This past week (and the week to come), many of us have been watching the World Cup being played in Brazil. Interestingly enough, it will be the most watched sporting event around the world, estimated to be over 700 million viewers in 2014.
In this country, we, as Americans, have been watching a lot, too, as Team USA is playing well and could advance to who knows where? In the meantime, we are watching, on our smartphones, TV, the internet and any other device that will bring it to us in living color.
Some pundits have called it madness – e.g., Google Anne Coulter’s rant on how un-American the sport is – while others have descended into commentary on the total dysfunction of Brazil’s politics and it’s numerous World Cup related violations of human rights.
Back to the title - is it madness? I don’t know. I played “futbol” a.k.a. soccer in high school as a fullback and it has to be the most hellishly lung busting sport in the world. Most physiology experts will agree that it is a tie between elite level cross country ski racing and soccer for the most aerobic sport in the world. At the World Cup level of play, a mid-fielder will probably run about 8 miles during the length of a 90 minute match. No big deal, right? Yes, it is – they run it at sprint levels, for at least 60% of their time on the field at 85% of their VO2 max.
At the same time, it may be the ultimate expression and definition of teamwork in the sporting world. Sure there are superstars, but even the best soccer players cannot win a game by themselves – they must dribble and pass to their team members. All in all, the team only wins when they all work together toward a common “goal.”
So why are we so absorbed and fascinated by this event which only comes around every four years? I think it is a reaction to our disappointment with the major occupation of our time in life – the workplace! What is attractive about a physical endeavor like soccer is that it is straightforward. Skill, training, and judgment are aimed in one direction only: getting the ball to the goal. In other words, all cognitive thinking must be cleared from the mind - I call it getting to the Zen state of mind. It would impossible, to actually play a good game of soccer if one is constantly thinking, “I am playing a good game of soccer.” In the midst of the immense physical effort required to play soccer, labeling, is seen for what it is - irrelevant.
Office life is very different. Here the task itself does not necessarily take precedence over everything else, and labeling is very important. Here, skill, training, and judgment are often aimed in several directions at once, split between the goal itself and the necessary maneuvers among other workers required to achieving it. In addition, there is a far greater distance between the individual and the result of his or her labor. Most administrative work involving new initiatives can take months or years to accomplish, oftentimes leaving the champion for the project stuck in a limbo of grey hell. We all need to “shine” in our work; feel as though we are making a contribution, etc., but those opportunities to do so are limited or are so watered down by the length of time required to achieve them, that victories can feel hollow.
Back to “Futbol Madness”…………I have decided that it is not madness at all. The diversion of living vicariously through someone like Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best current player in the world, gives us all an opportunity to win, even if only for an instant. There are 736 of the best players alive competing in this year’s World Cup event in Brazil - I would challenge any of you to come up with 736 great heroes in the US workplace.