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How to Be a Successful Team


Today I want to talk with you guys (or ladies) about what it takes to be a truly successful team. Name for me some of the great teams of the 1980s and 1990s?

  • Dallas Cowboys
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Nebraska Football
  • Florida State Football
  • Chicago Bulls
  • LA Lakers
  • Boston Celtics
  • Houston Rockets
  • Duke University Basketball
  • New York Yankees
  • University of Kentucky Basketball

Example: Tom Osborne, University of Nebraska

I want to take a few minutes to focus on one particular football team from the University of Nebraska. This team recently had back-to-back National Championships. But they should also be evaluated on their consistent success year after year. I believe the overwhelming success of this team is directly linked to the   man that leads the football program: Coach Tom Osborne.

No matter what sport you play, the principles that make up a successful team are universal. What I want to share with you today are not my ideas, but they are those of Coach Osborne. He strives to instill in his players three principles in order to make the team successful. And the results speak for themselves.

Three Principles of a Successful Team

1. The Principle of Diligent Preparation

Basically, that’s knowing your team’s strengths and weaknesses, your opponent’s strengths and weak-nesses, and then making the most of it.

  • Can anyone tell me what Nebraska’s offense is best known for? (Running the ball).

You want to know just how good they are? Consider this: Nebraska recently graduated four of it’s five starting offensive lineman. When the pre-season All-American listings came out that year, one of those four new linemen was named as a second team All-American. Think about that. This guy, as a starter, hasn’t played a down yet, and still he is given that much respect. I think the respect is for the entire Nebraska program and for Coach Osborne. People know that Nebraska turns out some of the best offensive linemen in the country, so if this guy is good enough to start for Coach Osborne, he must be one fabulous player.

In a recent Fiesta Bowl, it became obvious that Nebraska was very prepared to emphasize their strength as a running team and there was nothing Florida could do to stop them. You could see how Coach Osborne and his staff had prepared a flawless game plan of mixing the run and pass at just the right time. It seemed like Florida’s defense was off-balance throughout the game and that has to be attributed to the diligent preparation of the coaching staff of Nebraska.

(A basketball team example) As for your team, when your coach designs a play to open up a shooter with one or two extra passes, make the extra pass. When you go into your pressing defense, learn exactly where you need to be on the floor at all times. What it all boils down to is an overall attitude of always being willing to learn.

  • How many seniors are on the team?
  • How long have you guys been playing basketball?
  • Do you think you’ve arrived at being the best?
  • Or do you think you can still learn about the game and about getting better?

Seniors, remember, you are the guys that set the tone for the younger guys on the team. Don’t ever become too comfortable or satisfied.

The great ones never stop learning and developing. If anyone has "arrived," it would be Michael Jordan. However, listen to what he had to say about this subject:

"When you get to this level, it doesn’t stop your learning process. It just doesn’t stop, because you ‘re getting paid astronomical dollars. You have to continue to improve, because the game is continuing to improve and other players are improving. This is a competitive thing, and you have to stay ahead of the competition ... I want to make my opponents chase me, not the other way around. When I have to chase them, it’s time to do something else." (USA Today, January 17, 1996)

2. The Principle of Hard Work

I think I can safely say that 90 percent of the time, the thing that separates great athletes from good athletes is hard work. For every Michael Jordan who was born with greatness all over him, I can name a Magic Johnson, a Larry Bird or a Hakeem Olajuwon. Magic and Bird are classic cases in hard work. Neither of them was the fastest or could jump the highest. Magic didn’t even have an outside shot when he entered the NBA. But guess who was out on the court first for practice or who worked longer on his jump shot? Both Magic and Bird. In fact, Bird, who many considered to be one of the greatest pure shooters in NBA history, never stopped working on the little things that made him great.

