“This is my shield. I bear it before me into battle, but it is not mine alone. It protects my brother on my left. It protects my city. I will never let my brother out of its shadow, nor my city out of its shelter. I will die with my shield before me facing the enemy.”
About a month ago a friend introduced me to the book, Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield. This book reflects on the epic battle of Thermopylae, between the Greeks and the Persians. The Greeks were severely outnumbered by the Persians; however, the Persians were on their way to surrender after three days of battle and a large number of casualties. The Greeks stood strong in their small, cohesive unit. Though, on the last day the Persians found a path in which they were able to wipe out most of the 300-man Greek army. The Greeks were given a helmet, a sword, and a shield for protection in battle. They were taught that the helmet and sword were for individual protection, but the shield protected the people next to them. It was communicated that during war it was okay to lose their helmet and their sword because those protected them individually, but it was never okay to lose their shield because that protected their brothers and their city. The quote previously mentioned, “This is my shield…” was the Greek’s creed, their direction through life and war (Pressfield, 1998). The battle mentality of the Greeks exemplifies true selflessness; a representation of team and going to war with the thought of others before self.
While the summer comes to a close, many seasons are beginning to start, including football, volleyball, soccer, cross-country, field hockey, and others. As a coach, a constant goal is to develop the culture of a team. Create an environment where athletes feel respected and valued, as they will then give more respect and value to the team. Changing and developing team culture has appeared to be a common theme as I talk to various coaches in different sports. Upon entering your next season, I challenge you to use the Greek’s helmet, sword, and shield story and make it your own to lead your team. Provide them with a helmet, a sword, and shield and explain they are able to lose their helmet and their sword, make an error or play poorly, but they can’t lose their shield, their personal mentality that is contagious. The helmet and sword are like individual glories, making a shot, kicking a field goal, catching a touchdown, hitting a homerun, scoring a goal, serving an ace, or any other example of distinct excellence. The shield represents the ability to persist through failures and challenges, through the loss of the helmet and the sword. Take Michael Jordan for example, in Game 5 of the 1997 Finals. He was sick, dehydrated, exhausted, and suffering from flu-like symptoms. In the first quarter he appeared lost, very much off his game for obvious reasons; his helmet and sword were gone. However, it was the Finals and he knew he had to protect his team, he knew he couldn’t lose his shield. He endured his weakness and legendarily pushed through to score 38 points under those conditions. After the game, Jordan commented on the struggle by saying, “Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done” (Aschburner, 2016). Even though Jordan lost his helmet and sword during this battle, he kept his shield alive for his brothers, for his team. As the Greeks demonstrated with the use of the shield, a unified team is far more powerful than individuals standing alone. Like Japanese writer, Ryunosuka Satoro said, “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”
Aschburner, S. (2016). Top NBA Finals moments: Michael Jordan’s flu game in 1997 Finals. NBA.com. Retrieved from: http://www.nba.com/news/features/steve_aschburner/top-nba-finals-moments-michael-jordan-flu-game-in-game-5-chicago-bulls-utah-jazz-1997-finals/.
Pressfield, S. (1998). Gates of Fire. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.