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What does “female” leadership look like? Just watch UConn.

April 6, 2010 – 2:53 PM

By Laura Pappano

It’s time to think beyond the court.

Sure, there’s a lot of back-and-forth about whether UConn’s dominance – winning streak of 78 and beating almost all opponents by double-digit margins – is bad or good for women’s college basketball. The basic argument: Is it too boring to watch? Or will everyone tune in to see what the fuss is all about? (BTW lately looks like people are tuning in as Nielsen rating for UConn-Baylor was 2.6 or 2 million households on Sunday, more than Red Sox-Yankees or PGA Golf).

But the horse-race aspect of this debate misses what we have here: A genuine image of what women look like when they lead. In a sport in which players mostly stay for all four years of college with legitimate majors and career plans, watching how this team approaches their on-court work reveals far more than awesome ball-handling skills. I see young women I would hire – and vote for. Here’s why:

1. Preparation.  From the minute they step onto the court at practice, these players are full-out. They drill like they play (sometimes unfairly out-matched), and take seriously the details of their game. It doesn’t matter that opponents aren’t likely to measure up. They stride into the meeting, the contest, the debate fully ready.

2. Mental Toughness. It is not easy to win. Constantly. By wide margins – and not lose focus. Many athletes play to their opponents. Many people outside of sports lack the mental fortitude to stay on track when no one is challenging them to be great and do it right. That’s why inner city schools fail; why Toyota is spending a fortune on a recall.

3. Team Play. Yes Tina Charles is a superstar and so is Maya Moore. But this is not the Charles-Moore Show; it is UConn women’s basketball. This is how things –on court or off – really get done. In Congress, in companies, in the world.

4. Relentless Pursuit. Beyond the mental toughness to play to their own standards when others fall away, this team keeps it at a sustained high level so consistently that they have created a new reality, a new image of what (phenom Brittany Griner aside) women’s basketball looks like. Or should I say, women leaders playing basketball?

5. Self-Discipline. In 1995, after Connecticut won that critical title, Rebecca Lobo quipped on national TV that “now I can go back to being the worst post player in America.” It’s no secret that Geno Auriemma is tough. Tina Charles and teammates have heard and taken more “coaching” than most people could handle. They have kept cool and listened. They have stood up and worked harder. Who doesn’t want a leader who can take the guff and stay in control?

Go ahead, tune in, if you want to see what all the talk is about. But don’t forget to notice what’s happening on that court — besides basketball.

  1. One Response to “What does “female” leadership look like? Just watch UConn.”

  2. I agree totally with Ms. Pappano’s view on the long-term, positive consequences of winning on the court or on other venues for women atheletes. Countless studies(research will support)which focus on corporate leadership tell us that the key to identifying WOMEN who make it to the top in all areas of business, the professions, politics, etc., is to appreciate that they succeed because they possess the classic characteristics of the WINNER.They are imbued with a burning need to succeed. They are persuasive, bold, extroverted, sef-reliant, competitive, and ultimately concerned with power, status and reward not unlike their male counterparts who sit at the top of The Fortune 500. Great training ground for life after college sports. Great training ground for women whenever and wherever. That’s what’s happening on these courts.

    By AFL / NFL on Apr 12, 2010

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