Business (and Life) Lessons from the World Cup (and my Dad & Son)

Art Brown, captain and goalie of the West Point soccer team, in 1961.

Art Brown, my father, and captain and goalie of the West Point soccer team, in 1961.

In watching the World Cup and my son’s traveling soccer games, I’ve come to realize that a look at the basic differences between offense and defense gives insight on human behavior and personalities that we can all use in business, as well as life in general. In this exercise, players on offense might be executives, marketers, salespeople, creatives or anyone with a higher profile role and/or more extroverted personality. Players on defense might be accountants, HR staff, production, engineers, or anyone with a more back office role or more introverted personality.

As you read these simple observations, be thinking of your own behavior and how you interact with your colleagues, clients, vendors, family and friends:

  • Offense requires inventiveness whereas defense is preventive — Those traits are typically not equally strong in the same personality
  • Inventiveness in its nature is improvisational, and yet defense requires impromptu responses
  • Offense is creative and opportunistic–you only have to be “on” when you have the ball
  • Defense is high-stress and requires keen alertness at all times*
  • Offense is easily measured and recognized by what happens (goooooaaaaalllls!), so those on offense get a lot of credit and recognition
  • Defense is measured by stats such as saves, but the vast majority of people don’t look for that data
  • Offense is high-profile and every time someone scores, there is massive celebration
  • Defense is, for the most part, only noticed when they make a mistake
  • The camera always follows the ball which is 100% of the time with the offense

Offense requires inventiveness whereas defense is preventive
Those traits are typically not equally strong in the same personality

For what it’s worth, here’s some personal context. I played soccer growing up and was half-back. Kind of half offense and half defense, but colleagues of mine would probably tell you I mostly play offense. That said, I do come from a good “defense” bloodline. My dad was an all American goalkeeper and captain of the West Point team during college, and he later became a coach and the officer in charge of the West Point soccer team. So, he must have been very trained and groomed for this, right? Not. On his first day of soccer ever, when he tried out for his high school soccer team, the coach asked, “Who here plays basketball?” My dad raised his hand. Without yet seeing any athletic endeavor from my father, the coach said, “You’re goal keeper.”

So, here are some takeaways from my perspective:

  • Neither offense or defense is better than the other
  • It takes both good offense and good defense to win
  • The goalkeeper is the ultimate defender–and during the game is more important than the coach–seeing the whole game and interconnecting the team’s individual players via strategy, coordination and communication
  • Maybe we could all stand to look for and celebrate the metrics of our colleagues on defense (If a defender’s goal is to stop goals, then they “score” goals when they stop them)
  • Everybody on the team is on both offense and defense, they are just on different places of the field
  • Offense and defense are on the same team (Don’t fall into the trap of seeing someone with a different personality or role than you as your opponent)

Everybody on the team is on both offense and defense,
they are just on different places of the field

Did this help you? What insights do you have from this, or from any sport?

*Since Germany whipped Brazil 7-1, I’m mindful how german shepherds trained for protection sometimes get severe anxiety due to their feeling of responsibility to allow nothing to happen. The anxiety comes from having to be always ready, always on.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: