Former NFL star Akbar Gbajabiamila likes to have a game plan, especially when it comes to his money.
It began to formulate when he was playing football and is still key to his success today.
"The way I make my winning financial game plan is by surrounding myself with people who are smarter than me," said Gbajabiamila, now co-host of NBC's "American Ninja Warrior." "People who can keep me honest with my financial goals."
It's also being able to answer the question, "Why?"
"Why is it that I want to change my financial status? Why do I want to grow my money?" he said.
"If you can't answer the question 'why,' then chances are you're probably going to be going in all different types of directions. And having that team to keep you honest, to me, that right there is a game plan."
Gbajabiamila worked hard to achieve his success. He was raised by immigrant parents from Nigeria in South Central Los Angeles and later went on to play football for San Diego State University. He then spent five years playing for the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins.
Once Gbajabiamila started earning good money, he really learned how to manage and invest. However, the best financial decision he ever made was in college. On the advice of a mentor, he invested $2,500 in a mutual fund.
"I never heard of investing," he said. "I didn't know money could make money.
"I can never forget looking at my statement," Gbajabiamila added. "I'm like, 'Oh, my goodness, it's now $2,800. Oh, my, it's now $3,100.
"There's this excitement. It was like, 'I'm not even doing anything and it's growing,'" he said. "That was the coolest experience."
But that success wasn't always in a straight line. When Gbajabiamila retired from the NFL in 2008, he had about $300,000 in savings. However, he struggled for the next few years, until he joined the NFL Network in 2012. Two years later he became a host of "American Ninja Warrior" and in May released his book, "Everyone Can Be a Ninja."
"The one goal I can say that carried over from my athletic career in the NFL is short-term memory — and not that type of short-term memory," said Gbajabiamila, a member of the CNBC Invest in You Financial Wellness Council.
Instead, it has to do with the stock market and how you respond when things get rocky.
Historically, markets have always rebounded, he added. "Just be patient and [do] not get erratic and emotional," said Gbajabiamila. "Say, 'Hey, you know what, it's cool. That happened. Next play.'"
TUNE IN: "American Ninja Warrior"airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.