I first heard of Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski’s book Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey – and even Iraq are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s most Popular Sport from Mike Wilbon on PTI.
As a fan of leadership books, the world cup and anything soccer (except for the MLS), I knew this was a book I would enjoy. I was not disappointed.
This book is right up the same alley as books by Malcolm Gladwell. The authors use a variety of studies, statistics as well as historical data and look at the reasons why certain countries dominate the world cup and why other countries don’t. They look at why the MLS will never be huge, the difference between football worldwide and the NFL (this was a fascinating study as to how England created colonies and America didn’t around the world and how that has affected the popularity of Soccer around the world compared to American football, which is destined to play second fiddle).
There are a few things the authors talked about concerning soccer as a sport, how teams are run and some applications I thought of as it pertains to church and pastoral leadership:
The price of a transfer and what you pay your players. Transfer among soccer teams is unique when it comes to sports. One team pays another team for a player, that players contract is torn up and they negotiate a new one. This is not how American sports teams work. What the authors point out is that what you pay as a transfer fee does not determine how good a player performs, but what you pay the players in terms of salary makes all the difference. The teams that are successful are the ones who work the transfer market better than everyone else. They buy players when they aren’t expensive and sell them when they are at the peak of their game. In soccer, 30 is over the hill.
You will see more of what you study. What you measure/celebrated gets repeated is an oft repeated leadership phrase. Whatever a church holds up as important and talks about, that is what people will do. If you never talk about small groups, sharing your faith, giving, chances are that no one in your church will think they are important and consequently, they won’t do them. I’m often asked by people what I took away from my time as an intern at Willow Creek. For me, it was how focused they are on their mission and how many people share their faith and bring people to church. The reason is they talk about it, a lot. Think about your church, if you have trouble getting people to do something, is it because you have not made it important?
Relocation. This chapter was fascinating. Because soccer is an international sport, teams in different countries sign players from a variety of countries. When a team pays a transfer fee, most (in fact, almost all) teams do not worry about relocation for the players. They don’t care about the language barriers, new housing, moving a family, they just expect a player to show up and perform. Churches are notorious for this when they hire a leader from another church. They just assume that because someone was successful somewhere else, they will be successful anywhere. They don’t take into account what the relocation process will be like, the time it will take a new leader to acclimate to the new culture. I remember moving from one church to another. One was very laidback and casual, so at the new church I wore jeans and t-shirts to the office because no one said otherwise. It wasn’t until various people complained did my boss say something. It is a little thing, but little things add up. This is why churches are not hiring more and more staff from within, which I think is a good idea.
How managers are hired. Teams in every sport, hire a new coach or manager very quickly. Churches are the same. They have a need, and they hire someone as quickly as possible. When patience would not only fill the position, but often give them a person who would last longer. But, they do something teams don’t do, they fire slowly. It is “unChristian” in their opinion to let someone go who is not up to par. Recently, we worked through a process of how we will hire new staff members at Revolution and raise up new elders. For potential elders, the process will take around 12 months. This way, we will raise up the highest leaders in our church slowly, instead of quickly. I think this is healthy. One of the reasons we are doing this is because we want to make sure the new leader knows what is at stake, what it will take to be a leader.
All in all, if you are a leader and a fan of soccer, this is a book definitely worth checking out, especially during this month of great soccer known as the world cup.