Tony Dungy’s new book examines the 'SOUL' that goes into a winning team

(COMMENTARY) Pro football is loaded with superstar athletes who also happen to be practicing Christians. That was a trait best exemplified by Tim Tebow, but his departure from the NFL a few years ago has been minor-league baseball’s gain. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has become the latest poster child for wholesome Christian values to succeed on the gridiron. There are others. Wentz’s backup, Nick Foles, who helped the Eagles win its first-ever Super Bowl two years ago is another.

Another extremely successful Christian in the world of football is former coach and Hall of Famer Tony Dungy. The 63-year-old Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win the Vince Lombardi trophy when the Indianapolis Colts won Super Bowl XLI in 2007. He currently serves an analyst on NBC’s Football Night in America. He also won Super Bowl XIII when he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In his latest book, Soul of a Team, co-written with Nathan Whitaker, Dungy asks the question: “What separates the truly great teams from the mediocre ones?” His answer can be found in “four simple yet highly effective principles — selflessness, ownership, unity, and larger purpose.” Those four principles form the acronym S.O.U.L.

To illustrate these very principles, Dungy — in his first foray into fiction writing after penning six  self-help/motivational books — tells the story of the Orlando Vipers, a fictional football team, in desperate need of a winning season. The Vipers’ story becomes a metaphor for these principles and, as the book notes, transferred to any profession or walk of life. Dungy’s advice — and the team’s march to victory — is rooted in his Christian faith and the values that come with it.


“I used a fictional football team,” Dungy writes, “to illustrate the principles of SOUL, but I can assure you that these principles will hold true for any business, nonprofit, church or other type of organization. The key — as evidenced by the Vipers — is getting everyone on your team to commit.”

The 240-page book, published by Tyndale Momentum, includes a “Group Discussion Guide” at the end that could serve as a useful tool for other coaches, but also people outside sports such as CEOs, managers and Human Resources administrators.

While the Vipers story is of great interest, and drawn from Dungy’s 40 years as a player and coach, the section that stood out most in the book is the one under the title, “Finding your SOUL.” In it, Dungy provides sound advice on how to channel the power of teamwork. A discussion guide is also available through Dungy’s website.

“In all my years of coaching and working with teams, both athletic and corporate, I’ve yet to encounter a successful team that doesn’t practice these principals,” Dungy writes. “Simply put, a team that has SOUL can and will accomplish far more than one that doesn’t.”

The Vipers in this book could very well be based on the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. Dungy took over a Bucs in 1996, a franchise at the time that had suffered 12 double-digit loss seasons in the previous 13 seasons prior to his arrival. The team’s fortunes, however, quickly changed under Dungy’s leadership. In his second season, the team finished 10-6 and clinched a playoff berth. Two seasons later, the Bucs posted an 11-5 record to end the 1999 season and captured its first divisional title since 1981. Dungy’s six season in Tampa included four trips to the playoffs — a testament to Dungy’s success as both a coach and motivator.

In his NFL enshrinement speech in 2016, Dungy said, “The Lord has truly led me on a wonderful journey through 31 years in the NFL, through some temporary disappointments to some incredible joys. I cherish every single relationship that I was able to make over those 31 years, and I'll always be grateful to the National Football League for giving me my life's work.” 

It’s this philosophy that Dungy, an Evangelical Christian, espouses in this book. Although the book was released at the end of the football season, Dungy goes into great detail on how SOUL works and his specific experiences with each principal. This is the part sports fans will delight in most, but Dungy makes the material both interesting and accessible to those who may not regularly follow the NFL. He quotes both Scripture as well as Sir Isaac Newton to make his point.

He calls Jesus, for example, a “great team builder” before quoting Luke 16:10, which states, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest in greater responsibilities.”

This is the essence of Dungy’s book and his recipe for success. Whether you’re a youth football coach looking for a winning edge or a manager trying to get the most out of workers, this is a book worth a look. Dungy’s modern-day fable — as the book cover trumpets — is a roadmap to drawing out the very best out of you and your co-workers.

For those looking for faith-based inspiration and advice from someone who has achieved the pinnacle of success in his field, then Dungy’s latest book won’t disappoint. If anything, it will inspire you to become part of a winning team.