As everyone knows by now - Japan beat the United States in an epic soccer match on Sunday.
I was impressed by the spirit, resiliency, and grit of the Japanese team.
I was sad for the US team - they almost did enough to win.
When the competition is good - there is little margin for error. When the competition is great - there is no margin for error. A great opponent will always make you pay for mistakes or missed opportunities. Japan played great on Sunday and made the US team pay for the smallest of mistakes. The best teams know how to finish. They possess key characteristics as a team which enables them to adapt to the moment and complete their mission. These are characteristics every winning culture must possess. Here is the difference I saw in the Japanese team on Sunday.
1) They took care of the details to keep the game close. They played with discipline, poise, and relentlessly executed their possession game plan the entire match.
2) When they fell behind - they turned up the urgency of their play and took greater risks.
3) They seized the opportunities they created. They didn't cause many chances but they made each chance count.
4) When all seemed hopeless - their Captain Homare Sawa - made a great play. Their leader led.
Discipline, poise, work ethic, a sense of urgency, efficiency, and the ability to make the necessary play. These characteristics will always been found in championship teams and elite cultures.
The US team displayed these characteristics in their victory against Brazil; Japan displayed them on Sunday. Japan finished.
The US team had a great story but so did the Japanese team. For those interested in a leadership story - read more about Homare Sawa. She has been playing for the Japanese national team for sixteen years. At 32, she has played in three Olympics, five world cups, and hundreds of international matches. Teammates and opponents admire her skills, effort, aggressiveness, leadership, and ability to set the tone for her team. She works hard, she leads well, and she also scored the biggest goal in the history of Japanese soccer. She is a leader worthy of praise and admiration.
When asked about Sawa, Abby Wambach said:
"I played with her for a few years with the [WPS] Washington Freedom, played against each other when she played with the Atlanta Beat, and many years against each other on an international level -- Sawa is just really smart," Wambach said. "She puts herself in a position to be dangerous. You watch the goals she's scored, they're work-ethic goals. That header against Sweden, that's a not-give-up attitude. It's being in the right place at the right time, kind of player. …"
Fitting that she was in the right place at the right time to help her team finish.
How will you help your team be better finishers?