Lessons in Teamwork from the Soccer field

I recently played my last game of outdoor soccer for the season, and although we did not make the playoffs this year, they were an amazing group of guys that I enjoyed playing with. What made this year more interesting than previous years was that I joined a new team with a bunch of people that I had never played with before.  One of the many early challenges we spoke about was the time it takes to develop chemistry within the team. This got me thinking about the parallels between soccer (and other team sports in general), and business – mainly, how do teams come together to succeed, and what are the challenges of making real-time decisions as a collective group in order to achieve a goal?  In my experience, playing team sports is crucial for developing teamwork skills. While I could go on for days discussing how soccer hones both career and life skills in general (and do expect me to do so in future articles), I will limit this post to discussing the teamwork lessons that can be gained from playing soccer. The three key lessons I have gained from being a more effective team player, and getting the most out of my teammates, involve (1) getting to know your teammates, (2) the importance of communication, and (3) checking your ego at the door.

Get to know your teammates

Part of understanding what your teammate is doing involves knowing what kind of personality they have.  Although it takes time to get a grasp of a teammate’s style, it does not take long if you take the time to get to know them off the field as well. Our team had beers after every game, and it was a chance to talk, not only about the game, but also about life off the pitch. This helped to strengthen relationships and understanding between one another, and what makes each person tick. By building this bond, teammates tend to go the extra mile to help one another out on the field.

(I think this guy’s teammates learned a little more about him after this night)

This same principle applies in a business setting as well. At my previous place of employment, our team made it a point to go get a coffee at 2:30p.m. every single day, and it did wonders for developing a bond between our team.  We felt like a family, which made going in to work, and staying late when necessary that much more enjoyable. This bond made it much easier to ask a co-worker for help, to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and to plan out our work strategy as a group.

Communication is Key

Getting to know your teammates also helps to make another crucial component of teamwork easier: communication. On the pitch, as the ball is always in play, game plans and strategies go out the window when your opponent adapts and situations develop.  The only way to succeed as a collective group is effective and constant communication. This communication comes in the form of warnings (“Player on you!”), support (“I’m behind you!”), advice (“Lots of time!”), and encouragement (“Great shot!”). Effective communication on the pitch not only provides confidence when on the ball, it also provides numerous extra sets of eyes in order to navigate all of the moving parts on the pitch.

Business teams also need to communicate in order to be successful, as warnings, support, advice, and encouragement are critical to the success of any team in achieving its goals. It is very difficult to complete a task when one of your teammates fails to inform you of a critical change in the details (or maybe that there’s a linebacker in the office charging at you from behind), knows the answer to a problem yet fails to share it with you, or doesn’t encourage you when you are frustrated. Making sure that the lines of communication are open go a long way towards developing the cohesion of a team.

Check your ego at the door

I feel as though this point is not stressed enough among articles about teamwork, even though this is perhaps the most important one. Not everyone is created equal, and some people are better at certain things than others. Joining a team however with the belief that your skills are more important, or that you are overall superior, is a recipe for disaster for teams both on the pitch and in the office. There have been many instances over the years where a player has joined the team that has had a belief that they were the best player on the team (and in many instances they may very well have been the best player on the team).  Time and time again, their play reflected their lack of trust in the abilities of their teammates, they tried to do too much on their own, and repeatedly tried to do things that they simply were not capable of doing (like scoring from your own half). That selfish, egotistical attitude regularly betrays these players as a huge detriment to the team, in spite of their ability, hindering the team’s success. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that one player versus eleven does not give the team great odds of succeeding.  Leveraging your teammates skills goes a long way in achieving success.

There is a saying in team sports that states that “you are only as good as your worst player”. What that means is that the opposition will find your weakness right away, and exploit it. Teammates may gripe and complain about the quality of that weak player, but that does not help the team.  In order to succeed, it is everyone’s responsibility to help your teammate to not reveal his or her deficiencies, and make them a better contributor. At the same time, the opposition may be able to expose your weaknesses too…wouldn’t you want your teammates to help you out? If the goal is to win, playing the blame game does nothing to help your team win.  Only true teamwork can.

