We were down two players, and the other team was younger, faster, and better. We talked to each other on the pitch, kept a tight formation, and held our heads up high. You can’t always win, but you’ve got to work together to give it everything you have.
When Thao Ngo is on the soccer field, she plays hard. She shared one story when her soccer team came up against a team that was younger, more skilled, and had more players. Her team came together and agreed they’d play a super tight formation. “Rather than be discouraged, we got energized by the challenge,” said Thao. “As a result, we may not have won, but we definitely put up a really good fight. The score ended up being 4 – 1, but if we hadn’t worked together as a team, the score could’ve been 10 – 1.”
The constant communication on the pitch, candid analysis of the game and desire to continue learning is what Thao carries into the workplace.
It’s about constant communication
A soccer field is huge, and often the difference between a good team and a great one is how in sync they are. “When we’re on the field, we’re constantly talking to each other, so we can help guide our teammates—tell them they have options for passing or time to dribble,” said Thao.
Thao says that when her team was up against that talented team, they upped their communication even more. “Communication can’t shut down during tough times,” said Thao. “That’s actually when it’s most important to be straightforward and be able to both anticipate and react to your team members’ moves in a split-second.”
It’s about being candid
Even the strongest teams come up against tough competitors, and a positive attitude can get a team through the tough times.
“I’ve seen people get on each other and yell at each other when their team is losing,” said Thao. “They play the blame game, but that’s not productive.”
Thao says her own team is very positive. If there’s a problem, they get specific about how to improve, and offer encouragement, but it’s never in an accusatory sort of way.
“We do speak candidly about what’s not working on the field,” said Thao. “The point for us is to win of course, but it’s also to have fun, and stay uninjured– those are the goals we’re always keeping in mind.”
It’s about always learning
When Thao first started playing soccer, she was in her late 20s and looking for a fun way to work out. “My siblings both played soccer on teams all throughout school, but I’d never played myself,” she said.
She’s now had the opportunity to play on a women’s city league, a number of coed recreational teams and a company soccer team. She also watches professional soccer games on tv, following Real Madrid specifically. By playing with different people and watching the pros, she’s able to learn more about the game and improve through the years.
It’s about teamwork
Thao is an enthusiastic soccer player but she knows a team’s success depends upon all players. “Soccer is not an individual sport, and every goal is a team effort,” she said.
Even if you’re not the one leading the ball, it’s a collaborative effort to get it up the field and into the goal. You have to keep your head up if you’re in a good position to be passed to. Otherwise you’re checking your opponent, creating space and moving with the rest of the team. The sharpest players have a keen sense of intuition as to where their team members are and where they are most needed. And the entire team benefits when everyone’s head is truly in the game.
When Thao Ngo isn’t chasing a ball on the soccer field, she’s the Vice President of Marketing at Vision Critical where she leads a high-performing team of marketers to develop and execute campaigns, tradeshows and webinars to increase brand awareness, generate leads and move opportunities along the pipeline.
Just like on the soccer field, Thao’s team is highly collaborative. Unlike most marketing teams where everyone owns their slice of the marketing budget, Thao and the other marketing leaders regularly discuss how to best spend their combined marketing dollars strategically. This might mean reallocating money from one group to another if they want to invest in something that will help impact team goals. They don’t look at the budget in silos nor do they operate as such. Additionally, their budget is in the cloud, so they can pass it back and forth smoothly, knowing that the data is current and that they are moving toward a common goal together.
Having visibility into where their marketing investments are going and how they’re performing gives Thao and her colleagues the ability to have candid conversations about what’s working and not working. Access to industry benchmarks and insights from other high-performing marketers also enables them determine where to next place their goal posts to get the most out of the game.
On a soccer field, as in marketing, the credit for goals just can’t be given to the striker who finishes. The goals are always the result of team play to get that ball up the field and into the net. The entire team has to work together, with the right communication and strategic analysis, in order to make goals possible.