Soccer and UFC are America’s fastest growing sports.  In fact, when you look at television ratings, youth participation, clothing and apparel sales, video game sales, and how easy it is to get some people together and play, soccer has clearly passed hockey as this nation’s fourth most popular sport.  In fact, in a prelude to the World Cup, over 100,000 people attended the Copa America tournament this week at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

During the month of June, I am looking at Apex Leaders, those who are at the top of their professions.  We have looked at pastors, business leaders, and I would be remiss to not acknowledge the insights of one of the top performers in the fastest growing sport in America.

In a May 30th Sports Illustrated article, writer Grant Wahl profiled Mexico forward Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez.  Having also played for Manchester United, Chicharito is described as the greatest striker in North America.

The following are 14 leadership lessons I gleaned from Wahl’s article on this talented influencer with over 6.5 million Twitter followers.  Make sure you especially make note of numbers 7 and 12.

  1. Apex Leaders Have Great Focus – Hernandez does not have a lot of interests.  He admits, “I like to breathe, eat and talk about football.”
  2. Apex Leaders Have Great Anticipation – They have a sixth sense.  Hernandez says, “If you’re inside the box and a cross is coming, sometimes you need, as we say in Spanish, to smell the intuition, to smell where the cross is going…Sometimes I make my move one or two seconds before the ball is coming because I’m trying to guess that the ball is coming there.  It’s intuition.  So I run.  Sometimes the ball comes…sometimes not.  But that intuition is working.”
  3. Apex Leaders Have Great Intelligence – Hernandez understands the mental component needed to play soccer at the highest level.  He said, “You play this sport in the mind, not only on the field.”
  4. Apex Leaders Have Great Self-Awareness – Hernandez remembered, “When I was a kid, they taught me: You don’t need to look at the goal sometimes; the goal is not going to move.  But you are going to move, so you need to read where you are.”
  5. Apex Leaders Are Always Looking For Ways To Improve – Constantly tinkering with new ideas and techniques on the practice field, Hernandez says, “There are always things I want to improve.”
  6. Apex Leaders Are Constantly Looking For An Edge – Hernandez is constantly scouting opponents, watching video, and even evaluating his own teammates.
  7. Apex Leaders Know If You Are Not Learning, You Are Dying – The following should be a sobering warning for all leaders regardless of your profession.  Hernandez says, “It’s an education every day.  You can always learn something new from football.  If a player starts thinking they don’t need to learn?  They are dead.”
  8. Apex Leaders Have All Experienced Failure – Even the best experience failure.  Hernandez acknowledges, “You have periods when, even if you close your eyes, you can score a goal.  And the other periods when, even if the goal is open, you put the ball off the crossbar.  Why?  I don’t know.  It’s a mystery.”
  9. Failure Is Not Final.  After Experiencing Failure, Apex Leaders Focus On Their Next Opportunity – “We are human beings.  When you miss a clear chance, obviously that hits you.  What I want is to get focused on the next one.  The one that I missed, I cannot do anything.  The next one is the one I can change.”
  10. Apex Leaders Work Hard So They Can Have Opportunity And Options – This is what leaders work so hard for.  Hernandez says, “If I have six chances and I miss six, of course I’m not going to be happy  – but I’m calm because I had chances.  When you don’t even have chances, that’s the difficult thing.”
  11. Apex Leaders Play To Their Strengths – Hernandez admitted, “I am not the tallest, not the strongest, not the quickest.  But I am quick enough.  I am strong enough.”
  12. Apex Leaders Know Movement = Life – Movement gives you opportunity.  Movement gives you possibilities.  Movement gives you options.  Passivity is one of a leader’s worst enemies.  Hernandez says, “I prefer to move more than be static.  I prefer to run into space and receive balls at my feet.”
  13. Apex Leaders Have A Deep Skill Set In Their Area Of Discipline – On soccer field, Hernandez has a multitude of skills.  He said, “I prefer to have a little of everything.”
  14. Apex Leaders Do The Hard Work Of Putting In Their 10,000 Hours – You cannot escape this principle.  Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, introduced the concept of the 10,000 Hour rule.  Gladwell hypothesizes to be great at anything, you must put at least 10,000 hours into it.  I think Hernandez would agree.  For anyone wanting to be great at soccer, he said, “You need to kick 300 balls (a day) to perfect something.”

What is one thing you learned from this article that can make you a better leader today?

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