Playing under pressure: Leadership lessons from the USWNT

Anything less than the World Cup trophy would be a failure.

That was the expectations laid upon the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT). The entire country — correction, the entire world — expected the USWNT to win the World Cup.

The pressure to perform was substantial.  Every opponent was going to give them their best shot so they could be the ones that toppled the giant.

The women owned. They knew the spotlight was on them and they handled it like champions from the start. They leveraged their global platform to talk about social issues, especially equal pay for women. Their excellence transcended sports, and they inspired people all over the world.

On Sunday, July 7, the USWNT hoisted the World Cup trophy and presented the iconic trophy lift pose that every athlete dreams about. They did it by dominating the competition; they scored 26 goals and only allowed three. They never trailed in a game, winning seven straight games, including four knockout-stage games in a row against the best teams from Europe.

This level of performance requires leadership.

Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd were team captains.  They provided leadership on and off the field. They led by example and were also vocal leaders for the team. Leading by example is a great start for team captains, but they also need to find their voice to communicate, motivate and impart peer-accountability.

We can all learn from the leadership of the USWNT team captains. They raised their level of performance when the team needed them most. They were vocal, pushing, pulling and encouraging their teammates. They were accountable for their actions as well as the teams.

And perhaps the biggest lesson of all, the USWNT showed that voice is most powerful when it is strengthened by actions and results. The USWNT was under pressure from the start. They rose to the occasion with gritty performances and leadership. This is the kind of transformational leadership that transcends sports.

Photo credit: Jamie Smed

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.