Aspire | Action | Acquire
Aspire | Action | Acquire

Healthful Coaching

While at university, Phil Knight pondered his “crazy” idea in the full knowledge that his father hadn’t sent him to Oregon and Stanford to become a door-to-door shoe salesman. What his lawyer father called “jackassing around” evolved after several major setbacks into the athletic apparel brand Nike. Knight credits his will to win to his college athletic coach and early business partner Bill Bowerman He was, in his own words, a “good but not great” athlete who wanted to leave his mark on the world. [1]

Another to align his athleticism with business thinking was Walmart co-founder Sam Walton who continued his high school team athletics and football into college. His school athletics team won the 1935 state championships. As a 130-pound quarterback he never played in a losing game. “That record,” Walton wrote in his autobiography, “taught me to expect to win.” The self-confessed five nine “gym rat” was also drafted into the basketball team where he exhibited ability as a “real good floor leader.”  “Later on in life, I think Kmart, or whatever competition we were facing, just became Jeff City High School.”[2]

Playing sports, as a pastime, is second only to philanthropy according to a 2019 study of billionaires. Topping the list is golf, followed by soccer, skiing, and then tennis. [3] On the Forbes 400, only twenty-six played varsity sports in college; football being the most popular followed by basketball [4]. Whilst these sports rank lower down the list in terms of current sporting activities undertaken by billionaires, more than twice the number of those who played sports competitively are engaged in team ownership.

The founder of McDonald’s Ray Kroc describes his interest in sports ownership as beginning with the Chicago Cubs which he had followed since the age of seven.[5] An approach by Kroc to buy the team from the then owner, Phillip Knight (PK) Wrigley of chewing gum fame and fortune, was rebuffed. Kroc subsequently purchased the San Diego Padres and put an indelible mark upon the game. Upset at the team’s performance, he commandeered the PA box and apologized to fans, saying: “This is the most stupid baseball playing I’ve ever seen!”[6]

When asked whether he regretted the incident, Kroc writes in his autobiography: “I only regret that I didn’t lay it on them [the team] harder.” Sport is a business and after Kroc’s death his wife Joan first attempted to sell the Padres in 1987 for more than four times what Ray had purchased it for before deciding to give the team away. On this she was rebuffed by the Major League before a buyer emerged and paid her $75 million for the team.[7] This is a fraction of the $635 million paid by band-aid legatee, Woody Johnson, for the New York Jets in 2000 to carve out an identity separate to Johnson & Johnson. Asked why he didn’t buy a baseball team, he replied that the finances are terrible.[8]

It is not only sports teams and their star performers that have a market value. In the book Social, its author psychologist Matthew Lieberman identifies research indicating that “good” health compared to “not good” health is equivalent to a monetary bonus of $400,000; easily making it our most valuable nonmonetary asset[9]. But what is health? “Health”, as defined by the father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, “is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.[10]


[1] Phil H. Knight, Shoe Dog: A Memoir of the Creator of Nike (London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2016), 3, 44, 52.

[2] Sam Walton, and John Huey, Sam Walton Made in America: My Story, (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), 17-18.

[3] Catherine Clifford, “Here’s what Billionaires of the World Do with Their Free Time,” CNBC (2018), https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/21/wealthx-billionaires-passions-include-sports-art-music.html.

[4] Sarah Berger, “This is the Most Popular Sport Among Billionaires,” CNBC (2019), https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/10/wealth-x-billionaire-census-sport-billionaires-are-most-interested-in.html.

[5] R. Kroc, and R. Anderson, Grinding it Out: The Making of Mcdonalds (Chicago IL: Contemporary Books, 1987(1977)), 181.

[6] R. Kroc, and R. Anderson, Grinding it Out: The Making of Mcdonalds (Chicago IL: Contemporary Books, 1987(1977)), 185.

[7] Lisa Napoli, Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave it All Away (New York New York: Dutton, 2016), 229-30.

[8] Jerry Oppenheimer, Crazy Rich (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014), 4, 303, 374.

[9] 1. Matthew D. Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect (New York: Broadway Books, 2013), 248.

[10] Martin E. P. Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (New York: Atria, 2013), 182.