If you didn’t see it last week, and you probably didn’t because about 17 people in the United States care about soccer (or Football in every other part of the world), the U.S. Soccer team failed to qualify for the World Cup. The World Cup for soccer is like the Olympics for every other sport. It’s the single largest soccer tournament on the planet that is only played every 4 years and the top 32 teams in the world are invited to play in it.
THE TOP 32 TEAMS.
Let that sink in a minute.
The United States has over 300 million people. We lost to Trinidad and Tobago who have roughly 1.5 million people. The U.S. has more kids playing soccer than all of the country’s population of the team they lost to! Okay, we also lost to other countries that were much smaller than us, as part of the qualifying process. So, this wasn’t a fluke. The U.S. is not one of the top 32 teams in a sport that most of the world plays as their number one sport.
If we dig into many of the reasons why the U.S. continues to fail at soccer on the world stage, where we have significantly more resources than most nations playing soccer, there are a couple that stand out as things that also impact how we select employees.
If you go to other countries around the world you’ll notice one big difference when it comes to sport, and especially youth sports. In every other country I’ve visited, I’ll see many soccer fields with young kids playing on them, and almost never see an American football field, a baseball field, a basketball court, a hockey ice arena, etc. Also, these fields are usually bare of grass. They get played on so much, it’s just hardpacked dirt. Many times the kids don’t have cleats or even shoes, they play in their bare feet.
If you play soccer in the U.S. you usually play on manicured fields, on club teams your parents are paying thousands of dollars for you to play on, with uniforms, cleats, and gear that cost more than most poor families make in a year, against a bunch of other kids who look very similar to you. And snacks! You always have some kind of organic, vegan grape, tofu mix sprinkled with protein powder and pine needles, again, costing more than most families spend in an entire week for groceries.
The reality is, soccer fails in the U.S. because we continue to select soccer players who are coming from a small, privileged part of our society. They are not the best athletes. They are the best athletes of those playing soccer, which might be the fourth, or fifth, or sixth most popular decision for athletes in the U.S. In Trinidad and Tobago every kid can and does play soccer. From the moment they can walk. Money is not an issue. Everyone has an opportunity to get in the top of the funnel.
The more I get into my career in HR and Talent Acquisition, I’m realizing so many companies are hiring like the U.S. selects soccer players. We only go to certain schools. Goldman Sachs isn’t headed to North Alabama University to hire. They go to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown, etc. Google isn’t going to Southwestern Missouri U to hire developers, they go to USC, University of Michigan, MIT, Stanford, etc.
Elite schools must mean elite students, right?
When you look for your next Director of Finance, you’re not looking at John’s Trucking Company, you’re looking at the 27-year-old who worked at Facebook. We are an elitist country that has bought into our own bullshit. We are stuck on brands at every level. Working for the right brand makes you feel like some sort of celebrity. But, it doesn’t actually make you elite.
Soccer is not a hard sport to dominate. The United States should easily be one of the top 3 teams in the world each and every World Cup. It’s simple economics of resources and population, except for the fact we only touch a tiny fraction of the population when it comes to soccer. Can you imagine if Lebron James grew up having the opportunity to play soccer? Or O’dell Beckham, Jr? Or Aaron Judge?
Most organizations are hiring in the same manner, yet we’re perplexed when we keep getting the same results. The key to great hiring, and apparently fielding a world-class soccer team, is inclusion, not exclusion. It’s not about more money. It’s about opening up opportunity.