When Landon Donovan scored a winning goal yesterday in overtime, he put the U.S. World Cup team at the top of its group for the first time since 1930. And people who never cared about soccer were suddenly talking about it everywhere in the media. Some of them might even start watching World Cup 2010.
To the soccer newbie, the World Cup might seem like just a bunch of guys running and kicking the ball, but watch a few matches, and you’ll see the mindset and behaviors required to win. And you might actually learn a little about business, too.
Consider these business lessons from soccer:
1. Business is always moving. In soccer, the clock never stops. You might have gotten the wind knocked out of you or shoved to the ground. You may be dying of thirst. You might even be bleeding from too hard a hit. But the clock doesn’t care. The game keeps moving forward. In business, your team—even the best one in the world—will take a few hits now and then, but technology and time wait for no one. So, keep your feet moving.
2. Make the ball run with you. Professional soccer players don’t just kick the ball without knowing where it’s going. It might not always get exactly where they want it to be, but they’ve got a definite plan for it. Poor soccer players are the ones who take too much time in setting up plays or who run without a vision. Likewise, make sure you know in which direction your business or marketing campaign is heading.
3. Always be aware of the counter-attack. In soccer, you can always expect a swift, strong counter-attack from the opposing team after you’ve pressed for a goal. Every time. In business, you need to remember that the brilliant product or campaign you launch will quickly have its imitators or be attacked by your competitors. As in soccer, know that the attack will come, so even as you press forward on your own attack, have the skills, players and plan to fend off any sudden threat from the competition.
4. There are no replays. Unlike almost every other sport, soccer does not have replays. If you made a goal and got it taken away (as in the case of the U.S. World Cup team’s goal in the Slovenia match), you can’t demand an instant replay. Whatever call is made, the call is made. In business, it’s the same thing. Whatever happened, happened. If an unfair call is given, you can try to explain it away, but it won’t help. (And it’ll just tick off the ref.) Instead, do everything possible to let your company’s behavior prove its worth. As with the U.S. World Cup soccer team, it was robbed a goal … but then proved its skills in the next match.
5. Close doesn’t count. When you watch soccer, you can have heart attacks at the myriad almost-goals. The ball looks like it’s going to rack up a point for your team, but then the goalie stops it. Or the ball hits the post. Or the player put a little too much spin on it, and it veers away at the last second. At the end of the game, only the actual goals matter. Your team could look like it was going to win by its 8 shots on goal, but if the opponent just had one shot on goal—and it scored— then that’s all that matters. In business, it’s the same. No one cares about what you planned to do or what came close to being the best idea ever. What matters is if you delivered on your promise.
6. Know how to handle a fall. Argentine forward Lionel Messi is considered the best player in the world, which means he gets jostled a lot by the other teams. To prevent being injured all the time from the hits, he had to learn how to handle a fall. Every player falls. And every business goes through some difficulties. Instead of letting the current problem be one that breaks you, know how to handle it. Have a team of people in place to handle any emergencies that might happen. And most importantly, pick yourself up, and get back in the game.
7. Enjoy the win. Unlike American football, in which players are penalized for celebrating a touchdown, players in the World Cup are allowed to enjoy a goal. And they do. They shout from the bottom of their bellies, shake fists in the arm, form frantic dogpiles of happiness. Even the sport announcer (if he’s from certain countries) will scream until his throat is raw, just from the joy of the goal. If you launched a new product, had a superb quarter, beat out the competition or are just having a heck of a year, give yourself a moment to enjoy it. Share numbers with your people, high-five each other in the hallway. Savor the success of the moment. And then, of course, get out there and do it all over again.