Team USA’s quest to recapture the FIFA World Cup Women’s Soccer championship offers a resounding reminder that through teamwork, the whole can truly be greater than the sum of the parts.
Thanks to Tuesday’s 2-0 victory against Germany, the U.S. will play in the Women’s World Cup final Sunday in Vancouver, seeking to capture the title for the first time since 1999. And like the 1999 team which vaulted American women’s soccer into the limelight, the U.S. isn’t relying on any one player to dominate.
It’s a lesson that applies as much in the classroom as on the soccer pitch. Students can’t do it alone. They rely on support from parents, teachers and counselors to guide them and inspire them to be their best—much the way players rely on their coaches and training staff for guidance and conditioning. Coaches, like teachers, are conditioned to put their charges in the best position to succeed.
Entering the World Cup, the U.S. had been pinning its hopes on goalie Hope Solo, who has been virtually flawless. But Solo has rarely been tested since making two key saves in the World Cup opener against Australia. The U.S. has reeled off five consecutive shutouts, racking up an amazing string of 513 consecutive scoreless minutes against the world’s best opponents.
If the World Cup was all about scoring goals, the U.S. would be long gone. Eliminated teams Switzerland, France, Norway and Cameroon each scored more goals in the 2015 World Cup—all in fewer games than the U.S.. Team USA’s effort has been more role responsibility, reliance on teammates, and picking each other up when necessary.
It was that way in 1999, when the U.S. would have been doomed in the championship game had defender Kristine Lilly not been positioned to save a shot by China that sailed past goalie Briana Scurry.
And it was that way on Tuesday, after Julie Johnston feared she’d committed a fatal error, handing Celia Sasic, Germany’s most prolific scorer, a penalty kick in a then-scoreless game. “The team definitely lifted me up after that happened,” Johnston told reporters after the game. “It’s a team sport and the team, today, really stepped up for me.”
Like athletes, students make errors along the way. When they do, it’s incumbent upon their “teams” to show them the way and put them back on the path to success.
Team USA did just that. Its offensive chemistry paid dividends in the second half against Germany with Carli Lloyd’s penalty kick (her third goal in the last three games) providing the eventual difference.
Teamwork resulted in a bit of insurance when a turnover, effective ball movement, and a strong finish turned into Kelley O’Hara’s first-ever international goal in the 84th minute.
The U.S. women have won three Olympic gold medals in soccer but have been frustrated in World Cup since 1999 when it twice rallied from behind to defeat Germany, then prevailed in the final with Brandi Chastain memorably tearing off her jersey and collapsing to her knees after her decisive kick.
The story of that team, captured by the videography of co-captain Julie Foudy on the ESPN documentary “The 99ers,” also emphasized teamwork of that ensemble cast. Although high-scoring Mia Hamm emerged as the face and voice of the squad, it took the entire team to get the job done.
“I look back on that group and it was truly a team of 20,” Foudy said. “Our formula for success was simple. Our team was more about the ‘we’ than the ‘me.’ ”
In similar fashion, by focusing on the “we,” in education, the K12 team can often help the whole become greater than the sum of the parts.
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