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From Athlete To Entrepreneur: Fatima ‘TNT’ Lister On The 5 Work Ethic Lessons We Can Learn From Athletes

Get The Ball Rolling — Everyone, self-included, has excellent ideas that only go as far as the piece of paper they write the idea down on. It’s imperative to start. Build the site, create the logo, put the merchandise up for sale, promote it on social media, etc. Whatever it is, start.

As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fatima “TNT” Lister.

Fatima is the first woman to play for Harlem Globetrotters since 1993. Named TNT because of her dynamite handles that help her explode past opponents, TNT’s success has paved the way for more women to join the only integrated basketball team playing on this earth, showing how the Globetrotters continue to innovate well into the 21st century. Off the court, TNT has had one of the most successful media careers of any Globetrotter ever, with appearances on shows like Good Morning America, The Today Show, Fox and Friends, Nickelodeon’s Ryan’s Mystery Playdate, The Arsenio Hall Show, The Late Late Show, ESPN’s Outside the Lines and, if that is not enough, TNT did voiceover work for Amazon Prime’s popular children’s book series “Pete the Cat,” as Coach Fox. TNT’s visibility, both on and off the court, has shown young women everywhere that ball can be life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Chicago, IL; however, I am originally from Colorado Springs, where I grew up with my mother and five siblings. I was introduced to basketball at 12 years old, which most people would assume is a “late bloomer” age to get involved in the sport for someone looking to play professionally. Thankfully, I took to the game from a skill and love perspective. I played college ball and aimed to lay professional basketball overseas for two years in Sweden, and eventually, the Globetrotters approached me to play. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the time since a woman last played on the team. In 2011, I became the first female player to join the team since 1993. The opportunity to play for such a historic brand is a true honor.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete?

Basketball created a pathway for me to come out of my shell from multiple vantage points. I was naturally shy as a kid, and so the game truly taught me how to engage and interact more with others; I learned the value of teamwork and resilience through the game as well. Anyone who has played a team sport, regardless of level, would agree the components of the game they play have spilled over into how they look at life and interact with others. The lessons I’ve learned from basketball have been life-changing. When I think of players who truly inspired my love for the game, Allen Iverson rises to the top of the list. He overcame many obstacles from his upbringing to his height; however, he never backed down. He inspired me to get out there and “get after it” in ball and in life. Another source of information for me is Dawn Staley, head coach of the University of South Carolina. I had the opportunity to play for her during my time at Temple University. Coach Staley instilled in me the balance needed between being a basketball player, having a family, and being a solid member of the community. Lastly, off the court, my mom. As a single woman with five kids, she inspired me to keep going and never to give up even when life throws curveballs your way.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My mom is truly someone who has encouraged my journey, primarily when I reflect on the journey she took to move us to a more positive environment. When she decided to move our family from Chicago to Colorado Springs, the decision was not easy to make, and the repercussions of that decision would have made anyone want to give up. At one point, we lived in a shelter as she navigated this new life, trying to find work and suitable housing for our family. Eventually, we got on our feet; however, when I look back on the situation, I know I am blessed to have her in my life. She taught me resilience and encouraged my dreams in the midst of it all. Without her, I wouldn’t be the woman or mother I am today.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high-stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high-stress situations?

I try to focus on doing things one step at a time. For our games and performances, I take time to break down the part I play in each game we put on for our fans, and often, it can become overwhelming. Relieving pressure for me involves strategically segmenting my day (staying organized, managing schedules), understanding what’s required of me on the court (managing expectations, understanding moving parts and where I fit in), and preparing myself on how to maximize the moment (maintaining a healthy body and mindset). I believe when you are prepared, stress can be drastically reduced. Sometimes goals can seem impossible, and overwhelm can set in; however, it’s always about taking it one step at a time.

Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?

