What IT Can Learn from Second Grade Soccer

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Soccer1One of my favorite activities is coaching youth soccer. As a head coach for multiple teams over the last six years, I’m currently responsible for a U8 (grade 2) and a U10 (grade 3-4) team. Last weekend, coaching a U8 game, I had a revelation about youth soccer and the lessons that IT can learn from these players.

One of the biggest challenges coaching young soccer athletes is helping them understand the concept of positioning.  The lack of this knowledge results in a phenomenon which I refer to as “swarming.” Like a swarm of hungry bees descending on a pot of honey, swarming soccer players fixate on the ball and follow it across the field, regardless of location.  Swarming is a purely reactive approach that focuses on getting the ball now and ignores the future.  It is a poor strategy because it limits other game-winning skills, such as passing and shooting.

So what can IT executives learn from these youthful soccer players?

As an IT practitioner, you are responsible for a myriad of tasks from basic system maintenance to future architecture design. With most organizations highly focused on application availability, the easiest and typically most well understood strategy is to focus on operational activities that support current systems.

But this approach prioritizes today’s problems over future technologies and innovation. Just as a swarmer misses the larger strategic view, a pure IT operational focus misses the greater implications of new technologies or solutions that might more effectively solve current problems.

Furthermore, soccer and IT are similar in that they are both in a constant state of flux, making a strategic view critical. In soccer, players must be prepared for the unexpected bounce, pass or shot; while in IT, administrators must be prepared for new technologies and solutions that could meaningfully impact their business.

A successful IT practitioner must think beyond a swarming mentality.

There is a time to focus exclusively on operational issues, but a balance between tactical and strategic views is critical for long-term success. While swarming soccer players can take solace in a post-game popsicle, an IT leader lives in a more unforgiving world where a short term focus can have a long-term career impact.

As you look to the future, I encourage you to learn from my second grade team and think how you can balance operational and strategy perspectives.

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