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Pele: An Inspiration For Teamwork In Negotiated Solutions

Team work lies beneath negotiated solutions of complex problems. This article focuses on Pele who is regarded as the greatest soccer player of all times. No team sport evokes the intuitive drive for team work as soccer, where all eleven players of a team must cooperate. Soccer requires improvisation from the players to solve the strategic necessities of the soccer field. Can we learn from Pele processes for team work?

The star

Pele purportedly was responsible for a 48-hour cease-fire during a civil war in Nigeria, so people could watch him playing an exhibition match in 1967; the war resumed in full force after the game. With Pele, Brazil won the World Cup three times in 12 years. Every kid from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe who plays soccer wants to be Pele.

Pele was born in 1940 in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. In his native Brazil, Pele is hailed as a national hero and was declared a national treasure by the Brazilian government and the football ambassador of the world by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

Pele was named Athlete of the Century by the world’s combined National Olympic Committees in 1999, though he never played in the Olympics. Henry Kissinger puts it in baseball terms to highlight Pele’s genius. He scored an average of one goal in every international game he played — the equivalent of a baseball player’s hitting a home run in every World Series game over 15 years. Between 1956 and 1974, Pele scored a total of 1,220 goals — not unlike hitting an average of 70 home runs every year for a decade and a half.

It is reported that when Pele met Pope Paul VI, the Pope said: Don’t be nervous my son. I am more nervous than you. I have been waiting to meet Pele personally for a long time.

After the 1970 World Cup Finals, it was reported that Tracisio Burgnich, Italian defender who marked Pele in that game, exclaimed: I told myself before the game, he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else — but I was wrong.

After leading the Cosmos to the league championship in 1977, Pele played his final game on a somber day at Giants Stadium. Pele played one half for the Cosmos and the other half for Santos. The game was covered by 650 journalists and broadcast live, in 38 nations. A Brazilian newspaper noted about the atmosphere of the rainy day, Even the Sky Was Crying.

The game

More people today play and watch soccer than any other sport. Soccer spans all continents. The game generates the same intense passion as a religion.

In soccer all eleven players of a team must possess similar type of skills, defensive and offensive. Soccer is a low scoring game. As long as the ball is in play and no infringements of soccer rules are being made, the players can score goals. A goal is scored when the ball crosses into the goal area completely. Goals can be scored by play action, penalty kicks or direct free kicks. It is continuous and does not lend itself to being stopped or broken down into a series of component plays. It needs a flat field, a ball and a pair of shoes. It is a magic game for the masses.

Vocation is not everything

Pele’s earliest dreams were of becoming a professional soccer player. Pele played soccer with his neighborhood friends, often going barefoot and improvising with either a sock stuffed with papers or a grapefruit or coconut for a ball and a pair of cans as goalposts. He was given his first leather ball on his sixth birthday. He dropped out of school when he was nine years old and received early coaching in soccer from his father. However, when he reflected on not studying to play soccer Pele acknowledged:

At that time of my life I had no idea how important education was; I even thought soccer was everything! Now I completely understand why my mother, Celeste, always used to say: “Pele, leave that ball alone for a while. Come and do your homework.” You know that, in spite of this advice, I spent all my time and life on soccer. Many years later I realized how right my mother had been! I had to study. Soccer was not enough. I completed my schooling and then took a higher course in Physical Education. So I’m telling you once again: education and soccer are compatible. You can study and play at the same time and be a success in both fields. I’ll go even further, not you can, you must!


Talent and skills are not enough for becoming being good at conflict resolution. Dedication and enthusiasm are also fundamental. Pele recognized:

God gives us a gift. But to perfect it, you have to work. Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string. Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do. Soccer is a sport which consists of simple ingredients. We often forget this simplicity.

Communication skills

A good communication among negotiators is a key element for negotiated solutions. Pele interprets: In soccer the pass is a form of communication, transmission, participation, a link or contact. By passing, the players communicate with each other, bringing the ball from their defense area up into attack. The better the communication, the better are the chances of a successful team. Do you know why? Soccer is a team game. There are eleven players working together and that’s why the original name of this sport is association soccer. The eleven players are like partners; they help each other with the aim of scoring more goals than the other team and, therefore, winning the game.

Be prepared

Being prepared means taking advantage of good luck. Pele narrated how he headed the ball that scored the first goal for Brazil in the World Cup Final in Mexico in 1970.

All that joy wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been prepared by constant training, and if I hadn’t learned some of the finer points of heading. The first thing I tried to do was to understand the fundamental laws of heading. I expect you’ve heard of the law of gravity. I hope you also know about the force of inertia.


A secure approach for conflict resolution is to look at the contexts where the conflict originates and exists. Contexts are formed by situations that are the result of forces and fields which posses an orientation to the future. Pele sees his learning and achievements as the result of the situations and experiences he has gone through in life:

What I am today is a result of all the advice I have received right from the beginning, before I had even played in a proper game. I have been helped by my trainers, the older players and my parents. Listen to the advice of your elders; they are always more experienced than we are. Also listen to any tips from your friends. I’d like to tell you something which I have learned from people: you don’t learn faults by looking or listening, they come from you, yourself.

Difficult times

A conflict solver must be patient and be prepared for negotiations and mediations that don’t work or that seem endless. Conflict resolution strategies might be effective in some circumstances and inadequate in others. The life of Pele is not an exception.

