Leader vs. Finisher

By Graham Youtsey

Soccer is loved by millions, yet detested by almost as many. Kind of like the POTUS now that I think of it.  A huge soccer fan myself, I have joined the more than 3 billion viewers of the World Cup.

Clint Dempsey is one of the top players in the US and one of the best American players ever. He has played in the Premier League in Europe,  USMNT, World Cup, and Major League Soccer here in the US. Currently, he plays and is team captain for the Seattle Sounders. He is truly talented and skilled, he can flat out score. That said, I rank him low in regards to best ever. Why? He is a finisher versus a leader.

Dempsey has everything you would want from a goal scorer: focus, fitness, skill, and ego. You need a little selfishness in that position. Get him the ball and he will score.  He is my pick to score, but not to wear the armband (team captain). Captain of a sports team or any team must lead in three vital ways:

Attitude: Do you want to be here? He walks on the pitch and you can instantly tell what kind of day it is going to be. His posture gives it away. If his shoulders sag down on his elbows and he doesn’t smile it is going to be a long day. Best not even let him out to hold hands with the kids to start the match. His negativity will ruin the joy for the young lad.  Leaders show up with a positive attitude knowing they are an example to everyone around them.

Desire: Do you care? Would you rather be at home playing with the kids or on a date with your beautiful wife? Are you playing the whole game or just going to stand around until the ball lands at your feet? Those are not exactly the thoughts you want the rest of the team to think. 10.5 against 11 is tough for 90 minutes. Leaders care deeply and will keep their head in the game for their team.

Emotion: Will you stay on the pitch? I get the bookings – red cards, yellows, elbows, etc., but get them in the flow of the game. Go up strong and as Pele says ‘Bumpers out’; If you hit my bumper that’s your problem. Personal emotion takes over way too often. Leaders are self-aware and keep their emotions in check.

I don’t want to sound like I don’t like him. Technically I don’t know him. Never met him. Dempsey is incredibly talented; skilled at the sport of soccer. But if I could pick someone to start my team it would be someone that exhibits leadership skills above talent. Imagine how good a team you would have with people 75% as talented but play hard all 90 minutes. Whistle to whistle each and every game. Here is proof: The Seattle Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup. Dempsey did not play due to injury. The team rallied around each other. Support. Hard work. Belief in the system. Teamwork. Everyone left their ego on the bench and played whistle to whistle. Were there let downs? Yes. Others stepped up in the leadership void. The negative voice was overpowered with positivity. Everyone had the same desire and goal.

Crush whoever is on the other side of the pitch. You may still not appreciate the grace and beauty of soccer. I may still draft Dempsey on my fantasy team. You can substitute your team or leader. That’s OK. Recognize that the right attitude, desire, and emotion are critical to sustainable success. The bottom line is, to win everyone needs to be on the same page and the leader needs to lead.

Go Sounders!