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How Football Leadership Skills Can Translate into Off-the-Field Success

Steve Shoup

Did you ever notice how often NFL coaches and quarterbacks go on to become successful businessmen and leaders after retirement? Super Bowl I and II MVP Bart Starr continues at age 84 to remain active with the Rawhide Boys Ranch program for at-risk youth, which he cofounded in December 1966 after recruiting 100 local business leaders to support the project. Vietnam War veteran and Super Bowl VI and XII winning quarterback Roger Staubach went on to become a successful real estate mogul, with the company he founded now generating $7.9 billion in revenue after being acquired by Jones Lang LaSalle. The 1961 Rookie of the Year and Super Bowl XX winning coach Mike Ditka has become a prolific pitchman, promoting brands ranging from rustproofing solutions to McDonald’s, as well as launching his own business ventures.

Leaders on the field often become successes off the field because the skills needed to lead a football team parallel those needed to succeed in other ventures. Here are three leadership lessons from football that translate over into other areas of life.


After setting nearly every NFL passing record in the book in the process of leading the Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowls, Fran Tarkenton went on to a highly successful career off the field. His post-NFL highlights include co-hosting one of TV’s first reality shows, starting software and annuity marketing companies, and promoting infomercials for self-help guru Tony Robbins. In an article he wrote for Entrepreneur.com, Tarkenton says that one football lesson he carried off the field was learning the value of preparation.

In football, Tarkenton got in the habit of preparing for games by studying every available film of the other team’s defense, talking to his coaches and teammates, and talking to other quarterbacks who had played against his opponents. He applies this to business by preparing intensely for events such as meetings, product launches, and promotional interviews. Tarkenton’s GoSmallBiz.com provides consultation, software tools, and legal and accounting resources to help small business owners prepare for success.


As a member of the only team in NFL history to cap off an undefeated season with a Super Bowl win, former Miami Dolphins cornerback Tim Foley knows the importance of teamwork for success. During his 11 seasons with the Dolphins, Foley counted on his defensive teammates to help him stop opposing offenses. Since retiring from the NFL in 1980, Foley has built his own business team as one of the most successful Independent Business Owners representing the Amway line of health, beauty, and home care products. Foley is one of the elite Amway IBOs to achieve Founders Crown Ambassador status, representing superlative performance.

Foley attributes his business success partly to what he learned from Dolphins coach Don Shula, as well as former teammates and coaches who pointed him toward Amway. He in turn became passionate about passing on what he learned to his own Amway team, which eventually grew into tens of thousands making sales in multiple countries. To promote his team members, he set up his own training and support system for his downstream, providing tools and materials to train and motivate his distributors. Foley believes people have a natural ability to succeed, and he sees it as part of his mission to help his team members tap into that capability.


Ask knowledgeable football historians to name the greatest NFL player of all time, and one name that will inevitably come up on top is Jim Brown. Brown was the most dominant player of his day, with the size of a linebacker and the speed of a receiver, and a reputation for running through defenders instead of around them. In an era where seasons were only 12 to 14 games long, Brown set the all-time rushing record in just nine seasons, leading the league in rushing eight times during that span. To the surprise of everyone, he retired at the peak of his career, going out on top as the only running back to average more than 100 yards per game during an entire career. He went on to a successful career as an actor, a color commentator for the NFL and UFC, and the co-owner of a lacrosse team. His Amer-I-Can program continues to reach out to juveniles caught up in gang violence, working in inner cities and prisons to provide life management skills.

One quality Brown exhibited on the field that he seeks to impart to troubled youth is perseverance. Players who played with Brown remember his determination to get to the end zone, no matter how many defenders he had to go through. For youth struggling to overcome a troubled background, this same determination to overcome obstacles is an essential quality for success. Patriots coach Bill Belichick says he has seen Brown’s program turn around extremely troubled youths and help them get their lives under control.


Preparation, teamwork, and perseverance are three leadership qualities common to great football players that can translate into success off the field. Football fans who emulate these qualities will find them invaluable for achieving success in their personal lives, in business, and as leaders of their communities.



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