Hi. I'm Olu, and I'm a 2016 Olympian and professional track & field athlete.
This means that despite putting in just as many hours as my mainstream sports peers, I have to look for ways to earn income from places outside of my sport alone. The world of professional track and field is far less glamorous than that of basketball, football, or any of the other major sports. Athletes like myself who don't have fully funded sponsorships, contracts, or endorsements have to be far more creative in how we make our money -- and this isn't limited to track & field alone. Even after reaching the Olympic Games, athletes in other Olympics-focused sports such as swimming, boxing, and martial arts rarely earn a livable income from their chosen discipline.
But this post isn't about sharing sob stories. It's about facing reality, putting your pride aside, and leaning into your creativity to create opportunities to earn more dollars by any (legal) means necessary. By the time you finish reading, you'll have learned about 5 creative side hustles that you can use to bring in more dough, all without having to fill out a single survey. And even if you don't use these side hustles directly, the ideas here will plant the seeds for you to go out and create your own opportunities. Let's get to it.
In my humble opinion, side hustles are all about earning income on your own terms, and this is all the more important as a professional athlete, where your main focus should be on becoming the greatest competitor you can be, and reaching the pinnacle of your sport. But before we get to the side hustles themselves, it's important to lay some ground rules that will make life (and extra cash) come to you more easily.
Rule # 1: "Dig the Well Before You're Thirsty" - Harvey MacKay
The side hustles to follow rely on your community, so the first step is to establish yourself within said community, or create your own. Whether it be through posting on community boards or social media (as you'll see mentioned many times throughout this list), partnering with local businesses, or even your own email newsletter list, making yourself known as the local professional/Olympic/Olympic hopeful athlete, will attract people to your story who will be more than willing to support your cause.
This does not mean simply expecting money without giving back in some capacity. Rather, it means to openly share your experiences and knowledge with others -- you'd be surprised just how many people will benefit from your perspective once you begin putting yourself out there. Being a graciously giving person will always lead to more coming back to you in due time -- it’s natural law. And by starting now -- by digging your well before you're thirsty -- you'll have established leads for side hustle income long before you ever need them.
Rule # 2: Be a Genuine & Charismatic Person
Positive people attract positive circumstances. Even if you're naturally shy or introverted, simply being a pleasant person to be around will lead to opportunities you may not have explicitly asked for. Plus, stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing a dose of vulnerability from time to time will serve you greatly on the field of play. I'm speaking from experience as a naturally introverted person myself.
My Top 5 Side Hustles
Each of the side hustles to follow are based on my personal experience.
Community Fitness Events
Social Media Promotion
Side Hustle #1: Lead Group Fitness Events in Your Community
One of the most fun side hustles I had was the creation of a group fitness program at a local apartment building. In Washington, D.C. where I lived for the past 7 years, the landscape has been completely transformed as new "luxury" (read: ludicrously expensive) apartment homes pop up on every block on a daily basis. I saw this as an opportunity to partner with one of the buildings near me to offer my personal training and coaching services directly to the residents who lived there, and after creating some real results for a handful of residents, I had a constant supply of referrals coming in. This was in addition to those who reached out just from seeing me in and around the building’s gym.
If you decide to go this route, make sure you draw up a simple business plan (it doesn’t need to be complex), and discuss it openly with the building management before getting started. Not only will this save you from potentially getting kicked off the premises, but from my experience, the management will love to advertise your services as an additional amenity for their residents. It's a win-win.
If you don't have apartment homes in your area, try posting on community sites like Nextdoor and Craigslist, or reach out to fire and police departments, Boys and Girls Clubs, and local businesses.
A note: You should be advised that while you technically aren’t required to have a personal training or group exercise certification to lead classes, getting one (and liability insurance) is something worth considering if you plan on going this route. Otherwise, it’s best to do this on a smaller scale.
Side Hustle #2: Content Creation
Your perspective as a professional athlete is invaluable, and creating content for businesses and entities who would benefit from your perspective is a fun way to earn some bucks from it.
Here are few examples I've done myself:
Vlog-style motivational speaking videos for a friend who owns a youth athlete-centric apparel company
Video technique breakdown and analysis of the long jump for another friend to post on his coaching website
Written short form articles (750-1000 words) for a blog site, charged at $0.18 per word
The amount you can earn through these and other content creation avenues varies widely based on your experience, the specific medium you're creating for, and your negotiating savvy, but I've personally found it to be the most rewarding work I've done. The money was just a bonus.
