Business Lessons from the 2015 Women’s World Cup

Michelle Philippon - Business Development Specialist

Soccer is in my blood.

My father grew up in Brazil, so I was raised on stories of Pelé and spent more than half my life playing the beautiful game. And like many American soccer aficionados, everything culminated this past July 5, when the U.S. women’s team won their third World Cup championship in a landmark 5-2 sweep against Japan.

And what a game! An incredible goal only three minutes in by Carli Lloyd. And then, only three minutes later—another goal by Lloyd! By the 16th minute, we were winning 4-0. And it was quickly clear who the winners would be.

The last time the U.S. women’s team won a World Cup was in 1999. But even as they won Olympic gold medals in the subsequent years, another World Cup victory proved to be so close, but so elusive at the same time.

Sixteen years later, everything finally fell into place again as we won in one of the most groundbreaking games in history.

Many lessons can be taken from this past year’s World Cup and the U.S. women’s team and applied to life outside the sports arena. And perhaps nowhere more so than within the world of sales and business development.

Let’s start at the beginning—team selection. U.S. women’s coach Jill Ellis had assembled a team consisting of the best of the best. As Jeré Longman noted in his New York Times article about the World Cup, “This [year’s] team possessed the same qualities as the American champions from the 1991 and 1999 World Cups: depth, confidence, selflessness, athleticism, stamina, indefatigable spirit.” So what can be learned from this? In order to succeed, you need to hire the best talent out there. And not only just the right talent, but people with the right qualities, the right values and integrity, the right attitudes to win—and gloriously so.

Next, develop an effective training program. Players like Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd didn’t become amazing soccer players because of luck or just pure natural talent. They had to train, and not only train, but train hard. Vigorously. Intensively. Continuously. “Practice makes perfect,” the old adage goes. While a training program for your sales and business development team may not, say, consist of soccer practices three times per day, there’s something to be said for a well-planned, thoughtful, and consistent training program with both quantitative and qualitative results of success.

Foster camaraderie; create an environment where internal competition does not supersede teamwork but instead complements it. Competition amongst your sales team has long been used as a way of spurring results. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But if your staff is competing so much against each other that they lose a sense of belonging to a team, how well do you think they’ll work together when the time is needed? And how high do you think your turnover will rise? Focus instead on developing a sense of cohesion amongst your employees. People will want to come to work, they will support one another when the time is right, and a championship, in a sense, will come.

Leaders who are honest, transparent, and effectively communicate with all members of the team. Many members of the U.S. women’s soccer team lauded Coach Ellis for the honesty and openness she had with her players. She met with each team member individually, engaged in dialogue with them, and not only sought, but respected their opinions.

A focus on mentoring and empowering the newest members of the team. Abby Wambach was conspicuously absent from the field this past World Cup as some of the younger and newer players took to the field. But her role was by no means diminished during this time. Coaching, mentoring, and inspiring from the sidelines, Wambach—who, incidentally, has scored even more goals in soccer history than the legendary Pelé—served as the backbone of the team.

Create strategic plays and strategies; set the pace of the game. Although many initially criticized Jill Ellis for being too cautious, her tactics payed off when Lloyd scored two goals using the set plays they had for corner kicks. Besides a stellar offense, what can be particularly noted about the team this year was their strong, high-pressure defense. They set the pace of the game from the onset, and everything quickly fell into place in their favor.

Be one step ahead of the competition and be quick on your feet. Don’t always be reactive; be proactive. Have sales and marketing strategies that are fresh and respond to where the world is heading instead of where it once was. Put pressure on your competitors. Be bold and innovative in your “attack.”

And most importantly, kick some grass!

Questions or comments? Please contact Michelle Philippon