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World Cup Lessons for Physician Business Owners


Not being much of a soccer aficionado, I have nevertheless been captivated by the 2010 World Cup. While I hear many Americans bemoan the slow pace of the televised game, the low scores, and the vuvuzelas, I have been struck by lessons these matches have offered up for entrepreneurial physician business owners.

Not being much of a soccer aficionado, I have nevertheless been captivated by some of the games in the 2010 World Cup Soccer. Probably has something to do with my being South African!

While I hear many Americans bemoan the slow pace of the televised game ("Boring!"), the low scores ("Where's the action?") and the vuvuzelas ("Irritating!"), I have been struck by lessons these matches have offered up for entrepreneurial physician business owners:

In-the-Moment Decision-Making

Unlike American football and basketball, soccer appears to create plays that, instead of being set and communicated mysteriously with cryptic eye-rolling and hand signals, are more spontaneous. It seems the players are required to make instantaneous decisions about next moves, based on who is where and who is open.

It's this quick responsiveness and alertness that also characterize the successful entrepreneur -- being able to interpret the environment and capitalize on opportunities that make sense and arise suddenly.

Skilled Footwork

I agree -- all professional athletes are skilled. However, I am especially impressed by the deftness of the feet of soccer players who can turn a part of the body, typically lacking finesse, into almost magic appendages, capable of teasing the ball along in a mesmerizing dance before giving it a good old kick!

As entrepreneurial physicians, we have to hone many underused skills and learn to dance in the moment with the ball, to make our own magic.

It's an Almost-All-Body Sport

Save for the arms and hands, no body part is off-limits for playing the ball. This is not just a foot game. What courage does it take to leap into the air and head off an opponent's ball, or direct a team member's kick into the goal net?

As business owners, we too must immerse much more of ourselves "in play", while knowing what parts are off limits. Perhaps it’s our imagination, or creativity, or daring, or social connections in addition to traditional planning and execution.

Dirty Play = A Penalty

You have to know how to play tough, but not dirty, in soccer. This is more of an open-play than a contact sport.

Similarly, good businesses understand that winning is about serving customers, making tough decisions and staying away from scumball behavior.


It's disheartening to get to the 82nd minute of a game, with a 0-0 score, and still have to scrape up the mental fortitude to go on and find that scoring opportunity in the final minutes of the game.

Entrepreneurs know that the 6-figure or 7-figure business is not an overnight, get-rich-quick scheme. Instead, it demands implacable determination and tolerance for work and rework.

Stamina and Endurance

The soccer elite are some of the best conditioned athletes in the world. Many play over 90 minutes, without being replaced. They have to spend hours working out to build their endurance. Lots of tedious repetition!

Successful entrepreneurs have their own workouts too -- attending to details, assessing, figuring out what and to whom to delegate, testing, refining. They don't quit when the going gets hard.

It's All About the Team

One advantage I have as someone who doesn't follow soccer is that I am not wooed by the “Big Names.” There may be some individual stars that I am ignorant about, but the beauty of the matches for me is watching how the whole team plays and communicates.

As an entrepreneurial physician, you, too, have the opportunity to build your team, whether that is in your medical practice office or your new non-clinical business. Because a successful business is a team sport!

Where do you learn your lessons, as an entrepreneurial physician?

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