Off-Court Leadership Lessons Highlight Day Two At USA Women’s U16 Trials
“I’m going to give you five minutes to see how far you can get in putting together this puzzle. Everybody must participate. Everybody must put down one piece.”
After Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women’s National Team director and chair of the USA Basketball Women’s Developmental National Team Committee, presented four-time Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings with her 2016 Olympic ring on Friday at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the focus shifted to leadership.
In the audience were the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team Trials participants for their second off-court session of the day. But Callan and Catchings, who played on 12 USA Basketball national teams and earned a total of nine gold medals, one bronze and one silver medal, had little intention of talking about the Xs and Os of basketball.
“When we talk about leadership, it’s attention to detail,” Catchings began to the athletes, before sharing a story from 2012 when she brought a puzzle into the Indiana Fever locker room for a team building exercise.
“Every single team, it has all these puzzle pieces and everybody has a piece – whether you’re a good screener, a good shooter or a good passer. But if you choose to hold on to your piece, what does that do to your team?”
Catchings, who’s career with USA Basketball began with the 1996 USA Junior World Championship Qualifying Team, sparked athlete interaction, asking trials participants to describe ideal as well as poor leadership qualities on stage before they created skits to portray situations.
Some acting careers may have found their start, and if not, the groups of athletes were able to share laughs and enjoy the break from the intensity of on-court competition.
“I loved it. She’s a great leader, and she speaks so well, especially having been in our position before,” said 5-foot-10 guard Trinity Gooden (Choctaw H.S./Midwest City, Okla.). “We went through some activities, and it showed how we can improve our own leadership. She told us we don’t always have to be a great player on the court, but we need to be a great person off it, too.”
Catchings’ shared eperiences resonated with Harmoni Turner (Mansfield Legacy H.S./Arlington, Texas).
“I feel like it was even more valuable, because we know the player that she is, so that was pretty cool,” said Turner. “I learned a lot about what it takes to be a leader, to get everyone involved on the team to contribute. It’s not all about you, it’s about everybody.”
Earlier on Friday, in the morning’s off-court session led by Peter Haberl, a senior sports psychologist for the United States Olympic Committee, the athletes were challenged with teamwork and mental exercises.
“In the game, we had to sit on the ground, and there was a pulse where we would squeeze hands to send the pulse down the line, and we were communicating just through hand gestures,” explained Bella LaChance (Cypress Bay H.S./Davie, Fla.).
“It taught us that you can also communicate without using your voice – high fives, good body language, stuff like that. I think I learned a lot about leadership, and to achieve anything, you have to be one with your team,” she added.
Haberl’s off-court session ended by challenging the athletes mentally.
“He told us to count the number of thoughts that popped into our head, and he said we couldn’t let our thoughts take over our mind,” explained Lola Mullaney (Manasquan H.S./Colts Neck, N.J.). “So, you just have to control yourself and not let your thoughts control you. I thought that was really interesting, because I’ve never experienced that type of discussion before. It just made me think and wonder about all these things the brain does naturally.”
For Jana Van Gytenbeek (Cherry Creek H.S./Greenwood Village, Colo.), Friday’s off-court sessions were a pleasant surprise.
“They’ve been really fun. I didn’t know about the off-court sessions until I got here, but after doing them, they were great,” said the 5-foot-9 guard.
“They motivate me and made me think of everything, outside of basketball and on the court. And, it’s interesting and you keep learning. This stuff helps you build relationships with the girls around you, too.”
That was the purpose from the outset, said Callan – for young, USA Basketball athletes to embrace the responsibilities of a leader.
“In a sport sense, there’s a big discussion on leadership, and I think this is the one area we can be helpful to send these players home to their teams to become even better players than they are on the court, and that’s why we target leadership,” Callan explained.
And, as a 10-time WNBA All-Star and 2011 WNBA MVP, there was no person better to impart leadership than Catchings.
“When you’re around great people, doesn’t that make you want to be great? When you see this ring, doesn’t that make you want one?” asked Catchings, to the trials participants.
“But we’re not going to only be great on the court, we’re going to be great off the court and we’re going to be great in the classroom. We’re going to be great people. We’re going to be great leaders.”
With trials scrimmages underway Friday evening, and the focus shifting from learning to competing, the hope is for athletes to execute the things they learned in the off-court sessions.