Happiness on the field

The New York Times has a great article about the talent school at Dutch football (ie. soccer) club Ajax, where young players are discovered and train to be the stars of the future.

But how do you know who’s got it? How can you tell if this or that 10-year old kid will be a football legend? Interestingly, the biggest talents are not necessarily the ones who score the most goals. One coach says:

I am never looking for a result for example, which boy is scoring the most goals or even who is running the fastest. That may be because of their size and stage of development. I want to notice how a boy runs. Is he on his forefeet, running lightly? Does he have creativity with the ball? Does he seem that he is really loving the game? I think these things are good at predicting how hell be when he is older.

At our conference in Copenhagen on May 20, the head of talent development of FC Copenhagen, Denmark’s leading football club, said essentially the same thing: He looks for young players who enjoy the game for itself. Playing football should be the coolest thing ever – even if you’re just practicing on a rainy Monday evening. This means that they also focus on making training sessions and games fun.

I like that approach and I think it translates well into business (unlike a lot of other sports concepts). Essentially, this is what Southwest Airlines does when they “hire for attitude and train for skill.” British food chain Pret a Manger also emphasizes happiness. Jay Chapman, their head of communication says:

You cant hire someone who can make sandwiches and teach them to be happy, so we hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches.

What about your organizations? Do you look for talent based only on performance or do other factors count?

4 thoughts on “Happiness on the field”

  1. I love the article and understand and agree with what you are trying to say. But as a Dutchman (yes, the country where Ajax is based) I do have a critical note. Ajax seems to be doing less and less well with its footbasll school and they are quite often critized for it in Holland.

  2. Paddi Lund http://www.paddilund.com tells the story of a football talent scout who visited a local team.

    Rather than picking any of the best players, the talent scout picked on a good-but-not-brilliant player.

    When the coach asked him why, the talent scout said:

    “Brilliant players won’t listen to my guidance – they’ll just do their own thing and they won’t work well as part of a team. But players who are good but not brilliant, always want to improve and learn, and they’ll listen to what they’re told!”



  3. I absolutely believe in the notion of hiring for attitude (and happiness and passion and enthusiasm)! I have seen this philosophy work in countless job environments.

    I work with alot of technical support teams, and even there–where a high level of skill and knowledge is crucial to the job–attitude is paramount. In any job where employees are in direct communication with customers, they won’t be successful unless they recognize that service is an intrinsically rewarding profession–it feels good to be of help someone out.

    Of course it’s best if the employees have this understanding and attitude when they join the company. If not, however, there is alot that can be done to train and motivate them. One such course is http://bit.ly/dao3Mw

  4. Great piece on Ajax. Funnily enough I did a piece on the Ajax school and the TIPS competency model for my Masters a couple of years back. The Ajax team circa 1995/1996 was one of the best sides I’ve seen. I think every player (with the exception of Jari Litmanen) in the side that won the 1995 Champions League final was a Dutchman (the majority came from their football school) . I don’t think that any team that has won the Champions League since could say the same. It’s impossible to keep players together any longer because as soon as they are on the radar they are off to Spain, Germany or England.

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