Performance improvement lessons from the court and Caitlin Clark

Like millions of others around the world, I’m a huge Caitlin Clark fan.

I love what she’s done to boost the visibility of women’s sports. Lucky for me, I was born and raised in central Iowa and I’m a University of Iowa alumna as well as a life-long Hawkeye fan.

Admittedly, I focused more on football and men’s basketball up until a few years ago when No. 22 came on the scene and watching her play became must-see TV. While the games are always exciting, hearing and reading interviews with the players and coaches hold many lessons that apply off the court.

First, basketball is a team sport. Coach Lisa Bluder, who has been at Iowa for 24 seasons, never lets her players, the press, or the fans forget this important fact. Although she clearly acknowledges the generational talent she is fortunate to have on her team, she focuses on the team effort required to win games by highlighting contributions made by all of her players.

As those who follow the sport know, Caitlin leads the nation in scoring as well as assists. For non-fans, that means that when she’s not taking the shot herself, she’s passing it off to a teammate who is in a better position to take it. She creates opportunities for others and is unselfish with the ball.

Second, improvement in any skill is difficult if not impossible without practice and humility. It’s well-known that when she was a child, Caitlin’s family had to find boys’ teams for her to play on to provide the experience she needed to excel. Caitlin is known for pushing herself hard and being a fearless competitor. You don’t learn to shoot from the logo without lots of practice. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t still learning and growing.

In the hard-fought win in the Big 10 championship game against Nebraska, Iowa had an extremely rough first half. In post-game interviews, both Coach Bluder and Caitlin admitted that a few years ago, the team might not have had the emotional maturity and perseverance to come back to beat the Cornhuskers in overtime.

Caitlin is prominently featured on billboards and commercials around the country and even has a Nike shirt with her own tagline, “You break it, you own it.”

Still, her humility is on display every time she’s asked questions about a game, the latest record she’s broken, or her likely first overall pick in the WNBA. Even though the spotlight is shining brightly on her as an individual, she never fails to express genuine gratitude for her family, coaches, teammates, and fans.

Third, constructive feedback from both leaders and peers is imperative to change. Everyone expects coaches to deliver tough messages to their players. From park district soccer fields to professional arenas, coaches use a variety of techniques in hopes that their players will listen and learn.

Successful teams also rely on teammates for support and encouragement, but more importantly, for honest, tough-to-hear commentary about personal weaknesses and missed opportunities. Often teams meet without their coaches present to engage in these candid conversations, which can result in improved play in future games as well as a tighter bond between teammates, and ultimately to rewards beyond the sport itself.

It’s easy to forget that these college players are so young and relatively inexperienced in most facets of life. While some may aspire to professional careers in sports, the majority will go on to careers outside the sport they’re currently playing.

Fortunately, the lessons they’re learning along the way apply not just to the players, but also to all those who broaden their perspective enough to see how many takeaways apply to other parts of life.

• Mary Lynn Fayoumi is president & CEO of HR Source.

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