From the Field to the Boardroom

Three Business Lessons Learned from Refereeing Soccer

My colleague Roshni Devchand has made a compelling case about how professional learning has enriched her work in health communicationsI’ve also learned that experiences unrelated to my day job have prepared me to be a better communications professional.

Since 2013, I have been a nationally certified soccer referee. On many weekends, I’m part of a three-person team that officiates games in the Washington, DC area. I do it to stay active and to work side-by-side with my 16-year-old son. It has the added benefits of reinforcing best practices in communications and giving me the chance to apply them in a different setting.

Here are three ways that my experience as a soccer referee has given me a new perspective on my day job:

1. Be a life-long learner.

Being a certified soccer referee is a constant learning process. To earn a badge, I attended six, three-hour sessions where I learned the intricate details of soccer rules and the tricks of managing a game. Every year, I need to recertify by taking an open-book test and attending another session. This year, soccer’s governing body made extensive changes to the rulebook, requiring me to study before the exam and carefully read the rulebook while answering the questions. Once I passed (on my second try!), I attended an engaging four-hour seminar discussing how to apply the new rules. I love the challenge of learning new material and applying it to real life – and the reminder that the discipline of learning is essential to becoming better at any job.

2. Know your audience.

When I’m in the center of the field with a whistle in my hand, I’m in constant communication with the players, my assistants, coaches, and even parents. Every moment, I re-learn that the key to communication is understanding the audience. For experienced teenagers, a simple hand gesture can be sufficient to explain a foul call. But 10-year-olds deserve detailed explanations so they can become better players. Every moment, it’s apparent how important communication is; if there’s a breakdown, the game can spin out of control.

3. Prepare for any situation.

Just like a communications campaign, soccer games are unpredictable. Before a game, I go through a checklist of potential disruptions or crises. If thunderstorms are in the forecast, I tell my assistants how to signal me to stop the game. I review recent rule changes and identify situations where I’ll clarify them to players that may affect key moments of the game. I even rehearse how I’ll communicate controversial calls and restart the game as quickly as possible. I take my own advice: Be prepared for the unexpected.

I became a soccer referee for personal reasons. The experience has fulfilled those goals – and more. It has made me a better communications professional.

David Hoff
Senior Vice President


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