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8 Entrepreneurial Lessons From The Greatest Rivalry In Sports

America was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.

– President Harry S. Truman

When the Navy Midshipmen and Army Black Knights meet for the 115th installment in the greatest rivalry in sports, it will bring together everything that is good and right about football, college athletics, and America as a whole.

As The Disciplined Entrepreneur, I love seeing smart hungry young people work towards a noble cause and relentlessly pursue their vision every single hour of the day. While Saturday’s game is about football and country, there are a lot of great entrepreneurial nuggets I’ve gathered from Army and Navy.

Play for the Love of the Game.

Over the last sixteen years, an NFL team has only once drafted an Army or Navy player. 1,562 players have been drafted from schools other than Army or Navy since the Detroit Lions drafted Army’s Caleb Campbell in 2008. It’s safe to say that the young men playing football for Army or Navy aren’t playing for a shot at the NFL; these young men are playing football for the love the game.

I cringe when I hear that the goal of a new business is to sell their company. While selling may be appropriate at some point down the road, starting with the intention of selling signals a lack of heart. It means you’re playing the game to get drafted by the NFL rather than playing for the love of the game. Maybe it will work, but remember that 1,562 players have been drafted since Caleb Campbell and none of them played for Army or Navy.

Set a Schedule.

There’s a reason the Middies and Cadets go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. The human body works most efficiently when you have a regular sleep & wake pattern called the circadian rhythm. In the minutes before you awaken, the body begins to reduce the levels of melatonin in your brain and in the evening melatonin levels begin to rise, signaling the start of your rest cycle.

The result of a consistent schedule? More focus, fewer energy crashes, and an increased level of self-discipline. Finding a sleep rhythm isn’t easy as an entrepreneur, but the rewards are real. I love an increased energy level even more than I love college football.

Have a Higher Calling.

When you watch Army-Navy, you’ll see a group of young men and women who have chosen a very demanding lifestyle to represent their country, not just themselves. The military has tremendous pride in their respective branch of the military and play for their brothers and sisters in arms around the world. That’s powerful.

Successful start-ups are created to address a problem that both the founders and the team are passionate about.

If you’re considering creating a start-up, but don’t have a deep burning passion for the problem you’re trying to solve – find something else to do. Quickly. I always encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to really test if they are willing to give up almost everything else in their life to solve this problem.

The Middies and Cadets work every single day from 5am – 10pm and very rarely get the chance to see their family and friends. To have a fighting chance at success in any endeavor, you better be prepared to match the military level of commitment to country.

Come To Work Every Single Day.

It’s tough to create a company. It’s really tough. And as someone who has done it, I can say that creating a start-up is the hardest career path you cold pursue – except for choosing a career in the military.

The Cadets from Army & Navy have an average ACT score of ~29, an average SAT score of ~1300, and they run further and lift more than 95% of Americans. They represent the smartest and moth athletic in America…and they come to work focused every single day. And one thing they certainly are not is entitled.

Neither the United States military nor the start-ups have any room for entitled individuals. Great entrepreneurs work their ass off. They come in every day. They work nights. They work weekends. And guess what? They do it with a positive attitude and believe they are making a real difference. Just like the Midshipmen and Black Knights.

Focus on The Process Not Lagging Indicators.

Success on the gridiron comes from the all eleven players successfully executing their role on each and every play. It doesn’t come from wanting to win, dreaming up a new scheme, or trying to be something that you’re not.

Ken Niumatalolo, Navy’s coach that has amassed an impressive 6-0 record against Army, said it best:

“We’re not going to go with the whims and the wind and the different thoughts and the trends. We know who we are, we know what it takes, and we’ve got great kids here.”

Great entrepreneurs focus on executing their process and their vision together as a team. They don’t worry about lagging indicators like dollars or exit valuation. They focus on executing every single day. Focus on what you can control rather than worrying about what you cannot.

Teamwork. Not Big Names.

Ever heard of Keenan Reynolds? If you’re like most Americans, you have not. The junior 3-year starting quarterback from Navy, much like his brethren at all service academies, measures success based on what his team achieves, not his individual statistics – despite having statistics better than Tom Brady.

Reynolds has a career passer rating of 137, or 41 points higher than Tom Brady’s career rating of 96. Keenan Reynolds’ Midshipmen have won 23 games over the last three years, while he’s only thrown for twenty-two touchdowns (compared, unfairly, to Tom Brady’s eighty-nine). This shows that Reynolds isn’t wasting energy trying to enhance his statistics or prove he’s the best athlete; he spends energy delivering team success.

Does everyone on your team want to win together, or is someone on your team trying to prove they are the smartest person in the room? If someone on your team is focused on proving they are the smartest person in the room, let them know they are in the wrong room.

Compete Like Hell, but Keep Perspective.

For 365 days a year at West Point, you’ll hear the refrain, “Go Army. Beat Navy.” Swap the second and fourth words and you’ll hear the exact same thing coming from Annapolis. These two schools, players, and branches of the military are rivals in every sense. They go 100% when they play each other. They desperately want to win, but the beauty of the rivalry is that it’s based entirely on respect. Army & Navy players also know that today’s rivals are tomorrow’s allies on the battlefield, leaving no room for dirty play or cheap shots – only respect.

Just as the Black Knights and Midshipmen keep perspective of the importance of the football game relative to heading off to war together, entrepreneurs need to keep perspective when it comes to their life. I hope none of us forget how lucky we are to be able to be part of a company that ignites our passion. I hope none of us forget that we live in the wealthiest nation in the world and even if you think you’re hardly “scraping by”, you’re still likely one of the richer people in the world.

Keep working, stay hungry, and maintain perspective.


You don’t enroll in a military academy for four years of great college parties. You enroll because you believe in the mission of the United States military and you believe your short-term sacrifice will ultimately allow you to make a great impact. For football players, this sacrifice means missed class, physical demands, weekend travel, lost leave, and mental challenges. It’s rising at 5:00 a.m. and eating dinner in 5 minutes before going to study hall.

Similarly, you don’t join a start-up to work 9-5. It’s working 14-hour days as a norm, taking phone calls during dinner, being in constant contact with your team, making a lot less money than you could elsewhere, spending weekends catching up on all the work that you didn’t get done during the week, and constantly searching for creative ways to make payroll. If you think you’re having a tough day, think of the Army cadets pulling themselves through mud rather than heading out to a tailgate on Saturday morning.

There are lots of places to look for inspiration and I’ve always believed in the heart and soul of our armed forces. There’s something special about the bond between military personnel, regardless of age, branch, or years of service.

Even while wearing hoodies, there’s a lot the entrepreneurial world can learn from our military friends about courage, imagination, and the job at hand. When Army & Navy line up against each other, I’ll once again take the opportunity to appreciate the many lessons these young men are teaching to all of us.

And, as the son of a Navy Captain who is smiling down from heaven I must say:

Go Navy. Beat Army.


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