The World Cup Needs a Soccer Mom

 In Crisis Management & Media Relations, Blog

Christmas came early this year in our house, with the World Cup starting just before Thanksgiving. We, of course, followed Team USA along with my kids’ favorite soccer idols, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Hopefully, we are still cheering on Kylian Mbappé when you read this.

As we watch these seasoned professionals on the pitch, I can’t help but wonder where the communication professionals hang out. On any youth soccer field around town, you’ll hear soccer moms scream, “Talk to each other!” to get the kids to communicate effectively to accomplish their common mission of scoring a goal. Officials in Qatar could really use a soccer mom or two right now.

On a world-class stage, you’d expect that FIFA, the Qatar officials, and all the teams would be prepared for all questions. Yet, whether the issue is about how Qatar got the bid, the number of deaths related to stadium construction, beer prohibition at the games, or the silent (or not-so-silent) protests, no one seems prepared. Some of the answers have been downright terrible. When asked about the stadium construction deaths, a Qatari official berated the journalist for his question and coldly responded that death is a part of life. Other answers have simply lacked preparation. Sometimes the players’ messaging differs from the coaches, creating confusion and inconsistency.

Perhaps the best example of a communication failure was the U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision to remove the emblem from the Iranian flag on the USA Men’s social media handles. It was a powerful message to show support for the women of Iran, but the message was lost amid the controversy and the lack of consistent messaging. The Federation spokesperson would not comment on whether the Federation’s president had cleared the decision, saying, “I’m not going to get into who knew and who didn’t.” So, the Federation isn’t even standing by its own decision in a message intended to unify people?

Even worse, the U.S. players said they were unaware of the posts, but as the stars of the show, they were forced to comment on a controversy they didn’t create and for which they weren’t prepared. Whether preparing a deponent for a deposition, preparing a witness for cross-examination, or preparing a client for a media interview, I always want to over-prepare.  I want to make sure to ask every question in a mock session so there are no surprises. Clients often leave a session feeling like I was “mean” or really rough on them. I always explain, however, that I want to be the worst questioner or interviewer they encounter to hopefully make the real experience easier and smoother.

Everyone performs better with practice, and the athletes competing at a World Cup level know that better than anyone. If a CEO makes a decision but does not communicate it to their key staff, any hope of consistent messaging or branding is gone. It’s important to make thoughtful decisions, especially one as big as taking the emblem off a country’s flag the day before a significant game. But it’s equally important to ensure everyone is on the same page and prepared with consistent talking points before external messengers like the press arrive.

As I watched the press conference the morning after the social media posts, I felt bad that the U.S. players and coach had to suddenly react to a decision they were unprepared for and field questions about complex topics like U.S. foreign policy. However, 23-year-old midfielder Tyler Adams (clearly raised by a great soccer mom) was poised and eloquent as he fielded intense questions about race relations and the impact of the flag issue on the upcoming game. While Adams performed remarkably well, clients can’t always be expected to perform flawlessly, and their lack of preparation often ends in disaster.

Effective communication with everyone on your team is critical in any crisis, and many situations can be avoided by just following that old maxim—talk to each other!


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