Former Players

Everybody talks about the "Will to Win" – everybody knows the phrase. The Raiders and Al Davis made the phrase famous. It is the indomitable spirit that resides inside some athletes allowing them to triumph over all the odds and any adversity. That will is very prevalent in sports but how does one translate that will to win into the will to succeed, and a better life off the field? The traits that give one the will to win are the same traits give one the will to succeed. Three of those traits are fearlessness, adaptability, and overcoming adversity.


Fear of failure, ridicule, injury, loss and even SUCCESS can paralyze one into inaction. It takes a certain fearlessness to undertake an unfamiliar endeavor where you put yourself in a situation that you might not be comfortable with, or stretch yourself beyond your known capabilities in order to succeed. Many people cannot take this step into the face of fear, but many athletes have this ability which is what allowed them to be where they are today, so they are uniquely adept at transferring this innate ability into the board room with the proper training.


Most athletes understand that due to the continuously evolving and changing situations they find themselves on the field play they must adapt to be successful. On the football field an offensive tackle might have to be prepared to play offensive guard or center due to an injury. A left defensive tackle might have to switch sides if there is an opportunity to exploit a weakness on the offensive line. A quarterback like Peyton Manning can look at a defense, see what they are trying to run to stop him, and change the play on the line multiple times in the span of 30 seconds. Even more dramatic is when you see a college basketball player enter the NFL and is turned into an All-Pro tight end like what happened to the San Diego ChargersAntonio Gates. Being able to harness that ability to adapt and use it to their advantage is a key strength for many athletes in their careers. Adaptability is an absolute must in the business world. Harnessing your adaptability makes that transition from one business situation, or life situation, to the next a step up the rung on the ladder to success.


Adversity is something that all athletes must deal with in order to be successful: the adversity of losing the big game; the adversity of coming back from a major career threatening injury; the adversity of playing in hostile territory and performing at your peak; the adversity of losing your job, either to injury or for economic reasons. In the business world, adversity rules the day: When the terms of the business deal change, you must be prepared to counter on the fly sometimes to win the business; when your company downsizes and your division is eliminated; when the business plan fails and it’s up to you to save the company. Some athletes are uniquely suited through years of leadership, training and experience to deal with the adversity of the business world, if they can transfer their talents from their sport to the board room.

I have seen many former athletes, and not just professional athletes, be fearless, adaptable and master adversity. They have honed these abilities through competition in sport and repurposed them into a fuel that has propelled them to great heights in their chosen fields. I see many more following along the same track for success and I am looking forward to seeing them shine.


This article was originally posted on LinkedIn here:  

Nolan is currently the Senior Director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) Former Player Services. Prior to joining the staff at the NFLPA, Nolan spent ten years as a business owner and a financial services industry executive. Nolan had a ten year playing career in the National Football League, playing for the LA/Oakland Raiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington.