What Startup Teams Can Learn from the World Cup

I’ve been obsessed with the World Cup matches over the last few weeks.

I find myself marveling at the elegance of some of the national teams. They have a way of moving fluidly like an amoeba, while striking out flexibly in order to defend or make a goal.

As a leadership coach and as someone who plays on a team that produces monthly coach training programs, I couldn’t help but see distinctions and similarities between these talented national soccer teams and any startup team out there.

This is what I got:

  • Your only priority: Getting the ball into the goal: Every movement and communication is geared toward that.
  • Connection, trust and intimacy: Each teammate knows the other teammates so well they don’t have to say much to be understood. Communication is easy breezy.
  • Own your position: Know your job down cold. When everyone knows what to do and fully embraces their role, the team moves faster.
  • Keep moving and look around for gaps to fill: Don’t just stand there! Something can always done. Know how to play in another person’s position. Go beyond being told what to do.
  • Back to basics: Players at the level of the World Cup practice the same drills since toddlerhood. Passing, dribbling, shooting and running long distances is normal. How can you incorporate “basics” into daily business?
  • Surrender is necessary: In soccer, after the 90th minute, extra time can be stopped at a referee’s discretion. That means you keep playing until the referee blows the whistle, not by counting down the time on the clock. There’s little control in that scenario. In business, you may have a deadline and other circumstances may get in the way. Who do you choose to be about in the face of those circumstances?
  • Take care of number 1: Your priority is to be available to support your team. That means taking care of yourself first.
  • Use your team: Don’t know what to do? Pass the ball to the nearest available teammate. In non-soccer terms, reach out and pass the work along. On a tightly knit team, your colleagues are happy to do the work and there’s probably a breakthrough in it for everyone involved.
  • What if your team isn’t tightly knit: Asking for support or providing it can be a great way to cultivate relationships.
  • Feel your feelings: When things don’t go as expected, World Cup players express themselves in the moment in reaction to an injury, a perceived foul or a loss. By feeling their feelings, they’re able to walk off setbacks or failures and move on.
  • Be passionate: Players on the field who give it their all are definitely at risk for getting their hearts broken. But the payoff in being “all in” makes it worth it.
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Written by:
I want to live in a world where everyone says what’s on their mind and cats are allowed in restaurants. As a coach for Spark Plugs, I transform inane chatter into high-altitude conversations that set businesses owners + their teams on fire. When I'm not coaching or training folks who spark change, I spend my evenings working on a comedic novel and chasing my cat around.
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