In the world of business, soccer is considered a form of casual entertainment, and sports in general are seen as somewhat frivolous. In the world of politics, where success can mean life or death, soccer is an unlikely candidate for serious consideration. But in the world of business, soccer has a long history of success.
It all started with the British empire. Soccer teams were formed by British government employees who were sent to far-flung places on the empire’s behalf. Some rules were necessary to ensure that the players had enough time to get around and play, but it wasn’t necessary to invent a game out of whole cloth. Soccer was just another way of doing things: it took advantage of existing resources and didn’t require much overhead.
And so it was with other European empires that followed. The Portuguese used soccer to administer their colonies; the Spanish used it to conquer their American colonies; and most recently, soccer has been used as a tool by the United States in its geopolitical competition with China.*
Soccer has also been important for people who want to learn about success in life, because it teaches them how to think creatively about problems: how to organize teams; what tactics work best; how to win games even when you don’t have everything going your way.
Soccer is a metaphor for life. In soccer you need skill, and in life you need the same thing. And soccer is the best metaphor for life because it is the one most people understand.
While it may seem paradoxical to say that a video game can help you be successful in real life, that’s what soccer is like. Most people know how to play soccer because they have played it as children. It’s easy to pick up and play, even if you have never played before, so when they see a child playing soccer they don’t think “some idiot with no real talent must be doing this.” They think “this is a great idea! I want to learn how to do that.”
Soccer is an extremely effective way of teaching you how to succeed in life.
Most people think that to get ahead, you have to make money. But you can get ahead without making money. The most successful people in history were not bankers or lawyers or doctors. They were soccer players.
Soccer is a game that requires a huge amount of skill, but very little knowledge. All you need to know is how to kick the ball with your foot, and where to kick the ball so that it doesn’t go into your own goal.
In many countries, the top soccer league draws more viewers than the major league baseball in the United States. And after every game, everyone gathers on TV to watch the greatest hits of the world’s best soccer players playing live at their best. All games are played well; there is no cheating involved. But all games are played by amateurs.*
And then there’s football: which is what soccer becomes if you don’t win (and don’t want to lose too badly). It’s still soccer: just as fun and exciting (and dangerous), and just as easily dominated by amateurs.*
You may have heard that the secret to success is hard work. That’s true, but only if you’re not playing soccer.
You see, studying soccer is like studying brain science. The important point is that you can’t do it anyway. You can’t read about soccer without being good at it. If you have never played the game, you can’t learn about it by reading about it; you have to play it. If you are already very good at soccer, then reading about soccer will help you improve your skills. But if you’re not very good, then reading about soccer will be a waste of time: even if you read all the books on soccer strategy and tactics, your chances of improving are zero.
Soccer is an example of what economists call a “zero-sum game.” In a zero-sum game, the only way to get ahead is by taking something away from someone else (or someone wins something they didn’t have before). In soccer this means scoring more goals than your opponent or keeping more balls in play than him.
Soccer is a lot like life. The challenge is to be good enough to win, but not so good that you can’t lose. Soccer is more fun than running around a track, because it gives you more control over the outcome; you can run into people and get hurt or score a goal or throw the ball in the net. Being good enough to win isn’t as hard as people think, but it’s harder than being good enough to lose.
Soccer, unlike most sports, is not a competition. It is a game of skill in which the players are evenly matched and all have an equal chance of winning.
Soccer requires very little equipment. People play it with their hands, knees, elbows and heads; there are no wins to be had by smashing your opponents’ heads into the ground with a metal bar. In soccer you can’t score points by taking home your opponent’s shirt or cap after the game. The game does not depend on violence or strength. Finally, there is no referee to enforce rules about fair play – it’s up to the players to make sure they follow them. There is no one teaching soccer in school so that when you grow up you know how to play it well; there are no coaches, instructors or even coaches’ assistants. Soccer is played by people who just happened to learn the rules as they went along and whose knowledge of the rules is based entirely on what they see other people doing on TV and in games they have played themselves.
Soccer doesn’t demand physical fitness or strength; but you need patience and a drive to win. You have to learn how to lose gracefully as well as how to win; soccer teaches both.
Everyone thinks they know how to make money, but most people don’t. The reason is that they don’t know what money is.
The problem with most people’s thinking about money has to do with the word “make” (more below). Most people think of making money as a matter of working hard, saving money, and investing the saved money in order to get more money. That’s really not how it works.
Here’s an easy way to think about it: If you have 10 dollars and spend them all, you’ve made zero dollars. But if you have 10 dollars and put one dollar in a safe-deposit box, there are now 11 dollars. You didn’t make any more money—you just hid it better. If you have 10 dollars and spend two, three times as much, you still made only two dollars; the extra dollar came from savings elsewhere. If you have two or three times as much saved up, you can make even more than that; but that only means your total wealth has increased by a multiple of 2 or 3. You haven’t made any more money as long as your initial investment was bigger than the amount you need to start with to get started, because each dollar invested multiplies your wealth by a factor equal