Quotes and Leadership Lessons from Next Goal Wins


Directed by Taika Waititi, Next Goal Wins is a heartwarming tale based on the true story of the American Samoa soccer team. The team was so bad that they once lost all 30 games they played. To add salt to their wounds, they also had a 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001. This sent Australia to the 2002 World Cup.

But, like many things, teams can turn around. Organizations can change. And people can be proud of the work they do.

I missed this gem of a film in the theaters. However, you can now catch this movie on Disney Plus and other streaming channels. It’s worth checking out.

1. Tell a story:

The film opens with Taika Waititi telling the story of two islands. He says the movie is inspired by true events. 

The way the movie opened made it fun, engaging, and exciting. It was a great way to introduce the story of the film.

It’s also a great way to begin your leadership tenure. Imagine if you came into an organization and told a story… 

Great leaders know how to tell a story and have it impact those they lead – Leadership lessons from Next Goal Wins


You share what’s happened. Where you see the organization going. And, maybe, how everyone plays a part going forward.

You’d have people hooked.

Instead, new leaders often come in cocky, arrogant, and ready to make changes. Don’t do that.

Tell a story. Get people excited about the changes coming. 

2. Bad organizations can become worse:

The American Samoa team suffered a heart-wrenching and demoralizing 31-0 loss against Australia, which could have qualified them for the World Cup. I couldn’t imagine losing that badly against someone else or another organization.

However, that wasn’t the worst of it. Ten years later, people thought the American Samoa team was worse than they were during that humiliating loss.

You may think you’re in a bad organization now. It can get worse. 

Bad organizations can become worse – Leadership lessons from Next Goal Wins


I know I’m supposed to be encouraging, but this is reality. Bad organizations will continue to sink until someone comes to turn them around.

Be the person who helps change the sinking ship. Steer it in the right direction. Bring the right people on.

Only with the help of others can an organization turn around.

3. Ace (David Fane):

Where’s the heart? Where’s the spirit?

Ace was the coach of the American Samoa soccer team. After another tough loss, Ace tried to give a tough talk.

The way he talked to the team didn’t light a fire under them, but the words he spoke could have. He asked his team where their heart was. He asked them where their spirit was.

Both of these questions are excellent questions to ask. He’s trying to get to the heart of the problem.

A team that lacks heart and spirit will be a team that struggles to see success. Ask yourself and your team these two questions when you see a struggle. 

If you can get an honest answer, you can begin to work on the areas challenging them.

4. Tavita (Oscar Kightley):

All I want from our team is one goal.

Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) was a washed-up soccer player and coach. He’d become angry, frustrated, and abusive after the death of his daughter. 

The American Soccer Federation told Thomas he no longer had a spot there. They were going to send him to American Samoa to change their team, but they were not expecting him to do so.

Upon arriving, Tavita is the team’s manager. He’s desperate. All he wants to see from his team is a single goal.

And that’s the goal he sets for Rongen. Give him that one goal.

Tavita’s goal wasn’t much. However, he saw this as a challenge to overcome.

You might not expect much from your team or organization. You may see them as a lost cause. But what if you gave them a single, simple goal? Make it so easy it may be impossible not to achieve?

You may even laugh at how simple or achievable you make the goal. But don’t. Instead, think about the way it could push your team forward.

Set a goal of making one sale this quarter. Set a goal of producing one good part. Set a goal of connecting with one new client.

What you do afterward will be key. Once the goal is achieved, set the next goal. Then the next. And next. 

Each subsequent goal is a little more challenging but builds on the previous. Soon, you and your team will discover that you and they are achieving things you never thought possible.

5. You can find talent in the strangest places:

Rongen is driving above the speed limit. He’s drunk. And he’s about to be pulled over by police officer Rambo (Semu Filipo).

Rambo begins to choke after sipping on his drink. Rongen sees this and rushes over to give him the Heimlich maneuver. He saves Rambo’s life.

A frustrated Rambo crushes the can he had been drinking. He kicks the can against the street sign. The can lands in the garbage can below.

Rambo has skills. Rongen recruits him to be on the team.

Where do you look for new talent? It may be in the standard places:

  • LinkedIn
  • Classified ads
  • Word of mouth

I want to encourage you to look outside the normal areas for new talent. You’ll be amazed at where you can find talent that will elevate your team to the next level.

6. Tavita:

We will not deny who we are just to win.

Tavita tells Rongen that the team and nation have specific customs. They will follow those customs. Even if it costs them wins.

This infuriates Rongen. He believes the team and people are lazy. They don’t want to put in the hard work to be successful.

That’s not the case. They know who they are, what they’re willing to do, and what they’re unwilling to do.

Do you know who you are? What your values and principles are?

Don’t be afraid to stay true to your beliefs. You don’t have to give up your faith, ideals, and principles to lead well.

If your organization tries to force you to change them, know you can move on to organizations that will respect you.

7. Gail (Elisabeth Moss):

We didn’t send you there to help them. We sent you there to help you.

Gail is Rongen’s estranged wife. She is also part of the American Soccer Federation and was one of the voices that decided to send him to American Samoa.

Rongen thought the decision was to help the team. He thought it was about his skills and talents. It wasn’t.

The American Soccer Federation had sent him there to help himself. To help him recover. To find himself.

What we think of as helping the team can actually be what we really need. It’s a shot to our system. A way for us to heal our brokenness without realizing it.

Sometimes a demotion, transfer, or other situation at our organization is a way to help us. To make us heal.

Be willing to work through the pain and trauma you’ve encountered. 

8. Look for the positive:

Rongen told Tavita he was done. He was quitting. He was out of there. He also told him the team was done.

Tavita said it wasn’t all bad. He’d gotten an island getaway out of it. That he got to spend time with his friends.

While the team didn’t dissolve and Rongen didn’t quit, Tavita’s positive outlook was something to be admired.

When situations are challenging, do you look at the downside or the upside of the situation? There’s a positive side to almost every situation you’ll face in life.

Think about the people you’ve been able to meet. The change you’ve been able to impact on those around you. The change you’ve made in your life.

There’s always a positive side to look at.

9. It’s not always about winning:

Rongen had quit because he was frustrated. He didn’t see a way for the team to win. When his mindset changed, he came back in with a renewed vigor.

At first, it was all about winning. The team had to improve. But he changed his mind. He remembered how much he loved the game.

This allowed him to encourage the team to get out and enjoy what they were doing.

Do you know what that did? It gave them their heart and spirit back. They went out and played hard… and won.

Remember why you got into leadership in the first place. It was to enact change. It was also because you enjoyed seeing lives changed.

Leading isn’t about making the most sales, getting the most customers, or being successful in the typical sense. Leadership is about lives changed.

10. You can recover from defeat:

Nicky Salapu (Uli Latukefu) had been a player who was deflated. He’d been scored upon 31 times. He was humiliated and struggled to play again after the humiliation.

However, he came back to play with Rongen and the team. 

The American Samoas had scored a point. Things were looking good. Then there was a penalty. The opposing team would be kicking against him.

Uh oh… Would history repeat itself?

You can recover from defeat. Don’t let it keep you down – Leadership lessons from Next Goal Wins


Salapu had to let go of the past. Face the present. Enter an unknown future.

The penalty kick was shot. Salapu was able to recover from his past defeat and block the goal!

We will all face defeat in leadership. A bad decision may derail the organization. You may have skipped an essential detail in a negotiation. Or there may be some other leadership failure.

Know that the failure isn’t final. You can always come back.

Look to the past to see what happened. Be present in the present. Be hopeful for the future.


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