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Lessons from Billie Jean King

by Laura Hazlett


Last Saturday, I had the privilege of attending Positive Coaching Alliance's National Youth Sports Awards event where Billie Jean King was honored with PCA's Lifetime Achievement Award. The entire evening was inspiring as coaches across the country were recognized for their efforts in creating "Better Athletes, Better People".

In her speech, Billie Jean King mentioned that "everybody matters" and "everybody's an influence". One of the coaches who won an award was Carlos Strong, a basketball coach from Georgia. He started his coaching career coaching kids who didn't make "the team", and he realized that, even though they didn't make "the team", those students shouldn't miss the opportunity to develop qualities such as resilience, teamwork, integrity and accountability or to learn important life lessons through sports.

Billie Jean King mentioned three other points that resonated as keys to success:

  1. Relationships are everything. Whether a relationship is between a supervisor and an employee, two colleagues who are laterals, a coach and his player, or two employees or teammates, strong relationships enable successful outcomes.
  2. Keep learning and learning how to learn. People with growth mindsets are focused on continual improvement and believe that, with dedication and effort, they can get better at anything -- they do as Billie Jean King advises -- they keep learning, and learning how to learn. (Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, was also at the dinner. In her book, she writes about fixed v. growth mindsets. People with growth mindsets believe that their abilities can be improved through hard work, whereas people who have fixed mindsets believe their abilities are based on fixed traits that cannot be improved. Successful leaders and successful athletes tend to have growth mindsets.)
  3. Be a problem solver. Champions adapt and find solutions. Leaders adapt and find solutions.

I wanted to write this post to pass on these insights from someone who has achieved greatness -- both on and off the court. In listening to Billie Jean King, it was clear that she focused on improving things that she noticed needed improvement (notably, gender equity) and she also used her greatest strengths to accomplish her goals.

As I left the dinner, I committed to paying a little more attention -- not only to the things that I need to do better but to the things around me that can be improved, and how I can use my strengths to make the world, the workplace, and the energy around me a little better.

Laura comes from a family with history in athletics as both her father and grandfather coached basketball. Prior to earning her PhD in Finance at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Laura was a competitive Equestrian and competed both nationally and internationally.

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