While the captain of a soccer team and a small business owner may seem worlds apart at first glance, take a critical lens to both roles and you can find striking similarities between the two.
Both require strong leadership, effective communication, strategic decision-making and the ability to inspire and motivate team members toward a common goal. Those who succeed in either role share similar foundational skills and must possess a strong understanding of their real-time environment and long-range goals.
Soccer is on the minds of many people now because the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ takes place this summer – my company, Xero, is an Official Partner. We recently conducted a survey of 1,197 U.S. residents about soccer and we found that a large percentage of them lack an understanding of soccer’s rules.
Similarly, some people who dream of launching and growing a small business likely don’t know the “rules” of what it takes to get their idea off the ground and lead a team of employees toward a common goal. Education can go a long way in changing that, though, and inspiring a brand-new generation of entrepreneurial (and perhaps soccer-savvy) business owners.
No two teams are the same
According to Xero’s survey, less than half of the general population understand how soccer team formations work. Most believe that every squad is required to run the same formation (which is not the case). A similar finding showed that a surprising 64% of respondents wrongly identified the number of soccer players on the field for each side (that being 11).
In the small-business world, the analogy is that the leader (captain) must be able to master the art of recruiting, hiring and retaining the right people for the right positions. Your talent strategy and team framework ought to depend on the type of business you’re running and your unique consumer needs, much like how a soccer captain studies and fine-tunes the formation each week to best confront their competition.
For example, a relatively simple business might need a bookkeeper (on staff or outsourced) to record financial transactions and organize data, but a more complex company may need a Certified Public Accountant (again, on staff or outsourced) to provide deeper financial analysis and strategy.
In both worlds, all roads lead back to a need for savvy, holistic and attentive leadership. Like a soccer captain, owners need to have a clear understanding of the most important piece of the puzzle: the people. In soccer, the most successful teams leverage the individual talents of their players to create a formidable unit. The “starting XI” on any given soccer team is not too dissimilar to the tight-knit employee rosters that most small businesses employ, highlighting the similar need for owners to recognize and understand the unique talents and skills of their team members. For example, maybe the new sales rep you just hired is also a social media sage who could help you with digital marketing. An entrepreneur who’s tapped into the individuality of each employee can effectively delegate responsibilities and capitalize on their varied strengths.
Shepherding ambition & communicating openly
Just as a leader on the soccer field must instill a winning mentality to spark their players to operate at peak performance, a small business owner bears the duty of establishing a clear vision and direction for their team that provides a sense of purpose and motivation. Soccer captains must comprehend the personal goals and aspirations of their players in order to tailor their leadership strategies to bring out the best in each individual. In a small business, an entrepreneur who understands what motivates their team can encourage them more effectively, actively boosting performance, job satisfaction, retention and a stronger culture of innovation.
For instance, an owner may have people performing rote tasks, like emailing out invoices and following up to collect payment. But by investing in technology to automate tasks like this, an entrepreneur can inspire their people to stretch their skills.
Establishing clear communication channels is another fundamental aspect of building a well-oiled organization. In soccer, effective communication between players is vital for coordination, teamwork and executing the right plays. Similarly, in a small business, a culture of open communication between team members ensures cohesion and keeps everyone working efficiently toward common objectives. Again, technology can play a key role here. From software that enables people to share handwritten notes and drawings via the cloud to holistic employee-review systems that let people see and react to feedback in real-time, tech can make communication easier.
Running the length of the pitch to score
Patience and high stamina are essential traits for reaching long-term goals in soccer and business. Xero’s survey found that just over one-third of U.S. respondents could accurately estimate the distance covered by the average soccer player during a match: It’s between 4 and 7 miles. Being properly conditioned for the marathon that is business ownership is yet another concept parallel to the fitness that soccer players must work toward to be able to compete for a full game without faltering. Like a midfielder must dribble around defenders, entrepreneurs must navigate uncertainties in the marketplace, adjust strategies on the fly against savvy competition and overcome both physical and mental setbacks without flaming out.
Given the lengthy and demanding nature of both professional soccer and business ownership, maintaining your wellbeing is paramount. Taking time for recovery is important to maintaining physical longevity and a passion for your work. And as only 19% of American small business owners claim to wake up feeling fresh and rested at least most of the time, it’s clear that the sporting world’s emphasis on ample rest ought to be adopted in the entrepreneurial world.
Whether you’re at the drawing board for a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ 2023 semifinal or a new product launch for your small business, many of the same principles apply when striving for success. By recognizing and applying these shared principles, entrepreneurs can bring a winning approach to maximize the potential of their teams and inspire further growth in their companies.
Ben Richmond is the US Country Manager at Xero.