Varun Dutt: What soccer teaches you

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No team will ever win with one person doing all the work

Soccer is not as popular a sport as cricket is in India. Thus, while the rest of the world is passionately excited about this game, most Indians, including entrepreneurs, might find it less interesting. However, small business owners in India would benefit by joining the rest of the world in watching the World Cup as there is a lot in it to learn from.

A number of soccer players and coaches teach a number of important lessons to budding entrepreneurs. For example, according to The Entrepreneur, Arturo Vidal, the Juventus midfielder is poised to lead the Chilean team against Spain, The Netherlands and Australia in the “Group of Death.” Vidal has grown into the best all-rounder in Italy, and perhaps the world. What makes Vidal so indispensable is his ability to cover every outfield position. While he plays as a central midfielder, he is also excellent at scoring goals (he bagged 11 in the 13/14 Series A Campaign) and making tackles (averaged 4.1 per game, 3rd in the league). Like Vidal, as an entrepreneur, one should be able to cover every position and fill in where and when needed in one’s business.

Arturo Vidal’s Juventus teammate is Andrea Pirlo. The midfield maestro will play in his third World Cup and looks to help Italy build on their Euro 2012 second place finish. Andrea Pirlo’s long-term success could be attributed to the adjustment he has made with age. At his age, for example, he no longer has the stamina to track up and down the ground. According to The Entrepreneur, while younger midfielders (like Vidal) run wildly around the pitch, Pirlo seems to never break out in anything beyond a gentle jog. Yet, according to different sources, he continues to be one of the best midfielders in the world because of his vision, tactical positioning and ability to place the ball anywhere on the field. Like Pirlo, as an entrepreneur, one needs to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances in one’s business. Thus, if one wants to continue one’s growth and help the business, one will have to adjust.

The next example from soccer is Jurgen Klinsmann, the US national team coach, who created a controversy when he decided to evict Landon Donovan from the final 23-player list. This, after Donovan won the Fifa Best Young Player Award in the 2002 World Cup and, a few weeks ago, became the MLS all-time leading scorer. However, Jurgen dropped Donovan because he felt that Donovan’s game had slipped and was put off by what he saw as inconsistent motivation.

For an entrepreneur, building a great team doesn’t always mean building with great employees in one’s company. If a person doesn’t fit the profile or doesn’t have the “DNA” of what the entrepreneur is trying to build, then no set of great individual skills or talent will make the fit between company and employee work. Ultimately, as a leader in one’s business, it will be up to the entrepreneur to make the right choice of who to bring on board.

Furthermore, an entrepreneur could learn a general set of mantras from watching the game of soccer. Some of these include, developing solid, interconnected relationships “off” the field to enhance interaction and communication “on” field; even if the game has ended, it doesn’t mean it’s over (thus, the motto is to keep trying); and, that conditions surrounding an entrepreneur don’t dictate the outcome — unless one allows them to.

There are other skills to borrow. For example, the US is considered to be an underdog in the World Cup. In fact, they are in a group with two of the game’s biggest names, Germany and Portugal. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try their hardest. In 2010, the US tied with England and that itself was considered a victory.

The underdog is an old theme that has replayed itself in the entrepreneurial form: the start-up vs the established corporation. As a start-up owner, sometimes it feels impossible to compete against the big brand names. It is true that established corporations have more money to spend on resources, advertising and talent. However, as an entrepreneur, it is important to know what one has that the established corporation does not possess. For example, one may have teamwork, the power of quick, efficient communication and the willingness to take risks.

It is a fact that a single player simply cannot support the entire team on his shoulders. No team will ever win with one person doing all of the work. It is easier to come out on top, when players are able to communicate and use their strengths and weaknesses effectively. Teamwork is as essential in entrepreneurship as it is in soccer. In both the cases, working in teams and collaborating with others is inevitable.

Soccer requires timing, precision, and patience. It’s all about creating the right circumstances that allow a team to maintain control of the ball and the field. Similarly, being an entrepreneur is all about patiently waiting and finding that rare window with the opportunity to achieve success and growth. It’s about investing the right amount of time and energy.

Finally, as soccer players run around the field for 90 minutes straight, running a small business gives you little time for rest. In small start-ups, it is not uncommon to work 10-hour days to get everything done. Like soccer players, you have to take whatever comes at you and think of the next best possible move on the spot.

It is true that after four years of waiting, the 2014 Fifa World Cup is upon us. Whether it’s covering a different part of the business like Vidal, or adapting to a new role like Pirlo, one thing is certain that this World Cup will generate new ideas and insights for entrepreneurs to apply to their own businesses.

(Varun Dutt is on the faculty of Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi. He is also knowledge editor of Financial Chronicle)


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