Team leadership and the privilege of competition

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the first two weeks of practice and what a privilege competition is.

Winter Practice: Week 1

The Badger softball team spent a lot of time in 2011 listening to chalk-talks and inspiring speeches from great coaches and leaders on campus. We kicked off our 2012 winter practice season last week with a few visitors willing to share words of wisdom to help break up our two-a-day workouts. Major Shannon Hellenbrand spoke to our group about leadership, before our team got to participate in a mini boot camp. The amazing thing about Shannon is that she was young, friendly and bubbly. She shared her experiences of leading two tours to Iraq, managing units comprised primarily men, many of them older than her. She led a group of engineers and oversaw a detention camp. Her leadership seemed to be centered on caring for her coworkers. By establishing relationships with the people she commanded, she got more from her employees and created a better environment. We were inspired to meet someone so young who has dedicated her life to serving her country as a leader.

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Later in the week Lindsey Smith from Athletes in Action spoke to the team about opportunities at Wisconsin for service, community outreach and spiritual growth. It's amazing how many resources are available to our student-athletes at Wisconsin. There are so many groups, organizations and professionals who are dedicated to helping our student-athletes reach their potential on the field, in the classroom and in life. One of my favorite quotes that you can find on a lot of the Athletes in Action materials is from Nelson Mandela, "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down barriers. It laughs in the face of discrimination."

Winter Practice: Week 2

This week's chalk talk was one of the most inspiring for me, because it featured two of our own student-athletes who wanted to share insights into leadership and mental toughness that they learned over break. Senior Karla Powell led the way by reading a book, "Strengths-Based Leadership", by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. While the book focused on leadership in corporate America, Karla shared lessons that translated into sports. It's rewarding to hear our team echo some of the life-lessons that our staff is working to emphasize.

The two lessons that Karla talked about, which resonated with me, had to do with surrounding yourself with good people, and leading from a strength-based perspective. The book emphasized the need to surround yourself with people who are positive influences. I think that's one of the most important things we can do in life; seek out individuals that inspire us, who build us up, who challenge us and make us better people. There are so many negative influences in this world, why not choose to be around people with similar values and goals, who care for others and do things the right way. My mom always told my sister and me to surround ourselves with good people when we were growing up. That lesson has helped so much in choosing the right college, dating nice guys, finding true friends and working for amazing bosses.

The other message I liked from Karla's talk said that leaders focus on their strengths and the strengths of their organization and employees. As coaches there are so many times that we dwell on what's wrong. It's so easy to see where our players fall short and how deficient our team is. Great leaders have the unique ability to see what people do right, and accentuate the positive. Sports and life can be a long, difficult journey. There are so many challenges and pitfalls along the way. To inspire our athletes, our teams and ourselves to survive the marathon, and stay motivated and positive, we must highlight the good. If athletes don't feel good, and worthy and special, they'll never have the energy or tenacity to chip away at their weaknesses. It's a tough world out there. If we lead from a strength-based perspective, our athletes will feel the confidence and energy they need, to take on new challenges in sport and life.

Sophomore Stephanie Peace then spoke to the team about a 30 day challenge she took on. She read two, 14 day workbooks on mental training. Each day there were stories and activities to read and complete. These workbooks offer a great, tangible plan for improving mental toughness, and teaching relaxation. If our staff had made the team complete these workbooks, I'm not sure how much they would have gotten out of them. I love having one of our young leaders share some of the extra work she is doing and to inspire her peers to do the same. What a powerful way to lead by example. Everyone wanted to try these workbooks out after hearing Steph's talk.

Accountability is an amazing thing among athletes. We can all take on new challenges, or try to overcome a weakness. Yet when you stand in front of your team, commit to being more positive under pressure and in control when the going gets tough, you really become accountable for your actions. True change happens when you put yourself out there and become vulnerable in front of your teammates, committing to a goal in public.

My favorite lesson from Steph's reading on mental toughness states that "Pressure is a Privilege." How true. If you are under pressure at work, in life, or on the field, you must have an amazing opportunity in front of you. Sure, you could fail, but you're in the fight, you've stood up, put yourself out there, accepted the challenge and joined the dance. You might fail, but you have the opportunity to fail brilliantly. Not many people have the privilege of experiencing pressure. If you're feeling pressure you must have made the team, and you are probably in the game! What a privilege to compete. bootcamp2BLOG.jpg

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