World Cup Controversy

Gerwig 2014-06-13

Are you a futbol fan? If you are, you know that World Cup 2014 started today. If you watched the match in the U.S., you know the match started at 4pm Eastern Time and you know the score was 3-1, Brasil (the host nation). And you know the losing side was Croatia. Regardless of which team you were pulling for, you also know there was a controversial call (that went in Brasil’s favor) that impacted the outcome of the match.

And regardless of whether you thought Fred (the Brazilian player) was fouled or flopped (as in faked a foul and flopped to the ground), you know that Neymar converted the penalty kick and Brasil went up 2-1 late in the match. At that point, the wind went out of Croatia’s sails and they gave up a third goal near the end of the match to make the final score 3-1.

Philippe was a young boy who moved into our North Carolina neighborhood when I was in 2nd grade. He was from Brasil. He was the first kid I’d ever seen with a soccer ball (a futbol). In fact, he was the first person I’d ever seen with a soccer ball. We kinda became friends at school on the first day of the year but when he came over to my house later that afternoon (he lived only a few houses away), I thought it was weird that my new friend was kicking a basketball.

You see, back in the early ‘70s, Amazon didn’t exist and sporting equipment wasn’t always easy to find, especially soccer balls in North Carolina. Philippe’s orange soccer ball wasn’t an authentic soccer ball. But it wasn’t a basketball either. It was the right size and had imprinted hexagons, but the entire ball was a type of rubber (versus stitched leather) and was orange. Why? I’ll never know. From a distance, I thought it was a basketball and, for some reason, he was kicking the basketball on his knee!

Philippe was a much better soccer player than the rest of the kids in our neighborhood, but I credit him with introducing me to the sport. Later, when I moved to Guam, Father Tony (at Santa Barbara School) took me under his wing, taught me some basic soccer skills and allowed me to play in some organized matches. During lunch, I’d join the other boys as we took off our white, button-up shirts and played soccer in our blue trousers and dress shoes. At home in the neighborhood, my friends and I played barefoot on a dirt patch with coconuts serving as goals. I loved it.

Years later, while at Clemson, I would walk 150 meters to the soccer stadium to watch the Tigers play at Riggs Field. During this time they won a couple national championships and had a couple players that were on the U.S. Men’s National Team. In 1994 my wife (also a futbol fan) and I watched a World Cup match in Tampa (Ireland v. Netherlands). And for many years, we traveled nearly every weekend as our two sons played soccer on various teams that traveled all over the place for tournaments and invitational matches. To this day, I watch matches played in the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, and the Bundesliga. Yes, Philippe had a tremendous impact on my sport of choice, futbol. And though I can’t recall his face, I’ll never forget his orange soccer ball and the tricks he taught me.

So, am I excited that it’s World Cup time again? No, I’m thrilled! And I watched today’s match and I saw a few controversial calls (and non-calls). And I saw one call impact the outcome of the match. Which, on a side note, is very disappointing. Regardless of which team you’re pulling for, it’s disappointing and annoying when a call affects the outcome of the match.

But the good news is that there’s a lesson here for us. Don’t allow another (the referee in this case), to control an outcome that is important to you. Don’t put the outcome in another’s hands. Many of you, like me, who played sports heard their dad or granddad say, “Never blame the referee. If you want to win, then be so much better than your opponent that a bad call by the referee can’t cause you to lose.”

Now I know this is easier said than done in practice, but the point is valid. In whatever you’re doing, perform at the highest level possible if you want to win. Don’t leave the outcome in the hands of someone else. That’s always risky. People are human, right? They’ll make mistakes. World-class leaders know that in order to minimize this risk, they must significantly outperform their competition and take control of the outcome. They don’t leave it in the subjective hands of another.

Yes, I’ve been in situations (and seen them) where I gave my best but couldn’t separate myself from my opponent, the competition. And in a handful of those situations, where the game, match, or deal was close, I’ve had a call go against me. Some of the calls were fair and some weren’t. Life isn’t perfect and it doesn’t always go smoothly. Sometimes we can’t separate ourselves from the pack. But don’t leave anything on the table. Go all in. If possible, separate yourself. Put as much distance between you and the pack as possible. By doing so, you’ve minimized the risk of a bad call or an egregious non-call.

What about you? Do you separate yourself from the competition? Do you blame others for your losses or failures? Do you give it all you have? All the time?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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