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Money Smart Athlete Blog

Be the CEO of Your Career

by Debra Russell


Money Smart Athletes Know They Are the CEO of Their Career

Many athletes, particularly those in team sports, think of themselves as employees. You work for your team and your agent. And that may be true from a tax standpoint. But it is not how a Money Smart Athlete thinks.

If, in your mind, you work for your team, then they have all the control. It is a much more powerful mindset to think of yourself as the CEO of your career. Your team is your client. They expect you to deliver your product, which is your best play on any given day.

So, what’s the difference? If you hold yourself as an employee, then you are looking for others to manage your career. And if you give away the management of your career to the wrong people, that can make you vulnerable to mismanagement and even fraud. But even worse than that, when an athlete has abdicated the responsibility for their career, then when it is time to transition out of their sport, they are often left feeling abandoned by their team and at a loss for what to do next.

As the CEO of your career, your business may change (from playing in the sport to something else), but your role doesn’t. You are still the CEO. As the CEO, you are in a much better position to create a plan for your career in sport as well as your transition after sport.

I’ve found that some athletes have a reluctance to think about their transition. The common thinking is that it would jinx them if they planned for transition. The opposite is actually the case. Studies have shown that athletes who have a solid plan for both their career and their transition play better, win more and play longer.

Because if you feel that you are in control of both your career in sport and the inevitable transition out of sport, you will experience less stress and a higher comfort level. That stress reduction and increased comfort allows you to play with improved focus and confidence.

So think of yourself as the CEO – how exactly do you do that? Well, you have to have the mindset of an entrepreneur!

The Mindset of An Entrepreneur

According to the Oxford Dictionary, an “entrepreneur” is “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.” Let’s be clear – you are the one taking the risks.

Your team and your agent are not. You are taking physical risks on the field and financial risks off the field. Everything you do off the field can significantly impact your earning capacity as an athlete. And if you have the mindset of an employee, that can leave you feeling stressed and out of control.

But if you hold yourself as the CEO or your career, as the business owner of You, Inc., you have the power to make decisions to move your business forward on and off the field.

Characteristics of Entrepreneurs

  • Courage and Perseverance
  • 100% Responsibility
  • Leadership
  • A Vision and a Plan
  • The Ability to Organize

In my experience, an athlete does not reach the elite, professional level without the first 3 characteristics. The last two are skills that can be easily learned and implemented. Working with a business coach can not only help you hone your abilities for leadership, responsibility and courage, but can also help you design your vision and plan, and strengthen your organizational skills.

But in my opinion, the most important thing that you can do is decide, right here and now, that you ARE the CEO of your career. And that you will do what you have to in order to make that position real and effective. Once you’ve made that decision in yourself, the next steps are:

  1. Create a vision for your career and post career
  2. Communicate this vision to your agent, manager and all the other members of your business team
  3. Identify your skill gaps and work with professionals to improve those skills (a business coach, a mentor, perhaps taking some classes, etc.)
  4. Approach the areas that you are most uncertain about with an attitude of curiosity and intrigue (I wonder what this means, let me ask questions!)


I believe that if you make this significant shift in your mindset about your career in sport, you will discover a lot about yourself and about your business team. You may discover who on your team is really working for your best interests, and who isn’t. You may discover that you have internal resources you never knew were there. And you will begin to see opportunities for advancement, and be a stronger voice for your own best interests.

You will also be faced with a learning curve about things you had previously ignored. And that learning curve may feel uncomfortable. That’s OK. Embrace the discomfort. A true leader relishes the discomfort of stretching out of their box. And remember, you don’t have to do it alone – you can work with a coach, a mentor, and other experts.

But ultimately the choice of mindset is yours alone to make. Are you ready to be the CEO of your Career?