Athletes who choose to entertain their brand and court sponsorships often get a bad rap, mostly from teammates, for being ‘sellouts’.
Yet there is a major difference between ‘selling yourself’ and ‘branding yourself’. You’re selling when you are sitting with a prospective sponsor doing all you can to have a deal. The rest of the time you are ‘branding yourself’.
Balancing the two can be tricky. Nobody likes a douchebag.
To be perfectly honest, I failed to balance it out and as a result, I’ve stopped branding myself… at least in the sport community. I gave up. I fumbled under peer pressure.
I wouldn’t say that I was a total douchebag but looking back, I think I misunderstood the subtlety between branding and selling myself.
I was a young National Team athlete with good results and a disproportional amount of sponsors. These sponsors allowed me to keep paddling. Without them I would not have been able to compete and I cannot thank them enough for it. But having so many of them seems to have backlashed on me.
Of course, most of my sponsors came from connections I had from family members or friends but for each and single one of them, I put a price on the sponsorship, set up a meeting with the secretary, sat in an office and pitched the shit out of it like there was no tomorrow.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. It was great but it caught onto me. I struggled to deal with peer pressure. The reality was that despite being an up and coming athlete barely on the National Team, I was raking in more sponsors (ie.: money) than the guys at the top who actually win international races and compete at the Olympics.
It just didn’t feel right to be racing side-by-side those guys with a boat filled up with stickers. I fumbled under peer pressure.
I went too far. I did not brand myself. I sold myself and I paid for it.
What I decided to do...
As a result, I have decided to put business first and sport second. I’ve decided to take an alternative route. I am no longer trying to grow my athlete brand or pursuing sponsorships. Instead, I’m going full throttle pursuing my entrepreneurial endeavours. I’m now sponsored by my own company.
Of course, every now and then I still fantasize about driving a sponsored Audi, wearing sponsored Oakley’s, drinking my sponsored drink on the way to the VIP section of a cool event meeting a big shot sponsor.
But in reality, I’m now bringing my canoe-kayak career back to its roots: passion. I’m doing it because I love it. I’m doing it because bringing a tiny little boat to high speed with a paddle as a propeller is something I’m good at. It’s something I enjoy doing and to make it even better: it’s something that gave me my best friends and made me travel the world.
I wanted to be upfront with it. Building your personal brand can help you become a better person and a better athlete. It can also do the opposite.
Take aways from my failures...
It’s not because I failed at it that you should not try to build and grow your athlete brand.
Quite the opposite, you should start today, with my odd experience in the matter and the help of many extraordinary athletes, we’ll share our experiences, thoughts and discoveries to give you insights on how to grow your athlete brand.
We're introducing 'Medalist Athlete Branding Guides' on learn.medali.st, take a look!