Don't look now, but it seems that Americans might finally like soccer. (Or else, do they just like the World Cup?) Regardless, TV ratings are up, and I can't begin to count how many people I've seen walking the streets of New York wearing jerseys lately. When I was hustling to find somewhere to watch the United States play Portugal on Sunday, the problem wasn't finding a place with the game on; instead, it was finding someplace that wasn't overflowing with fans out into the street.
I only began playing and paying attention to the game when I was in my 20s, but since then I've had the zeal of a convert. It's not just the excitement of the sport itself. Instead, what I love about soccer is the degree to which it reflects larger themes. Follow it closely, and you'll learn things over time that give you advantages in business and life. Here are 5 examples of what I mean.
1. Demographics are destiny.
Let's start with an important "why"--why soccer is gaining popularity in the United States. Two of the biggest reasons are likely simple demographics. There are simply more young people who grew up playing the sport (and who have never known an America that didn't have professional soccer), and there is a growing population of immigrants from places where the game has always been more popular.
Think about that when you're starting a business or choosing a career. How big is the potential market? Is it growing or shrinking? Yes, you should follow your passions and do what you care about--but why not find a way to do so that serves a growing market?
2. Your people are your most important decisions.
Everybody says their people are their most important resource, but in soccer it's true. Teams get only three substitutions per game, so the coach's lineup decision at the outset is often the most important decision of the game.
Similarly, the people you recruit to your organization, or the friends you choose, can be the most important factors in determining how successful you are. Show me who you spend your time with, and I'll bet I can predict how successful you are.
3. Your worst moments can define you.
There's no way to write this column without referring to "the biting." Yes, the biting. Luis Suarez of Uruguay is one of the most talented players on earth, but because of his insane tendency to bite opposing players--even writing that seems ridiculous--he's probably known to more people at the biter than the striker.
Think of the companies you've known who have managed to squander tons of goodwill with a single bad experience, or the personal relationships you've soured on because a bad interaction suddenly seemed to outweigh all the good. It's unfortunate, but it's a human tendency. Keep it in mind.
4. Learn the rules.
Soccer seems easy, right? Kick the ball in the other team's goal, and don't use your hands. Yet, the fine print can be byzantine. Just witness the contortions people are going through trying to figure out what has to happen for the United States to advance to the next round on Thursday. Or else, try to explain quickly to a new fan how "offsides" works.
Life lesson: If you learn the rules better than your adversaries have, you'll sometimes find advantages that they don't even know exist.
5. Play through the final whistle.
The fact that soccer is generally a low-scoring game means that matches are rarely over until the final whistle. Heck, you don't even know for sure exactly when the final whistle will come. (If you watched Portugal come back to tie the U.S. the other day, you'll know what I mean.)
This is more of an inspirational advantage, but a key to success in many endeavors. Second only to the number of people who fail simply because they're afraid to try, soccer teaches that people fail because they give up before time has truly run out.
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