What can we learn from Usain Bolt failing (?) in football?

August 16th 2009 in Berlin Usain Bolt set a historic milestone: 9,58 seconds, the fastest time ever a man ran 100 meter. It is still the world record. And Usain won not less than 8 Olympic gold medals, he is for sure one of the greatest athletes ever. Then at the end of his career he wanted to become a football player, on professional level. Famous Borussia Dortmund gave him a chance to join their training sessions and an Australian club signed him.

However it did not work out that well. Markus Babbel, a former German player in the national team and now trainer in Australia is quoted: “In all love and respect, but that will not be sufficient within 100 years…”. So was Usain a great, the greatest sprinter but a lousy football player, Not at all, his ambition level was just too high. He would have had a nice football career at that age if he would have stepped down to an amateur level, maybe even on semi-professional level. What he was lacking is the 10000 hours as football coaches explain how much training is needed to reach the top. Usain was investing his 10000 hours and maybe more in being the best sprinter whereas others with some, less or more talent for football invested it there.

So if we bring it to our professional life: I have been solution architect, project manager and line manager early in my career. Specialization increased so I had to drop the technical part. So whenever I take on a new assignment I will still have a good understanding (like Usain in football, I am no lousy solution architect), but there are many architects who are much better than me and I will assign them in that role. This is no failure! Also in both project and line management (Oh I hate this word: management) I have always focused on the leadership which makes me a much better transformational leader than e.g. a maintenance manager.

To conclude the learning: If you are the best in a discipline value it! If you change discipline then please acknowledge it will take time to become best even there, if it is even possible. But just as Usain Bolt had fun in playing football, maybe it is worth it – just be realistic about the valid ambition level at that time. And if you want to deliver world-class all the time then build a team where you complement each other in all needed disciplines.

Wish you a great late summer!