Athletes are becoming increasingly aware of the power their profile can bring to modern business.
For some, this means greater involvement with existing brands, but for a new breed of Athlete Entrepreneurs, it means using this profile to start their own enterprises, and more and more are starting this journey whilst they are still competing.
Lots of profile and good incomes are a solid platform, but this package can also be a tempting target for friends or associates who think they have the next big idea, and there are an increasing amount of examples where athletes are caught up in failed start-ups, as they are seen as seed capital…as easy excited silent investors who are busy in their own sporting careers.
Enter current St George Illawarra and New Zealand Rugby League star Jason Nightingale, who is ensuring that athletes in the NRL bring more than just money and profile. Along with Sam Jebeile and Rebecca Potter, Jason has created the Elite Athlete Business School to educate current players on what it takes to be successful in small business.
In this program, current NRL athletes spend 12 weeks interacting with business mentors and learning from industry start-ups before presenting their ideas in a formal proposal.
The Final Whistle caught up with Jason to ask him about his journey so far and how this program is helping athletes create a broader identity around their sport and the effects this has on their on-field performance.
1. What gave you the idea to start a small business school for elite athletes?
I had attended a couple of courses offered by various educational companies in management and business and struggled with the way the content was delivered and the lack of excitement it gave me despite my passion for business. I am currently on a break from my Commerce degree as I felt I wanted to learn practically about small business. I asked my career coach from the Dragons Sam Jebeile and he said we could create our own. We had a meeting with my business partner Rebecca Cook and a few weeks later Elite Athlete Business School was created.
2. How have you found the response and interest from fellow athletes?
The response from Athletes has been fantastic, we have found that my passion for business and in particular small business, is one I share with a lot of fellow athletes. We have been surprised by the strong connections they have made in class and the way they help each other’s ideas grow and support each other despite being from different clubs. The ideas and the way their ideas evolve into structured well thought out and well-presented plans is very rewarding for teacher and student.
“The response from Athletes has been fantastic, we have found that my passion for business and in particular small business, is one I share with a lot of fellow athletes”
3. I know you have worked hard to make it a balanced program including theory and practical experience - what has been the major advantage of this model?
The advantages for this is it caters to different learning styles. We all learn differently, at a different pace and take different paths to arrive at the correct answer in class and in our assignments. We have a mentoring system where students are encouraged to ask a lot of questions and learn as much as possible from others who are successfully living and breathing the content we teach. We have been lucky with the amount of people willing to give up their time to tell their story and add to our learning experience.
4. We are big believers in education interests outside of sport actually helping on-field performance - have you seen this with some of your students? If so, in what way?
We have. Our course is living proof that athletes who are engaged in off-field interests can still achieve their goals and perform at their best in their chosen sport. We had 2 of our students, Angus Crichton (South Sydney) and Eloni Vunacese (Sydney Roosters), make their first-grade debut while studying with us this year and 2 of our students are current NRL premiers (Valentine Holmes and Chris Heighington). We have also had representative players complete our course and have said themselves that it was the best thing to take their mind off the pressure they face leading into these matches. We all ride the highs and lows of each other’s careers in class. It gives you a break when results aren’t going your way and keeps you grounded when things are going well.
5. What are some of the common mistakes you have experienced athletes make when they being thinking about starting their own business?
One of the first lessons is around personal values and personal strengths. Rebecca does an exercise to test whether personal values are aligned with a business or industry that students are interested in. It’s not a mistake but does go to show that if your personal values aren’t in line with the business it may be hard to find the passion needed to make it work. Also, a lack of knowledge about where to start and how to plan for a business often leads to uneducated decisions being made. Our course helps educate our athletes in the business basics so they can make better decisions before they start a business.
6. What is the first thing any athlete thinking about starting a business should do?
Determine the passion is there. Learn about the ins and outs of the business, research the industry, start as many conversations with people in the industry, leverage off your network and profile. Learn and absorb as much information as possible to ensure they are making an informed decision and are willing to do what it takes.
7. Why do you think small business is a good career path for elite athletes?
We find that there are a lot of similarities and transferable skills between high achieving athletes and small business owners. There are a lot of opportunities to meet great people in professional sport and learn from people in our networks. There is also an opportunity to build a recognised personal brand that, if managed properly, can be beneficial to starting a small business, especially if the brand and the business share a connection of passion and values.
8. Any final words of advice for our buddy 'Athlepreneurs'?
Make use of your time in professional sport, be grateful for what we have, enjoy building friendships and networks. Put yourself in uncomfortable, real-world situations to keep learning and balance life away from sport. Keep one eye on your post career goals.
In 2017 Jason plans to continue serving athletes in the NRL, growing his program out of NSW to more locations in order to reach more athletes.
With aspirations to reach out to other sports, it’s a model that is likely to continue to create great outcomes for the participants not only in their current careers but in business life after sport.
If you have any questions or inquiries, please contact Jason at:
Or Rebecca Cook at
Or visit the Elite Athlete Business School Facebook page.