Who Do You Play For?

Some of the most influential life lessons come from sports movies. They are my personal favorite, because they are often inspired by true events, and there is a redemptive ending when a team works together to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.

In the movie “Miracle,” a coach brings together hockey players from various teams in order to form an Olympic USA team. Some of the players have played with or against one another; some are friends, others hold grudges. As they introduce themselves, Coach Herb Brooks asks, “Who do you play for?” and they each respond with a college team.

Bringing a team like this together proves to be difficult. The problem lies in the fact that the players are identifying themselves as a part of their individual team. They are not a cohesive unit, and their performance on the rink shows it. After a particularly devastating loss, Coach Brooks pushes them in an exhaustive workout until one team member finally yells out his name and responds to the question, “Who do you play for?” with “I play for the United States of America.” He has finally recognized that he is not an individual, separated from the players around him; they are all one, joined together in a common goal.

Movie Clip from “Miracle”

While his method may seem harsh, the coach’s message is simple: the name on the front of your jersey is more important than the name on the back. This is a group of men who were formerly competing with one another, and they had to learn to trust one another before they could succeed as a team (Lencioni, 2002).

When I ask myself, “who do I play for?” it’s easy to get tunnel vision and only think about my classroom in my school. There are so many details in my small section of the world, and it can be challenging to expand my focus. But as an aspiring leader, it must go beyond that. I believe that in all levels of educational leadership, my answer to that question must always be “ALL students.” I do this job for the students–yours and mine–and I think we can all agree that no matter what school we call our own or what level of leadership we attain, our ultimate goal is to educate children. That’s who we play for.


Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ciardi, M. (Director). (2004). Miracle [Motion picture]. United States: Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

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