In The Trenches

Tug of War

Published on July 3, 2017 Back to blog
Jeff Freedman Playing Tug of War in Ceglie Messapica

A few nights ago, my family and I found ourselves in the medieval town of Ceglie Messapica in the Puglia region of Italy. The owner of the villa we’re staying at suggested we head over there for their annual festival of games. Although his English was perfectly fine, I couldn’t understand what the festival was all about, but he said he and his family were heading over there – and that was enough for me to believe it would be fun.

After parking the car, we began walking down an old stone pathway that led to the main square about 200 yards away. The alleyway, lined with small shops on either side (gelato, pizza, pasta, ATM, etc.), was filled with about 1,500 people and had a long thick rope on the ground extending from end to end.

Clearly, the people in the alleyway were waiting for something to happen. However, no one seemed to be touching the rope. In this part of Italy, few people speak English, so we just waited with the rest of them. About 20 minutes later, a man wearing an over-sized suit with patches of dice on it stood on a stage in the middle of the alley and began speaking over the PA system. The crowds started cheering, and people began taking off their shoes and grabbing a part of the rope. A few people nearby gestured for me to do the same. So, when in Ceglie…

The crowd was growing excited as the man in the dice suit began counting down – cinque, quattro, tre, due, uno, Inizio! Immediately, the rope got taut and we were in the middle of a tug-of-war contest with about 500 other people. Within a few seconds, our team of 250+ people began pulling in perfect rhythm against the other side. Pull back, go forward, pull/step back (harder), go forward, pull/step back, go forward. Even though we were pulling slightly uphill, we eventually pulled the other team far enough to claim victory. After a much needed 5 minute break, the count down began again. This time, the rhythm wasn’t quite as harmonious, and we were pulled forward by the other side. After five times, I was exhausted, but we ended up winning 3 out of 5. Bragging rights forever!

Aside from wanting to brag about this huge victory, I share this story because it exemplifies the power of teamwork and some key actions it takes to win:

1. Do your job (as Bill B says) – Everyone on that team had one job. Pull the rope as hard as you can. I didn’t need to know Italian to figure that out.

2. Find your rhythm – The organic rhythm that we created was fascinating to watch and experience. When we had it, we were unstoppable. When we lost it, we fell over.

3. Persevere – Pulling on that rope was incredibly tiring. Winning wasn’t just about which team had the greatest strength and rhythm, it was about who persevered the longest.

4. Inspire – Although I didn’t understand the words that my team mates were screaming, I could very much understand the high fives and facial expressions we made with one another. “We got this!” “Let’s do this!” “Nice job!” Great team mates inspire one another to do their best.

5. Overcome – Even though we were, literally, fighting an uphill battle, we overcame that obstacle and won. Uphill battles are surmountable.

6. Take off your shoes – I literally needed to do this for the tug-of-war (my boat shoes had zero grip on the old stone pathway). But, in a less literal sense, we need to prepare ourselves for the situation we are in. Wear the right clothes, have the right tools/resources and position yourself for success.

Anyone up for a game of tug-of-war?


Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners