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Misconceptions of Personal Branding

Clearing up some misconceptions about athlete branding

Misconceptions of Personal Branding


The phrase “personal branding” can freak athletes out. I know it because I lived it.

During our playing careers, we’re so focused on our performance in the here and now. Thinking about life beyond sports can seem counter-intuitive, self-serving, and even a little bit useless.

No one wants to hear it, but someday, retirement is coming for every athlete. Capitalizing on your personal brand while your spotlight is the brightest – in your athletic prime – gives you the power to be more than an athlete.

Here are some tips on how to start capturing your brand and building an audience:

You don’t “create” a brand- you identify and amplify it.

Far too often, I see athletes worrying about the idea of “creating” or “building” their personal brand. Honestly, I don’t like either of these words when it comes to athletes; both imply that you’re fabricating an image, or pulling an identity of who you are out of thin air.

I prefer to use words like “identifying” and “amplifying” an athlete’s brand. Your brand doesn’t need to be created because it already exists – it’s who you are, your interests, the stories you have to tell, etc. Even things about yourself that seem commonplace or uninteresting – you’re a daughter, a father, an offseason golfer, a dog owner – are important parts of your makeup. The word “authenticity” gets thrown around a lot, but it really sums up what we’re getting at here. 

When I work with athletes, my main focus is to nail down what qualities, personality traits, causes, or hobbies are most important and worthy of highlighting. Once we pinpoint our message, it’s all about sharing that with your audience.

Player and team can coexist – and even help each other.

Athletes are often led to believe that when it comes to branding, it’s either player or team. A player looking out for themselves and establishing their voice means that he or she is a “me-monster” that’s putting one individual before the needs of the whole squad.

This thinking couldn’t be more off-base. You might think that cultivating your brand takes the shine off your teammates, but it actually often does the opposite. It’s like the old cliche – a rising tide lifts all boats. One athlete amplifying their brands creates a domino effect of other opportunities for their teammates, the fanbase and the organization.

And it’s those second two groups – the fans and the greater organization – that make up most of your audience anyways. While those guys or gals in the locker room are your everything on the playing surface, they represent only a tiny percentage of the greater audience that has a real interest in your brand off the field, court, or ice.

Play the long game.

Any professional or collegiate athlete knows that their journey started long before the opening tip of the season. To get to that top 1%, the grind is real: late nights practicing in the backyard, balancing school and sports as a student-athlete, sacrificing free time with family and friends.

Every athlete knows the value of hard work – and the time it takes to hustle your way to the top. Somehow, though, athletes forget that this discipline and work ethic applies to other parts of life beyond sports, too.

You’re not going to have brands falling all over themselves to sign you the moment you decide to start amplifying your brand. You don’t just win by saying you started. To be paid well in any discipline, you have to perform well. Amplifying your brand takes a concerted effort over time – and we have countless examples of athletes following the process to achieve branding success.

Two success stories – Riley Sheahan and Joe Pavelski.

One of our most inspiring Torch Pro athletes is Riley Sheahan, center for the Seattle Kraken. Riley’s making waves as a co-host of the Speak Your Mind podcast, which draws on Riley’s own experiences to build mental health awareness. It’s great – but Riley didn’t walk into the Torch Pro office on Day One telling us he’s launching a podcast.

We first focused on pinpointing the things that made Riley unique: his use of yoga to clear his head between games, or his stress-relieving sessions on the acoustic guitar. Throughout the past year of creating this content, we’ve discovered together that mental health makes up a big part of Riley’s brand.

And don’t think you have to become a champion of a cause just to gain an audience – it’s important that whatever you identify with is authentic to you. Take our co-founder, Joe Pavelski, a forward for the Dallas Stars. Joe loves golf – and he’s really, really good at it. Over the past four years, we’ve amplified Joe’s love of golf with Torch Pro and other media outlets. Now, our boy – despite being a professional hockey player – has golf companies partnering with him.

Focus on who you already are, stop worrying about being a “me-monster”, and be prepared to play the long game. Taking these steps will get you on the path to building that authentic, personal brand that every athlete should be striving for. 

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