I’m a big soccer fan and am quite high from witnessing Japan lift the World Cup trophy for the first time ever. That being said, US played better football over all and my opinion is that luck wasn’t exactly on their side. I didn’t foresee how the game would end, but having watched the entire game, I saw ample opportunities to draw life’s lessons from the excellently-played World Cup Final.
1. Envision Success. Vividly.
The Japanese captain Homare Sawa was quoted in interviews saying that she imagined herself lifting the trophy, in her blue home uniform. Notice the last part there — she envisioned her success vividly, down to details. She said that that was the only end result she could imagine. (She is quoted saying in English media saying that she couldn’t have imagined this result, but that was referring to her winning MVP and Golden Boot.)
Now, that’s not her being cocky. Rather it’s a great example of Beginning with the End in Mind. Stephen Covey in his classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said that results are always created twice — once in your head, and then in reality. In that order. Sawa did exactly that, and even when the situation made it seem unlikely that she’d be able to produce that result, she didn’t lose sight of it — evidenced by her dramatic equalizer late in overtime.
2. Always Be Yourself.
Coming into this final, Japan had firmly established its style, one that relies heavily on teamwork and short, accurate and quick passing. What was praiseworthy was that even when behind, Japan simply did not change its style. They knew exactly who they were and they stuck to their guns. Is it wise to be making short, side passes when you’re behind and the clock’s winding down? It’s a debatable tactic, yet, if that’s how they play and how they play well, perhaps that’s the only way, as going about it in a way that’s not really you would have had a small chance of producing the desired result, too.
3. Make Do with What You Got.
Which brings me to the next point, and that is, why does Japan play the way they do? Because that’s what they’ve got.
Japanese women are tiny. Physically, they are not as tall nor fast as many of their opponents. But what they do have is that they have a fine technique, agility, and solid team-oriented mentality. That’s why they play that collective style of soccer. Other teams, like US and Brazil, have killer individual talents in their forwards, and that’s their strengths, too. Japanese doesn’t have such individualistic talent. Other country’s media has praised Japan for its beautiful passing style. The Japanese coach Norio Sasaki responded, well, this is the only way we can play.
4. Be Patient — Your Time Will Come.
When I say be yourself, that applies to even, or particularly, when things are not going your way.
Of course, it’s easy to be yourself when things are working out. How do you persevere though, when obstacles are stacked against you? It’s easy to second-guess ourselves and start mucking up our styles, but that’s precisely where you need to be patient, resilient and stick to your guns. Japan never lost their tenacity, and they were rewarded by dramatic equalizers, despite going a goal behind twice with not much time left.
5. Smile. Laugh. Crack a Joke.
So, you just fought hard for 120 minutes, and it’s down to penalty shoot-out. You came from behind and tied twice, but if you mess up these penalty kicks, you still lose. All that effort –for nothing. Penalty shoot-outs are tests for nerves, precisely because kickers are expected to score.
That’s why I was super impressed, because when the camera panned to the Japanese players’ circle I saw smiles on their faces. Starting with their coach Norio Sasaki, no less. And the first kicker he selected — tiny yet talented Aya Miyama — she never lost composure or sense of humor throughout. When I saw those smiles, and how the American players’ faces looked in contrast, I became certain of which side would rule the penalty shoot-out.
Laughing is good for you. It relaxes your body and helps you see good in any situations. Grace under pressure not only is a good display of character — it actually helps you produce results. Apparently, two of the players, Kawasumi and Nagasato, exchanged remarks saying “it’s fun this way” when US got the coveted leading goal in overtime. It’s a great example of how maintaining your sense of humor can help maintain your focus and composure.
6. Be a Gracious Loser
Now, as I said above, based on the content of play I felt Americans certainly didn’t deserve to lose. Yet, both forward Abby Wambach and coach Pia Sundhage were classy and gracious in their bitter loss, not making excuses, calmly accepting the result. Nobody likes sore losers, and life goes on. For Women’s soccer, the other big tournament — the Summer Olympics — is only next year. US women played their heart out, there’s nothing for them to be ashamed of. The result could have easily gone the other way, and because they kept their poise and composure even in their loss, I am certain that more success will come their way down the road.
7. There’s Always Room to Improve
And in contrast, how did the Japanese react their win? By keeping their head down. Both Coach Sasaki and Captain Sawa, in their jubilant post-game interviews, mentioned that they saw places where they could improve and had their sights set on their next competition — the Olympics. Winning the World Cup is a magnificent accomplishment, but yet, it’s just a milestone. You celebrate it for a moment, then you put it behind (just as you do any losses) and then go back to improving your game.
Yes, the luck was on Japan’s side that night. But I am convinced that luck is not outside our influence — by being yourself, staying in the game, sticking to your guns, and keeping your sense of humor — you have the power to create the results you’re after and sometimes it even involves pulling luck to your side. I am grateful for these hard-working women for providing much hope and inspiration to my battered home country, and I am going to take what I learned from them and apply to my own life.
If you drew any other great lessons from the game, please feel free to share in the comments. Thanks!