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What the Black Stars teach all of us   
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Ghanaians love their soccer.  And rightly so! Since the 2000 or so when the current Black Stars began a Sisyphean struggle to push the huge boulder of failure left behind by previous teams up the hill of FIFA World Cup qualifying tournaments, the unspooling of a recrudescence of success from the Black Stars has become one constant source of joy and pride for most Ghanaians.

By every measure, the euphoria, pride and outburst of celebrations that greeted the qualification of the Black Stars for the FIFA word Soccer Cup tournament in South Africa in 2010 for the second time were justifiably well deserved.  For a country where there is very little to cheer about in terms of substantive achievements, the recent successes of the Black Stars are not only a source of national pride, but also they provide a window into the portals of possibilities of what the country could achieve if we were single-mindedly focused on our development goals, willing to indiscriminately marshal all our resources, talents and faculties, and place national interests above personal ones and self-aggrandizement.

So while we celebrate the second qualification of the Black Stars, argue, and do arm-chair coaching about what the players could have done “better”, and pray that the team will be successful in South Africa, I suggest that we all take some moments and look for kernels of lessons about what has made the Black Stars especially successful in recent years.  These are the lessons I learn (or more correctly lessons I have re-learned) and we all can learn from the recent successes of the Black Stars.

Establish Clear Goals and Objectives: The Black Stars have proven that to be successful, whether as an individual, a family, a firm or a nation, you must have a clear direction and establish clear goals and objectives. There is a big difference between a goal and an objective. Goals are aspirational visions and general intentions that are not necessarily tangible or quantifiable.  Objectives, however, must be precise and concrete. Objectives are outcomes that can be measured or behavioral changes that can be described qualitatively.  In brief, a goal is where one wants to be, while an objective lays out, with a high degree of specificity, the steps that will be needed to get to where one wants to be. When one analyses the recent successes of the Black Stars, especially the consecutive qualifications for the FIFA World Cup tournaments, one realizes that the main goal for the Black Stars was qualifying for important international tournaments and representing Ghana in these tourneys with integrity. To attain these goals, the Black Stars had to take a number of steps – objectives – such as hiring qualified coaches and assistants, assembling the best players, practicing for a certain number of hours a day, playing a number of friendly matches in a year to get the players exposed and accustomed to international competition etc. We need the same kind of approach and mentality in our national development endeavors. Each year we must require our government, our ministries and other national institutions to clearly state their goals and the steps they will be taking to achieve these goals. This presupposes that people in charge of these institutions are capable of providing leadership for setting clear goals and objectives.  The leaders must involve people in setting these goals in a team effort, and not simply do that through dictatorial predispositions. But the delegation of each person’s role and responsibilities must be clear and thorough. When you get people involved in setting goals and objectives, they are more inclined to assume ownership of the goals and objectives.

Single-minded focus on the goals at hand: The successes of the Black Stars also underline a very important element of achieving success, which is a single-minded pursuit of one’s goals and objectives and an inner drive to succeed. Thus you’re willing to do everything to achieve your goals, excuses not acceptable.  In addition, professional sports players such as the Black Stars have the ability to block distractions and single-mindedly focus on the task at hand. During a match, players have to know what the opposing team is trying to do, and have got to make split decisions as to what opposing players are going to do. In essence, players have to anticipate their opponents’ next move and that requires a high degree of concentration and focus. Successful sports players, like all successful people, organizations and nations, are driven to succeed and have abundance of self-motivation. These people (organizations and nations) see the big picture, set lofty goals for themselves and stay committed to achieving them regardless of the obstacles that get in the way. All Ghanaians can learn this important lesson from the Black Stars: our politicians must single-mindedly focus on the goals of national development; our workers must intrinsically challenge themselves, and also be incentivized to focus all their energies on increasing productivity at the workplace and households and individuals must set goals for themselves and focus on achieving them.

Serving A Greater Cause: Obviously there may be some members of the Black Stars who see their selection to the team as a springboard for individual glory and monetary rewards.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But I am confident that the reason why most of them answer the call always is that they have an unbending commitment and dedication to a greater cause: to showcase the pride and character of a nation.  Because of their commitment to this greater cause, the players sometimes have to endure selfless sacrifices.  Take for example Steve Appiah’s gruesome rehab program so that he would be ready to contribute his window’s mite to help the Black Stars qualify. Then there is Muntari’s selfless act of playing for Ghana against Sudan even when he was fasting for the Ramadan.  There are numerous examples of sacrifices made by the Black Stars so they can contribute to achieving the goals of the team.  Kingston Laryea sums up this commitment of the Black Stars: “I am like a soldier who must stand up for his country at anytime,” he once told Peace FM.  If only all of us, especially our elected officials, leaders of our national institutions, and public workers can make the same commitment and “like soldiers stand up for the country anytime”, our beloved country would be better of for it.