It’s interesting that when you go from high school to college to the pros, it’s the little things that become more and more important. Why? Because the separation in talent becomes increasingly smaller. It’s the "Birds" and the "Magics" that realize their passes need to be crisper, their rebounding needs to be better, their shot needs to be sharper. Don ‘t forget the importance of the second principle, hard work.

It basically comes down to something Bobby Knight said, "The will to win is the most over-estimated phenomenon in sport. It’s not the will to win. Everyone wants to win. It’s the will to prepare to win that makes winners." That’s the second principle, the will to put in the hard work necessary to become a winner.

3. The Principle of Doing One’s Best

This third principle, I believe, is the key to keeping a proper perspective in sports. It ‘s also what separates Tom Osborne from 99 percent of all coaches at every level. Coach Osborne has been criticized for not putting more emphasis on winning – an incredible fact for a man who is one of the "winningest" coaches in NCAA history. But throughout his career, Osborne has stressed that the process is more important than the result. And that process is diligent preparation, hard work and doing one’s best.

What’s this mean? It means that when Nebraska lost to Florida State a few years ago in the National Championship game, Osborne didn’t get down on himself or his players. In fact, listen to what he had to say following that disappointing loss:

"I was very pleased with that game. I felt our team played as well as they could. They played with dignity and hung in there. They did all the things you normally do to win. Just because the scoreboard said we were two points shy did not affect my feelings. Many people felt despair over the fact we lost the national championship. I was really pleased with the way we played." (Sports Spectrum, September 1995)

What about you?

  • Do you base your self-image on what an electronic scoreboard reads at the end of a game or do you base it on something more meaningful and lasting?
  • Did you play as well as you could?
  • Do you stay involved in the game even when you ‘re on the bench?

I ‘m sure all of you could start for 90 percent of the other schools in the city, but because of the talent here you may spend more minutes on the bench than you would prefer. Remember, your teammates need you to stay involved in the game; your coaches need you to stay involved in the game; and you need to stay involved in the game. That ‘s all part of doing your best.


(An example of a personal story)

Last year was a very special one for me as a fan. You see, I ‘ve been a UCLA fan for about 25 years and it‘s been a long time since they’ve won a National Championship. Even if they weren’t my favorite team, I would say that their victory over Arkansas in the Championship Game was one of the greatest examples of team success. Imagine losing your starting point guard, before the biggest game of the season. Tyus  Edney wasn’t just any point guard, either. Remember, he’s the player who dribbled the length of the court in less than 5 seconds and hit the winning shot against Missouri in the second round.

Most experts agreed that for UCLA to defeat the defending champion – the Arkansas Razorbacks – they would need to prepare and execute a perfect game plan. And that was with Edney in the line up. Without him most pretty much wished them good luck. But there was another leader on that UCLA team: Ed O’Bannon. Here’s what UCLA Assistant Coach Lorenzo Romar, had to say about Ed’s performance in the Championship game:

"Ed was more than just an outstanding player who scored 30 points and had 17 rebounds in the championship game. Ed was a leader who emphasized team, and he let the other players know that if they sulked over their individual performance instead of cheering others on, t hey were going to have to answer to him." (Sports Spectrum, December 1995)

You have an opportunity to accomplish a lot of great things this season. And I’m sure that as the season moves along and the games become more and more critical, there will be a tendency to focus more and more on winning and you might forget the things that made you successful in the first place. But don’t let that happen.

Remember that all Coach Osborne asks of his players is:

1. Diligent Preparation

2. Hard Work

3. Doing One’s Best

Winning is great and we all love to win, but don ‘t lose perspective. Remember these three principles and you will be a winner, no matter what.

Helping you be winners, both on and off the court (field) is what (name of ministry) is all about. To be a winner in life requires developing a balance in every area of your life – the mental, the physical and the spiritual. Next week after practice, we ‘re sponsoring a pizza party for all of you. We’ll take a look at the importance of these three areas of your life and what you can do to strike a proper balance.

From Fireseed Productions

This material is available on the "ALL That" CD-ROM. 1.800-729-4351
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