Lessons for Young Staff from Lessons for Young Players

Writer and former professional soccer player Bobby Warshaw recently explained the “Four things young players can do to earn coaches’ trust.” Those lessons apply to young staff as well.

Warshaw notes that coaches want to give young players a chance, but that chance can come at a cost. Young players will make mistakes, ideally ones from which they will learn and from which the team will eventually benefit. Learning painful lessons may help a team in the long run but may cost the team in the short run. The same is true in organizations. Managers know that young staff need to be allowed to make mistakes if they are ever going to grow and succeed, but those mistakes can come at a cost. Sloppy mistakes can hurt relationships, result in missed opportunities, or mean missed deadlines and blown financial targets. Young staff need to prove to their managers that giving them responsibility is worth the risk. Warshaw’s advice for young players trying to earn their coaches’ trust applies to young staff as well.

Pay Attention

The best players never lose focus. As Warshaw writes, “When the ball goes out of bounds or turns over, young players often relax for a second…Meanwhile, the guy next to them is moving to the next play and getting a step ahead.” The same is true of young staff. After completing a proposal, running a successful event, or making a sale young staff may take a break to admire what they have just done. While the staffer is relaxing others are acting. Another firm bidding for the same project is either already onto the next proposal or is finding ways to ensure the first proposal is accepted. Those who participated in an event may be working on ways to capitalize on it while the original organizer is taking a break, and others are finding ways to make the next sale. A formal pitch is only part of how a firm gets business, events are both ends and means to making the next sale or building the next relationship, and every sale helps make the next sale. The event is part of a process that never stops, so staff can’t stop either.


As a manager, I want to know what I am going to get out of a staffer. I would rather get reliably solid than brilliant mixed with abysmal. In Warshaw’s words to players “…knowing the player will execute the asks – is crucial.” I need to know I can count on you to reliably do what needs to be done. If I’m worrying whether the pitch will be astonishing or a dumpster fire, you’re doing something wrong and I won’t ask you to lead the next pitch.

Details Matter

In soccer one step in the wrong direction can mean getting caught off-side and blowing an opportunity, or allowing a forward to run past you, handing the opponent a clear shot on goal. All players make mistakes, but too many stupid mistakes means the player watches more games from the bench than she plays in. The same is true for junior staff. If you are managing a meeting that participants are calling into, you need to be sure everyone has the right number, that the number works, and that you have a backup plan if the phone doesn’t work. If you are setting up calls or meetings, you need to be sure everyone has the time and time zone right. If I can’t count on you to get the little things right, I will never give you the chance to do the big things at all.

Boring Success Beats Flashy Failure

Warshaw writes that “Giving up style to just get it done, that can earn quick buy-in from the boss.” Junior staff can get caught in the moment rather than focusing on the goal. If a proposal needs to highlight four things and be in by five p.m., highlight those four things and get it in by five p.m. Making the graphics knock-down stunning can make a proposal pop, but creating those graphics cannot come at the expense of highlighting the four things and getting it in by five p.m. Using an amazing printer that is an hour away from the potential client may not be as good as use of time as a very good printer only fifteen minutes away. Sometimes you get to show all of your skills and produce remarkable pitches that land big projects – but sometimes you just need to get done what needs to get done to get the gig.

Be Someone I Can Count On

All of these points boil down to trust. I will give you more responsibility if you demonstrate I can count on you. That means consistently getting the job done with a minimum of drama. The less I have to worry about you mentally checking out, making sloppy mistakes, or paying more attention to flash than results, the more likely I am going to give you more responsibility. If I have to think about what you should be thinking about, I’m going to give the job to someone else.

Look for more of what managers and organizations from soccer in Soccer Thinking for Management Success: Lessons for Organizations from the World’s Game, due out this summer.

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