Yesterday was a special day. It seems like days run into each other these days, as many activities and life as normal has stopped during Covid lockdown. Yet, this weekend the Irish ladies hockey team had the opportunity to play the reigning Olympic Champions in a series (culminating tomorrow). Saturday’s game was special as some younger players got a chance to play alongside the reigning Olympic Champions. They lost 2-1 on that occasion, but did us proud. Yesterday, the tables were turned and Ireland won 2-1, again with newer talent on board. The win was wonderful, but the manner in which they won, how the team carried themselves, how they acted as a team stood out for me. This group of women have achieved so much already, winning silver medals at the World Cup in London in 2018 and qualifying for the Olympics in Donnybrook in 2019, hosting a record crowd of ever-increasing fans. I’m no hockey player and the little I know about the sport has been gained from watching under-age games. What I offer here is not expert hockey commentary, rather a few thoughts on the team from a leadership perspective.
Clarity of Purpose: business people sometimes express a little envy at the clarity of purpose in sports. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning the game, the series, the championship – right? This brings to mind the movie ‘Moneyball’ for me, which tells the tale of a baseball team’s (the Oakland A’s) apparent pursuit of victory in what they term as an ‘unfair game’. As Brad Pitt (in the role of Billie Beane, the GM of the Oakland A’s) describes, ‘there are rich teams, there are poor teams and then there’s 50 feet of crap and then there’s us’. His purpose was to redefine the game of baseball to level the playing field, so to speak. When the Irish ladies hockey team won silver medals in the World Cup in 2018. they were all amateur players (with the exception of a small number of players who played for teams in Germany or the Netherlands), playing against many fully professional teams with greater levels of investment (e.g. GB, the Netherlands etc). Now the Irish ladies hockey team are semi-professional and have gained further corporate sponsorship. These ladies are certainly proving a point and no doubt they have greater ambitions. As well as playing to win, are they looking to redefine the game in Ireland?
Secondly, the principle that leadership is an activity not a position is emulated by this team. Katie Mullan captained the team to the World Cup final is style and still does, but there are many others who step up to lead, whether it’s Róisin Upton stepping up to take a penalty stroke, or Chloe Watkins entering the circle bravely, while being taken on by no less than three GB players or Anna O’Flanagan’s work-rate setting a standard on the pitch. The intensity of their work rate is evident on the many wonderful photographs circulating afterwards, including the one featured here of Chloe Watkins by INPHO photography.
Team cohesion: these ladies have something special going on. This is a classic example of the team being more than the sum of its parts. Who can forget the videos of them blasting out Christmas carols in the summer of 2018 in London at the World Cup? I got goosebumps after the game on Sunday to see this tweet from Irish Hockey, showing the ladies singing their trademark Lighthouse Family song ‘Forever Me and You’. Even the Olympic Champions must be a little daunted playing a team with such cohesion and drive and who clearly play this game for the sheer love of it.
Thank you to this team for bringing us joy, particularly at this time, for being such amazing role models and for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and thank you to RTE for televising – more please!