Managers Should Watch More Football

Guest Blog by Peter Loge, Author of “Soccer Thinking for Management Success: Lessons for organizations from the world’s game”

In the face of an ever changing and always moving business environment a lot of firms try to succeed by doing more what they have always done. Staff are asked to work more and in their traditional roles and with traditional responsibilities while managers are asked to achieve more within long established structures. Unsurprisingly, these efforts often fail. While managers may know traditional approaches to business are ill equipped to address the new world, they are not sure what a new approach or new thinking would look like. One answer (one many managers will embrace) can be found on “The Match of the Day.”

As US football executive and former president of Wayne Rooney’s current club, DC United, Kevin Payne puts it in my new book on lessons for organizations from football:

“Most organizations exist in a world where change is a constant; where interaction with allies and opponents is organic and unpredictable; where the success of the whole is founded upon the efforts and commitment of the several; where consistent preparation and empowerment can help increase the likelihood of desired outcomes. That sounds exactly like the set of problems, and solutions, which [football] teams and clubs encounter and strive for…”

Consider for example the related challenges of presenteeism and people feeling as if they have to always be accessible by email or phone.  Without downtime staff get sick, make their colleagues sick, become less productive, and can cost their company millions. Under the old model of doing all the work that needs to be done all the time, the push to always work may make sense. But viewed through the lens of football, such an approach is daft. Any footballer that tried to be everywhere at once on the pitch for 90 minutes would either collapse, be taken off, or both. The best players pick their moments and time their runs. When Mo Salah is not critical to a play he takes the opportunity to catch his breath and let his body recover so that he is ready when needed. Managers and staff should do the same. Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican Ambassador to the United States and the goalkeeper on a 45+ rec league team says that “[rest and relaxation] is very important. You have to find time to goof around and let off steam. One of my rules [at the Mexican Embassy] was I wasn’t clocking hours the staff were at their desks. No one worked weekends – over six years, my staff only worked weekends once. The counter is that if I ping you at 3am you need to be responsive. If I ping you at 3am it is because we have a problem, not because I want you to remind me of something in the morning.”

Another challenge modern organizations face is trust. Again, football offers insights on solutions.  In the foreword to Soccer Thinking for Management Success, former US international (and Wayne Rooney’s current manager at DC United) Ben Olsen told me that “as a player I wanted to know what was expected of me, I wanted clear and direct feedback, and I wanted to know the coach had my back.” Sounds a lot like what most of us want in the office as well. We have all seen football managers publicly attack their own players and players publicly attack each other. The results are predictable – high paid global stars can be made to look like Sunday pub league teams. On the other hand, we have all also seen teams that exceed expectations by working for and with each other. Danny Karbassiyoon, the first American to score for Arsenal and the co-founder PLAYRMAKR and Total Soccer: Road to Glory put it best, “You want to build a culture in which everyone fights for each other.”

Not all lessons from football work in companies of course. Grabbing your face and rolling around on the floor after a tough question in board meeting is probably not a good idea, and I never recommend taking off your shirt and jumping into your boss’s arms after closing a big deal. But as Danny Karbassiyoon said, “I quickly learned that many of the principles and skills I learned on the [football] field and in the locker room directly applied to my new life in an office, handling and managing some of the brightest people I’ve ever met.”

In other words, if managers want to know how to tackle the challenges of the modern business world, they should watch more football.

Author: Editorial Team

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