gr8nola logo

Former NFL Player Tank Williams Explains How to Overcome a Professional Crossroads

 Tank Williams
Tank Williams

Nobody understands how hard it is to walk away from the game than former NFL player Tank Williams. After a lifetime of playing football, Williams found himself in uncharted territory after a number of injuries and other factors caused him to  leave the sport.

So how did he rise above those challenges and make his next move to a fulfilling career in real estate and sports entertainment? Learn all about how Tank Williams is achieving gr8ness today and still learning lessons from decades on the field.

Let’s get back to the beginning of your career: When did you start playing football, and what made you want to continue playing the game and getting better?

Tank Williams: I started playing tackle football when I was knee-high to a gum drop—six years old—when most kids were just focusing on how to read and write. My dad was the coach at my local high school and he started the pee-wee football league in my hometown. I really can’t recall the first time I stepped on a football field but I know that I’ve had a schoolgirl crush on the game for as long as I can remember.

Football provided an opportunity for me to play a sport with my best friends and learn invaluable life lessons. The game also showed me fairly quickly that I was one of the better players on the field, and once I got a taste of success between the white lines, I was motivated to do whatever, whenever, in order to experience that feeling again.

What do you think enabled you to succeed in such a competitive sport for so long? What fueled you mentally and physically?

TW: From my pee-wee league football days all the way through the NFL, I believed I was a solid player but always felt like there were guys who were much more talented. I was never the biggest or fastest kid on the field, so I told myself that I wasn’t going to let anyone outwork me.

Once I made it to the NFL, I would always go back home to Mississippi to train in July prior to the upcoming season. Whether my workouts consisted of running sprints and agility drills on the beach or stadium stairs and football drills at my high school field, I worked out at the hottest time of the day to ensure I pushed myself to the limit. My mom thought I was crazy for working out during that time frame, but I was confident that training under challenging conditions would have me ready to ball out once the season arrived.  

You left professional football almost a decade ago. How did you come to that decision? And how did you figure out what you wanted to do after leaving field?

TW: Honestly, I wasn’t ready to leave football when I retired in 2009. I was coming off of my third knee injury and felt like I could battle my way back onto a roster like I had in years past. Yet, I was released by the New England Patriots during training camp only a couple days after learning my grandmother had passed away.

Needless to say, I was devastated for multiple reasons, but fortunately, I spent the three prior off-seasons participating in the NFL’s entrepreneurship programs. My experience at the Wharton School, in particular, helped confirm my interest in real estate while also providing a network that helped me secure an internship with a commercial real estate firm run by a fellow Stanford University alum.

Looking back, what’s the most important lesson you took away from football that has served you well throughout life?

TW: Looking back on my career and my life to date, I believe the most important lessons I’ve learned from football is dealing with adversity and approaching the game, as well as life, one play at a time.

During my football career, I suffered three knee injuries, a shoulder injury, fractures and a host of other setbacks. It can be so easy to give up once a bit of adversity hits, but I always prided myself in battling back to prove to myself and others that I wasn’t going to let a little bit of bad luck get the better of me. Yet, at the same time, when you’re trying to work through challenging times in life, it’s important to take it one step at a time. There were always moments when I felt injuries or job opportunities weren’t progressing fast enough, but I learned to focus on the next milestone in my journey which ultimately helped me achieve my goal.

What’s your number one tip for anyone who wants to achieve gr8ness in their lives?

TW: When I think of people who have achieved gr8ness in life, I look to individuals and teams who have been able to reach the pinnacle of their professions and maintain a level of excellence over a substantial period of time. In most of those instances, the individuals had to work their asses off to get to that point and then work even harder to maintain that status. So, my tip for anyone who wants to be great at their chosen career is to work as hard as you can to become the very best at your craft, and when you think you can’t work any harder, find a way to prove yourself wrong.

When you found yourself at a professional crossroads, how did you know what decision to make? Let us know!