COLUMBIA — “Ubuntu.” It is a South African word whose loose English translation “I am because we are” has been adopted as the motto for the Missouri women’s soccer team this season. The motto is inscribed on every player’s practice shirt as a constant reminder.
Associate head coach Brian Dooley, who proposed the motto to the coaching staff, first heard “Ubuntu” when it was used by the National Basketball Association’s Boston Celtics during the 2007-2008 season when they won the franchise’s 17th NBA title.
“The general idea is that I can’t be all that I can be unless I can help you be all that you can be,” Dooley said. “It’s trying to understand that it’s the team's success that overrides any individual accomplishments.”
Dooley said this team-oriented philosophy relates especially well to soccer because only 11 of Missouri’s 24 players can be on the field at once.
“The challenge is always to try to find ways to keep involved and not find excuses or find reasons to become despondent,” he said. “The philosophy here is, if I score a goal, I score it for everybody, whether you’re on the field or on the bench or awaiting your opportunity.”
“It’s trying to make sure that everyone’s engaged, and everyone has something at stake and understands that everyone has an importance,” he said.
Senior captain Dominique Richardson said she and her teammates haven’t wasted any time buying into the motto.
“Whatever I do, whatever someone else does affects the team, so we all need to be together and make good decisions,” she said.
While the Celtics shouted “ubuntu” after every huddle, the Tigers have resorted to a more quiet recognition of their motto.
“It’s just kind of like a standard for us,” Richardson said. “You’re just expected to know that you support your teammate because your teammate supports you. It’s just give and take.”
“The girls vary the things that they say, you know, it’s not something that we are trying to mandate or impose,” Dooley said. “It’s that kind of philosophy where it’s all-encompassing.”
At the beginning of the season, the coaching staff had the players participate in a team bonding activity in which each girl reflected on who she was and shared her thoughts with her teammates. These types of activities have continued throughout the season and have helped bring the new players into the team.
“I think we’re a really close group,” Richardson said. “I think we had it before, but even now with the new coaches and players, everyone’s just so together.”
“We have a lot of new people this year, so I think we’re still trying to work through that,” she said. “We’re playing really well, we just haven’t got the results that we want, but we see things working together.”
After a difficult past weekend in which Missouri lost to both Baylor and San Diego in the Texas A&M Tournament, the team returned home and routed Eastern Illinois 3-0 on Friday.
“As the process goes, you’ll know if [the motto] is really having a positive effect when you’re into a tough spell," Dooley said. "That’s where we’ll see if it’s really taking shape and helping the team grow.”