untrained eye, the speeds Lindsey Vonn hits on the mountain seem incredibly daring and dangerous. But, Pernetz said, “Lindsey didn’t go from zero to 100. If you think about the time that athletes at that level have put in and how methodical they are with their training from the start, what she does seems a lot less risky. It’s exactly the same in business.”

Pernetz stressed the value of research to manage risk in the business world. His company, Stryd, which markets a wearable device that measures running power, didn’t go from idea to product overnight. “There’s a process. You have to figure out what value your idea will have in the marketplace and how it will be received in the business world. You do your research, and you take a very methodical approach.”

They leverage other people’s expertise

Just as a professional athlete is surrounded by a coaching staff, trainers, sports psychologists, equipment managers and logistics coordinators, in the business world, you also have to take advantage of others’ experience and expertise.

“Athletics has taught me to understand my limitations as an individual. Being able to admit that something is not your forte and then going out and getting people to help you who are good at the skills you lack makes you a better business person and manager.”

It’s the passion of pursuit that matters

Plenty of young kids dream of being professional athletes and even Olympians one day. But the ones who get there are driven by a relentless passion and train every day for the love of what they do.

Small business owners also do what they do as much out of passion as out of a desire to succeed. Said Pernetz, “You learn how to take it step by step, you become less afraid of taking the risk that leads to the reward, and along the way, you find satisfaction with the process as much as with the end goal.”

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