This story is part of the Top of the Game series, where CNBC Make It delves into the habits, routines and mindsets that top athletes use to achieve peak performance and success.
Unlike some rookie NBA players, former WNBA star Marissa Coleman didn’t blow her rookie contract when she signed with the Washington Mystics as the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2009.
That’s because she was making around $60,000 a year. “We aren’t making the hundreds of millions like our male counterparts are,” Coleman, 34, tells CNBC Make It.
Instead, Coleman, who won a college national championship at the University of Maryland in 2006 and retired from the WNBA in 2018, says she learned to be financially savvy early on. That meant finding additional streams of income — which, like most WNBA players, involved going overseas during her offseasons to make a majority of her money.
Coleman says most players can make six figures by playing in countries like Italy or Spain for roughly eight months each year. “Big names in our sport can go over there and make anywhere from $900,000 to $1.5 million,” she adds.
She also bet on unconventional investments. In 2016, for example, Coleman and fellow WNBA star Alana Beard invested in a Mellow Mushroom pizza franchise in Roanoke, Virginia. “I knew I wasn’t going to make $100 million, so I found ways to set myself up while I was playing,” Coleman says.
But the pressures of piecing together a financially comfortable living as a WNBA player were challenging. Coleman battled years of loneliness working overseas. Her deeply ingrained pre-game rituals threatened to derail her focus and competitive mentality.
Eventually, she found balance. Now, she says, she’s helping other women athletes set themselves up for post-career success. In September, Coleman said she’d join sports betting company Gaming Society — founded by Basketball Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett — as its vice president of business development, spearheading its “Bet on Women” program.
Here, Coleman discusses her lonely years playing overseas, her relentless work ethic and how ditching the rituals finally helped her master her competitive mindset.
How Coleman’s dad instilled an ironclad work ethic within her
I wrote a letter to my dad when I was 11 years old, and I put it on his pillow before I left for school. In the letter, I told him I wanted to be the best basketball player in the world.
When I got home from school that day, [my dad] had the letter on the counter. He pointed to it and he said, “Marissa, do you what this means? Do you know what you are going to have to sacrifice if you want to achieve these lofty goals?”</…….