Side note: I'm fully aware that not everyone has friends who own a business to create for, but that shouldn't stop you. If you've begun creating relationships with your community as mentioned earlier, you can reach out to them to offer your services. And if you're still struggling to find clientele, you can contact me directly. I'd love to help.
Side Hustle #3: Social Media Promotion
An example post from my Instagram
I've mentioned the importance of reaching out to your community multiple times already, and this is where it matters most. If you're an athlete, and you reach out to local businesses who have a vested interest in sports as a whole, you'll be surprised how willing they'll be to have you make a paid social media post or two on their behalf. Even if they don't pay you (or if sports aren't their main focus), you may be able to get things for free or at a discount. I personally have not paid for a gym membership in years just because of my willingness to make a quick Instagram post sharing my honest views of their business, and I’ve netted a few bucks in the process.
As a pro athlete, you have a valuable platform, and it has nothing to do with your follower count. Having 10k followers is helpful, but being an *actual* person with a real, genuine perspective will always be more impactful. And you don't have to turn your social media feed into a scrolling billboard; simply share your insights and experience in a truthful, authentic way.
Here's how you can do it too
Reach out to local businesses that support athletes either directly, or indirectly, such as:
Local physical therapists
Sporting good stores
Yoga studios (yoga studios are always looking for athlete testimonials in my experience)
Side Hustle #4: Sport-Specific Coaching
If you're a professional in your sport, it only makes sense that amateurs would seek your expertise as a coach. Opportunities to coach other athletes at various levels from youth to the Masters level are abundant. Depending on where you live, this can be a very lucrative side hustle, especially if you're near a suburban community, where word spreads like wildfire.
Here's how to do it
Contact local youth sports organizations to offer your coaching on a "consultant" basis. Marketing yourself as a consultant carries a dignified presence which transcends that of the typical dad-coach—and earns you more bucks in the process. You can even get more in depth and create content catered directly to your coaching clients, which can then be rinsed and recycled for other clients in the future.
Side Hustle #5: Athlete Mentoring
This is my favorite option on the list, but truthfully, it's more of a purpose-driven calling than a side hustle. You could probably tell by now that one of my deepest passions is sharing my experiences and life lessons with my peers, my fellow athletes, and my community. If you share in this passion, then mentoring athletes younger than yourself can be some of the most rewarding work you'll ever do - both financially and spiritually. Coaching helps athletes develop their on-field skills, but mentoring can make an even bigger impact on their lives outside the lines. The younger generation of athletes coming up—both the ones in your sport and in others—are always looking for successful role models who prove to them that they can make it too.
Think about your early days in your sport. How impactful would it have been for you to have a pro athlete mentor you directly? Maybe you were even fortunate enough to have experienced this firsthand. Now, you have the opportunity to be that inspirational figure for someone else. The best part is that by pursuing your sport professionally, you're already qualified, so you can kick that imposter syndrome to the curb.
Here's how to become a Mentor (and make some coins in the process)
Reach out to local schools and sports teams and offer to share your experiences with them, either as a one-off speaking event, or as an ongoing team mentor. This can lead to one-on-one mentorship opportunities in due time.
It’s worth noting that while team and large group-based events can be pretty lucrative, one-on-one mentorship is typically done pro-bono. Do it for the love, and you'll be paid dividends in ways you couldn't imagine.
Bonus Side Hustle: Volunteer Coaching
While it doesn’t make you any money in the present, volunteer coaching can provide other necessary resources that you'd have to otherwise cover on your own. If you're lucky (read: prepared when the opportunity arises), it could even land you a job later on down the road.
In early 2013, at the beginning of my professional track and field career, I began volunteer coaching at a Division 1 university in my hometown. After 2 and a half seasons of volunteering for a few hours 3-4 times per week, I was offered the full time coaching job. Win.
While the full time job was nice, my time volunteering was loaded with its own perks that helped save me lots of money. For example, I received gear for training like clothes, and shoes, had a consistent place to train, and was even able to use some of the athletic training room facilities. As a pro athlete, this is huge, because those costs add up quickly.
Not everyone has Division 1 school near their home, but the point is to be open minded and creative in your search for places where you can lend your athletic expertise as a volunteer, whether that's a high school, YMCA, or another local group. Look for a level that you already have experience in. If you're a college athlete, look for high schools in your hometown. If you're a professional, almost all local schools and colleges would love to have you as a volunteer. Opportunities to volunteer are everywhere if you keep your eyes open for them.
Get to work
As with all side hustles, there's an inevitable time investment required to get things moving. But once you pick up momentum, opportunities to expand and earn more money on your own terms will come rushing your way. If you’d like a little more help in making it happen, let’s talk.