The hero mentality, coupled with complaining where help is needed, plays out poorly in the workplace, and inhibits team functionality (thereby reducing your own personal value). In my opinion, a great performer is one who makes the people around them better, and brings out the best in the team as a whole. Tackling a group project on your own will only expose your own weaknesses, alienate your teammates, and limit the quality of the output.


In my opinion, there is nothing more beautiful than a string of multiple one touch passes that leads to a goal.

Achieving this feat is only possible when the team is functioning at such a high level that communication is seamless, that sense of being able to predict where your teammates are going to be is spot on, and they can predict what you are going to do next. It is through the subsequent understanding and mastery of the points above, as a collective unit, that such a feat is possible. The business equivalent of multiple one touch passes leading to a goal can be difficult to master, as it takes time for a team to bond together – and in business, teams do not always stay together as a unit for a long enough period of time. I do, however, see the value of taking the time to develop a bond with your teammates, emphasizing communication, and checking your ego at the door –  that all go a long way in both speeding up, and improving the process of becoming a cohesive and effective unit.

What else do you think is critical to developing team cohesion? Drop me a line in the comments section below!


  • September 19, 2013 - 3:27 PM | Permalink

    Fantastic Article!

    • Giampiero
      September 20, 2013 - 9:51 AM | Permalink

      Thanks for reading Puchee Linho!

  • Sean Dann
    September 19, 2013 - 3:59 PM | Permalink

    Great Article Giampiero! I also think that constant praise and encouragement amongst teammates goes a hell of a long way in any team sport. We are all human and all make mistakes on and off the playing fields. A true teammate will realize that error is inevitable, and move on from said mistake immediately, so as not to affect moral for the remainder of the game. Knowing your team will have your back despite making an error during play is critical, and words of encouragement and positive talk go a very long way in my opinion. Good read!

    • Giampiero
      September 20, 2013 - 9:59 AM | Permalink

      Hey Sean, thanks for taking the time to comment!

      I agree, all comments need to be positive and constructive. Yelling at someone saying “what the hell are you doing!” doesn’t help on the field or in the office and hurts morale. Having said that, I have found (both on the field and in the office) that people take constructive criticism as a form of insult and that isn’t appropriate behaviour as well. Whether it be the office or on the pitch, leave your personal emotions out of it and understand that your team mates want you to be the best you can be, and if that means pointing out things you can do to help out more, so be it…you can laugh about it afterwards over a beer!

  • Mirv
    September 19, 2013 - 4:01 PM | Permalink

    Great post Giampiero. We also didn’t make the playoffs this year :P, but like yourself, I have always admired the parallels between the team on the pitch and in the office. An important lesson I have learned from soccer(football) on building great teams is the value of diversity. In soccer, you have goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, wingers, and strikers, all of whom are proficient in a specific set of skills, and similarly, a good team in the office requires individuals of different experience levels, and different skills (designers, business people, developers, engineers, manufacturing, etc). To achieve amazing feats together, you need a concoction of diverse skills, thoughts, and experience levels, and this holds true whether you are a start-up or a large established business

    • Giampiero
      September 20, 2013 - 10:03 AM | Permalink

      Hey Mirvise, thanks for reading and commenting!

      You took the words out of my mouth as I am planning to write another post about exactly that in the next little while! I agree with you 100%, and playing with all these different types of people and getting to know their personalities helps you understand how they have developed their skill sets differently from yours (i.e Balotelli is great at scoring goals because he has an unbelievable level of confidence and belief that he can do anything and beat anyone one on one).

  • Mike Onofrio
    September 24, 2013 - 10:58 PM | Permalink

    Ronaldo as usual trying to steal the show. Great article. Good correlations between team play on the pitch and in business.

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