In front of the goal, do you pass or shoot?
Although the question lacks context, you might have already unconsciously picked an answer. Some of our mental habits often rationalise this immediate decision with: “I’m more a team player” or “I’m a go-getter”.
Pass or shoot. How to choose?
At its core, football is a team sport, with 11 players banding together to defeat their opponents. Passing is, by definition, a team move and seems a prime choice, but if nobody tries to score, our team is unlikely to win.
Should we look at roles? The strikers shoot and the others pass? In this case, if a defender is in a position to score, should she still pass the ball to a striker because that’s their “job”? With this approach, you might end up being benched and spend the remainder of the season making lemonades.
“Pass or shoot?” is an exciting question and concept I work on with teams to elevate their performance. It encapsulates an often-overlooked skill: decisiveness.
You might be a world-class midfielder, capable, while your eyes closed, to land the ball with a millimetre precision; there will come a time when shooting is the best course of action. Passing then becomes an anti-team play as we deflect our responsibility and hand over the burden to our colleagues.
Imagine, as a technical lead, the quality of your deliveries helps you to establish trust with your client. As you are having a conversation, he opens up about a potential need that could result in a new contract (or at least an extension) and starts asking about pricing. Should you stop him in his tracks, telling him that he should engage with the sales representative or keep listening and give a bulk part estimate?
Pass or shoot?
You are not in sales. There are processes. You cannot give a quote like that. On the other hand, the client came to you and asked your opinion about his issue.
There is an opportunity to foster your relationship and progress a new lead. Risky? Possibly, but nothing forces you to shoot “straight”, curved balls can also score. For instance, we can add to our response some caveats like: “That’s my educated guess, but I would need to get back to you once I checked the details with the sales department.”
Barcelona football team was famously known in the 2010s for its philosophy of possession. Making the ball do the work. Players aimed to exhaust their opponents by forcing them to chase the ball through a precise set of passes in order to finally create space in the defence and seize the opportunity to score.
For this strategy to be effective, all their passes had to have an intent, a purpose. Funnily, each of the passes had a goal. Building on each of these steps ultimately leads them to score.
If you decide to pass, what is your intention behind this action? What are you aiming for?
Why do you call this meeting? What is the agenda? What do you expect out of it? What are these passes for? How will they help you to win?
And sometimes, passing won’t help. It will not favourably progress the game.
Picture a senior executive being toxic, verbally and physically abusing a younger employee in front of several witnesses. As a CEO, a meeting is not needed. You don’t need more input to make the call about this issue. You have to shoot.
In different situations, more complex, surrounded with uncertainty, making the call to shoot is harder. Maybe a few more passes could reduce the risks. And so long as we are passing, we are not losing. So, it naturally sounds safer.
But we should not forget that the clock is ticking.
Relying only on passes for a whole match, never shooting, best grants you a draw. Nothing thrilling and definitely not a winning strategy. And ultimately, it will leave you with the worst kind of regrets – the ones born from inaction.
The psychology doctors Thomas Gilovich and Victoria Medvec explained that, as time passes, the intensity of our regrets, born from our inaction, increases. It’s partially due to the many interrogations left unanswered.
- What would have happened if I had done this?
- What would have happened if I decided to give it a go?
- What would my life look like now?
On the contrary, the intensity of regrets from action has been proven to decrease over time. Mainly because we can fix things. If we made a mistake, we can address it. At least, we can work toward diminishing its impact.
There is no way to correct something that never happened. All you are left with is questions about what would have happened if you had given it a go.
In the 1990 World Cup, England played Germany for a spot in the final. After 120 minutes, with a 1-1 score, teams were heading to a penalty shootout. This is an incredibly tense situation.
Players must decide whether to take the shot or leave it to their teammates. The ones who advance in front of the goal take on a tremendous amount of pressure, shouldering the hopes of their country. A single shot, a few minutes at most, and they can become a national hero. But they can also make the newspaper’s front page as the one who missed and doomed their team and nation.
On that day, Stuart Peace decided to shoot, to see his attempt blocked by the German goalkeeper, and his team was defeated.
Surely, Peace’s regrets were immense at the time. But compared to all the players that stay on the sidelines, he had an answer. The others only had questions. What if I was the one taking a chance, would I have scored? Would have been the hero of the day?
Peace grew from this experience. Instead of becoming a victim of his choice, he embraced the identity of survivor. He didn’t let the loss define him. He learnt from it and signed one of the best comebacks in sports history.
In the 1996 European Cup, the English team found itself in a similar predicament, unable to get the better of Spain during the standard game time. Like six years ago, the teams were heading to a penalty shootout. Overcoming his demons, Peace advanced in the penalty area, scored one of the goals that led his team to victory and surely washed away some of his past regrets.
So, pass or shoot?
There are no right or wrong answers, just principles to help us make better decisions. Pass with the goal in mind, with purpose, not avoidance. Shoot despite the risks of regrets, as inaction ends up always weighting more than action.
I wish you score plenty and hope this newsletter helped you think differently.
To your success,
(*) In all fairness, there is certainly much more to Barcelona’s football tactics than the core idea I described.
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