World Cup Soccer and a Cure For the “What-If” Curse

June 23, 2014 — Leave a comment

Sport is vicious, what with the zero-sum outcomes of winners and losers. World Cup group play tames that a bit by giving a point for a draw and the hope of moving on. But the bitterness of that last minute goal – the beautiful arcing ball from the world’s best player, placed perfectly on the forehead of his teammate for the equalizer – threatens to linger. We were so close to the sure thing…to making it out of the group of death into the round of 16! Now the US Men’s National Team must face the juggernaut Deutscheland and rely (perhaps) on fate to see us through.

I confess to waking up last night, replaying the long pass in my head, agonizing over the “what-if” scenarios. What if we didn’t dawdle with that final substitution? Maybe the keeper of the clock would have added one minute less of stoppage time. That would have been enough to keep the ball from Ronaldo and his final assist. What if, what if, what if. My wife did the same, the what-if curse being worse for her as each soccer match transports Kate back to her own college-playing days. Now imagine what those players are thinking.

Were I in that locker room after the end-of-game jersey-swaps and given the chance to address the players, I would say job well done. Now let it go. Don’t let the what-ifs into your minds. You can control process, but the outcome is the domain of the fates. You had a good strategy. You were conditioned well and played hard. You left nothing on the field. You were prepared, and the process was right. More often than not that will be enough to see you through, a good process will create victory. But sometimes you can do everything right, and bad luck rears its ugly head. That’s what happened last night in the final minute of stoppage time.

Here’s a matrix from the 2001 book, Winning Decisions, meant for business but maybe better suited for sports. The US men were prepared. That high level of preparation gives them the best chance of landing in the top right square, “deserved success.” But sometimes unlucky failure strikes despite your process. You end up in the bottom-right quadrant.  All you can do is shrug it off and move on.

Preparedness Luck matrix B Shadow

The real test comes next. Is this team resilient enough to bounce back from being so close to a sure thing? Can they trust their coach, each other, and the process to bring it one more time against Germany? Can they use this matrix with its oversimplified logic to rid their minds of the what-if curse and focus on preparing for the next match?

I believe…

I believe that…

I believe that we will win.

Paul Dryden


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