The closing ceremony for the Sochi Olympic Games were held last night and so we conclude our short series from The Heart of a Champion with the chapter on the famous "Miracle on Ice."
Team USA, Hockey, 1980 Olympic Games
When Coach Herb Brooks envisioned the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, he did not see the world’s best individual hockey players. He saw team. He had only seven months to forge that team.
Many Olympic hockey teams, most notably the 1980 Soviet team, had been playing together for years. Described by sports writers as a “machine,” the Soviet team had dominated Olympic hockey for 16 years, even defeating the National Hockey League All-Stars in a 1979 exhibition.
In 1979 Coach Brooks set out to select the young men who would make up the 1980 U.S. Olympic team from sixty-eight of the best amateur players in the country. Convening the try-outs, the coach began with an unorthodox test. It was not physical; it was mental, a written examination of more than 300 questions. The coach was not looking for the best individual players. He was looking for players who were willing to learn, to change, to be molded into a team.
Having winnowed the twenty-six team members, the coach taught them a new style of play designed to take advantage of the Olympic rink. Brooks called the new style “sophisticated pond hockey.” Unequal to the talent of the Soviets, the American team went after conditioning. Coach Brooks adapted stamina-building techniques from swimming and track, sports in which the Americans were stiff competition for the Soviets. Unafraid to be feared, the coach saw his unchallenged leadership and the toughness of their training as the prime way to unify the team.
Attitude was crucial. Brooks had chosen players so young and inexperienced that they were not awed by the other teams. They did not care that the world thought their cause hopeless, even after the Soviet team trounced them in exhibition play. They were excited to have a chance to do their best.
In Lake Placid, the Americans were seeded seventh of twelve teams. Coming from behind in every game, the team did something no one had believed they could do—they earned a place in the medal round. Then, playing on George Washington’s birthday, they beat the Soviet team, astonishing themselves and the world. It is still called “The Miracle on Ice.” Two days later, they bested the Finns for the gold.
Not the best individual players in the world, not even the best individual players in the United States, they won as a team in a championship many will never forget.
...so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Who would you pick for your team if you decided to change the world? When Jesus started his ministry, he did not start with the most awe-inspiring, spiritual, knowledgeable men in the world, but rather he was looking for people who were willing to learn, to change, to be molded. He knew success would not come from a few star performers but from finding those who would learn how to work in unity as a team.
His method of choice was unorthodox. All night he labored in prayer with his Father to select twelve men out of the crowds that were following him (Mark 3:13). The twelve he chose were an unlikely lot: several fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot--mostly unschooled and ordinary men. The more established Jewish “machine” paid no attention for a while. The Romans took no notice at all.
But spiritual training was underway. Jesus put a priority on relationship building. He taught his team to resolve their conflicts quickly and thoroughly (Matthew 5:23-26; Matthew 18:15-17). He taught them to be quick to forgive, even as God forgives (Matthew 18:22-35). He taught them about the special power that comes from praying together (Matthew 18:19-20). He taught that the one great distinguishing mark of those who followed him would be their amazing and sacrificial love for one another (John 13:34-35). He used the fishing analogy to teach them about their evangelistic mission —but remember that he chose this metaphor for men who knew only of fishing in groups with nets. because there were no solo fishermen with rods and reels in those days! When he said they would be “fishers of men,” they would have understood the importance of working together in unity (Matthew 4:19-21, Luke 5:4-6).
At the end he gave them their final challenge: “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And make disciples they did. With uncompromising loyalty to Jesus and one another, they defeated stronghold after stronghold in the name of Christ, changing forever the face of the world and bringing the opportunity for salvation to all men.
The success of the American hockey team is a tribute to a determined coach and the spirit of teamwork he forged. It was the same with Jesus on a far grander scale. And that same Jesus is still teaching us today the power of unity and teamwork.
Into Your Life
1. What questions might be on Jesus’ test to determine if we are good candidates for team play? How would you do with those?
2. Consider Galatians. 5:19-21. Notice that almost half of the listed sins interfere directly with successful teamwork. Are there any sins listed here you have in your life? If so, what must you do?
3. Are there any members of the spiritual team you aren’t united with? What can you do? How much are you willing to do to change that?
4. What things do you know you cannot accomplish for God without the help of others?