Sunday evening the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) made history: its 5-2 victory over Japan to win the 2015 Women’s World Cup makes the U.S. the country with the most FIFA titles. The game was the most-viewed soccer game in U.S. history, doubling the viewership of the Stanley Cup and the NBA Finals. And Carli Lloyd carved out a corner of history by scoring the First Hat Trick in Women’s World Cup history.
This team’s dominant performance on Sunday features a lot of storylines of redemption, mental toughness, and success, and each of these storylines also includes lessons we can adopt in order to achieve similar success professionally.
1. Get the veterans onboard
As a department or a company grows, check back regularly with tenured employees and seek their advice. They could have a different perspective on the team’s growth and how to successfully train newcomers, or they could have insights into how other employees are feeling as changes are implemented. Don’t just give them an avenue for venting; act on their advice if it’s good, and don’t shy away from tough feedback. It could make all the difference.
When she came onboard in May 2014, Coach Jill Ellis faced a team with some emotional baggage and a diverse range of experience. From newcomers like Julie Johnston to legends like Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone, Ellis had to coordinate her team’s egos, expertise, and input during the World Cup. Ellis did so by over-communicating with the team and keeping the team’s leaders involved.
Partway through the tournament, after several disappointing games, Ellis had one-on-one meetings with the team’s captains and leaders, including longtime veterans like Wambach, Lloyd, and Rampone. She talked to them to get a sense of where the team was mentally, she asked for their advice, and then she acted on it.
The result was that when she had to make difficult calls – like benching Wambach early in the tournament – the team understood her vision and trusted her, including Wambach herself, who was a vocal supporter of Ellis.
This trust paid off, and it’s translatable.
2. Focus on the next play
Mistakes happen, and they’re never fun, but it’s what happens afterwards that really counts. If you lose a client, fumble a presentation, or commit another professional faux pas… own it, apologize, learn from it, and move on. Instead of dwelling on the failures of the past, focus on the next opportunity to excel.
This World Cup final was not the first time the U.S. has faced Japan in the finals. In 2011, they lost to Japan in an overtime penalty shootout during which the first three U.S. women missed their shots. The game was devastating, and the team has been trying to move past the loss ever since.
The memory of the 2011 loss seemed present early in the tournament, but the USWNT made a statement in the finals by scoring three goals within the first 16 minutes. They refused to be haunted by their 2011 performance. They were focused on the present, and it worked... very well.
3. Play for the team
Sometimes the role you want to play, on a team or as a leader, isn’t the role the organization needs. When this happens, step back and look at the bigger picture: is there someone else who would do a better job in that role? Do you have other strengths the company needs more? What does the company need in order to grow and be successful?
Be willing to adopt a less glamorous role if it will push the needle forward for everyone; a win for the team is a win for everyone. Wambach is, after all, a World Champion and happy to be one.
With 183 goals to her name, Wambach holds the record for most international goals of all time, for men and women. More than Mia Hamm, more than Pelé. She’s become one of the most iconic names in the sport, and she’s redefined women’s soccer in the U.S… and early into her fourth and final World Cup tournament, she was sidelined.
While she still got some playing time, this star was for the most part benched for the tournament and the final game.
Instead of complaining about her playing time, Wambach accepted her transition and continued to use her position as a leader on the team to help them win. She was a vocal and positive presence on the sidelines, picking her teammates up when they made mistakes or they were behind.
This shift was what the team needed to succeed, giving younger stars like Lloyd the chance to shine, and it might not have have been possible if Wambach hadn’t played her part for the team.