8 life lessons from the football fields to Business School

by Jorge Alexandre da Cunha EBA year 1

For the past 14 years of my life, I´ve been a football coach. I remember choosing going towards this career when I was probably only 15 years old, so I was a kid then with no knowledge whatsoever of the real world.

The journey has been – and still is – a flood of challenges, lessons, and stories to commemorate and cherish.

I’d like to share with you important lessons learned across grass fields and locker rooms that could offer some food for thought for the work done in meeting halls, business lunches, and working life in general.

When talking about multicultural environments we have to keep in mind that it doesn’t refer only to people of different nationalities. Culture can also be ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background, education level, political views, and even people of a special interest group.

Jorge at the end of his presentation in Gateway to Business Studies in which he shared these 8 tips
Jorge on the football pitch

1. Notice the differences, embrace them, and ultimately forget them.

I learned that with the right approach all these differences can be irrelevant. And I mean it in a positive way. We can build a successful team by gathering all these different people and taking advantage of their individualities and strengths to work towards a common goal. The secret – and I apologize for not having a recipe – is how to empower these characteristics.

2. “The most important part of every plan is planning on your plan not going according to plan”.

Since the first day of my bachelor´s in Sports Coaching, our teachers tried to implement in us the mentality to always have a plan. Of course, they were referring mainly to the training sessions, but this is a piece of advice we can apply to almost any activity we propose to do.

The quote they used is from Benjamin Franklin and says: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. Today, after some years of working I feel I can already add another one. Recently I read the book by Morgan Housel “The Psychology of Money”, and despite this not being the topic of the book he says something really useful we can apply in our daily lives: “The most important part of every plan is planning on your plan not going according to plan”.

The more plans (or versions of a plan) we have the better prepared we are for the eventualities of the real world. It´s almost impossible to know if a plan is good until we try to put it to work in the real life. Unexpected things happen all the time.

3. Show interest in people

This might be self-explanatory. However, I believe it´s very important to talk about this. Often people like to talk too much and not listen to what others have to say. If you want to be seen as interesting in the eye of others, you first have to be interested in them.

Make sure you convey your desire to get to know them first, and eventually they will also be interested in getting to know you. This is a great way of improving how others see us and also to making friends.

Freshers’ Day 2022

4. It’s wrong to treat everyone the same

It’s frequently said we should treat others like we want to be treated. However, this is not necessarily true. The reality is we should try to understand the individuality of each person and treat them how they want to be treated (and sometimes also how they need to be treated). Everyone has different needs, different approaches as to how interpersonal relationships should be, and also different ways of dealing with the challenges they have ahead. We are also all different when it comes to conflict-solving.

It’s fundamental to get to know people to this level of detail and be ready for a high degree of flexibility when working in a team.

5. Emotions are part of decision-making

Another commonly said advice is that we should try to put our emotions aside when making important decisions. Just like football, life and business are full of emotions, and we are such emotional creatures. Emotions are full-time little – and sometimes not so “little” – workers in our minds/souls, and they don´t go on vacation or take sick leaves. As the Portuguese neuroscientist António Damásio put, “we are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think.”

In good, bad, or just normal times, emotions are a big part of us. Therefore, the ability to recognize them, being able to understand them, and ultimately use them in consensus with data and knowledge is a great skill to develop.

6. What about success? What is, in fact, to succeed?

Many people might say this is quite easy to explain. Score more goals than the opponent team, get a good grade in the exam, sign the contract, make the sale. Is it this straightforward though?

After being part of strong league, – both in winning teams and also more modest groups, I can personally say it’s not that straightforward. It’s all about the specific goals of the individual or team, and sometimes those goals can be somehow intangible. Even inside the team, there can be different goals for different individuals, for example, a trainee that just joined the company will have personalized goals to achieve in comparison with the senior who is working for a promotion.

A very clear definition of what we propose to achieve and making sure everyone around us understands it and agrees with it keeps everyone on track for the journey.

7. Build from within

To write this text I used a few quotes that are important to me, the following one I came across in a slightly difficult moment of my life, when I was struggling with balancing work and studies, wanting to show others I was good enough and could do big things, and unfortunately not being able to succeed. The quote is from Rumi, an ancient Persian poet and philosopher. He wrote: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I’m changing myself.”

For me, it means that we should always focus first on being the best versions of ourselves, learn as much as possible and look first at our own actions and behaviours before we try to change anything around us, and before we try to inspire others. And this is as applicable to football coaching as it is to working life in general. We are all projects under construction, and it’s not something to be embarrassed about.

: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I’m changing myself.” Rumi, Ancient Persian poet & Philosopher

8. “Football is the most important thing in the world, amongst the less important things in the world.”

This is one of my favourite quotes of all time, I believe it is extremely powerful!
It was said by Arrigo Sacchi, a legendary Italian football coach, and can teach us various valuable lessons. It shows us that no matter how much we want to be successful, no matter how much we want to win and be the best in the world, not everything is acceptable in order to reach it. The people around us deserve our utmost respect, our competitors included.
And most important of all, it refers to the fact that our health, family, and friends will always be incalculably more important than our work or wealth. It directs our priorities to the people whom we love and who love us.
Where are your dearest ones now, and how are they doing?