Competition, Chemistry, and Grit: 3 Lessons Soccer Can Teach You About Business

November 5, 2021

  • Whether you follow soccer closely or still think a throw-in is when everyone contributes gas money for the ride home, the sport contains many lessons that translate to business.
  • Soccer players get tackled and make mistakes throughout every game. Business leaders make bad judgments, despite their best attempts. In both situations, your team is relying on you to get back up and keep pushing.
  • Chemistry is the missing ingredient a soccer team — or a business — needs to turn a set of average players into an unstoppable force.

If you can sustain the pressure of millions of soccer fans praying that you’ll score that final penalty, facing down a board of investors will be a breeze.

Soccer lacks the tactical finesse of football and the methodical pacing of baseball. But as a game built on teamwork, agility, and conditioning, it has a lot of lessons that apply to building a business. 

Don’t just take it from us. Haley Rosen is the founder and CEO of Just Women’s Sports, a media company that is dedicated to covering women’s sports at all levels. Before moving to the press box, Haley was a midfielder for Stanford University’s soccer team (go Cardinals!) and briefly played professionally.

If you’ve listened to the prior episode of For Your EARS Only —  Wiss’ exclusive 10-episode private podcast — you will remember the idea of cross-pollination. 

Here, based on Episode Five, Haley explains the lessons she picked up on the soccer field and took into her business career, including carrying on after you’ve screwed up, focusing on what you can control, and why a team of superstars isn’t necessarily a good thing.

When you lose the ball, get it back

If you get tackled or misjudge a kick and one of your opponents gets the ball, you can’t spend the rest of the game moping. 

Being beaten to the ball is part of the game. Your team needs you to shake off that slip-up and focus on what you can do to help regain the momentum.

Once your team has recovered the ball, don’t let the fear of slipping up again stop you from calling for it. If you’re open, shout to them to pass. They won’t hold your mistake against you if you prove you’re mentally tough enough to get past it.

The business translation: Admit when you’re wrong, and don’t sulk

Making decisions that don’t pan out or just being stuck with plain old bad luck are both part of building a business. 

If something goes wrong, your employees will respect you a whole lot more if you can admit it and find a solution than if you close your office door and brood over your error.

Don’t trip yourself up focusing on your competitors

Going into a match focused on your competitors’ strategies distracts you from the factors you can actually control. The same goes for thinking too much about what your teammates are doing or about anything that’s happening on the sidelines.

You will play best when you put all your attention on yourself. 

You can’t control what other people will bring to the match. All you can do is prepare beforehand to give yourself the best chance of playing as well as you can. 

And once you’re on the field, concentrate on where you are in relation to the ball and how you’re going to get it where you want it to go — not on what a rival player is doing better than you. 

The business translation: Don’t get distracted by industry competition 

Too often, business leaders get distracted by what their competitors are doing instead of thinking about what they can improve in their own company.

Perhaps the industry newcomer has released a new product that’s increasing its market share and eating into yours. Or maybe it’s caught on to a business model you’ve been using, and you’re concerned it’s going to start catching up.

Whatever is going on in the wider industry, the only part you can control is what you do in your company. 

In some ways, competition is a good sign. If you were the only one in the stands at a soccer game, you’d probably assume the teams you were watching weren’t very good, because no one showed up to watch them. In business, seeing a lot of new competitors moving in indicates that the industry you’re in is hot.

Also, remember that your company has one thing none of your rivals do: you. You’ve made it this far, and you get to decide if you’re going to keep pushing.

Concentrate on putting into place the best practices you can, finding the best people, and making the best product or service. Stop looking out of the corner of your eye, and focus on the goal you’re aiming for.

Who’s on your team can make the biggest difference

Since soccer is a team sport, how well players gel together as well as each player’s understanding of their role can make a big difference to the team’s success rates. 

A team made up of superstars will probably struggle to work together. You can’t have 10 players trying to be the star scorer with no one thinking about how to get the ball from one end of the pitch to the other.

However, if your team of average players has chemistry so strong it looks like a collective psychic connection, they can run circles around teams that have much better technical skills. 

When everyone knows what they need to do and does it because they understand their responsibility to their teammates, the team becomes much greater than the sum of its parts.

The business translation: Hire for chemistry as well as skills

Like soccer teams, businesses also rely on teamwork that’s based on mutual respect and everyone knowing their role.

When you’re hiring, check that candidates are a culture fit. Even if they have impressive credentials on paper, they can damage your team dynamics if they clash with established employees.

One important factor to think about is whether a candidate will be willing to do the less glamorous tasks it takes to build a business. Sometimes you’ll be better served by someone who has average skills and a positive approach than a superstar talent with an attitude to match.

This article is based on an episode of For Your EARS Only, the limited-run, 10-episode podcast series created exclusively for Wiss clients.


Reach out to a Wiss team member for more information or assistance.

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