RLL 52: 'The Messiah Method'
Last year in one of my first blog posts, I wrote a little bit about a book I had read called The Messiah Method: The Seven Disciplines of the Winningest College Soccer Program in America, and today I want to take a more expansive view at it. Written by Michael Zigarelli, a business professor at Messiah, the book is not about soccer per se, but rather it’s about leadership and it contains wisdom that can be applied in any area of life. Today, we’re going to take a look at the key principles in the book as well as some specific applications that can be made. I hope you’re as excited as I am; I love this book!
The men’s and women’s soccer programs at Messiah College have won a combined 16 national championships in 18 years. This is an astounding record of success in any sport and at any level; the purpose of the book is to explain how these programs have been able to attain and sustain success for such a long period of time. The book, written after many interviews with current and former coaches and players, focuses on seven key disciplines that form The Messiah Method.
Discipline 1: Pursue a higher purpose than winning—Success begins by redefining it
Here we learn that, though these are ultra-competitive college soccer programs, their ultimate goal is not simply to win games and championships. Rather, their goal is to glorify God and to encourage each other in everything that they do: academics, athletics, social life, and relationships. The success, then, is a by-product rather than the main focus. “We definitely want to win, but it doesn’t define us. Our worth as a person isn’t wrapped up in it,” says Brad McCarty, current Messiah College men’s coach.
Application: Remember to keep an eternal perspective in our homes, our jobs, and our lives. Our goal is not earthly success but rather bringing eternal glory to God. When we do that, we will experience success as a by-product.
Discipline 2: Be intentional about everything—There’s more under your control than you realize
This blog is all about leadership. We, as leaders, have the power to make changes in our little pockets of the world, and this means that if things aren’t going the way we want them to, we are responsible. “As the leader, you have the power—all the power you need, in fact—so use it to create the team and culture you really want.” (pg. 67) Often we lament that we don’t have the power to change certain situations, but the truth is that this is often a cop-out for when we don’t want to rock the boat.
Application: If there are changes that need to be made, be intentional about addressing them. Choose to consciously make adjustments wherever necessary, especially in regards to relationship-building.
Discipline 3: Recruit the “both-and” players—Why talent is not enough
Often in sports and in life we see that exceptions are made for people with outstanding qualities in other areas: athletes with great physical ability aren’t held to the same academic standards; employees with great sales records are let off the hook for not attending mandatory training, etc. However, at Messiah, they blow this notion up by refusing to compromise their standards. “While elevating faith to a paramount ideal, they do the same with intellect. While affirming the value of discipline, it affirms the value of imagination…While maintaining that absolute truth exists and is knowable, it also allows students to think broadly for themselves to pursue it.” (pg. 85)
Application: Examine your life and the people that are in your family or organization and see if/where you have compromised one value in pursuit of another. Then, raise the standard back to where it needs to be to develop “both-and” people, not “either-or” people.
Discipline 4: Cultivate team chemistry—how close relationships create a competitive advantage
While both teams pursue team chemistry in a variety of ways, my favorite part of this section talked about how one of the teams has what’s called Forced Family Fun nights. On these occasions, the players are required to get together and go to a movie, or have a game night, or participate in another team-oriented function. They don’t always like missing out on other events, but all of the players talk about how much this helps their relationships with each other. And as much as we don’t want to admit it, when we like someone we are more likely to work extra hard for them. As Zigarelli writes, part of team chemistry is “mutual feelings of loyalty and empathy for one another.” (pg. 113) This is more powerful than we realize. Says former coach Dave Brandt, “There is nothing more important than organizational culture. And it is 100 percent under your control.” (pg. 137)
Application: Have regular opportunities for relationship-building in your home and organization. As I wrote in my book, “If you take care of relationships, the results will take care of themselves.”
If you want to learn more about Mike Zigarelli and his book, listen to this great interview with him on the Way of Champions podcast, found on the Changing the Game Project website. There are also other amazing resources on this site, so be sure to check them out as well! https://changingthegameproject.com/mike-zigarelli/
Discipline 5: Link training to the match—what everyone knows but few can do
This may be the most soccer-specific principle, but it still applies elsewhere as well. In soccer, the idea here is to make every activity at practice useful and applicable to game situations. In life, the idea is to make sure that we are consciously training our audience using activities that are useful and applicable to their real lives. One example from our world is teaching our children to wash their own laundry and dishes and to cut the yard. These are life skills they will need when they move out on their own in just a few years. Often we hear about letting kids discover their own way, but often that’s simply an excuse for abdicating parental responsibility. As current women’s coach Scott Frey says, “Freedom becomes chaos without structure.” (pg. 141) Our job as leaders is to provide a framework in which freedom and creativity can be exercised safely.
Application: Honestly evaluate the training provided at your job, or the activities you do with your family to see if they are applicable in real life situations. If not, consider changing some of them to make them more relevant.
Discipline 6: Choreograph Game Day—Readiness by design
This is closely related to discipline 5 and again has to do with creating a structured environment. The purpose for choreographing certain things is to have an established, comfortable routine, and we all do this: think of your morning routine and how it often feels uncomfortable when that routine is upset by travel or other circumstances. As Dave Brandt said about preparing his players for games, “I’m anti-distraction. I try to eliminate these and set the team mindset.” (pg. 173)
Application: In our homes and at work, look for ways to eliminate distractions and set up helpful routines that allow your group to focus on the task at hand so that they are always ready for whatever may arise.
Discipline 7: Play to a standard—secret to sustaining success
Any successful person can tell you that what’s even harder than having success is sustaining it, often because complacency steps in. When we’ve set a goal and then reached it, our motivation wanes, and then we find ourselves having less success. Rather than focusing on just a goal, then, what we should focus on is reaching a standard of excellence every day. Pursue perfection, even if we’ll never reach it. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” (quoted on pg. 191). The idea is that “Playing to a standard means doing everything with utmost quality and distinction.” (pg. 191)
Application: Instead of being solely outcome-driven, we need to focus on doing the best we can in every situation, constantly seeking to improve. Coach Frey states it best: “When we play and train, it is so irrelevant what anybody else in the world is doing. I don’t care what this team or that program has done. It’s all about us and what we can achieve.” (pg. 190)
I cannot recommend this book strongly enough, especially for soccer people but really for anyone interested in becoming a better leader. Give it a read and let me know how it helped you!