In the 1985 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers took a gamble on an unknown athlete from a small college in Mississippi. A year later, wide receiver Jerry Rice started making football history. By the time he retired, he’d broken more than 100 records and played in eight conference championships and four Super Bowls, winning three.1
Nicknamed The GOAT, Rice takes little credit for his success. Instead, he credits his father, a brick mason who taught him the importance of hard work and humility, and his high school principal, who pushed him to try football even though he wasn’t a fast runner. He’s also grateful for teammate Tim Brown of the Raiders. Under new head coach Bill Callahan, they became the greatest receiving duo in team history. And Rice also cites his chiropractor’s magic for keeping him aligned and unbroken over the course of his record-breaking twenty-season career.2
Stanford all-American Major League Soccer player and international superstar Bobby Warshaw wrote in a 2013 PennLive Patriot News article that his success on the soccer field is in large part the result of several factors. First, he played for countless hours in the yard with his brothers. He also had a stable of support: his youth soccer coach, guidance counselor, high school coach, and his parents. Warshaw says he’s never done anything alone. “My life is a crazy conspiracy of the world coming together . . . I have not only my strength, but the strength of thousands of people who have shaped me.”3
In the 2022 Tokyo Olympics, tennis underdog Markéta Vondroušová ranked forty-first in the world, beat number-one-ranking star Naomi Osaka in the third round of women’s singles. The Czech Republic player found herself up against Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, ranked ninth, and wound up with the silver. No one predicted either athlete would be battling for the gold.4 Both players’ fathers introduced them to tennis as toddlers and cultivated their love of the game.
Jerry Rice, Bobby Warshaw, Markéta Vondroušová, and Belinda Bencic didn’t find success on their own. They did it thanks to the love, sacrifice, and support of family and community. I’ve experienced this kind of collective success myself during my time in the Navy SEALs; they called us the “SEAL Teams” for a reason. We would have failed miserably had we been the “SEAL Individuals!” Teamwork really does make the dream work.
“There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others,” said George Shinn, former owner of the Charlotte and New Orleans Hornets. Shinn credits team sports for getting him through high school when he wasn’t academically inclined, and his widowed mom was struggling to make ends meet.5
Every true competitor, successful entrepreneur, artist or even Navy SEAL has a list a mile long of people who helped make their unique goals a reality. We can’t do life alone – not to the level of greatness and self-mastery that our true self knows is possible.
All In, All the Time
Some might say I was born to be a SEAL. But I had to work hard to habituate the thoughts and actions that enabled me to thrive in the most intense and dangerous military training in the world. Sure, I went into the program in great shape (just like every other recruit). But I had to step up my game to levels beyond college athletics, and it was because of my small team (boat crew) of 6, amongst the 184 other recruits, that I discovered my extraordinary potential to become the Honor Man of Class 170. Then, once I entered the SEALs, I had to work even harder with my Alpha Platoon team to propel me as an elite Spec Ops leader. Yes, I worked my butt off in training. But I would not have succeeded without my teammates and mentors.
To operate at peak performance, we need to physically work with others to gain the mental and emotional edge we need to excel. Those others will include parents, coaches, teammates, mentors, therapists, or a best friend who eggs you on to be better than you’re allowing yourself to be.
But searching for and relying on this team does not come naturally, especially in a culture built on staunch individuality. And due to inertia, optimal performance is the harder path, so it takes constant and never-ending persistence and motivation. It takes time to build that motivation internally. Even the motivated few get sidetracked by the circumstances of life… and suddenly, eight hours of sleep, healthy eating, and exercise are the first to go from the daily routine.
This is why teamwork is so important. It’s the missing link.
In the next couple of blog posts, I’ll guide you through how to use this powerful means of motivation to keep you on course and assist you in reaching, and exceeding, your uncommon goals.