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What startups can learn from the world cup

By July 6, 2010One Comment3 min read

south african fans vuvuzela

I’m an avid soccer fan and student of the game (20 years of playing + 3 years coaching), and just like millions of other people around the world have been watching way more soccer than I normally would recently. Along the way I realized there are a lot of similarities we as entrepreneurs can learn from watching the highest caliber soccer in the world being played.

Every startup needs to have people filling roles the same way a soccer (futbol) team does. You need a coach/or captain to set out the overall strategy (founder/ceo), you need a playmaker on the field who can distribute the ball (project manager), you need people who can defend (support team), people who can attack (programmers/developers), and people who can finish (the rockstars/head developer).

What role are you playing in your startup? (coach/field leader/supporting cast/rockstar)
I think its vitally important to know your position in a startup, and from there determine your roles. Each and every player on the field knows what their role is if they plan on being successful. Each player knows that they are responsible for certain tasks and areas of the field from both an offensive and defensive standpoint.

Are you studying game tape?
All of the top teams in any sport, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, etc. have scouts that watch what the others are doing. They analyze game tape. They study patterns. They look for holes. They build plans to adapt to these tendencies. In your startup, you might not have a distinct person for this, but whomever is in charge should be doing periodic surveys of their competition, jotting down the tactics they can readily observe. Don’t focus solely on your competition though, you need to be observing your own game play as well. Looking for ways to optimize your strategy, teamwork, and performance.

Are you changing your strategy?
A good soccer team is like a good startup in their attack. They pivot. Sloppy soccer players have tunnel vision, they see one straight line, and attack. They don’t see what’s going on in their periphery and don’t use their teammates well. A smart offense thinks both vertically (up and down the field) as well as horizontally (side to side). Smart offenses know to shift their attack, to change their gameplan on the fly. They are pivoting.

Are you finishing?
Anyone who watched the World Cup in South Africa saw that the teams who were capable of finishing were the ones who won. You might think this is common sense, but there were games were top-tier teams were getting lots of opportunities, but failing to capitalize and losing left and right. Many teams that were on the cusp of greatness were lacking someone to finish, and when it came down to it if you aren’t scoring you aren’t moving onto the next stage. In business it holds true that if you aren’t finishing, you aren’t making money. Many startups get caught up in these endless cycles of product development and miss their opportunities.

So what do you think your startup can learn from the World Cup?

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