Use the World Cup to Change Your Game Plan!

 In Team Performance

Use the World Cup to Change Your Game Plan!

I love watching team sports. They are a living, breathing, inspiring leadership experience. That’s why I am glued to the World Cup for a month. This event delivers a remarkable education on talent, human nature, chemistry (or not!), coaching, strategy and results. Of course, my favorite part is the accountability. After each game is over, the metrics speak loud and clear.

Let me confess. I am not a soccer fan first. The Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA still hold my loyalty. But I’ve found myself caught up in the excitement and team spirit displayed on this international playing field. I have enjoyed following the underdog U.S. team as well as watching many other international teams go through their own process to win, lose, struggle and celebrate… not necessarily in that order. To me, that is the pure joy of it.

Watch the World Cup to enhance your leadership  

I encourage you to take advantage of the World Cup while you can. Catch any of the teams. It doesn’t even matter what country. Use each game to start identifying leadership patterns. The more you watch, the more opportunity you will have to see how different situations play out. As you form your own conclusions from your direct observations, you can apply the principles in new ways to your own role. I think you will be surprised at the positive results.

Here’s what I make a point to pay close attention to see:

Players. Who is playing with mad heart? Who is encouraging their teammates? Who is having a difficult conversation on the field? Who is smiling? Who’s got a terrible attitude? In general, observe what team leaders in various roles are doing that contribute — or take away from — the team’s overall performance. Then, be sure to notice what you think is working best or failing miserably.


Coaches. What is the coach doing? How does the coach interact with players, staff and fans? How does the coach’s presence impact the overall game? What are they saying? Notice how everyone pays close attention to the coach’s messages, verbal and nonverbal, alike.

Fans. What kinds of fans are present? How are they supporting and impacting the game? What does home court advantage mean in a (mostly) neutral location like Brazil? What does loyalty and team spirit mean to the players? Do you say “we” when you’re talking about the U.S. team? Or any other country’s team that you support for that matter? How does that word collectively impact the productivity of the teams?

Refs. Sometimes the refs get the call right. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes it’s just not fair. What can you notice from the reactions of players, coaches and fans that help the team achieve — or fall short of — their goals?

Want an example of people who have stood out for me so far? 

Take the U.S. team’s Clint Dempsey. His leadership is quiet and powerful. He models resilience. He beautifully demonstrates you don’t have to be an extroverted, charismatic leader to inspire others. His leadership allows others to speak up, where they otherwise might not. And what a leader he’s been, playing tough when seriously injured, and showing the will to win.

And then there is the U.S. men’s soccer coach, Jurgen Klinsmann. Despite being maligned in the media, he is actually an unusually positive, innovative coach who places a high value on performance over tactics.

I especially appreciate how Klinsmann has his player’s back. When U.S. team player, Michael Bradley lost possession of the ball and allowed a last second score by Portugal in game two, he drew a ton of criticism. Klinsmann defended him and praised Bradley’s influence on the field while he described how he is going to contribute even more going forward. This coach uses psychology well by combining heart with accountability.

5 Game changers you can take from the World Cup now. 

1. Develop a true sense of team.
Encourage every player — stars, starters and bench players — even your fans. When your team goes to penalty kicks, everyone on the team and in the stands needs to be cheering for the win, not just the players on the pitch. Teams are interdependent. Someone has to pass the ball for someone to score. A defender has to deny a goal for their offense to get possession again. And when someone does score, look at peoples’ faces, see what follows. You can easily recognize if that team’s spirit is positive, or if you need to provide a critical lift.

2. Create some fandom.
Look for new ways to boost loyalty and team pride. Now’s the time to create the fan base your team needs for success. Figure out a way to make your game stand out to engage people throughout the organization even more – and get more spectators to be on your side. You’ll know you’ve scored big when people wholeheartedly start to applaud your team throughout the company  and use the word “we.” That’s the true sign that everyone feels in it together.

3. Become a notorious optimist.
Create a sense of relentless possibilities that inspire excellent performance in spite of infrastructure, roadblocks and calls that aren’t fair. Have your players’ backs even when they aren’t at their best. And prod them a little to do even more, but not because they haven’t, because you believe they can.

4. Hold people accountable for performance.
Accountability is the magical equalizer. Yes, history and past performance matter. Still, hold your star players accountable like you do everyone else. That sends a message to the entire team that you are creating a level playing field. Who is going to perform at top levels when they know the star can get away with doing whatever they want? Not too many of us are willing to make the move Jurgen Klinsmann did to cut player, Landon Donovan, for not being quite as good as he once was. But what message did it send to the rest of the team? Clearly, no one is arguing the decision now, are they?

5. Be smart about rewards.
Everyone wants three things — respect, recognition and to make a meaningful contribution. Think about what you want? What recognition means the most to you? That’s a good measure for how your team most likely feels. Decide how you can reward individuals and the entire group for performance. This ensures everyone knows their role is not only important and valued but you appreciate their efforts.

Take these practices to heart. And use them where it matters most to you. Meanwhile, join me in watching the remainder of the World Cup and let’s glean as many new ideas as we can. I welcome hearing from you. Please share with me the most significant leadership in action that made an impression on you.