As far as his physical condition, Pele suffered through the 1962 and 1966 World Cups. He sustained a groin injury in a game leading up to the 1962 tournament in Chile. Pele returned to the world stage in 1966 as Brazil went after an unprecedented third straight World Cup. However, an injury limited him to two games. Brazil lost two of three games and failed to advance past the first round.

As far as business sense, Pele had suffered numerous failures. When Pele retired–for the first time–in 1974, he was 34 years old. He had been planning on retirement but a bad business deal left him $1 million in debt. At that time Pele received a proposal to start a big team, the New York Cosmos. He accepted the offer to gain money to respond to his debts. Pele Sports and Marketing was wrecked by a scandal in 2001, when money it borrowed for a UNICEF benefit match that did not come off and the money was not repaid. Pele ordered an audit, shut the company down and sued his partner for embezzling $4 million. Pele said.

All my life I have had a big problem with partners. I have no problems with endorsements, just associates.

Be acquainted with rituals

One aspect that frequently explains why some negotiated solutions are possible and complied with is that the formation of the agreement followed the appropriate rituals. Rituals are a feature of almost all known human societies, past or present. The actions and symbolism of rituals are not arbitrarily chosen by the performers, nor dictated by logic or necessity, but either are prescribed and imposed upon the performers by some external source or are inherited unconsciously from social traditions. They may include rites and sacraments of organized religions and cults, but also common actions like hand shaking and saying you are sorry. Pele emphasizes:

Be really familiar with the rules, you will get more out of a game, whether you are playing or watching it. Always respect the officials – the referee and the linesmen. Referees, like all of us, do make mistakes sometimes and it is not easy to see the whole game. Accept his decisions. Don’t waste time in useless arguments.

Be yourself and accept limitations

A conflict solver must be realistic about goals. Setting a goal that is impossible to achieve will end up frustrating you to the point where you give up on your goals. Sometimes there is a fine line between realistic and impossible. So how do we go about setting realistic goals? First be yourself and accept your limitations. Pele underscored:

Always be yourself! Don’t try to imitate anyone or to be like someone. Create your own individual style. Don’t try and make yourself a ‘Pele’. It is much more important to be yourself than Pele. If you become great, do your best to show why you are considered to be so good; if you only reach the level of a reserve player, then show that you are the best in that category. Be a man, in failure and success. Only this way can you achieve personal dignity and earn the respect of your fellow men. Never think that you know everything. There is always more to learn and every day we get to know something new. Improvisation

Pele’s technique and natural athleticism have been universally praised; he was renowned for his unstoppable dribbling and visionary passing, as well as his pace, powerful shot, and an exceptional heading ability, Pele had countless tricks to get around defenders. He developed incredible shots, including a swerving shot from 40 yards out that would curve away from the goalie at the last second, and a drop shot that would appear to be going over the crossbar and then dip into the net. But above all he was an exceptionally intuitive player that could realize impossible plays in spontaneous situations.

Team work

In negotiated solutions the agreement is not the result of the effort of one or another negotiator or mediator, but of all involved in reaching solutions. In soccer, the team is the winner or loser, not the player. We are always part of a team and each one has his own special function. Every individual is important, has been said multiple times by Pele.

But just as a collection of drawings does not make a Picasso painting or a compilation of notes does not make a Beethoven symphony, statistics cannot capture the majesty of a winning team.

Pele always emphasized the nature of football as a team game. In Pele’s own words:

A team is not made up of isolated individuals. Nearly always we are attackers and defenders at the same time! Always stay in the game. Don’t be passive. Football is a team game. No one plays alone. Success depends on your whole team being a single unit. There are eleven players and also the reserves helping each other to fight for the same objective.

Leader in team work

Notwithstanding the necessity of coordination among players, the difference between glory and tragedy may the leader of the team. Pele declared:

When football stars disappear, so do the teams, and that is a very curious phenomenon. It is like in the theatre, in a play, where there is a great star. If the star is not well, the whole cast suffers.

In negotiated solutions of complex conflicts like in games between competitive teams, the character of a leader may be a determiner of the success or failure of the team.

Music and game

To discover that Pele has an affinity with music is of no surprise to anyone who saw him play. The bicycle kick, the dribble, heading the ball and the feint combine elements of a new art shaped by athleticism, dancing and ballet. Pele and those glorious Brazilian teams played to a samba beat. Beautiful skills, astonishing speed and ball control. Brazilian football and music are two of the country’s best known contributions to world culture. A ‘Brazilian’ style emerged from tropical music that emphasized team work, creativity and flamboyance. Brazilian musicians have treated football as a source of inspiration.


For a conflict solver to be a successful one must first enjoy the game of conflict resolution of complex problems. To be prepared for the game one must follow certain discipline and hard work, and look for simplicity in the negotiated agreement. One requires also the development of communication skills. One needs to be ready when the opportunities present themselves. One must be aware of the overlapping personalities and contexts that originate and surround the conflict, and realize that one will face obstacles and difficult times. As a team player one must be acquainted with the diversity of the players, the applicable rules, and accept one’s personal limitations. Improvisation is a constant requirement in conflict resolution where each situation is unique. One must know that team work obliges cooperation and coordination among players who share the same goal, and that a leader may be crucial. Finally, like in music and soccer, conflict resolution of complex problems requires inspiration.


Luis Miguel Diaz

Luis Miguel Díaz, unfortunately now deceased, fathered four children and distrusted language, theories and authority, including his own as a father. Admires artists and scientists and their lives. He received his Law Degree at UNAM, Mexico (1974); and LLM (1976) and SJD (1986) at Harvard University Law School. President of the Interdisciplinary Center for Conflict… MORE >

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