There is little argument about two primary themes leading to this Blog: (1) there is no shortage of sports stories and references that become lessons in business (2) I have never been thought of as an original thinker.
But as we head into the 2018 Soccer World Cup Finals in Russia (starts this week) my lack of originality has led me to use sports stories and references for lessons in business.
The World Cup Finals are played every four years after nearly four years of qualifying games for every country competing to be in the Finals. Four years ago, the World Cup was played in Brazil and I was fortunate enough to be there. To be honest – my adult life has been equal parts passion about business and about sports (mostly soccer) and my childhood had no business and was all sports (mostly soccer). So, sports (mostly soccer) is important to me (but business pays the bills).
After spending a few weeks in Brazil four years ago – including Sao Paulo, Manaus, Natal … among others – being basically immersed in the world’s most popular sports event – and with the Russia 2018 event starting this week … here are my Top Ten World Cup and Soccer lessons for business:
10. Size and Tradition are nice – but they are just nice.
The population of Iceland is 335,000 and they will be competing in the World Cup in Russia, Iceland has never appeared in the World Cup.
The population of Italy is 60.6 Million and they have played in every World Cup since 1958, but they did not qualify for Russia in 2018.
The population of the United States is 325 Million and they have played in every World Cup since 1986, but they did not qualify for Russia in 2018.
I recommend that you record and watch the Iceland games because there are lessons there that we can all benefit from.
Each soccer team will have 18 players on their roster for each game. Each of those 18 players are one of the best players in the world but only 11 will start and there is a maximum of 3 substitutions. That means that 7 players will not start and 4 players (or more) will not play in the game at all.
The championship soccer teams create a culture of team where all members understand and appreciate their roles and the roles of each other. It is the ultimate meritocracy and the chance for a team to succeed depends in large part that all players buy in.
8. Superstars – really Superstars
But it is the ultimate meritocracy and incredibly there are a handful of players on the planet that can make a difference for a team. In the past (and maybe in 2018) that list has included Christiano Renaldo of Portugal, Lionel Messi of Argentina, and Neymar of Brazil. These are the superstars that can lead a team to victory and their absence can mean loss.
7. The Coach Gets Fired
Another reason why it is the ultimate meritocracy is because the only thing that matters in the resume of a coach of a World Cup team is if they win or lose. That’s it. They get fired if the team fails. When your job is on the line for success you make sure that you create a team culture and play the right players and that creates a very healthy meritocracy. A great coach can create a healthy meritocracy (because he has 18 egos and one goal).
6. Little Things are Big Things
While you have 11 superstars playing and 7 superstars on the bench and everyone is rooting for each other – how you do some basic things may make the difference between a win or a loss.
In soccer there are no playbooks – except on ‘restarts’. A restart is a kick or throw in that is done as a result of the ball going out of bounds or a foul being called. It is entirely likely that the majority of goals scored in Russia this year will be as a result of a restart. To score on a restart will typically require every player on the field doing their little things exactly right to create the goal. To defend a restart will require every player on the field to do their job exactly right.
5. Don’t Get Confused or Distracted by the Noise
In business we hear noise every day and feel the need to adjust to whatever the noise of the day is. Pressing projects, unforeseen problems, demanding customers, etc. When a soccer team or player responds to the noise of a specific game (referee call, opposing player, heckling fan) they stop executing successfully. That will happen in Russia – if you watch 5 games you will see at least 2 players completely stop executing because they got distracted or confused by the noise. Learn from that and keep the plan and objective in mind.
4. Be Present
One of the best reminders we ever get in our lives is to be present in the moment. This is true in our personal life and in our business live. But in the World Cup there are several hundred players and team coaches who are experiencing a unique several weeks (leading up to and including the tournament). What better reminder that being present is critically important! But we will not likely be playing in a World Cup … so does this apply? Of course it does, when we are present we win the moment and the day. Be Present.
3. Use the Moment, the Event, and the Stage to Improve
The super-super stars mentioned above (see 8) are who they are because they learned and improved. Look at every meeting, conversation, and event as an opportunity to learn and improve. The great teams are filled with those people who have done exactly that.
2. Forget the Bad but Remember the Good
Great athletes become great athletes because they are able to block out the instances when they did not perform perfectly. Furthermore they remember the moments when they excelled. Great goal scorers in soccer will miss 10 shots for every 2 that they make. The really, really great goal scorers can only tell you about the 2 that they made and have forgotten the other 8. Focus on your skills and strengths.
1. Embrace the Joy
When you boil it all down, it is life. We should have as much fun as we can. If I were in the World Cup I would embrace the fun and the joy and the wonder. I would try to win but I would hope that I would never lose sight of the fact that I am in a rare and treasured place.
In our business life we should treasure the chances and opportunities and do the best we can to influence success. But if we did all of that without having fun and embracing the joy – we would be missing an important chance to make our lives happy. Be happy – embrace the joy.
Final thought – when I was in Brazil for the World Cup four years ago my oldest son was on the USA team and my middle son came with me to spend a few weeks in Brazil watching the games. When Brazil played a game my son and I would find a place in the deepest neighborhoods of Sao Paulo to watch the game in an indoor/outdoor bar with the local fans. We witnessed a group of fans who embrace the moment and were there to have fun. They wanted their team to win but they wanted to embrace the joy. Great lesson for me – don’t forget to embrace the joy – after all in the end ….