Long title. I know. I just couldn’t find a better title. I’ve been thinking a lot about the dynamics of the last few soccer teams with which I’ve played. From full-time recreational teams to much more competitive teams, I’ve really started to notice a trend, and it’s really fascinating. I’m sure if I really thought about it, I would see similar trends at the Box as well, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for another day.

The really unique thing about soccer that isn’t true in basketball is the need for a general consensus on how the game should be played. I’m picking on basketball because both sports have a strong playground, pick-up culture. Watch a pick-up basketball game though, and you’ll generally see a few studs, and then a bunch of pretty good players. The studs dominate the action. For a full 11 on 11 soccer match, I’ve never really found the same dynamic though. It could be that I’ve just never been around stud pick-up soccer players, but more often than not with that many moving pieces on the field, there needs to be much more cohesion, and a much better general understanding of how the game is played.

And yet, I spent a full season this past fall and spring with a team that had a really tough time doing even the basics right. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why things were as bad as they were. There was some low hanging fruit. No subs for a bunch of games. A lack of general fitness. An ever changing set of players on the field. But really, I think, it comes down to the fact that we didn’t agree as a unit on what the basics of the game were.

So I started to think about what it takes to get everyone on the same page. I think first, and foremost, it’s a must that there be a strong leader who dictates direction. If there’s no single voice driving towards a common goal, then there really isn’t a chance for success. We had that strong voice, but I don’t think that there was a team-wide respect for that voice. I’m not sure how to resolve that issue. That’s much more of an interpersonal issue. At a company, the resolution to that problem is hire slow, fire fast. Not so sure what it is on a soccer team where you can only get 10 people to show up for a game.

Given a strong voice, what’s the next step. My summer soccer team provided some insights to that question. The next important step is a willingness to adapt one’s own style to one that fits in with achieving the team’s goal. I don’t think this comes naturally to people, nor do I think that this is very easy. I’m convinced that one can be doing exactly what they think is right for the team’s goal, but in fact they are actively working against it.

This is where I think listening and giving feedback are so critical. And I think both aspects of this final step are the hardest bits for people. We neither like giving direct feedback nor do we like receiving direct criticism. And yet, it’s the quickest way to get where we’re all trying to go. This weekend, I kept asking for the wingers to be more conservative on the weak side to help with defensive counter attacks, and yet we consistently didn’t have the weak side defender we needed. Was the thing to do to directly say, “Person A, you need to be more conservative in the attack”? Now that I think about it, the answer to that question is clearly yes. Not doing that meant that the whole team fell short of achieving its team goal.

I’m going to step up at the next match and make sure that I push others to push themselves to be better, but to also push me to be better. I’ll let you know how it goes.