What My Third Grade Soccer Team Taught Me About Complacency (And Business Growth)
Some lessons are learned after years of blood, sweat, and tears.
Some come late in life.
Some need to be learned over and over.
And others are learned on a goose poop-covered soccer field in northern New Jersey in the mid-1990s.
It was the glory days of recreational soccer. My dad was coaching our team, which was named after a local video store which is now defunct. (I think it was called “Video Masters,” or something like that.) We wore huge, oversized black T-shirts advertising the name of this local video store.
The season started, and we won . . . sometimes. Okay: one or two games. Maybe even just one.
One thing was for sure, though – we definitely lost a lot more games than we won or tied.
To say that we were ranking high in the year 8-10 age group would be far from the truth. Most likely, we were ranking second-to-last.
Thankfully, we had one major consolation: at least we weren’t the Red Bricksters.
Meet the Red Bricksters: The Worst Team in the League
The Red Bricksters were infamous in our league for how bad they were. By the time we were set to play them, the Red Bricksters had lost every single game that season.
But not just lost by a point or two – they’d lost royally, like 5-0 and 6-0 and 7-0. For those unfamiliar with “the beautiful game,” it’s much harder to score a goal in soccer than it is in sports like hockey or basketball. Scores like 5-0, 6-0, and 7-0 are (usually) unheard of.
So, when it was time to play the Red Bricksters one Saturday morning, we weren’t scared.
At practice that week, we talked about how we would dominate the game. After all, they were so bad! Look at their track record. Yes, maybe we were one of the worst teams in the league, but come on.
It was a no-brainer.
The Day of the Game
Saturday morning dawned. We all woke up early, donned our baggy Video Masters T-shirts and stinky soccer gear, and were driven to the soccer field by our parents. Then, once we were on the field, we gathered together at the bench and watched as the Red Bricksters arrived. They looked so unathletic.
We were – relaxed. Unfazed. Worry-free. Not winning wasn’t even an option in our cocky, confident little minds.
Or, put another way: we were complacent. Smug, even.
The game was about to start. We assembled on the field. I took my position in defense, on the far-right side. For once, I wasn’t nervous. This was going to be a piece of cake.
Two of my teammates went to the center circle and met up with two of the Red Bricksters. The ref flipped a coin. We called heads; the other team called tails. The coin landed. Abraham Lincoln’s stern face glinted up at them. The Red Bricksters had the ball.
The ref blew the whistle.
Here we go.
The Red Brickster’s striker passed the ball to one of their wings, who passed it back to the striker. One of our midfielders ran up, but the striker ran right by her, dribbling the ball. Then the striker got around one of our defenders, and she shot the ball, right into the net.
My teammates and I stared at each other, flabbergasted.
…What in the world had just happened?
Another kick-off. One Red Brickster passed the ball back to their center mid, who passed it back to the striker –
And then one of our offenders – the left-wing who was arguably the best girl on our team – stole the ball from her and started dribbling down the field! Yes! We were going to –
But then one of their defenders stopped her and booted the ball across the field –
Where it landed – swoosh! – right in our goal.
We were losing 2-0 within only a few minutes of the game, to the worst team in the league. What the heck was going on?
The Final Score
I wish I could say that we started playing better and reversed the course of the game, but alas, that did not occur. We lost – and not just by 2-0; we lost by 6-0, the amount that the Red Bricksters usually lost by. It was our worst and most utter defeat all season.
It was like being in a bad movie. It seemed like every time there was a kick-off, the Red Bricksters would deftly maneuver their way around our team, who evidently had forgotten how to play soccer overnight, and score a goal against our goalie, who couldn’t stop the ball if she tried.
The more goals they scored, the more the incredulousness and the enthusiasm of the Red Bricksters grew and the more shocked and deflated we became. By the end of the game, the glee from their team was uncontainable. They jumped up and down and cheered, hugging each other and slapping each other five, spreading more figurative salt in our wounds.
Meanwhile, we dragged ourselves back to our bench, stunned, sad, and ultimately, embarrassed.
The Danger of Complacency
I learned a lesson that day that I have never forgotten, and which has carried over into every facet of my life since then – business especially.
The lesson is this: Never get complacent.
We lost that soccer game because we were complacent.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines complacent as “Showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.” From an organizational or team perspective, I like to think of complacency as counting your chickens before they’ve hatched.
Here’s how this plays out in the business world. The minute you think you “have it” – that you have more business than you can handle, that you don’t have to differentiate your product or service offering, and that you have your competitive advantage permanently defined – you are doomed.
How quickly the pendulum can swing. Think of Blockbuster (or the now-defunct Video Masters). In the 1980s through the early 2000s, they must have thought they had it made. They were sitting on a gold mine. Videos – and later, DVDs – would reign supreme forever, right?
But technology was moving faster than they were. In 1998, Netflix was founded as an online DVD rental firm. They quickly started to pick up steam, increasing their subscribers from 700,000 (2002) to 3.6 million (2005).
Two years later, Netflix introduced streaming services. And we haven’t looked at movie rentals the same way ever since.
The fact is, the world is always changing, and in order to remain competitive in any industry, you can’t become smug or just keep coasting by doing things as you’ve always done. Part of complacency is just staying comfortable with the status quo and not evolving or moving forward.
To grow a business, you can’t be complacent.
Complacency stifles creativity. Complacency halts organizational growth and differentiation. Complacency does not prepare you for forces outside your control like sudden buying shifts or rapid economic changes.
Never stop learning. Never stop growing. Never stop looking for ways to improve yourself or your organization. Everything hasn’t already been done. There’s always another way.
Never get complacent.