Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Take a Page from U.S. Soccer—Use Your Head and Your Best Leg

And finish what you start!
Don’t know the difference between a soccer ball and a beach ball? That’s OK. You can still learn a thing or two from the U.S. men’s national soccer team that’s currently representing our country at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

We’ll resist the temptation to use the cliché “it’s never over till it’s over.” You can thank the New York Times today for dusting off that overused malapropism attributed to legendary New York Yankees manager, Yogi Berra. What irked us about the
Times article was that it implied the overachieving U.S. soccer somehow got shafted by the referee on Sunday when Portugal scored a dramatic game tying goal as the final seconds of “stoppage time” wound down. That’s right. Soccer has a large digital game clock on the scoreboard—but the “official” clock is the one that only the head referee sees on his wrist watch. The head ref decides when a game is officially over.

As President Obama would say, “let’s be perfectly clear.” The U.S. didn’t get screwed. We let our guard down for a second and didn’t finish the job after 95 minutes of superb play against one of the world’s best players and best teams. In a flash, near-certain advancement into the final round of 16 teams vanished as quickly as the temporary aerosol spray lines that the referees use to mark free kicks on the field.

The last-second letdown by the U.S. defense was like not proofing the last slide of your big keynote presentation, or like not checking the numbers on the last table of your annual report to the board or like not checking the last job reference on a potential key hire’s resume. It always comes back to get you.

Bottom line: You have to stay 100 percent focused 100 percent of the time. You never know where great danger or great opportunity lurks. We tell the kids on my son’s baseball team that if you’re not paying attention in the field, the ball will find you. It’s remarkable how often that really happens. Doesn’t matter if it’s the starting shortstop or the backup right fielder. Same thing in business.

Here’s the thing about stoppage time

Unlike most American sports that can’t seem to go more than 30 seconds without a time-out, two minutes of commercials, and extended discussions and high fiving between players, coaches and refs, the soccer clock just keeps running. That’s right, the clock keeps running even if the ball goes into the stands or an injured player is writhing in pain on the field. Just like real life, time never stops. That being said, soccer referees take note of injury time, out of bounds and other delays in the otherwise continuous flow of the game. As “regulation” time winds down on the official scoreboard clock—World Cup soccer plays two 45 minute halves—a referee holds up a huge Plexiglass placard alerting both teams and the spectators how much “extra time” has been added to the game. In the case of the Portugal vs. U.S. game it was 5 minutes.

Just like in business. You can’t control everything that comes your way, but you CAN control the way you react to every situation that comes your way. The known variable: The refs allotted five minutes of stoppage to the game. You don’t need a sophisticated NASCAR timing system to know that five minutes is approximately 300 seconds—not 10 minutes or 15 minutes or 20 minutes. IS IT REALLY THAT HARD TO STAY FOCUSED a few seconds longer than you expected? You fight hard until you hear the final whistle, then you shake hands with the other team and do it all again the next day. Finish what you start.

NOTE: Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.
Meanwhile, there have been some bright spots for the U.S. Very few of the global soccer cognoscenti expected much from the U.S. squad. But here they are, two weeks into the tournament, still undefeated in one of the toughest groups of the tournament. A respectable showing Thursday against powerhouse Germany and the Yanks could advance to the final 16—it just didn’t have to be this hard.

In their earlier first round game, the U.S. defeated African powerhouse Ghana 2-1 when super substitute John Brooks rose above the Ghanaian defense with four minutes left in the game to drive a header low and hard, just out of the reach of the goalkeeper for the game winning goal. Brooks become the first U.S. sub ever to score a goal in World Cup play.

As advertising exec, Are Traasdahl, explained in a recent New York Times interview you need to follow the “better leg” theory. Whether in business or on the soccer field, everyone is better at certain things and not as good at others, he said. You need to understand each teammate’s strengths and weakness and put them in position to use their “better leg” as often as possible. That’s what U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann did so well against Ghana game and not so well against Portugal. Let’s hope he gets it together against his former countrymen from Germany.

TAGS: U.S. World Cup soccer, Yogi Berra, stoppage time, Jonathan Brooks, Are Traasdahl, Jurgen Klinsmann

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