“Do you believe in miracles? Yes.” Those were the words uttered by Al Michaels as the clock hit zero and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team had just pulled off a David and Goliath moment. This ragtag group of college students had just defeated the legendary Russian Olympic Team that had not lost an Olympic hockey game since 1968. Two days later the USA team would defeat Finland to win the gold medal.
When the Americans went up 4-3 against the Russians with ten minutes remaining in the contest, all of America held its breath for those remaining minutes. It seemed like the longest ten minutes in sports history. During those final minutes, goalie Jim Craig made several fabulous saves that kept all of us on the edge of our seat.
Sports Illustrated selected that epic hockey game as the greatest sports moment of the 20th century. And I would wholeheartedly concur. But it was much more than just a great moment in sports. The games took place against the backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. “The so-called Miracle on Ice was more than just an Olympic upset; to many Americans, it was an ideological victory in the Cold War as meaningful as the Berlin Airlift or the Apollo moon landing.”
This last generation has seen a long list of uniquely talented individual athletes. Think Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky, and Steph Curry. Part of the greatness of the story of the 1980 Olympic hockey team was that there wasn’t a superstar.
It was a group of no-name college students led by Herb Brooks who wasn’t even the first choice to coach the 1980 team. Their journey is a great case study in what it looks like to become a healthy and high-performing team. These principles are valuable for the teams we lead. After all, we are working for something more noble and eternal than a gold medal.
Sometime after the Olympics, Coach Herb Brooks shared some of his reflections about this team. "They were really mentally tough and goal-oriented. They came from all different walks of life, many having competed against one another, but they came together and grew to be a real close team. I pushed this team really hard, I mean I really pushed them. But they had the ability to answer the bell. Our style of play was probably different than anything in North America. We adopted more of a hybrid style of play - a bit of the Canadian school and a little bit of the European school. The players took to it like ducks to water, and they really had a lot of fun playing it. We were a fast, creative team that played extremely disciplined without the puck. Throughout the Olympics, they had a great resiliency about them. I mean they came from behind six or seven times to win. They just kept moving and working and digging."
Several of Coach Brooks’ phrases become a great tutorial in how to become a great team.
1. Mentally Tough
To me, that phrase is about self-leadership. No team is stronger than the individuals who make up that team. It is about showing up every day with a mindset to deliver your best. It is about not taking the easy way, but rather taking the best way; the way that leads to accomplishing the goal. Mental toughness is about “owning your stuff” and not being a victim. It is about realizing that I am not entitled to anything and that serving on this team is a “get to” not a “have to”. It means not be a whiner or complainer, but rather being a problem solver.
All great teams are crystal clear about their objective. They know what the “win” is and they align their efforts and energies to accomplish the goal before them. The pursuit of a gold medal is a very clear and tangible goal.
For those of us in ministry, defining the “gold medal” is a little trickier. But because it can be less tangible, that is why it is even more important for us to do the hard work of discerning, praying, and clarifying “the win” for our ministry. This also means that we must have the discipline to say “no” to the opportunities and ideas that don’t lead us toward the accomplishment of our unique calling.
In next week’s article, we will explore some more valuable principles for building great ministry teams. So, as we get ready to transition into 2018, let me ask you a question. Are you clear about your vision and focus for this coming year? Or, are you simply going to do the same thing as you did this last year but just slap it on a new calendar? And, is your team clear about your priorities for the coming year? As you move into this holiday season, let me encourage you to block out some time with your team to pray, discern and discuss your key priorities for the coming year.
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