Life Lessons that I Learned on the Football Pitch
Football is not just a sport, it is a way of life. Being a football fan and an amateur player has taught me many lessons that have helped me in every aspect of life outside the field.
Growing up in India, I lived around cricket fanatics. We are a nation that is at its most comfortable on that 22 yards pitch. While cricket is fun, it was football that has truly entertained me over the years.
I became a football fan at the age of 8. Since then, it has been like a way of life for me. I don't claim to be a good player. However, that has not deterred me from playing, in fact, it has motivated me to try harder. In the process, it has taught me invaluable lessons that have helped me throughout my life.
I hope that some of my takeaways from the pitch can help you in your own journey in life.
Winning is Fun but the Game is More Important
Our society places too much importance on winning. We have been conditioned to always seek victory and nothing else matters. Victory has become synonymous with success. And yet, life isn't that binary in itself. It isn't just about winning.
In football, I support Arsenal Football Club. If you too follow football, then you are probably aware that the last few years (and by years I mean nearly a decade), has not really been full of victories for Arsenal. I started following the club in 2002, in the twilight of its golden era. To the 8-year-old me, winning was all that mattered and this club won beautifully. As a result, I started supporting them and I continue to do so to date.
My friends have often asked me why do I still support this club despite its continuous losses. The answer has been simple. Somewhere along the way, football taught me that life can be much more fun if we do not prescribe it the heavy burden of constant victory. If we simply learn to enjoy the ride, for the pleasure of the ride itself then in the process, irrespective of the result, we can find what we are all really looking for happiness.
Think about it, if you constantly think that your success is your key to happiness then for much of the journey, you will be simply worried about the success. If you do not achieve that success, then you won't allow yourself to be happy, however, even if you do find success, very soon you would set yourself another goal. You would once again start chasing success and happiness would continue to be an elusive dream. Happiness then will always continue to exist in small batches and never be a continuous process.
A better way exists. If we simply learn to find happiness in the journey, in the process, in life itself then irrespective of our wins and losses, we would always be happy — continuously. And frankly, your odds of success itself will increase.
Today, when I watch Arsenal, all I want is for the club to try its best, to play the beautiful game the way it is meant to be played, and seeing them do that makes me happy, not the victories. Yes, the victories do add a cherry on top but I still have the sundae when we lose.
Forward Passes are Good but sometimes life demands a back pass
We all know that the goal in football is to score a goal at the opposite end of the pitch. However, in the process of doing so, one often needs to pass the ball back and regroup. Very often life requires the same.
In the pursuit of our big goals, we often face many setbacks and failures. When that does happen, it is often smart to take a step back and regroup. However, in our hurry, we are quick to move from one thing to the next, never slowing down, never giving ourselves the chance to catch a breathe and reflect upon the entire picture.
Personally, this particular piece of advice saved me after the failure of my first business. When that happened, I decided to cut myself some slack and travel for a few weeks. Without any future insight, any idea of where my life was headed, or even knowledge of what I wanted, I took a step back and regrouped myself. In those few months, I discovered some important things about myself. As a result, when I was once again ready to pass the ball forward, I knew exactly what I needed and wanted to do. This sense of clarity would have been impossible without having taken a step back first.
It’s not all about you
Humans have a tendency to think a lot about themselves. We can spend hours potentially days just thinking about ourselves. And I get it, the most important person in the whole world for you ought to be your own self. However, being too self-absorbed is a potential landmine to your own destruction.
Football taught me the value of thinking of others first. Thinking of the whole team is the best way to play the game and by extension live your own life. Whenever I would play selfishly, with the sole aim of trying to score myself or trying to win by myself — whenever I try to go for personal glory, it never ended perfectly. Even if I did score that selfish goal, ultimately my teammates knew that I had robbed them of their opportunities. Ultimately, I would never have anybody to celebrate with. Ultimately, it never made me happy.
However, whenever I played for the team, it was a totally different story. By being generous, I would often win my team’s respect and admiration irrespective of whether the team won or lost. Invariably, they would reciprocate with their own generosities and I would get many more opportunities than what I would have gotten alone.
I try and carry this emotion outside the field as well and the results have been similar. Today, when I work with my customers, I often have a single-track agenda of delivering the best for them. I tend to not overthink about my own margins and instead focus on delivering the best to them. The result is that in the last year, nearly 90% of all our business was down to customer referrals. By thinking genuinely about my customers, they have reciprocated and thought of my interests too.
This lesson learned on the football pitch has been one of my biggest sources of genuine happiness over the years. There is a certain sense of freedom and bliss that one experiences when they stop thinking just about themselves.
While there are many more lessons that football has taught me in life, the ones mentioned above tend to stand out.
Today, when I enter the pitch, I don't just enter to play the game, I also enter to learn about life. I hope that my learnings from football have given you an opportunity to find the solutions to the problems that you may face yourself in life.