Oswald Letter

When you believe, anything is possible

American Hockeyby Dan Oswald

If you’ve been around a while like I have, you might remember the 1980 Olympic “Miracle on Ice,” where the upstart American men’s ice hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union team. As the clock wound down to the final seconds of the game and it became apparent that the U.S. team would upset the Soviets, veteran broadcaster Al Michaels uttered his now famous words, “Do you believe in miracles?”

It was a magical moment. The U.S. team was made up entirely of college kids. In fact, it was the youngest men’s ice hockey team in U.S. Olympic history and in the tournament that year, with an average age of just 21 years. Only one member of the 1980 team had participated in the previous Olympics. Contrast that with the Soviet team, which had won the gold medal in the four previous Olympics and came into the tournament with a group of players with long histories in Olympic and international competition. In fact, three players from the 1980 Soviet Olympic team would go on to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

It was a David versus Goliath moment, and again, David slew the giant.

In the previous four Olympics, the Soviets had lost only one game en route to four gold medals. And during that time, they had outscored the Americans 28-7, scoring four goals for every one the U.S. team could muster. Little was expected from the young American team, yet they believed they could beat the veteran Soviet team.

In selecting his roster, U.S. coach Herb Brooks had required each player to complete a 300-question psychological test. Those who refused to take the test weren’t invited to compete for a spot on the team. Brooks wanted to know how each player would react under stress. He once said, “The ignorant people, the self-centered people, the people who don’t want to expand their thoughts, they’re not going to be the real good athletes. They’re not going to be able to keep that particular moment, that game, that season in the proper perspective. I believe it.”

I think you could apply that same quote to business. The self-centered people aren’t going to make good teammates. Those unwilling to expand their thoughts and accept new ideas or approaches aren’t going to be good performers. And those who can’t perform under stress are going to struggle in the big moments because there is plenty of stress in what we all do each day.

But somehow Brooks cobbled together a group of young men and formed them into a team that believed they could win it all, and win it all they did! They believed in themselves. They believed in one another. And they believed in something bigger than all of them. They wanted to do something that no one thought they could do.

Success like that doesn’t happen overnight. That team practiced together for months. And Brooks was famous for his tough practices and relentless conditioning. And the U.S. team had gained confidence as the Olympic tournament proceeded. They had an early tie with the favored Swedish team and then upset the Czechoslovakian team, which most felt was the best positioned team to battle the Soviets for the gold medal. Those games helped the young U.S. team believe they were capable of playing with anyone. And when you believe, anything is possible.

If the U.S. team had played the same Soviet squad 10 times, they probably would have won one or two games. But on that day, on one of the biggest stages imaginable, the group who believed in themselves showed what hard work, dedication, teamwork, and self-confidence can do. Those young men believed, and the impossible happened. What do you believe in?