I am always looking for different ways to use my platform to get messages across, specifically to young women who are athletes. We always seem to be on an uphill climb specifically when it comes to being worthy and respected and the daily stereotypes we battle. I’ve always enjoyed designing and drawing, so I leveraged my skills, passion, and platform to start a clothing line, named Chek Rok. This athleisure brand adds a fun touch of equality to hoop culture and conveys that female players work just as hard as their male counterparts. I made an effort to ensure each product was designed to be a fierce, competitive, fun, and functional celebration of basketball.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?

Creativity and design have always been my passion, and I’m currently taking a course to become a UX/UI designer. I’ve always been passionate about app design and what goes into the process, so this new endeavor has been interesting and exciting. My goal is to implement what I learn about UX and UI into all aspects of my brand and future entrepreneurial endeavors.

Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?

Being an athlete has made me stronger in accepting setbacks and learning how to move past them. Sometimes having a ‘short memory’ of your failures will keep you motivated. As an athlete, you can’t dwell on the last shot you missed; you have to look forward to how you can turn a situation — be it a game, a business move, a relationship, etc. around for the better.

Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture .”Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Get The Ball Rolling — Everyone, self-included, has excellent ideas that only go as far as the piece of paper they write the idea down on. It’s imperative to start. Build the site, create the logo, put the merchandise up for sale, promote it on social media, etc. Whatever it is, start.

Productivity vs. “Busy” — As an athlete, we’re so used to being on the go that it can be hard to decipher whether you’re genuinely productive or busy. There is a difference. Having the mindset, “I am not going to stop until I accomplish a goal,” is critical. What’s essential is understanding that being busy is fueled by perfectionism, and being productive is fueled by purpose. Working harder is a byproduct of business, while working smarter is the byproduct of productivity. Figuring out where you stand makes all the difference in your outcomes as an entrepreneur.

Pivoting is a shorter way of saying, “realize when it’s not working.” I created a line of joggers I just knew would be a hit with my customer base, and they failed. I quickly had to recalibrate and understand what my customer truly wanted to cater my skill set to their needs. It was a much-needed pivot that everyone has experience in business and in life that is required to succeed.

Self Motivation — As an athlete, you learn that people will not always cheer you on. It sounds crazy to say, however, once you leave the court and you’re by yourself, you have to find the motivation (and have the willpower) to push through without applause.

All Aspects of your Business Matter — You may not be a master at graphics, design, marketing, etc. As a business owner, it’s crucial to understand how each component of your business works. I am more graphically inclined and creative at heart; however, I had to learn how social media algorithms impacted who saw my brand and what it meant for business success.

What would you advise a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?

We hear this often; however, do what you love. The amount of passion you have to have to get your business off the ground is huge. So having passion is critical. Additionally, don’t count yourself out. I say this because many people are from small towns like Colorado Springs, which makes it difficult for people to believe that they can make it from an area where opportunities are not as plentiful. Whatever the goal is, reach for it. Often our fears and insecurities OR the fears and insecurities of people we know can hold us back from realizing our dreams.

You are, by all accounts, a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Being a part of the Harlem Globetrotters has provided a path for me to reach a broader audience to inspire and connect with the world, using my love of basketball as a vehicle. The ability to represent other women and other girls brings the quote “seeing is believing” into clear view. Every night I have the chance to show what it looks like to show up as a female in a male-dominated sport. It’s a huge responsibility and one that I take pride in.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would probably create a movement that stems from my Chek Rok line that focuses on young girls. I want to encourage women to achieve their dreams and passions tenaciously. Anything additional I create will focus on that.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

There are times when I haven’t pursued things out of fear or thinking I am not “good enough.” Regret is the worst feeling you can feel. So my life quote is, “no regrets.” I would rather give my ideas my all and fall on my face than never pursue a goal or dream.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

One of the people I admire is Serena Williams. I relate to her in many ways in terms of being an athlete, especially when garnering the respect she should have. Women in sports often have this task. Also, she is a mother, which resonates with me as well. She sends a message to mothers who want to get back to whatever they were doing before their children and still be successful in their own right.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Edward Sylvan, CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group

Edward Sylvan, CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group

Specializing in acquiring, producing and distributing films about equality, diversity and other thought provoking subjects

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