An at-bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The icy rush of adrenaline as skaters take the ice in the third period. A jump shot arcing over defenders as time expires. With moments like these, professional sports provide the clearest metaphor for our lives under pressure.

When the stakes are highest, athletes often stand isolated before massive crowds. It's up to them to succeed or fail when it matters most.

To me, that sounds just like running a business. When you're the founder of a small business, all the pressure's on you. All eyes turn your way. So let's look at how some of the all-time greats have succeeded under pressure.

"Some people skate to the puck. I skate to where the puck is going to be."--Wayne Gretzky

Hockey's all-time top scorer would be a great person to have on your board of directors. Gretzky is spot on in this quote. Like a center with great vision, a business owner has to see ahead of where the play is going to be.

If you're not thinking a year (or five years) ahead, your business is going to get overrun by the competition. Being a business owner isn't just about commitment to where you are; it's about commitment to where you're going to be.

"Every strike brings me closer to the next home run."--Babe Ruth

Like a good entrepreneur, Babe Ruth was willing to take chances. He struck out a total of 1,330 times and led the league in strikeouts five times.

Of course, he also led the league in homeruns 12 different times on the way to becoming the long-standing homerun king, and arguably the greatest player of all time.

The lesson: embrace risk. Every time you step up to the plate, there's a risk that things won't go as planned. But like Babe Ruth, you've got to focus on big picture. Focus on what you're trying to accomplish--growing your business--and see every challenge as an opportunity to prove yourself.

"Never die easy."--Walter Payton

That statement sums up the philosophy of Payton, a legendary running back for the Chicago Bears. If a linebacker was going to tackle him, no way he was getting off easy. Payton would lower his shoulder and fight for every yard--every inch.

Nicknamed "Sweetness," Payton made it look pretty, but he was anything but sweet on the field. That's a lesson for business owners: fight like a dog, but make it look nice.

"I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball."--Pete Rose

Always controversial, Pete Rose certainly isn't shy about his commitment to baseball. And that's the way you have to feel about the business you run.

Sure, after a string of 12-hour days, you're going to be exhausted. But this is your dream. And you should be ready to walk through Hell to make it reality.

"Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory."--Bill Russell

There were only two years during NBA legend Bill Russell's career when he didn't win a championship. Think about that for a minute. How did he do it? In a word, Russell was fierce. And fiercely successful.

The 6'10" center was initially overlooked (if you can believe it) by college recruiters, but that didn't stop him. He won 55 straight college victories and back-to-back college titles. So you could say he knows a thing or two about mental toughness.

Like a good business owner, Russell knew he had to ignore everyone who doubted him. In the end, you've got to put your faith in your abilities and toughness.

 

Running a small business means the pressure is always on you. Take a lesson from these five athletes, and rise to the occasion.