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Fintech Decision Making Guidance from a Football Academy

“Before I make a mistake, I don’t make that mistake.”  – Johan Cruyff

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Fintech Decision Making Guidance from a Football Academy

“Before I make a mistake, I don’t make that mistake.”  – Johan Cruyff

In 2005, a team of Israeli scholars published research on decisions goalkeepers in football (aka soccer) make on penalty kicks, observing 286 penalties in top leagues. After the study, they came to the following conclusion: “Given the probability distribution of kick direction, the optimal strategy for goalkeepers is to stay in the goal's center. Goalkeepers, however, almost always jump right or left.”Their conclusion as to why that happened was based on norm theory… but in reverse, meaning that, “a goal scored yields worse feelings for the goalkeeper following inaction than following action.”

To be fair to the goalie, one can imagine that if he stays still and the goal is still scored the “worse feeling” might come from his coach and his teammates. He just let the ball go left or right and did not try for it, would probably be the sentiment. Every team has a lonely back up goalie (or two) just waiting for that one and only spot to open up. Maybe you feel the same way that the goalie does in your technology decisions: any action feels better than waiting, especially when there are people watching. 

In the banking industry, transformation is the name of the game. Decision makers at the executive level need to make crucial decisions right now that could determine a bank’s future for decades to come: stress over compliance, cyber security and innovative technology make bankers want to move quickly into action. It is important to innovate, with nontraditional competitors joining traditional competitors in a climate where not every player will survive. However, just because your CEO and shareholders are expecting you to move, movement without purpose is just movement. 

If the research is correct, the goalies are moving just to move. When making technology decisions now that can determine the future of your bank three years from now, you do need to move but you must move with purpose, and ask your vendors, “Where do you see my business needs 18 months from now, three years from now, and 5 years from now.” If they don’t have a good answer do not lock into an agreement you cannot get out of when the business climate changes. 

Guidance from a Football Academy

If you are not a follower of European football, you might not know that the quote above from Johan Cruyff comes not from a businessman, but the greatest Dutch football player of all time, and an innovative coach. His legend lives on at an academy inspired by him that is transforming the way coaches teach the game and players play. TOVO Academy is based outside of Barcelona ( The academy is teaching, among other things, “football IQ”, the ability to think without the ball, to think a few steps ahead, and not just to focus on where the ball is in the present. The results are proving to be transformative for players and will likely change the way the game is being coached. Players and coaches come back after a term (about three months) there with a new mindset that is changing the game and giving the participants a winning edge. 

Todd Beane, its founder, is bucking the trend especially in the U.S. soccer world, by developing smart young players into ones that can see the entire landscape of the field with transformative results. But Beane will tell you it is not easy. “I have worked with many players and there is one obsession they have that leads them astray. They play in the present. And the present in football is that round orb we call the ball. When a player has it, she works her moves until that prize becomes someone else’s gift. It is not a harmonious chorus, but a collection of individuals singing in a bewildering cacophony.”

Training your team and yourself to think in a new way and in the future may take time, but take heart. If you learn to think two or three steps ahead and with purpose like the aspiring football players outside Barcelona, you have an opportunity to make the right decision, go on the offensive, and avoid the “bewildering cacophony.”Do not just play in the present. 

Notes: TOVO Academy is based in the city of Sitges, Spain and develops players between the ages of 13 and 20 years of age, as well as coaches throughout the world. Information can be found at  
The goal keeper study was by Michael Bar-Eli and Ofer H. Azar, Ilana Ritov, Yael Keidar-Levin and Galit Scheinof Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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