A Team Leader Who Made All the Difference

Last month marked the passing of my beloved high school field hockey coach, Muriel Brock. She was 94. She never married. Never had kids. Her memorial service was last Saturday. I drove six hours to Detroit to attend. I wanted to make sure she had a good showing. I shouldn’t have worried. The church was packed. Hundreds of people—players, families, fellow coaches, and educators—came from far and wide to pay our respects to the woman who taught us to win, to lose (albeit not very often), to work hard, and most importantly, to play as a team. How perfect that the last chapter of our book "Good Team, Bad Team" tells the story of Miss Brock. You can see her, pictured here with our varsity team in 1982; in 2019 when my teammate Heidi Henkel was inducted into our high school athletic hall of fame. And teammates and ’82 classmates who gathered last Saturday in her honor.

Read the excerpt featuring Miss Brock from the last chapter of Good Team, Bad Team:

E pluribus unum.
It’s the Latin phrase printed on every coin and dollar bill in the United States. It means “out of many, one.” It’s the de facto motto of the United States. It’s the ideal that has made this country uniquely powerful—bringing diverse people together to do something bigger than any of us could do alone.

E pluribus unum is the only Latin phrase I ever memorized, aside from Semper ubi sub ubi, which my next-door neighbor Heidi taught me meant, “Always wear your underwear.”

We can walk through this life alone or together. Now that you know the recipe for how to make a good team, you can choose to do it together. You can deliberately pull together the ingredients of purpose, trust, and process; harness people’s thinking preferences; and tackle big challenges. Together. Good teams will help you achieve big goals, but they are more than a means to an end. The ability to connect with others to solve real challenges creates a bond, a sense of belonging and purpose that is its own reward. Good teams are sustaining.

In high school, I played field hockey at University Liggett School, a small private school in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Muriel Brock was our coach. She was legendary. In her career, she coached nineteen undefeated seasons—not winning seasons, undefeated seasons. She was tough. She had high standards. She made us work impossibly hard. Players came from every social clique, grade, and academic level  in the school to play as a team. We loved our goofy bus-ride rituals. We loved our tattered mouse mascot, Mickey. We alternately loved and were terrified of Coach Brock. Mostly, we loved field hockey.

My neighbor Heidi was our star halfback. Senior year, we went undefeated in Michigan, so we flew to Connecticut to play the “real field hockey teams” in Greenwich and Darien. We flew home, still undefeated. That season, we scored seventy-one goals, with three goals scored against us. I went on to play field hockey in college. It was okay. I liked the people, but the long practices and bus rides didn’t seem worth the time commitment. That’s when I realized I didn’t actually love the game of field hockey. I loved being on Coach Brock’s team. I quit field hockey and joined the ultimate Frisbee club team.

Once you are part of a good team, you know what’s possible. The memory never leaves you. Forty years after our high school graduation, I got a call asking if I’d give the speech to honor Heidi’s induction into our high school’s athletic hall of fame. Of course! A small crowd had gathered in the side cafeteria. Coach Brock was there. Now in her late eighties, she had the same piercing gaze, leathery tan, and shock of white hair, but her voice was shaky, and it cracked unexpectedly mid-sentence. “It’s from yelling at [crack] you girls all those years,” she rasped, shaking her head in mock chagrin. Then she grabbed me and Heidi in a vise-grip hug and sat in the front and watched with an eagle eye as I began my speech:

Having Heidi as a neighbor was like winning the lottery. She was game for anything. We climbed trees, made forts, and rescued baby bunnies. When we started playing field hockey, our relationship changed from playmates to teammates. I noticed something would happen to Heidi whenever she braided her hair and tied on that red bandana. No more bunny-loving Heidi. She became Attila the Halfback.

A similar transformation, albeit not quite as pronounced, happened in all of Coach Brock’s players. We’d be singing cheery songs on the side-lines, but when that whistle blew, we were all business. Field hockey was one of the only places where girls were allowed to be unapologetically fierce and fast and aggressive. We were proud to be known as the “Brocksketeers.” Today, I run a business. Many of the skills I use to win in the market came straight from field hockey. I’m a businessperson and an entrepreneur, but in my heart, I’m still a Brocksketeer.

I stole a glance at Coach Brock. She was dabbing her eyes with her paper napkin. Score.

Being part of a good team makes you realize that the secret of life isn’t the “why” or the “what,” it’s the “who.” Muriel Brock was the team leader who made all the difference. She inspired me to help start a field hockey team at our local high school. I wanted to create a space where other girls could be strong and have a true sense of connection. We started out as the worst team in the league. Nearly a decade later, I’m still coaching field hockey, watching individual players transform into a team. This year, our team made it to the state Final Four championships, but our purpose is still the same: to give every girl a good team experience. We want being part of our team to be one of their best memories of high school.

Think back. Who is the team leader who made a difference for you? Who provided a space where you could push yourself, work with others, and be great together? How might you do that for others?


Want to read more about it? This article contains an excerpt from the book, "Good Team, Bad Team: Lead People to Go After Big Challenges, Not Each Other" written by FourSight partners, Sarah Thurber and Blair Miller PhD. New call-to-action

Sarah Thurber

Sarah is managing partner at FourSight and the author of Good Team, Bad Team, The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker, Creativity Unbound, and Facilitation: A Door to Creative Leadership. Her work helps teams and leaders think creatively, work collaboratively and achieve innovative results.