Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

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The Soccer Ball…

Some years ago, I became involved in youth soccer, first as a coach and then as a referee.  Coaching, I didn’t like all that much.  However, refereeing suited me much better because the non-stop running allowed me to burn off the stress and tension that a competitive environment naturally engenders.  My first on-the-field experiences were with seven and eight year-old beginning players, but as the years went by I found myself working high school and then college games.  Eventually, I was qualified to referee at all levels including the adult competitive leagues.  And although some players may have disagreed, I think I achieved a decent level of competence. 

One observation that I made quite early on was that some players seemed to be extra “lucky” and were always in a great position to play the ball.  Then I noticed that there also seemed to be something like this “luck” among referees.  Some were always having to run extra hard to catch up with the play.  Others seemed to just move a little bit here and a little bit there, with relatively little effort, but always seemed to be in a good position to observe where the “action” was taking place.   

It wasn’t long into my growing recreational “career” as a coach and referee that I learned perhaps the most important lesson in playing or refereeing soccer – always play to where the ball is going to be, not where it is now.  In other words, if you can anticipate and correctly assess where the ball is going to go next, then that allows you to in effect “get ahead of the game” and be in the right place at the right time.  Such anticipation not only puts you in the optimum position, but it also takes a lot less energy to get there.  Sprinting belatedly after the ball – a ball that is now too far away to properly assess the play – predictably leads to bad outcomes such as incorrect calls and frustrated players.

This wisdom can be summarized in one simple word – anticipation.  Once this concept had become thoroughly ingrained in me, I realized that this approach has value, not only on the soccer field, but also in managing organizations and businesses.  Being able to anticipate and correct problems before they become serious is much easier (and usually less expensive) than waiting until a full-blown crisis has developed. 

I remember some years ago, as a member of a program committee for a technical conference, observing the Conference Chair as the conference was taking place.  He was running from room to room dealing with one crisis after another.  It seemed that nothing could go right -- moderators didn’t know how to introduce the speakers, slides were incompatible with available projectors, speakers were not observing time limits, event announcements were not being made, etc.  I think you get the idea.  A few years later, I had the privilege of being in that very same Conference Chair position.  And during the conference – I had almost nothing to do, other than to give the welcoming talk.  What was the difference?  During the previous weeks and months, I tried to anticipate all the items that needed to be done (including having back-up plans) so that the event would go smoothly.  It didn’t take all that much time to do this, but the end result was a successful and worry-free conference.  

The same approach has served me equally well in business.  I’m sure others have used similar terminology; I call it -- “anticipatory management”.  Anticipating and taking care of situations before they become serious problems saves both time and energy.   

When I was first cajoled into refereeing youth soccer games, I did not expect it to become a serious learning experience that would serve me well in my real career and even in my personal life.  But chasing that soccer ball around every weekend proved to be of significantly more value than just giving me an excuse to run 5 or 6 miles each game.  Anticipating where that darn ball was going to go next was important, but something else that was equally important was learning to anticipate the behavior of the players, coaches, and parents.  Emotions can and do run high during a game and some players (as well as coaches and parents) can handle this better than others.  The ability to control what happens on the field, and on the sidelines, depends very much on being able to anticipate and calm potentially volatile situations. 

In managing any group of energetic and intense individuals, similar behaviors will be encountered.   Being able to anticipate and guide these behaviors in constructive directions before tempers flare and serious problems arise is a skill that can serve us all well. 

Should you wish to share your own experiences in participating in, or managing, groups of highly capable individuals, you may reach me directly from this site, by e-mail at silzars@attglobal.net, or by telephone at 425-898-9117.