“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”~Vince Lombardi
If you follow sports as I do, then you have no doubt heard about the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. Just a few weeks ago, they met and exceeded the longest winning streak EVER in college basketball history (men’s or women’s) with 90 straight wins, stretching over 3 seasons, before losing to another team on December 30th.
The story is amazing. What keeps me riveted by this team, though, is not so much what they have achieved, but how they have done it. Their example offers so many lessons that translate to all of us in our lives and jobs. For example, here are some of the things that I see in their story:
Clear targets. I read in Sports Illustrated that the team’s coach wrote the number “50” on the locker room whiteboard before their first game last season, to represent the maximum number of points the opposing team should get. When he turned his back, one of the players crossed out “50” and wrote “40”! They didn’t meet the goal, but they came darn close – allowing an average of just 46.2 points per game last year. Maybe we can’t always set a numerical target, but what if we developed a laser-like focus on what we want to achieve?
Selflessness, not individual glory. Yes, these players are excellent, but they don’t call attention to their individual achievements. They don’t even wear their individual names on their jerseys. Their unrelenting commitment is to collective goals. Here’s all the proof we need that this strategy works: 90 games in a row! What if we shifted our focus, day in and day out, toward team, organization, and community goals?
Intensity. The members of this team practice hard, work intensely on their respective roles and responsibilities, and pay attention to each possession. They maintain the discipline to follow through, day in and day out. What if we consistently applied our best energy in everything we do, every day?
Mistakes without misery. This team truly strives for perfection each game – no mistakes, no missed rebounds, no turnovers. But somehow they also weave in an understanding that this is not really an attainable goal. They accept that they have made and will make mistakes, and they are committed to learn and try again. Given the challenging and unpredictable nature of work and life, we will make mistakes. What if we viewed these as information – not setbacks, stayed on our path, and kept on going?
Support. The team has coaches who inspire, challenge, and support them. These women also constantly and unwaveringly support (and push) each other in pursuing their goals. This support is one of their primary sources of motivation. We could all use a core circle of supporters to give us advice, encouragement, and (occasionally) a kick in the pants to help us get where we’re going, right?
I am inspired by the UConn Huskies’ example. They are a reminder that we can attain what we focus on – as individuals and teams. If we do every day, more of what they do every day, who knows what records we might break?