What Can You Learn From Watching a Five Year Old Play Soccer?

My son started school this year. As he turned five our weeks started to fill with sporting commitments. In particular for us hockey (the field/grass/artificial turf kind) and soccer.

Every time I watch one of his games of either hockey or soccer I am reminded of this post Business Strategy and Kindergarten Soccer by Nick Malik

On the Inside Architecture blog for Microsoft, Nick writes the following back in July 2011:

It is interesting to watch very young kids play soccer, because the instructions are so simple: kick the ball into the goal.  With instructions like that, what do you get?  Bumblebees, of course.

He goes  on later to note the following:

“The behavior of the players is simple.  Everyone wants to score.  No one wants to pass.  No one plays a position because that is too difficult to explain to a five year old.  Rules like “offsides” are simply ignored.  The kids get dirty and get their exercise.  That’s all the parents really want.  Most everyone is happy. “

The he makes the link to business strategy and behaviour sometimes seen in management.

“Take a company with a highly competitive upper middle management layer, and toss in a business strategy.  It’s like tossing a soccer ball into a group of kindergartners.  Everyone goes for the ball.  No one steps back to take the pass, because no one trusts anyone, and no one is going to be held to their position.  There are no real referees.  Add referees and the players have to start to mature!  The parents (investors) can put in referees, but if they don’t, the game looks like Kindergarten Soccer.  Lots of energy.  Everyone gets dirty.  A few times, someone scores a goal.”

I only selected a few excerpts to quote to get you interested.Please do go read his whole post as it makes many more great observations and draws interesting parallels.

Here are my three takeaways in this post.

One Person makes the Final Kick, the Team Scores the Goal

Everyone in a team has a role.

pabloWhen I played hockey I was a defender. My primary role was to stop the opponents getting anywhere near our goal and scoring.

It was more than that though. At least it was as I got better and playes for higher teams.

From the back we could see where the space was. We could communicate with the midfield players helping them see other team mates in the open or opponents about to tackle them. We could receive a pass back to us and redirect it to the other side of the field, playing away from the opposition and into space.

Our role was more than defense. It was to guide the team based on what we could see from where we were.

And if we were really quick and could spot a gap and we could get the ball all the way to the forwards while the opposition weren’t paying attention.

My point is that the strikers would never get the ball if the team behind them did not keep the it away from the opposition and pass to them.

Everyone had to work tohether find the best route to the guys at the front.

In the work context we all have roles to play.

We can’t all be the figure-head.

And they can’t do it on their own.

When you know your role and your strengths you can play to that and be a valuable team member.

I found another attribute of the Business Analyst Definition

You think it would be easy to define what a Business Analyst is or does. You would of course be wrong. Just look through any LinkedIn BA group (like this one or this one) for that question and then at the responses while everyone presents their view.

The best descriptions I have come across, that resonate with me, are:

To this I have viewed my own role as:

To that list I would now add Referee.

Someone has to be as impartial as possible to keep everyone focused on their roles and the objective. In the absence of anyone else, the BA can do this.

After all it is not the BA’s problem being solved, it is the Clients.

Practice is difficult in a Business

In sport going to practice is a key part of the process. You don’t turn up at a game without having practised. Well maybe you do, but you at least consider it …

The military practice too. They need to trust in their basic skills before they get into a stressful situation. They need to fall-back on routine and memory. They aren’t trying to figure out the basics in the heat of battle.

But have you ever ‘practised’ at work?

Maybe you were lucky and got to go on a training course once upon a time. But that was one day.

I am being slightly disingenuous.

I learnt the value of practice in relation to Data Migration years ago from Jason, an experienced HR and Payroll data migration consultant.

He practised his migrations so often that he go less busy the closer to go live.

He got less stressed.

He knew everything that was going to happen at cut-over.

That was practice in action.

In this context I have also become interested in the role of habits at work. In particular the small habits. These you can practice. Doing all the small things right, all the time.

A post for another time.


Now you have read Nicks article this metaphor will stick. It has for me. You will notice it at play at work and picture the swarm around the ball. At least it will provide light relief in that moment … or alternatively you can’t watch your kids play without thinking about work …

Either way let me know what you thought of while you read his blog post.

I am always interested in what other people get out of the same information.

If you want to learn more join my email list here.

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