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Does Kids Football Have More Clarity Than Your Business?

Does Kids Football Have More Clarity Than Your Business?
You can see it every Sunday on football pitches across the country. It’s not the teams with the best individual players that consistently win.

Every Sunday I coach a kids football team. I have 14 highly excited children, kids with different personalities and different technical skills, exhausted from a week at school. In two hours, how do I bring this disparate group together into one cohesive unit that scores goals? How do I teach them team work?

Two words: common purpose

They may sound like a couple of words that couldn’t make much difference to final outcomes, but common purpose is absolutely integral to outcomes. Studies show that high performance teams that consistently deliver superior results are a group of people with specific roles, complementary skills, a commitment to collaboration and innovation, all tied to one common purpose. And that last factor is so important because, without it, all you really have is a group of brilliant people all heading off in their own direction (or 14 excited school children).

It’s about setting group goals and a vision that bring a team together.

What I do before my games is outline three goals I want my team to work on. These are not goals related to results – I don’t say, ‘Let’s score three goals’ – but instead set goals related to process and behaviours. So I might say, ‘As a team I want you to pass the ball and move the ball quickly, waiting to exploit and attack space’ and ‘As a team the way I want you to defend is for the attackers to press and for the rest of you to drop deep and make the space compact within five seconds.’ So the goals are around process and behaviours – not results or outcomes.

This is important because in sport there’s a lot of focus on outcomes, yet outcomes are not completely controllable. The other team’s performance, refereeing decisions, location, even beach balls (Liverpool once conceded a goal due to a beach ball landing on a pitch and deflecting a goal in) – these are all going to impact outcomes.

It’s the same in business. For a business, outcomes not controllable include things like the competitor environment, the economic environment and the political environment. But what you can control is your team process and your team behaviours. Get the process goal and behaviours right, get your team doing things right and aligned to one vision and the outcome, more often than not, will deliver.

Define the purpose and the results will come

Having one vision for a team is central, because the most surprising thing about common purpose is that even when managers think their team has a common purpose they often don’t.

One of the exercises we run with our clients is to ask team members to define their common purpose. People think this will be quite an easy exercise. But when it comes to articulating that purpose and getting agreement from the group it’s amazing what differences can arise.

Why does this happen? Sometimes it’s because leaders haven’t defined their purpose. But often it’s to do with accumulated change. A person may come into an organisation and the team purpose is quite clear. But over time it gets clouded by experience and new team members and projects. Unless you consistently revisit it and reiterate it people will start going off on tangents; it’s like a tree that starts off as a single trunk but over time continually branches off and dilutes its core and strength.

Remember, it often doesn’t matter which (Premier League) style you take

If common purpose is about a shared goal, common purpose behaviours are about how you’re doing what you’re doing.

In football, different coaches will have different ideologies about how they want the game to be played, with which common purpose. Now in many case the purpose is to win – just as it is in corporations, with the goal to make as much profit as possible. But how do you go about that and what are your ideologies around that? That all comes back to common purpose.

There’s an ongoing debate in football about playing in an aesthetically pleasing style versus one that gets results. There are plenty of examples of this but one getting a lot of coverage now is a certain football manager in the Premier League who gets results playing ‘unaesthetic’ (boring) football when required, who’s very happy to go, ‘Lets just play defensive direct football to get the results if we need to.’

Other coaches may say, ‘I want us to win but I want to win by playing attractive football and by attacking versus being reactive and defensive.’ Whichever direction a manager takes can be almost beside the point. The point is that as long as everyone sticks to the same game plan, then that’s when commonality kicks in, that’s when teamwork kicks in and that’s when goals – be they Premier League, kids league or organisational – are scored.


Viren Thakrar Talent Management Viren Thakrar is a managing consultant at Hudson, with a background in sport and organisational psychology. During the week he helps organisations improve their business performance by advising on talent issues like team work. On the weekend he coaches a kids football team and watches too much Premier League. 


Hudson is a talent solutions company. We help transform the workplace and unleash the full potential of organizations and individuals. Our expert team and assessment tools provide you with unique insights and services that help you maximize your success. Across APAC, we deliver a range of recruitment and talent management solutions to get you and your business where you want to be.