The people of Reykjavik are sleepless. Naturally, because they see 21 hours of daylight this time of year, but also spiritually, because Iceland, the smallest country to ever qualify for a major soccer tournament, just proved that they can stand toe-to-toe with Europe’s powerhouse teams.
Calling upon their Viking roots, Icelanders weren’t surprised nor astonished when they tied elite-class Portugal in their first game at the Euro Cup (which was as good as a win). They were joyous, confident and proud.
Sounding more like a Game of Thrones line, Icelandic news source, Reykjavik Grapevine tweeted, "Now we smite them into tiny pieces of dust and destroy their goal with a ball set on fire by our volcanic thunder.”
Good luck dealing with that, Iceland opponents. Businesses take heed. There are lessons from Iceland's storied journey to greatness on the world stage.
If you want to play in the big leagues, brew big-league talent
Twenty years ago, Iceland decided, “Hey, let’s get good at soccer.”
They invested in over 600 elite EUEFA coaches. For comparison, England (where the game was invented) has 1 such coach for every 11,000 residents. In Iceland, that ratio is 1 to 500.
In Iceland, there is no distinction between little league, elite prep school clubs, and professional grooming academies. They can’t afford that luxury with such a small population, so all athletes are groomed at the highest level. Imagine 400 six-year-olds being drilled by a world-class German coach. It would be like having Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux coaching your kids’ pee-wee hockey games.
Iceland nurtured their young talent by providing the right environment. The land of ice and fire, with eight months of wind-swept winter, isn't exactly an ideal climate for outdoor sports. State-of-the-art heated fields and indoor arenas were constructed to support the cause.
While this might be news to us non-Icelanders, they put in the time to realize the outcomes. Vikings don’t complain. They don’t whine about wanting unrealistic expectations overnight. Instead, they quietly prepared for a generation.
Rallying for a cause
Find strength in unity
Rhode Island has more registered soccer players than Iceland. The population of the entire country is around 335,000 people, which can be compared to Corpus Christi, Texas.
Size doesn’t matter when nearly everyone in the country rallies behind the mission.
It’s been projected that up to 10% of Iceland’s entire population made the pilgrimage to France for the Euro Cup this year.
To put that into perspective, it would be as if 33 million of us Yanks made the trek to Canada last year to support the U.S. Women’s National Team – which we probably should have done as they won the world cup.
Mind over matter
Don’t think you might get there. Know you’ll get there.
To “become good at soccer” was more than an idea for the Icelanders. It was a calling, fueled by passion and purpose, rooted by a central constant. The country rallied behind the call. A singular mindset transpired; success or bust.
Without the context of buy-in and preparation, outsiders look at Iceland and think “they’re crazy to believe they can take on a Portugal.” Icelandic players were raised in a system of belief that they could take on anyone.
That Viking mentality transpired to the field. In qualifying for the tournament, Iceland beat the Netherlands (runners up in the last two world cups) twice. When asked how they did it, midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson replied, “We knew we were going to win. Icelanders, we’re all delusional. We think we are going to win everything.”
Maybe the mindset is natural, stemming from their Viking heritage and survival instincts. They have a fierce determination; a tough mentality rooted in surviving that fills them with belief. Maybe they invoked Thor, himself.
Or maybe it was a simply the combination of long-term preparation, near-foolhardy determination, and rallying support that brought them success on the world stage.
It doesn’t matter how small you are, if you are building mobile apps, or building bridges. It doesn’t matter who your competition is. Preparation, belief, and support construct a mighty force to be reckoned with.
Afram (Go) Iceland!
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