Leadership Lessons from Coach Kay Yow (part 1)

Leadership Lessons from Coach Kay Yow (part 1)

In our sports crazed society, coaches have become some of the most influential people in the world. Though some wield that power negatively, many leave a positive mark. In the women’s basketball world, few coaches are more respected for their positive influence than Coach Kay Yow.

Though I didn’t know her extremely well, the experience of writing Leader of the Pack: The Legacy of Legendary Coach Kay Yow, taught me important keys to her inspirational leadership. And like so many others, I find myself drawing on those lessons daily in order to navigate the ups and downs of life.

Coach Yow once said “living successfully beats becoming successful.” She became successful as a coach, winning over 700 games, taking NC State to the NCAA’s 20 times, leading the USA to a gold medal in the Olympics. And yet, living successfully became much more important to her than the trophies and accolades.

As I compiled stories from 35 former Wolfpack women for Leader of the Pack, key principles surfaced—Coach Yow’s secrets to living successfully. Over the next few days we’ll look at 3 of these, starting with…

Be Persevering

Coach Yow masterfully taught her players how to view their obstacles as opportunities. How to allow the bumps in the road to propel them forward rather than hold them back. She famously used sayings to drive these messages home to her athletes:

When life kicks you, let it kick you forward.

Kites rise against the wind, not with it.

Don’t wallow in self-pity, just swish your feet and get out.

The power of Coach Yow’s life wasn’t in these words, but in the way she lived them out. She modeled a “never give up” attitude on the court and in her personal life—particularly in her decades long battle with cancer.

If her players knew anything, it was that their beloved coach would never stop fighting. Even when she had to take a leave of absence for 16 games in the 2006-07 season, the Wolfpack women knew she would never give up.

Her perseverance inspired her players to also persevere. Suddenly the nagging injuries and petty grievances seemed small. After Coach Yow returned to the sidelines that season, the Wolfpack won 12 of their last 15 games (including victories over No. 2 ranked UNC and No. 1 ranked Duke) on their way to a Sweet Sixteen berth.

Perseverance is like that, isn’t it? Contagious as the plague. When we choose to persevere, those watching us find the will to do the same.

If you and I want to live successfully, we must be persevering.

Who inspires you to persevere? Please leave your comment below.