Playing for managers who believe in us

I’ve been following Manchester United football club for 15 years now. While the regularity with which I watch games has waxed and waned over the years, it has been particularly difficult since our second baby arrived earlier this year. But, in this case, neither did I really want to watch the team play regularly. Watching the team play felt like a soulless experience.

The manager of a football/soccer club is the work equivalent of 3 levels of management. They are the soul of the football club and carry immense decision making power as long as they have the CEO and Board’s backing. And, for the past two and a half years, the manager of Manchester United sucked all joy out of the club. Worst of all, he alienated most of his players by repeatedly shaming them in front of the media.

So, it was truly wonderful to check out the highlights of the game yesterday as a new era dawned on the club. The team scored 5 goals in a single game for the first time in 5 years. And, the players seemed to have fun.

The saying – people don’t leave companies, they leave their managers – crossed my mind as I watched yesterday’s highlights for the third time. Playing for a manager who believed in them lifted every player on the team. We saw more creativity, more hustle, and more happiness than we’d seen in a long time.

Managers matter. Investing in finding and working for managers who believe in us can make more of a difference than we sometimes realize.

Working your way through painful conditioning

I joined a group of very skillful footballers I didn’t know for a game last week. It has become a habit to do this wherever I am – find a place where footballers gather, join them, and ask if I can join. It’s a simple idea and is one that seems to work around the world, regardless of language.

Before you get in, getting in seems to be the challenge (and this applies to every place we try to get in – prestigious jobs, schools). It soon becomes evident that staying in, staying motivated and sustaining high performance is the hard part. I hadn’t played football for many months before I got in to play 4 days ago and, when playing with a high skill group, it shows. It wasn’t a bad game but I got out feeling aches and pains in multiple places. I had a few blisters too and immediately replaced my old studs with new ones to solve that problem.

The next day was worse. While there were no aches, pains or blisters, my complete lack of game time showed strongly as I was part of a poor team. We lost all 5 games I played in and I went home feeling demotivated. I tried reminding myself that I was doing this only for fun but it still hurt. The competitive person within hates being the person that sucks. The resistance even tried popping up to dissuade me from playing on Monday (i.e. today). That’s not going to happen.

If you’re wondering why I’d rather continue to embarrass myself, then you should know why… THIS is painful conditioning. This is the stuff I talk about on this blog nearly every day. THIS is the hard part. THIS is an example of the daily grind and the war we wage with the resistance.

There is no shortcut. I just have to work my way back in – play more to get my touch back, get fitter so I can compensate for my lack of touch with graft, and start again from the basics.

We just have to work our way through the painful conditioning to the places where the good stuff happens..