The Top 5 Lessons for Life and Business, Learned From Soccer

Chile v Spain

1.     Hesitation is the mother of all F’ups!
In a soccer match, if you are in front of the goal trying to figure out what to do, it’s already too late. You have to take the shot and trust that all those hours spent practicing will send it in the right direction. If you miss, then you miss – but you came a lot closer to a goal than if you hesitate and give the defender an opening to steal the ball. When you hesitate, life goes by you. Never hesitate, go with your heart, and take calculated risks in life and business. That’s the only way you can exponentially advance compared to your competition.
2.     A little bit extra effort goes a very long way
What sets ‘world-class people’ apart from ‘good people?’ The world-class people put in just a little bit of extra effort. Growing up playing soccer, there were times when the ball would go right by me. Seconds later I would realized that if I had extended my leg just a bit further and put in just a little extra effort at that moment, I would have taken the ball – and who knows what may have come out of it from there. I used to play soccer with a group of co-workers at The Mathworks. Our CEO, Jack Little, with all due respect to him, had minimal soccer skills. However, he was always full of energy. When I had the ball, I feared him the most. Despite his lack in skills, he would come after me so aggressively that 9 out of 10 times he would screw up my plan and play. When he had the ball on attack, we couldn’t keep up with his stamina and speed. He wasn’t in better shape than us, he just made a mental decision to work hard and put in more than 100%… And he won big in soccer, as well as in life! The lesson is that you must put a little bit extra effort to succeed. The winners are those that put in 100% plus just a little bit more.
3.     Once you make a decision, don’t change your mind
I learned this taking penalty kicks. I was in 8th grade and my team was playing in the finals. We played 90 minutes, then two 30 minute overtimes, and then finally penalty kicks. And then all of the sudden the game was in my hands. It all came down to me, taking the final kick. As I stared at the goalie, I decided to shoot right… But then I wavered. Perhaps it’s better to shoot left. Right? Left? How about the center? I didn’t know which side to pick and I was getting all wound up over the decision. Finally, I ran and simply shot the ball as hard as I could, without any specific decision on the direction. The ball flew high over the goal, the opposing team went bananas, and I looked over to see my entire team with their heads down. I still have my yearbook, where one of my classmates wrote: “Too bad you missed that penalty kick. We could have won the championship – Have a good summer.” I’ve never missed a penalty shot since then, because I make my decision once and I stick with it. How does this pertain to life? In life, there things you must decide on and move forward and don’t look back. Once you decide on something, actions and thoughts start moving forward. For every step you take backwards, your competition is that far ahead of you. It is more important to focus your energy on the actual execution of a decision than on the decision itself.
4.     Team work is better than a single player
You’ve heard of the great soccer players who make big names for themselves. But people always forget that they would be nothing without a strong team behind them. If you take the world’s best soccer player and put them on a bad team, he or she will fail (For example, Galatasaray’s Didier Drogba’s poor performance for the Ivory Coast in the World Cup). However, if you create a team where everyone is focused on working well together (Germany, for example) then they will naturally succeed. In business, don’t count on a single person to carry the team. As a leader or a participant, make sure to build teams that are strong together, and that can win fights as a unit.
5.     He who prepares the best usually wins
Pre-game preparation and a realistic understanding of your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses is one of the best ways to get a leg up on the competition. Some of my best games required a trip to watch my opponent and learn their players’ style, strengths, and weaknesses before I had to compete with them. How much you’ve worked out before the game, if you are in great shape, if you have stretched enough, and what you’ve eaten the past 24 hours are all additional pieces that lay the groundwork for delivering a great match. Maybe the corporate world won’t be judging whether or not you’re in great shape, but I can guarantee it will matter whether or not you prepared for a meeting. We spend so much time reacting to external forces and other people’s demands that we are constantly playing catch-up. Take a little time each day to sit back and look at things from a distance and prepare for what is to come. For me, that means locking myself in a room and focusing only on preparation; for a test, for an interview, for a negotiation strategy, or even how to get my future wife to say “Yes.”
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