Leadership

Life lessons from the World Cup

If you watched both games of the World Cup yesterday you witnessed two powerful performances.

In the first game, nearing the end of extra time, Argentina’s Lionel Messi charged toward Switzerland’s goal with the opportunity to score what would almost certainly be the game winner. With the burden of his nation on his back, not to mention his reputation as one of the greatest in the sport, you might think he would use his phenomenal skills to control the outcome and own the personal glory. You’d be wrong.

Instead, he made a beautiful crossing pass to Angel di Maria, who guided a perfect left-footed low shot past Switzerland’s outstretched keeper for the win. Selflessness personified. Teamwork exemplified.

In the second game, USA’s Keeper Tim Howard put on one of the more astonishing performances in World Cup history. With the Americans largely outmatched by the Belgian side, Howard faced an offensive onslaught throughout the match. Without much help from his teammates, Howard demonstrated incredible grit and acrobatic flair, making a record number of saves and, incredibly, keeping the Belgians scoreless during regular time. Alas, Belgium finally broke through in stoppage time and the Americans were unable to keep pace and secure the storybook ending.

A Goalkeeper is one of the few roles on any team, in sports or otherwise, where the job is so narrowly prescribed. His (or her) job is almost entirely limited to playing defense, to prevent the other team from scoring. The Keeper typically has no significant contribution to whether his team scores or not. He can play fantastically and his team can still lose. To be a successful Keeper you have to do what you can–to do your very best–and accept that the rest is almost completely out of your control.

I know I would be well served to keep my energies focused on doing my level best and not worrying so much about things I cannot change.

I know the teams that I’ve been on perform a whole lot better when I cast my ego and selfishness aside.

And I don’t even play soccer. Or football.

2 thoughts on “Life lessons from the World Cup

  1. Thank you for both of those insights. I’d particularly like back the time back that I have wasted fretting about the competition’s next step. Your blog is is a gift. Irene Mylan

  2. Hi Steve,
    My humble contribution…
    A great soccer goalkeeper is the first man to attack. With the ball in his hands he decides if the attack starts now or in a few seconds. He decides to kick the ball up the field with a X% chance of one of his teammates receiving it or to throw it to a teammate 10 yards away from him who can start a passing process towards the opponent’s goal. He decides if the attack starts on the left or the right side of the field. He has to analyze all these factors in a few seconds, understand the risks involved and create the opportunity. A lot of training helps to make these choices quickly and smartly. Great coaches have this all very carefully planned.
    Thus, a goalkeeper can make masive contributions to whether his team scores or not because it all starts with his choice.
    In the business world we can all make choices too…we can choose to be passive leaders and “just stop the incoming balls” or be active leaders and be the “first line of attack”…
    Cheers
    Philippe (from Brasil)

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