I have met many people who struggle to adapt when a challenge comes their way. They are typically amazing planners, very detail oriented, and have every step of their life planned. However, they often struggle when life happens, a new obstacle is added, or something outside of their control stops their plan from happening the way they envision it. Rather than seeing a detour and the new possibilities it can bring, they see a road block and become mentally and emotionally paralysed. They are process focused, plan-bound and easily distracted from their actual goals. When a problem arises they focus on solving the problem and not on the goal they are hoping to achieve. Without knowing it, they are problem focused, not goal focused. The alternative is that they are so focused on the process that they fail to factor in new challenges and don’t see them. Either of these approaches are performance killers.
I find soccer to be an amazing microcosm of life for many reasons. I have often used soccer coaching as a way to help young players understand many important aspects of life such as teamwork, the importance of sticking to your role, the need to watch out for each other, the need to support those who are struggling or slipped up, and the need to direct and ask for help. A game of soccer has so many moving parts, so many possibilities, tactics, angles, challenges, opponents, and a whole ton of trust in those around you. There is so much that happens outside of the plan and so many outside possibilities that are not just obstacles, but are actively working against you that we can learn a great deal about adaptability and being goal-focused from the beautiful game.
I found an amazing example of being goal-focused, adaptable, and maintaining high performance in Scotland. With that said, we are going to turn our attention to Celtic F.C. of the Scottish Premier League as an example of how to keep your mind on the goal while adapting to challenges. Watch and enjoy this masterclass in possession soccer.
At the beginning of this move Celtic had the goal in their sights with the ball being knocked around on the edge of the area. How tempting just to dump the ball in the box and hope someone got on the end of it? Or better still, take a stab at a worldie and smash one into the corner from 25 yards out? You may even get a Goal of the Year contender out of it. But no – from being in a strong attacking position on the edge of the box the ball eventually finds its way back to the keeper before going forward again, and is eventually a relatively easy goal with the defence tied up in knots.
Sometimes life throws these challenges at us and we have choices on how we respond. Sometimes we are able to see an opportunity open up and we take it, like this (OK, this is a gratuitous video of Messi, just because it is amazing):
…but sometimes we have to go back to the beginning and start again. Sometimes we have to accept that we can lose battles in order to win wars. Why? Because if we are able to take a defeat for what it is, an opportunity, we can learn. If however, we are unable to see past our plan and find ourselves unable to adapt our process we will only experience disappointment. It is those with resilience and adaptability who will win the day.
So if life seems to be handing you challenges right now, take some time to think about the things you can learn and the new directions you can take. If there is no way forward maybe you need to look at what you want to achieve and rethink the direction you are taking. You don’t have to change the goal, just adapt the plan and start again from your new starting point. Here are three basic tactics for staying on target and overcoming challenges:
1 – Focus on the goal, not the problem. When a problem arises, don’t put all your energy into solving the problem, consider how it stands in the way of you and your goal. If you focus on simply fixing the problem you are discounting any other potential paths you can take. Keep your eye on the goal.
2 – Surround yourself with people you can trust. When you screw up, and you will, make sure you have people around you who will be there for you. People who are working as hard as you are and want to see the same outcomes. Be careful of those who speak more about what they will achieve and their status that that of the team as a whole. The team must always come first. Being a star player on a losing team carries a whole different identity than being a team player on a high performing team. Alan Shearer has one Premier League title and three runner-up medals to show for his time as a player, but Denis Irwin has seven Premier League winning medals, three FA Cup winning medals and is a Champion’s League winner among a load of other silverware. If I had ever been a professional soccer player I know who’s trophy cabinet I would prefer.
3 – Communicate clearly, which means listening and talking. If you’re the right back and space opens up for a run up the wing, make sure those around you know your intentions and they have your back. Likewise, do the same for them.
Trust is probably the hardest of these areas. If we dream too big we will find no shortage of people who can present potential problems to overcome before they exist. It can be debilitating solving problems for every eventuality that may never happen. Do we want to share, and therefore trust someone who can only see non-existent obstacles? It may sound cheesy and cliché, but finding people with similar goals is important, as is finding someone who has walked the path and can help you along yours. If you find people who have similar goals work to support each other, and if you are able to help someone along the path you have traveled, do that too. Do you think people took Denis Irwin seriously when he dreamed of winning the Champion’s League? He made it because he found someone who believed in him, supported him, and shared his goals.