Winning While Losing.

Posted by jlubans on February 25, 2014

Many in sport adhere to the “Winning Is Everything” mindset. But, since few of us can come in first all the time – in sport or in work – our effort should be more about playing as good a game as we can; the wins will come. And, when on a team, we should play all out, all-for-one and one-for-all. You may have a star on the team, but no one’s coasting behind that star - not in true teams.
The Latvian hockey team recently schooled the hockey world about team effort. While, no question, the 21-year old goaltender, Kristers Gudlevskis, played a superb game (55 saves), it was the team that stifled the Canadians. How’d that happen?
The coach (in an interview prior to the start of the Olympics)
disclosed how he ramped up an underdog team to compete with the world’s best.
Latvia’s coach, Ted Nolan, a Native American (First Nations' Ojibwa in Canada) knows – from his own life experience - how a nation identifies itself through culture and language. So, one of Nolan’s first team rules was to speak only Latvian – no other languages - in the locker room. He included himself, and learned the language – no easy task.
He reasoned, Yogi Berra-like, “a group that's kind of been put down and under certain rule, sometimes it's tough to find your identity."
Speaking Latvian - the language purposely denigrated by the Soviet occupiers - was one way to add a cohesive element to the team. And, some of Nolan’s emphasis on identity may have influenced the goalie: his helmet has a picture of Riga’s Freedom Monument, the national symbol of Latvia's long struggle for independence.
And, when it came to winning, Coach Nolan answered, “Why, not?” Regardless of the talent there’s just the chance that even with “ordinary people, you can do extraordinary things.” "We're a hard-working team. And now they're starting to believe. And that's a deadly combination once in a while."
The team was pumped. Still the underdog, they upset Switzerland 3-1. Next, Canada – the reigning Olympic champion. Hockey insiders predicted a rout, termed it a warm-up game before the real teams from the USA and Sweden, even Russia. It was obvious, was it not, Canada had all the talent, power, size, weight, speed, and agility?
Imagine, then, the fear in the heart of the faithful Canadian fan: the game tied for well over 40 minutes! Latvia’s goalkeeper made save after save, prompting a star on the Canadian team to call the goalie's performance, "the best he'd ever seen."
The Latvians played an unorthodox game – they had to with Canada dominating the Latvian end of the ice. And, it was team effort that stymied - repeatedly - Canada’s onslaught.

Caption: In a swarm of 6 Latvian players, and three Canadians looking on, Latvia’s Sotnieks reaches over goalie Gudlevskis to trap the puck. No score!

Caption: Same play, from inside the net.

While I viewed the game on Latvian TV, it was not until I saw the still photographs (like the ones above) that I realized how much the team came together to keep the Canadians at bay.

Caption: No goal! Outnumbered by five Latvians, Canada is turned away again.

Yes, Canada won, but so did Latvia, and it wasn’t the Hospitality Award. It won, in my eyes, the trophy for Best Olympic Team.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Iowa Libraries
If your library does not have a copy, ask why? The book offers lots of ideas on freeing up the workplace and implementing democratic principles in order to enhance productivity and improve customer service.

Copyright John Lubans 2014)
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