The beautiful goal

Americans are naturally skeptical of soccer. It’s too slow, it’s not physical enough, it’s too simplistic. But for Americans that watched the final U.S. match of Group Play in the 2010 World Cup, the game captured our imagination.

We saw that soccer is the world’s game. The United States, facing elimination, playing the team from Algeria. The fates of England and Slovenia hanging in the balance as well. This doesn’t happen in any other sport.

We saw that the beauty of its simplicity, the basic components of ball and players in infinite combinations as the U.S. pounded away at the Algerian defense trying to get the goal to break the nil-nil tie and allow the U.S. to survive in the tournament.

Finally, we felt the emotion that soccer so readily produces, the building of tension and anticipation for 90 minutes as our team skated ever closer to elimination, and the floodgate of emotions that is released in one amazing moment behind a beautiful goal. The U.S., through sheer perseverance, wins in the last.

Now on to the Knockout round, with lots more work to do for the U.S. team . .

You can check out the game recap, if you missed it.

Update: I like this video compilation of U.S. crowd reactions to the goal, it really captures what I’m talking about. Is there anything better than cheering for your country?

CaptainU wins the Chicago New Venture Challenge

Captain U LogoCaptain U, a site co-founded by my good friend and ex-bandmate Avi Stopper, finished first in the running at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business’s New Venture Challenge today. The New Venture Challenge is one of the more prestigious new venture competitions in the U.S., where the final 10 teams present and are judged by a pretty brutal panel of 15-20 high profile venture capitalists. $50K is up for grabs to the top teams. Captain U is also a finalist the MBA Jungle biz plan competition.

Captain U is a social networking site that allows high school soccer players to network (and be recruited) by college coaches. It launched last year and is picking up great momentum! Congratulations Avi and team. Gooooooaaaaaaaaalllllll!!

Bill Parcells leadership gems

Bill ParcellsGetting an MBA will teach you a lot of important things about management and leadership, but it’s important to balance out the lessons you take from academics with lessons from the good old School of Hard Knocks. I can think of very few people (other than my grandfather) who might be more qualified to teach at that school than Bill Parcells, legendary football coach and most recently coach of America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys.

The other night in the Monday Night Football pregame Ed Werder brought up the fact that Bill had given Tony Romo (current Cowboys’ quarterback and former Parcells player) 11 lessons on leadership that Tony still has posted in his locker. In a rare glimpse behind the curtain, Bill stared straight into the camera and broke all those lessons down:

  1. Ignore other opinions. Outsiders (spouses, friends, media) don’t know what’s happening here.
  2. Clowns can’t run a huddle.
  3. Fat quarterbacks can’t avoid the rush. Train.
  4. Know the job cold. Study.
  5. Know your own players.
  6. Be the same guy every day.
  7. Throwing the ball away is a good play. (Avoid disastrous turnovers and other mistakes.)
  8. Learn to manage the game. Never take your eye off the clock.
  9. Get your team in the end zone. (Individual statistics don’t matter.)
  10. Don’t panic. Our ship can’t have a panic button.
  11. Don’t be a celebrity quarterback. We need battlefield commanders.

These are as applicable to the Fortune 500 as they are to the football field. I think my favorite is “clowns can’t run a huddle,” though they are all great.

After Bill had finished, all Chris Berman could say was “wow.” And the audience knew for just a minute what it would be like to be coached by one of the greats.

Watch it

The glory of football season, and Nike ads

Nike LogoThe long-awaited football season is upon us, and I spent last weekend planted in front of the TV taking in some fantastic games. Part of watching football (for me, at least) is watching the new crop of ads that various companies roll out to coincide with the new season – What is their brand? Who is their audience? What are they trying to do? Are they accomplishing this goal elegantly or stumbling?

Nike’s new commercial for Nike Football featuring Shawne Merriman and Steven Jackson, directed by Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice), is brilliant. In it, the two players are shown running seamlessly through different games of their season as their uniforms, opponents, and the weather changes. First we follow Merriman, as he makes a series of great defensive plays. When he finally sacks a quarterback and causes a fumble, Steven Jackson recovers the fumble and starts to run as our perspective shifts to follow him. Jackson vaults a defender, spins and jukes and finally gets stood up at a goal line by a big group of white-jerseyed defenders. He seems consumed by them, until at the last moment his arms, holding the ball, emerge and stretch toward a touchdown. He seems sure to make it, but right before he does the screen goes black and the words “Leave Nothing” appear. The sounds in the commercial – from the churning orchestral soundtrack (from Last of the Mohicans) to the grunts and explosive collisions of the players – speak to the toil and effort of the game.

Nike is known for this type of ad – and their ability to form an emotional connection with the viewer using dramatic imagery from sports. With their diverse businesses (apparel, shoes, etc.) it is all about relating their swoosh to a feeling. That way, a t-shirt with a swoosh is no longer just a t-shirt. It’s Steven Jackson stretching for a touchdown against all odds.

The unplayable lie

unplayable liePlaying the game of golf can teach you a lot about life – and many a golfer has waxed philosophical to the point where these life-lessons-I-learned-by-playing-golf are well documented. Having never been a very good golfer myself, the only thing the skill part of the game has taught me is to swear creatively and at length. But some of the most interesting lessons in golf have little to do with your ability to skillfully swing a flimsy metal club and make it hit a tiny white ball exactly where you want it to go. They are more about the decisions you make while you are on the golf course.

My favorite lesson is the “lesson of the unplayable lie.” Oftentimes when playing golf, and especially if you play like me, your ball will end up in places where it shouldn’t be: against a tree, down a gopher hole, in the middle of a construction site, etc. The rules of golf state:

The player may deem his ball unplayable at any place on the course except when the ball is in a water hazard. The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable.

In the situation where you declare a ball unplayable, you have to take a penalty stroke, drop it nearby, and continue on. The thing that gets you is that last sentence – it is at the player’s discretion, and no one else’s, as to whether the ball is unplayable or not.

Our culture teaches that generally it is a good thing to be tenacious and to keep trying. Don’t be a quitter, quitters never win. Take risks in order to succeed. When as a golfer you find yourself looking at a ball buried in scrub brush, that conditioning kicks in. Even though you might have a 1 in 1000 chance of getting it out of there, you certainly are going to give it a try. You’ll be the one who pulls it off.

Later, when you are penciling in that 14 on the scorecard after hacking it into the woods a few times, you realize that had you declared it unplayable initially, you probably would have gotten away with a 6 or 7. And you would still have that club that you threw into the woods after the 11th stroke induced a profanity-riddled fit of rage.

Learning to be completely honest with yourself, recognizing the unplayable lies when you see them, and not being afraid to quit when you see one – is the lesson. In your personal or professional life, are you staring at any unplayable lies right now?