3 years ago, at the age of 43, I started playing regular football (or soccer if you are reading this in the US).
I play at least once or twice a week, some times more. Conservatively, in the past 3 years, I think I’ve played at least 300 games. Mostly 6-a-side, but the occasional 11-a-side. I’ve played with many different players in different teams on different days/nights.
Essentially, whoever turns up plays, and we simply divide the players into two groups, with one team wearing dark colours, and the other wearing whites.
That’s how we roll here in Bath!
As far as my football history and talent goes, there is very little. I have always kicked a ball around, and played at school until the age of 11. Between 11 and 43, there was very little footballing. A few games here and there, but nothing in the regular way I play now.
I love playing football, and playing regularly has given me a much greater appreciation of the beautiful game.
Here are my first five takeaways from playing football. I’ll post another five at a later date. Somewhere in here are lessons which relate to Enterprise LEADER. I’ll see where they are at the end!
1 – Practice makes you better — but some people just have natural talent.
When I started playing football 3 years ago, I was rubbish. Total rubbish. Not quite two left feet, but poor control, lack of positional awareness, poor passing decisions. Too much wasted effort for little return. Not contributing much to the team.
Three years on and I have certainly improved and have found my groove. I’m still pretty poor at football compared to most of the other guys I play with/against, but it is true that practice makes perfect.
But for all the hard work I put into a game, there will always be players who are just more naturally talented. They make the game look easy. They have so much time on the ball it is untrue. They always (mostly) make the perfect pass or decision – even under pressure. They can dictate they game in a way others cannot.
Why are they so good? Probably because they have been kicking a ball around since the age of 4 and played competitive matches all of their life. Playing in a team with players with natural talent can make you a better player.
Takeaway: It is good to have a naturally talented player in your team as they make you raise your game.
2 – You need a balanced team to win.
I’ve played in teams full of attackers and no defenders. I’ve played in teams where people do not pass, or only pass to certain players. I’ve played in teams where the average age is over 40 and we have played against a team of 20 somethings.
To win matches, you need a balanced team, with the right players in the right places. You cannot ‘consistently’ win a game with a team full of attackers and no defenders. You cannot ‘consistently’ win games where people do not pass or play as a united team. You cannot ‘consistently win games’ with a team of over 40 (some 50’s) playing against a team of 20 somethings. You need a balanced team — in all regards.
Takeaway: You need the right people in the right places to win a match.
3 – Hard/smart work can trump natural talent (sometimes).
Occasionally, I play in a team of superstars, or against a team of superstars. Either way, the superstars should win… but they don’t always. Usually it’s because the opposition works hard, plays good simple passing football, hustles, runs into space, marks the opposition out of the game, never gives up. They get the fundamentals right.
This is not always the case, as a balanced team of superstars will usually cruise every match, but hard/smart work can also win.
Takeaway: The only substitute for hard/smart work is natural talent.
4. You must play to your strengths.
I’m a great believer that for a team to win, you need players who are playing to their strengths. For example. One player I play with is a fantastic natural defender. He can read the game superbly well, time his tackles, close players down, snuff out the opposition. He is also great at taking the ball from the keeper and starting an attack from the back. But play him upfront, he can be all over the place and his talent is wasted.
I am at my most comfortable playing further up the pitch. I like defending from the front, playing telling balls through to somebody running on, and scoring the odd poachers goal myself. I think that is where I make the most contribution to the team (it also doesn’t matter as much if I loose the ball up front, rather than loosing it in my own third of the pitch).
Time and time again I’ve seen players play their best matches in their preferred position. They enjoy it more when they play to their strengths and make a more telling contribution. Sometimes clearly you need to play players out of position to balance the team, but on the whole, the best results come when players play to their own strengths.
Takeaway: best results come from players playing to their strengths.
5 – You need on-field leaders.
I cannot understate the importance of an on-field leader to raise the performance of a team. A good captain can drive people forward often to victory. A good captain inspires through their action and words. They encourage players to work hard, advise players to take a certain position, close a man down, make a certain run.
Done well, a good on-field leader can be the equivalent of an extra man. Done poorly, the same person can be a de-motivator, nuisance and annoyance.
I find that the best on-pitch leaders are the better players. Other players tend to respect the ‘better players’ as they know what they are doing, and speak from experience and with good insight.
Nothing however annoys me more than people moaning on the pitch without offering some constructive advice. Offer advice, ideas, suggestions and I will listen. Speak to me directly and I will listen and heed your advice. A general ‘come on whites’ — although well meaning, isn’t specific enough. I guess we are all different and respond in different ways. Some people don’t want ‘constructive input’, others (like me) do.
A good leader understands the players in their team and does whatever is needed to get the best from each player.
That said, there are very few good leaders in the games I have played in. You soon know when you are playing in (or against) a team with one because of the difference they make.
Takeaway: You need a leader in your team who can inspire others to raise their game. A good leader can be the difference between winning and loosing.
So, there are the first five of my take-aways from playing football during the past 3 years. I’ll write another five next week.
In many ways, football teams are similar to business teams. You need balance, you need a leader, you need talent, you need to play to your strengths, you need to work hard and smart.
With Enterprise LEADER, we help develop leaders and teams, so that they can win in business.