Balancing Act in Sports and Entrepreneurship


Balancing Act in Sports and Entrepreneurship

August 10, 2021 | Inspiration

In Guide to a Gold-Medal Career in Entrepreneurship, we profiled former Olympic athletes turned entrepreneurs. However, there is a separate group of individuals that combine the two and are running businesses while pursuing their sports careers. 

The reasons for professional athletes to start their business are like anyone embarking on a side hustle. Whether it is an opportunity to make additional money or an outlet away from sports, some athletes dip their toes in entrepreneurship while still in their prime competing years. Check out our blog post Guide to Successful Side Hustles.

 “Within the successful entrepreneur category, we have the superhumans individuals who launch ventures during their athletic careers,” said Jamie Mittelman, founder of Flame Bearers, a podcast profiling women Olympians and Paralympians. “They juggle building a business with the demands of training and traveling, bridging two seemingly disconnected worlds while putting themselves on a trajectory that extends beyond their current sports careers. And it makes sense that the worlds of business and sports overlap because a lot of the traits that help you have success on the field or the court translate into ingredients for success in the business world. Traits like teamwork, resiliency, and focus.” 

How Do Athletes Come Up with Business Ideas?  

On a recent podcast, Mittelman spoke with Ezinne Kalu a professional basketball player in France’s Ligue Féminine de Basketball (Women’s Basketball League). She played for Nigeria’s women’s basketball team at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

 Kalu’s business idea was the result of an embarrassing moment during basketball practice. Due to the intensity of the practice, Kalu’s makeup had melted on her face and stained her uniform. Her coach was furious and called her out at the end of practice for ruining her clothes. That’s when her entrepreneurial lightbulb went off. She wanted to create sweat and waterproof makeup line. And Kalu Komestics was born. 

“I just wanted to create something where I can have something outside of basketball to give back to the ladies,” Kalu said during the episode of the Flame Bearers podcast. “I don’t want ladies to think that they have to look a certain way, or they have to dress a certain way to play basketball. You can look, you can dress, and you can wear whatever you want, makeup, lipstick, and still can feel beautiful while you’re playing.” 

She has big goals for Kalu Kosmetics once her basketball career is over. 

“I want to open a small boutique, where I’m not only selling cosmetics products but other black-owned products as well, she said on the Podcast. “I feel like it would give a chance for the black community to come together.”

How to Balance a Professional Sports Career While Running a Business?

As evidenced by Kalu’s story, it’s possible to balance a robust athletic career while running a business.

During the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Lydia Lassila blew her ACL for the second time in six months. She was constantly icing her injury but faced numerous challenges with the products she was using. They weren’t cold enough. They didn’t stay in place. The products were leaking. Still struggling with the pain and needing relief, she created her own ice pack.

Soon after, BodyICE was born and today the company has expanded its product offerings to include items specifically targeted to women, kids, and fitness enthusiasts.

“BodyICE also became my passive source of income whilst competing and gave me something else (outside of sport) to focus on,” Lassila said. “I believe this made me a more wholesome and well-rounded athlete.”

After the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Lassila went on to compete in the 2010, 2014, 2018 Games representing Australia in freestyle aerial skiing. In total, she’s a five-time Olympian earning one gold and one bronze medal. What’s even more remarkable is Lassila had two children amid running her business and training for two Olympics. Her first son was born in 2011, and her second one arrived in 2015. 

 “(Thanks to a great support system and the right team), I could step out of mum-mode for a moment and step into athlete-model,” she said. “When training or competition was done, I could step back into mum or business mode. I got good at compartmentalizing. I would say I’m an Olympic champ at that skill.”

How Does One Know If a Business Idea Will Work?

Both Kalu and Lassila’s businesses demonstrate, ventures can be built on solutions to everyday problems. Make sure to visit our blog post on “Does Your Business Idea Have Legs?” to evaluate your idea.

“I’ve always believed that great products arise from someone ‘filling a hole’ in the market or a ‘need’. In my case,” Lassila said. “I wanted to make my rehabilitation successful, and I wanted to make icing easy and convenient. I figured a lot of other people were in the same boat, and I was right! I didn’t set out to make money, I set out to solve a problem that would help people.”


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