What Playing in the NFL Taught Me About Running a Business

Playbooks. Leadership. Teamwork. Winning. The parallels of playing sports and operating a successful business run deep. I had a chance to speak with Will Bartholomew founder & CEO of D1 Training and former player in the NFL.

Bartholomew spent his entire career in the world of sports, finally working his way up to the NFL when he was faced head-on with an ACL injury. After his second injury, he began training in hopes of making it back to the pros, but quickly found his passion refocused on business.

As a side job, he began training kids back in his home-town of Nashville in which he has strong ties as a multi-sport state champion and high-school football player who later went on to play at the University of Tennessee as Peyton Manning’s fullback. His first training class consisted of only his little brother on a community field, but quickly gained attention allowing him to move to a 2,500-sqft. facility within three years. Today D1 Training as grown to 30 franchise units with professional athletes like Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, Jason Witten, Michael Oher, and more flocking to the brand.

Much of Bartholomew’s success as an entrepreneur is credited to the lessons he learned playing in the NFL:


Tim Notke’s famous quote, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” holds true for both NFL players and entrepreneurs. In both worlds, not everything goes your way — you’re up against a tough competitor, you lose a game, you are faced with an unpredictable obstacle such as an injury, etc. According to Bartholomew, the true test is how you persevere.

“There’s no time to flounder in a loss — it’s important to learn from your setbacks and make adjustments to your strategy so you can prepare for your next challenge. By doing this, you’ll put your team and your business in the best position to win.”

Routine Discipline.

Football has a rhythm to the week. You mentally prep, study film, practice, etc. Operating a business should follow a similar rhythm. According to Bartholomew, “Scheduling and prioritizing your week becomes essential. By doing so, you’re able to be in touch with all aspects of the business while focusing your attention on one important item at a time.”

If you have a new project or campaign, you must conduct the proper research and create a strong plan or “playbook” for achieving your overall objective.


As an athlete you need to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses so your team can complement your short comings and you can train to make improvements. The same is true as a business leader. “By becoming self-aware, you’ll be able to take note of the areas you excel and the areas in which you need support. From there, you can build the right team to grow your business to new heights,” added Bartholomew.

The key to a winning football team and a successful business begins with recruiting the right people. Be aware of your behavior and the behavior of your team — work together, support each other, and remain focused. “Accountability is important, but when mistakes are made, we work together to improve in areas we may have fallen short and grow both as individuals and as a team.”

Power of Focus.

To excel in the NFL, you must be a master at your craft. You are part of a team, but before your team can excel, you must excel in your position. According to Bartholomew, “Put in the hours, focus, refine your skill. By honing in on your technique you’ll be taking the necessary steps to make big moves and improve the bottom line.”

It is great to have a big picture goal — win the Super Bowl, reach one-million in sales — but to get there, you have to focus on the smaller tasks at hand. “Just as in football, you have to put in hours of work to be a successful business owner. Entrepreneurship is no easy feat — taking risk, building relationships, hiring smart, generating leads, monitoring cash flow, etc. This all requires focus.


The NFL is notorious for touch down celebrations. Before we discredit these goofy stunts, let’s think about the value they bring to the team. According to Bartholomew, “Big and little wins should be celebrated. Celebrations build team comradery and generate momentum to continue to achieve greatness.”

The strongest teams that achieve the best results are often times the teams that have the most fun. People want to be part of a winning team both in sports and in business, so build a culture of play that will keep your team motivated and results will follow.

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