Words & Sports

Motivate Your Team: Lose on Purpose

as proven by the Coach of the 1992 Dream Team

Lose on purpose? Have I completely lost it? Some might say I have, but stay with me here. I’m talking about a way to motivate your team. It’s not going to work for everybody—no one thing does—and you have to stay true to yourself and your team. The idea here is to think about different ways to motivate your team—not to take this extreme example and use it yourself. But extreme examples tell a better story. And this one proves that thinking differently can lead to amazing things even when it comes to motivation in both sports and business.

In a recent article, we discussed how a big loss may really be a big win and that a loss should not be on purpose as it doesn’t work. But I also said there is an exception to that rule. When you lose on purpose it is counter-productive, because you don’t get the value of shock and surprise. Giving up is not what we’re going for here either. But if you make your team lose on purpose, and don’t tell them you’re doing it, that can actually help.

One of the greatest teams ever put together was the original basketball “Dream Team” coached by Chuck Daly. During a practice leading up to the 1992 Summer Olympics, Chuck Daly put his team of future Hall of Famers up against a college all-star team. No contest, right? Wrong. The college all-stars won. They beat a team led by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird.

How did they do this? Did the all-stars out-play, out-hustle, and make more shots than the Dream Team? Yes, they did. But how?

Easy. Chuck Daly fixed the game.

The media was not allowed to see the game, and when reporters went into the gym after the game, the scoreboard had been erased. Daly didn’t want the loss to go public, and in fact everyone involved kept it a secret for many years. The rest of us finally learned of the event in a documentary that came out after Chuck Daly had passed away.

Daly didn’t want to embarrass the team publicly. But he did want to make sure his players knew that even the most talented team ever assembled could—and would—lose if they gave it any less than their best.

The strategy was risky for obvious reasons, but it was also pure genius. It took a coach with an incredible mind and plenty of guts to try this motivational tactic.

The following day, the Dream Team had a rematch against the college all-stars, and as you might imagine, it wasn’t close. The Dream Team dominated. From then out, they never lost another game, claiming the gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

At the moment of the loss, the Dream Team realized that if they didn’t get it together and fix what was broken, they could lose. Without that loss, they might never have reached their potential. Of course, they still would have been one of the best basketball teams ever assembled. They would have gone to the Olympics and probably won a gold medal—but it could have been silver or bronze. They needed that one bad loss in order to win big.

No motivational tactic can overcome a lack of talent, but when the talent is there, the right motivation can do amazing things for your business. Take the risk of trying innovative motivational strategies and see your team go all the way.


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Image of the  Dream Team was taken by Paxton Holley under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License