As a kid growing up in West Africa, I played one sport primarily, and that was soccer. But, I never experienced playing organized soccer until I moved to the United States in my teens. I quickly realized how much of an opportunity playing sports in America presented beyond just the ability to get my education paid for.
The experience of playing college soccer was very different from anything I had been a part of. After showing up to practice late once, the coach made it clear that if I showed up late again, I was off the team. This was only my first week. It was that moment that gave me the realization that playing soccer was more than just fun extracurricular activity; it was a job. I was getting paid for it, even if it was indirectly.
These lessons, among others, were what shaped my views from that point on about collegiate and professional sports. My views, along with my talent and hard work, were a factor in taking my skills further to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy and other soccer organizations.
Being a college athlete is a full-time job. You're practicing in the morning and evening, organizing your schedule of classes and homework, going to bed early enough and getting the right nutrition and therapy. Unless you've lived the life of an athlete, you have no idea how much hard work goes into it.
Individual discipline and team discipline are different. But, both are necessary to effectively accomplish a goal in a team sport and in business.
There were several days when I didn't want to go to practice (I feel you, Iverson). Likewise, in business, there are days I just don't want to do anything. However, the thought of another player taking my starting position is enough to get me out of bed on those days.
There are specific things that all soccer teams anywhere in the world do, including passing and shooting. If you were to break soccer down, that's all it really is. Having the discipline to remind yourself of the basics and creating a routine schedule is absolutely key to any success in business as much as it is in any sport.
There's a chain of command in every team or organization; everyone can't keep the score. Some people thrive on public attention and recognition for their achievements, while others would rather “do their job” and go home. Understanding your team (staff) is very vital to the success of any business. Recognize what makes each individual feel good about his or her work and what makes that person feel appreciated.
I don't know about you, but as a businessman my goal is not to work in my business, but rather on it. Coaches do just that. They're not on the field playing. They recognize each individual's talents, and then they formulate a plan to accomplish the team's goal of getting a winning result.
As a business owner, you are a coach, and viewing your role as one will allow you to give guidance and advice to your team members. You'll also need to recognize when to reorganize or “substitute” players in and out. A coach's job is to bring out the best of his or her players, and that's just what you're meant to do as a business owner.
Soccer has 11 players in the field, and maybe another eight to 12 on the bench. Managing people is a skill that not everyone has. All coaches aren't good team managers, hence why there are assistant coaches and team staff to help with that. If you're not Sigi Schmid, José Mourinho or Alex Ferguson, then hire people. Management is a critical part of running a business. You have to recognize when you need assistance or someone more capable of managing people. This can make or break all that you're trying to build.
5. Your Role
The most important lesson soccer has taught me — not just in business, but also in life — is to play your role. Everyone can't be Messi or Ronaldo. Life needs Xavis and Pirlos. Soccer lays out strategically with defense, midfield and an offense. Structure your business in the same way. Recognize the tools or people you have and what positions or roles they perform and excel best in, and then let them play.
To the untrained eye, soccer may look like a bunch of people aimlessly running around. However, it is really one of the most structured games you can be a part of. Understanding your position, the boundaries you're limited to, where you can take risks, what positions allow for creativity and recognizing captains (leaders) are essential to building your business empire.
These lessons have carried me beyond the soccer field and into my present entrepreneurial ventures. It's important to recognize the value organized sports hold beyond the game itself. Being a part of a team early in life can help you identify your strengths in any of these five areas, and they certainly propel your success further in your personal life and career. On behalf of all soccer players out there, soccer players do it better.