Resource availability: There have been oodles of brouhaha over the alleged winning bonus of $600,000 negotiated by the coach of the Black Stars.  Even though this might be the market price for coaches, personally I would have been less inclined to negotiate such a contract on behalf of the country because I do understand tradeoffs and opportunity costs in Economics.  However I do not have any qualms about that because I also understand the economics of the effects of incentives on performance. The successes of the Black Stars demonstrate that it takes resources to be successful.  Not only should resources be made available, but more important, the quality of the resources made available is imperative. Besides the quantity and quality of resources, you need competent planners, managers and implementers to match these resources optimally, design a strategic plan and execute the plan to a successful conclusion. Since soccer is a team sport, in selecting players for the Black Stars, the coach and his team have to make the decisions based on the competences of the players at their respective positions. You cannot put square pegs in round holes in soccer no matter how hard you force them.  For instance, despite Essien’s athletic ability, it won’t be wise to select him for the goalkeeping position, and Kingston a midfielder, unless in an unexpectedly extreme situations.  This should be a big lesson for the nation as a whole: make resources available; hire competent people for positions that match their skills and qualifications; and provide qualified people with the right incentives and encouragement to work to their strengths.

Strong Self-Belief and Abundant Self-Confidence: High-achieving sports players such as our Black Stars have supreme confidence in themselves. Those who have dabbled in some sports can attest to the fact that self-confidence is an important ingredient for being successful in a sports endeavor. Similarly, other successful people and nations have a healthy opinion of themselves, and have confidence in their abilities.  They do not spend too much time thinking about un-constructive criticism, and do not need others’ validation.  One of the saddest moments in my life is watching a town-hall meeting that Mrs. Hilary Clinton – the US Secretary of State – recently held at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. During the meeting, one member of the audience (a Kenyan) lamented about the perceived attitudinal problem in Kenya and asked Mrs. Clinton how the USA could help Kenyans to change their attitude.  Why do Africans need non-Africans to help us change our attitude, if we think our attitude is an impediment to our national development efforts?  For me this was an epitome of inferiority complex and lack of self-confidence in our own abilities.  This situation is no different from what prevails in Ghana.  Our leaders are waiting on God to solve our problems for us, even though God has given us all the resources and human faculties to do this ourselves.  Fatalism and inferiority complex run so deep that they cripple people's ability to think critically about our challenges. You'd think education can help eradicate this psychological cancer but apparently it hasn't! How sad to waste so many minds! I think we make God sad (and maybe angry) because our fatalistic tendencies are counterintuitive to the very belief in the creation of man in the image of God (a belief that is strongly held by so many Ghanaians).  I do not want to sound preachy, but isn’t the belief of most of us that God created us (human beings) in His own image and gave us the ability to have dominion over all of His other creatures. As Genesis 1 26-31 says 'then God said, "Let' us make a man - someone like ourselves, to be the master of all life upon the earth and in the skies and in the seas." So God made man like his maker. Like God did God make man; Man and the maid did he make them. And God bless them and told them, "Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; you are masters of the fish and the birds and all animals. And look! I have given you the seed-bearing plants throughout the earth, all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given you all the grass and plants to the animals and birds for their food." Then God looked over all that he had made and it was excellent in every way." (Culled from The Living Bible). What else do we need from God? Being made in God's image means that we have the physical, intellectual, and spiritual capabilities and capacities to improve our lots using all the resources - both human and non-human - that have been placed at our disposal by a very caring and generous God.

Willingness to change and try new things when the status quo isn’t working: I have no doubt that all members of the Black Stars are gifted soccer players.  However they would not have had this much success in their careers if they didn’t have a passionate desire to do things better and constantly look for ways to improve. Like all successful people they have had to be malleable to new circumstances and ideas.  In other words, if something is not working for them they simply change.  In sports you have to be creative, innovative and resourceful.  You must also be accepting of constructive criticism and become cognizance of the fact that obstacles are a part and parcel of becoming successful so you deal with them appropriately.  I bet if you asked members of the Black Stars, they would attest to this fundamental truth.  There is a lot our leaders can learn from the Black Stars in this area.  Sometimes our national development efforts seem so stuck in the same atrophic gear that we keep on doing the same unproductive things but expect different results.  We must provide the incubating space for new ideas and fresh thinking to grow - no matter where or whom they come from.

A total national effort: The very successes of the Black Stars also show that it takes a true national effort and an all-hands-on-deck approach to be successful as a nation.  We constitute the Black Stars and support their efforts without any regard to ethnic, geographic, income, and demographic background or political affiliations.  Why is that when t comes to our national development enterprise we seem to let these constraints constrict us?

We have high expectations for our Black Stars, and time and time again they rise up to these expectations, and then some.  Why do we not have the same high expectations for our national leaders, and to some extent ourselves?  We can all take inspiration from the Black Stars.  It happens that the prescriptions for the success of our national development enterprise can be found at home and not in some entablature or a glassed-in room in a nondescript office building in Berlin, Brussels, London, Paris or Washington DC. 

Maxwell Oteng

You may contact me at [email protected] or leave a comment or exchange ideas at my burgeoning blog, http://africaneconomics.blogspot.com/

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