Imagine Next: Work Hard, Play Hard

A free kick. After nearly 90 hard-fought minutes of a game that’s ebbed and flowed as if directed by unseen forces, a game that’s featured deft dribbling and crisp passes but also stout defense and few opportunities, a game that stands at nil-nil with seconds to play, the opposing team fouls your side’s midfielder as they weave into position, hoping for a miracle shot.

A light drizzle begins to fall. The crowd erupts in an incomprehensible chant to lift the home team to victory.

The midfielder approaches the free kick with first a measured stride and then two more in rapid succession, building momentum, before launching the ball off the side of his foot, arcing over a line of defenders in a glorious parabola that leaves the keeper sprawling in vain as the ball hits the back of the net.

The midfielder drops to their knees, arms outstretched before being covered under a pile of teammates. The crowd cheers as the home side celebrates its 1-0 triumph.

Is this the World Cup?

No. It’s Parsons.

If you can imagine.

As people around the world turn their attention to soccer this month—including some of us who might only catch matches on TV every four years or so—our very own Parsons people are not only watching but playing too. Just not in the World Cup.

Here, Imagine Next means more than conceiving of the next great solution or visualizing the next step in your career. It can also mean imagining the next thing you can do to have fun with your coworkers and develop the teamwork and relationships that make working at Parsons both productive and enjoyable.

For Nasser Zituni, principal project manager in our Atlanta, Georgia, office, that meant forming an as-yet-unnamed team in 2021 to bring his office’s new and seasoned employees together as well as those who work from home. After 12 years living in Dubai and playing in an office with several internal soccer teams, Nasser brought his passion for the game with him to the States.

Some of the players he helped assemble are beginners, while others played collegiately. Participants include a mix of men and women, ages ranging from twenties to fifties, of various nationalities, including Parsons employees from Turkey, Egypt, India, Lebanon, Libya, and Nigeria.

The group plays once a week, on Sundays, at Newtown Park in nearby Alpharetta, a well-kept space with a dog park, walking trails, and a community garden. When the players meet up, they divide themselves into two sides, and the battle begins.

No matter who scores more goals, however, everybody wins. According to Nasser, “Playing together as an office builds rapport with our colleagues. Sometimes we have senior managers and junior engineers who are on the same team. That kind of thing builds confidence between people, and coworkers get to know each other in a more dynamic way than they would if they only saw each other in the workplace.”

In addition to the great exercise, the team enjoys snacks and refreshments together after matches. In fact, a Turkish teammate recently brought baklava and Turkish coffee to the game for everyone to enjoy after racing up and down the field for an hour in the southern heat. But Atlanta isn’t the only place you’ll find Parsons people enjoying themselves after a tough game.

Claire Heumann and Shawn Woodruff, who work on the Gordie Howe International Bridge Project, enjoy their after-game rituals too.

Claire is a project engineer and Shawn is the deputy project manager on the once-in-a-generation endeavor to create a new international trade crossing with a record-breaking cable-stayed bridge connecting Detroit, Michigan, to Windsor, Ontario. With their background playing college soccer, Claire and Shawn are captains of what they call Parsons United—a team of diverse men and women sharing a love of collaboration and competition who’ve come from all over the world to work on the project. This team scrimmages on Wednesdays (with the out-of-towners when they can make it).

Parsons United was recently challenged by the client, Windsor—Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA FC), a not-for-profit Crown corporation reporting to Canadian Parliament, to two games thus far—one that was played at the picturesque, 175-acre Malden Park, in Windsor, and one played at the 1845 Historic Fort Wayne, in Detroit.

Both fields offer views of the bridge, and the Fort Wayne park is adjacent to the new port of entry that is part of the project and only a half-mile from the Ontario shore.

Though Parsons United hasn’t taken home a victory yet, Claire, like Nasser back in Georgia, says the true win is the camaraderie.

She says, “We think being able to spend time with the client in a fun atmosphere is really valuable and definitely contributes to how well we work together, but just as important is seeing your coworkers outside of the office and getting a chance to see that human element in everyone. And the way people act in the office is sometimes very different than the way they act on the soccer field!”

Parsons United, in their custom-designed project jerseys, and its fans—friends, family, and colleagues both local and traveling from across the US and Canada—usually have post-match get-togethers at a local brewery. After a close defeat in Canada, everyone headed to Brews and Cues, whose slogan is “Your Neighbourhood Pub” and is a great place to shoot some pool, eat burgers, and drink beer. For the US game, the teams chose Atwater Brewery, which boasts a biergarten, local craft brews, and German fare.

But the Detroit team has another after-game ritual too—teasing each other. Shawn devised a recap of sorts that recounts the acrobatics, fumbles, competitive spirit, and all-around battle wounds from the game. This is circulated among the team in good fun, resulting in even more team spirit, levity, and humor.

Because, after all, what fun is playing soccer if you can’t be a good sport?

The FIFA World Cup is a historic event that comes around just once every four years. And while our Parsons teams sadly did not qualify, they do share a love for the sport and loyalty to their favorite teams around the world. (We even have some Parsons employees volunteering at the event!)

So if you tune in or are lucky enough to attend a match or two in Qatar, keep an eye out for Parsons. For the rest of us, we can be happy knowing that our Parsons friends are shouting, cheering, and laughing from the comfort of their couches, from the far-flung places we do business, or maybe from local pubs in neighborhoods just like ours.

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