Former NFL player and coach Tony Dungy was sitting in his home office talking by phone with a reporter when his wife, Lauren, paused in the doorway. The look on her face clearly said, “Help!”
Tony told the reporter he needed to interrupt the interview for a minute.
“Lauren was on her way to her running group and was trying to put her water bottle together,” Tony says. “I was able to fix it in a couple of minutes.”
The fact that he took time to help his wife made a positive impact on the reporter, Tony says. But that type of great teamwork is now second nature to the Dungys. After all, they’ve been married 40 years and have dealt with much tougher issues than complicated water bottles, including the adoption of eight children, foster care and the suicide of their son, Jamie.
The foundation of a blessed marriage, they say, is placing Jesus Christ at the center of their lives and knowing how to work as teammates. With Christ at the center, this husband-and-wife duo acts with “SOUL”— an acronym the Super Bowl-winning coach uses to explain how successful teams operate. SOUL stands for selflessness, ownership, unity and a larger purpose.
“This applies to any type of team building,” Tony explains. “Marriage and family certainly pertain.”
When Tony Dungy talks about teamwork, we should listen. He was the first head NFL coach to lead his teams to the playoffs for 10 consecutive years, he’s in the Football Hall of Fame and he’s even written a book about the topic called The Soul of a Team.
The latest book by both Lauren and Tony, Uncommon Influence: Saying yes to a purposeful life, includes a chapter called “Choose Team.”
How do you “Choose Team” in your marriage? Tony and Lauren encourage you to try the SOUL approach to great teamwork.
In the new book, Tony shares many selfless actions by football players that paved the way to team success. Many years ago, he realized he should look at his marriage and family through that same team-building lens — and that included taking a close look at selflessness.
As his family grew larger, he knew he would have to make some changes. If he wanted to be a successful father and husband and meet his family’s needs, he would have to say “no” to meeting some of his own.
To move toward selflessness, Tony writes that he asked God for help and memorized Philippians 2:3-4. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
“I have no idea if my self-centered tendencies will ever fully be put to rest in this life, but I can tell you that I’m better than I used to be,” he says in Uncommon Influence. “I want to be a selfless husband. I want to own my role as her [Lauren’s] spouse, the one person in the world who is always for her and who is always willing to help.”
Owning your role on the team is vital to great teamwork Tony says. “When everyone is willing to own his or her role, things just work,” he writes in Uncommon Influence. As a football coach, Tony saw that members of a great team owned their personal development — they kept learning. They owned their drawbacks, so they were honest about their weaknesses. They also owned their mistakes and apologized for getting something wrong.
Husbands and wives need to own their roles, too. “We don’t always like our role,” Tony says. “We’ll own our role if it’s something we like. But if there’s something about our role that we don’t enjoy, we want to change it.”
Great team members accept responsibility for the entire role, he says, even the parts they don’t like. On his teams and in his marriage, Tony says he’s seen that selflessness and ownership naturally lead to unity.
Lauren admits she and Tony don’t always agree. But they strive for unity.
“We made a decision that we’re going to work together,” Lauren says. “We’re not going to be building ourselves up. My goal is to build up my husband, to encourage him and support him. And he will do the same for me. Together, we can accomplish many things. If it [marriage] is just about ourselves, it’s a losing battle, and we will be frustrated.”
The couple practices a few daily habits to help maintain unity and great teamwork. First, they start each day with prayer.
“Before we make that cup of coffee or grab a cinnamon bun, we’re on our knees praying, because we need to hear from God. We need to surrender to Him every day,” Lauren says. “If we jump out of bed and start into the morning routine without talking to God and without having our quiet time, things don’t go so smoothly. It’s the prayer — the connection with each other — that’s important.”
With children from age 2 to 21 in their home, the Dungys have plenty that can go wrong without that morning prayer time. Two dishwashers and jobs for everyone in the household help keep mealtimes in order, but prayer is their main management tool for a unified marriage and family. Praying first thing in the morning helps the couple make a multitude of needed decisions, Lauren says, and praying throughout the day allows them to handle the twists and turns that invariably arise.
The couple also has an end-of-day habit that keeps them unified. “We know that every night we’re going to take a walk so we can debrief,” Lauren explains. “We can talk about our day, what went on and what we have scheduled for the next day. That’s an important time. It might be only half an hour, but we look forward to it.”
Every couple needs to find that connection time, Lauren says. If she could, she would bike and swim all day, and Tony would prefer to “go into his football world,” she notes.
Even so, they make a point to bike, walk or do something active together for fun. “That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you have to find a time when you can connect,” she adds.
To achieve great teamwork and the selflessness, ownership and unity of SOUL, you need a larger purpose.
“If your larger purpose is glorifying the Lord and doing something that’s going to have a bigger statement than just for you, it allows you to focus on those other three things,” Tony says.
The Dungys chose a larger purpose when they married — to serve God and have a God-centered marriage.
“How does that look?” Lauren asks. “Well, we model our lives after Him, we seek to look like Him, live like Him, love like Him. And if we’re intentional about that, then I believe God will honor and bless our marriage. At the same time, other people can see that demonstrated, and our hope is that they will be encouraged to live a life for God.”
One integral element of a God-centered marriage is prayer, which can improve a couple’s communication, Lauren says.
“You have to be able to communicate with your spouse and your children. And communication is prayer — praying for one another, praying together. It’s so important,” she says. “And prayer reveals and shows you a lot. You need that time to go before the Lord and ask for wisdom and guidance.”
Lauren notes that there are plenty of seminars, podcasts and programs about having a “fun and exciting” marriage, but they miss the larger purpose of glorifying God.
A marriage with SOUL
Selflessness, ownership and unity “are kind of unnatural in terms of human nature,” Tony admits. But as spouses focus together on the larger purpose of living for the Lord, He’ll help them achieve great teamwork and a marriage with SOUL.
A team win, Tony writes in Uncommon Influence, “is always more fun. It’s true in football, and it’s true in life. Things are more fun, more interesting and far more rewarding when you need me, and I need you.”