The Start-up Lessons from the Outstanding World of Soccer


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All this while one has known how any sport can develop a sense of friendliness among children along with developing team spirit in them. Although one may often win some lose some, a sport is all about wanting to win! Even losses can help one learn some of the most valuable lessons in life – one learns about discipline and approach, and importantly, how to win. Every game does have a hidden lesson for life, and soccer is no different.

Many-a-times, a business is referred to as a game! The winner, in this “game of business”, is known as an entrepreneur. The only difference in the game of business is that; the office becomes the playing field, and the players are the various companies that compete for customers in the industry. And yes, the competition within the ranks of business is just as fierce as on the playing field of sports. It’s interesting to explore some of the lessons that soccer as a sport incorporates in enabling a successful startup.

Planning and Motivation. One can draw a number of parallels between the world of entrepreneurs and the world of athletes. Such parallels help to give direction to business executives trying to succeed on the playing field of business.

A top soccer team is aware that it cannot stay on top for long with just a few star performers within the team. They have to plan strategically beforehand in hiring the right coach, a proper trainer, good nutritionist, and an experienced physical therapist. Also, all need to work in tandem to help propel the team to success. Similarly, for an entrepreneur; a business ‘coach’ is needed in the form of a consultant or mentor. Getting the right advice is a key to a successful business and developing a strategic plan is an important aspect in starting a new venture. A well-thought-out plan gives proper direction and guides a business towards growth along with maintaining an edge within the industry.

Just as a soccer coach plans the proceedings in each game; the consultant of a business advises on every move made. By drawing the similarities from soccer, an entrepreneur can take lessons and derive motivation before entering the business arena.

Role Understanding. In soccer, each player – striker, defender, midfielder or goalkeeper; play their specific roles to perfection. They are all clear about their positions but also know very well how to contribute to the team goal, by taking up other roles when the situation demands. Similarly, in a start-up venture, although each employee knows their responsibilities, they should always be ready to take up any additional one that comes their way for the overall business success. Just as in soccer, in business too, one needs to have a winning mentality, where everyone comes together and fights until the very last without giving up.

Sensing Alarm Signals. We have seen, how in soccer; the players, managers, and staff collectively; all know precisely where they are heading and what their goal is; they keep visualizing how to get there. Similarly, start-ups need to stay highly focused on where they are leading. In case they stray away from their focus and get distracted, it should immediately ring alarm bells.

Start-ups often try to beat time to launch and capture a segment of the market. When a startup is not particular or thoughtful about the type of business they plan to build, or what kind of people they want to attract, or how they want to treat their employees; they could risk falling prey to the typecast policies and behaviors that keep the industry undistinguishable. And, it could all begin with the hiring process! Then there could also be signals from disgruntled groups within a business, who may wrongly convey to people, that they are unwelcome.

To sum up the point, and tide over any alarm signals; a strong argument for diversity needs to be made, as there is ample evidence that diverse workforces produce better results than homogenous ones.

Positive Aggressiveness. Players in soccer, along with having a surprise element to their strategy in order to catch their opponent off-guard; execute it with precise aggression. Similarly, it’s required for any startup to take lessons from the sport of soccer and execute their strategies, especially marketing, with a positive and precise aggression.

The positive aggressiveness for a startup could reflect in any of their marketing strategies; be it e-mail marketing or blog posting or native advertising or social media advertising. It must be borne in mind that, it is the sales in any business that actually fuels up a startup. So, like in soccer, an aggressive strategy with a positive mindset is a must for any start-up to excel. Startups should focus aggressively on creating strategic partnerships with big companies, and positively target open innovation initiatives. All this is bound to help a startup to stand out and set it apart from the rest.

Understanding One’s Weaknesses and Limits. In the sport of soccer; stamina, agility, vision and intelligence, focus, athleticism, and technical abilities are the major strengths required. On the other hand, a team could also have weaknesses in the form of selfishness, impatience or laziness.

When starting a new business, it is necessary to look at the potential strengths and weaknesses. Though most start-ups are smaller initially, it does have its benefits that larger enterprises do not enjoy. But startups come along with some inherent weaknesses too. While startups may have flexibility and pool of talented employees, their shortcomings could include lack of capital or burden of responsibilities on their employees. Just like in soccer, how a team understands its limits and plays to its strengths; a startup venture needs to take the cue by balancing its strengths and weaknesses and function accordingly.

Teamwork Holds the Key. In the 2002 Soccer World Cup, Germany fielded a multicultural team that included players from Poland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, and Africa. They reached the final. Diversity apart, it was a collective team effort that propelled them to the finals.

It’s not just the combination of a great idea, a robust business model, and high financial resources that drive the success of a startup; it takes a lot more than that. One of the top criteria most investors look for when investing in a startup business is the functioning and character of the founding team. It is a group of people that come together who create a stable organization – in short, it’s the teamwork. Like in soccer, in a newly set up business too, seamless teamwork and coordination are as essential in building a successful startup. As startups usually compose of small teams; every detail and every person counts towards continuous progress. A startup can succeed if its team is supportive, collaborative and works together as a team. Teamwork holds the key!

Learning from Losses and Moving Ahead. In any sports, one wins, and one loses. In the sport of soccer, the best of teams when on the losing side, learn to swallow their pride and deal with their loss, and move ahead. As they move forward, they learn from their mistakes by analyzing the individual and team performance. They forget the past and move on by starting to think about the future.

They do not let one bad loss or failure bring down their confidence. Instead, they start believing in themselves to do well ahead. Learning from losses and moving forward is what any startup must learn from the sport of soccer! In any case, honesty is the best policy for a startup. By building relationships with people on a fairground, would undoubtedly lead to working with them again in the future. After all, startup life isn’t about looking backward but thrusting forward!

We all acknowledge, how all team sports are all about teamwork. But, the fluidity of soccer alters it a bit. Each player in the game of soccer has a specific role to play and an area to fill. Many times the players can find themselves in another part of the field or fill the position of another player. It should be borne in mind that successful teams always have a game plan and strategy initially. But they have the flexibility to quickly react and adapt depending on the way the opposing team is playing.

All players work in tandem, make split-second decisions without instruction from their coach, and their main focus never changes throughout the game - to net the ball in the opposition goal in the opponent’s goalpost! And that’s a lesson any startup should absorb. Indeed, startup lessons begin with the sport of soccer.

Neel Sinha
Neel Sinha is the creator of MyLnk. The innovative link shortener and URL management solution. The platform helps to shorten a link right away with great analytics. He is also the Founder & Principal Consultant at NFaktor and creator of the popular Comic Strip "Norman Liker." He has invented MyLoc, a new way to own your digital location pin. An IIM alumni, and an engineer with around 25 years of a successful professional career. He has excellent exposure to diverse markets, products, and solutions. Neel has traveled across the globe in sales and leadership roles.


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