This weekend just gone saw two historic ‘underdog’ victories – the AFL’s Western Bulldogs ended a 62-year premiership drought with a tense triumph over five-time champs Sydney Swans, while the Cronulla Sharks took home the first NRL premiership in their history after a nail-biting 14-12 victory over favourites Melbourne Storm.

Australia loves an underdog.  Why?  Ever since the days of Gallipoli we’ve formed an emotional connection with any team that overcomes setbacks, shows dogged persistence and matches an unwavering belief in themselves with a dogmatic work ethic (puns intended).

But if you and your team have been labelled as the ‘underdog’, does that mean you’re not a high-performing team?

Far from it.

Believe it can happen

Self-talk is an important part of success.  The outside world might be labelling you and your team as underdogs but if you tell yourself you can succeed, you can.  My grandmother used to say to me: “what you believe in your heart, and conceive in your mind, you will achieve in reality,” and it has always stuck with me.

Be honest

Don’t be afraid to offer genuine and helpful feedback to your team-mates.  If there’s a reason you’re not succeeding, it’s ok to address it.  Just make sure you’re doing it in a helpful way.  If your motives for saying something are pure, and you believe it to be true when you say it, then you’re right to speak up.  If you’re motivated by being the best team you can be – and not by making yourself look good – then you’re doing the right thing.

Work together

It sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But great teams are made up of great team-mates, all of whom know what they’re working towards and are committed to hitting it.  A defined common purpose, and a clear direction on how you have to behave to get to that goal, are essential.

Aligning your team is not a one-man job – as a leader you must set the direction but everyone is responsible for working towards it. A Leading Teams favourite is “it’s amazing what you can achieve when no one cares who gets the credit” and it really is true.

As a facilitator, I always advocate to my clients the need to lead by action and engage your followers’ hearts and minds. Then you go into every situation knowing that, underdog or not, you’re every bit as deserving as the other teams out there.  And, much like the Doggies and the Sharks, you can have your fairytale ending too.


Jake Bridges

Jake Bridges

Jake joined Leading Teams full-time in 2016 after first working with us as an athlete facilitator from 2000.

Learn more about Jake.