Lessons From Football

July 12, 2020 |
Image taken by @kihomizuno at Elysian Park in Los Angeles

For the past two years, I have really gotten into soccer, which is referred to as football in most countries around the world. When I was younger I supported the team Manchester United, but honestly, I never watched a game, knew nothing of their history, and couldn’t tell you a player other than David Beckham. Two years ago I decided to immerse myself in the team. I learned that Manchester United is one of the most successful clubs in the history of football. They had one of the greatest coaches of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson. One thing that struck me was their club culture of giving youth a chance despite the inconsistencies that come from youth players. Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and since then United have not won much. The team has parted ways with three managers and are now on their fourth. The new coach is the beloved former United player Ole Gunnar Solksær, whose last-second game-winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final catapulted him to cult status. He started off his reign as coach by winning 8 games in a row (in football this is referred to as “on the bounce”). The style of play was much more pleasing to watch than the three previous managers and the mood around the club felt positive. After this initial positive run, the wheels started to come off. Injuries to key players saw the team win only 3 of their final 10 games and limp to a sixth-place finish in the English Premier League. Fans and pundits called for Ole to be fired. At the time of this writing, Ole and his United team are undefeated 17 games on the bounce. The players are working hard and seem to trust their coach. I’ve learned a few lessons from Ole Gunnar Solksær’s time coaching Manchester United. Lessons in focus, moving on from bad relationships, and patience. Focus. In every interview since taking the reins, Ole has said that the team is focusing on one game at a time. This same method is practical in our daily lives. Focus on one task at a time. Oftentimes we are busy because we have a lot of things going on. However the things don’t have to be abandoned, but when trying to do several things at once, we are doing a disservice to ourselves. I’ve spoken to several co-workers who subscribe to the school of thought that multitasking is necessary to get through their packed days. When multitasking, we end up dividing our attention between different tasks, instead of giving 100% focus on one thing. In his book “Meditations,” Marcus Aurelius wrote, “stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. But make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time—even when hard at work.” Focusing on one thing at a time helps us from being pulled in multiple directions. Moving On. During a press conference that was held towards the end of the previous season, Ole told the media that some players have played their final game as United players. He knew that some were not committed to changing the culture and were sewing seeds of discontent within the team. He said, “I’d rather have a hole in the squad than an asshole.” One thing that I’ve often struggled with is moving on from those assholes. Last week I wrote about Steven Pressfield and his book “The War of Art”. In it, Pressfield writes, “The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others. Once you make your break, you can’t turn around for your buddy who catches his trouser leg on the barbed wire. The best thing you can do for that friend… is to get over the wall and keep motating [sic].” If you have friends or family holding you back, you must move on. It is better to have an unfilled spot in your circle than to have someone bogging you down. We must do what’s best for ourselves and sometimes moving on is what’s required. Patience. In a world where fast deliveries and on-demand media are at the tip of our fingers, it is sometimes easy to forget the virtue of patience. If the executives in charge of United fired Ole when on a bad run, the team would have gone through more flux. A fifth manager in seven years with a new style of play and a new vision for the team. Patience is knowing the benefits of delayed gratification. We will suffer through the early phases of our development, but that doesn’t mean we will suffer always. Ole and this United team have taught me to trust the process. When focusing on one day and one task at a time, we are setting up a solid foundation. When moving on from assholes that bring us down, we are able to live a more positive life. Patience reminds us to not be discouraged when the results aren’t going our way. If you’re never watched a game of soccer/football, give it a try. If you do, consider supporting Manchester United.