There’s nothing quite like that heart-racing moment of euphoria after scoring the last-minute goal that takes your team to the championship. Or hitting the buzzer beater that sends your rivals packing. Maybe you’ve felt this from the comfort of your own couch, biting your nails as your hockey team enters a shootout to determine if they’ll continue their playoff contention.

Whatever sport or competition you affiliate yourself with, you likely possess an intrinsic desire for success. That craving is not unlike running a small business or nonprofit.

Take the Emily Krzyzewski Center in Durham, North Carolina for example. Founded by Father David McBriar and famed Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, the groundwork for this nonprofit organization was inspired by a sports icon. But it’s much more than that.

Serving as a college access hub in Durham, the Emily K Center propels academically-focused, low-income K-12 students and graduates toward success in college through a variety of programs. Emily is the name of Coach K’s late mother who supported him in his personal academic journey. 

emily k“We say that to be a good fit for this program, you have to like school. You don’t have to be a straight-A student, but you’re going to come here every day and you’re going to do more schoolwork – of course that’s mixed with fun activities as well,” explained Sara Askey, Communications and External Affairs Specialist for the Emily K Center.

So what else do sports have in common with your small business or nonprofit? And how can you use that mindset to elevate your business game? Learn here.

1. Passion

Mike Krzyzewski, aptly known as Coach K, was the first of his family to attend college. His hard-working parents taught both he and his older brother Bill to take advantage of opportunities whenever they presented themselves. They believed in the true value of education, and that belief ultimately changed their lives forever. (You can read the full fascinating story here.)

As Nelson Mandela famously said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The staff and volunteers at the Emily K Center are hoping to do just that. By providing educational and leadership opportunities to students, they are changing some kids’ worlds with carefully designed programs.

Passion can be displayed in a number of ways – like the heat that warms your skin when you know that shouldn’t have been a foul - or the extra hours you put in to work on growing your business. When you channel that passion in an appropriate way, you’re poised to make a real impact.  

It’s the passion of the staff at the Emily K Center that propels them to succeed. “We’re fortunate to have a special relationship with Duke University given our proximity to the school and ties to Coach K,” explained Askey, “but it’s important to note that we’re an independent nonprofit that’s wholly donor-supported,” she said.  emily k

The staff and volunteers use their passion to raise money that keep the doors open, the programs running and lives changing.

2. Team

While not every sport involves a group of athletes playing together at the same time, each individual performing to his or her highest potential helps to achieve the same team goal. This is also true for your business.

Every aspect of your business should work together like a team. Everyone’s goals should align and everyone’s voice should be heard. Whether you’re self-employed with your customers as your team or a small business with a tight-knit group of employees, the team mentality should be embraced in order to achieve a high level of success.

Nonprofit? As Askey explains, everyone counts as your team.

“I think it comes down to the people, and that really means everyone. It's having amazing students and wonderful, supportive families, who really value education. It's a really committed staff on all levels, from program staff to our educators, folks who really do their best every day to make sure that we're providing great services to the families. It’s our board, who is really active in making sure that we're operating at the best level that we can. And it's the amazing volunteers and supporters, who donate their time and their talents and their treasure to keep the doors open and keep everything going. Without the people who are involved here, we would not exist,” she explained.

As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you’re understandably focused on growing the business and staying atop of industry trends. Just keep in mind that it’s your teammates who are going to help elevate you to that next level.

3. Wins

emily kHow do you define success within your business? Is it closing that deal you’ve worked on for months? Shaping your employees into lifelong leaders? Whatever it may be, these successes are your so-called ‘wins’ on every level.

Separately, your wins might actually come from your losses. I always learn something new every time I try an idea or approach that doesn’t work. While it stings at first, you’ll never grow if you’re afraid to try something that could fail. A slight change in perspective could be all you need to transform your losses to wins.

For the Emily K Center, guiding every student, no matter the age, to reach his or her potential as a leader in the community is the ultimate win.

You know what else is so great about sports? They’re fun. When it comes down to it, your business should be too. Don’t ever forget that.

Share your story in the comments about how sports and your business align!

To learn more about the Emily K Center and each of their programs, click here.

All photo credit: Eric Atkinson.