What women in sports teach us about leadership

Columbus was proud to be the site of the 2018 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Final Four played at Nationwide Arena on March 30 and April 1. Prior to the tournament, the NCAA sponsored a monthly Beyond the Baseline series from November 2017 through February 2018 that featured exclusive networking events designed to inspire and engage local professional women and business leaders.

Increased opportunity

On Feb. 22, WELD and Beyond the Baseline featured Holly Rowe, ESPN reporter, commentator and analyst, who shared her story of grit, determination and success with participants in the WELD Leadership Series.

Rowe, whose career began in the 1990s, is among the cohort of women who likely benefited from the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Although women have always participated in sporting activities, Title IX increased the opportunities for women and girls to compete by prohibiting gender discrimination in school athletics.

Today, women own sports franchises, are head coaches, sports commentators, anchors and writers, team physicians, therapists and trainers — in addition to being players in every sport, amateur and professional. They continue to learn life lessons for leadership that serve them well, while teaching others the components of achievement gleaned from athletics that easily translate to business and other professions.

Lessons for all

Linda Shetina Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, says, “sports taught me patience, perseverance, practice, teamwork and risk-taking to overcome adversities and savor the victories over and over. I continue to be amazed and inspired by the many doors that continue to open for girls and women. It is a tribute to those coaches, administrators, athletes and journalists that shattered stereotypes and blazed the trail for the opportunities that exist today.”

When former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice received the Billie Jean King Leadership Award at the 2017 Annual Salute to Women in Sports, she attributed her penchant for hard work and the ability to persevere to lessons learned by participating in skating, tennis and golf. She was one of the first two women admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club and served a three-year term as the only woman on the College Football Playoff Committee.

Today, Rice is the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and a political scientist and founding partner of Rice, Hadley, Gates LLC, an international strategic consulting firm.

We may not reach the heights achieved by Rice, but we can adopt the lessons for leadership identified by the Positive Coaching Alliance:

  • Practice makes better. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about improving.
  • Let go of mistakes. Acknowledge mistakes, learn from them and move past them.
  • Keep learning — from success and from failures.
  • Celebrate successes large and small.
  • Be positive. Mindset is critical.
  • Be a true team player: Contribute 100 percent; collaborate and cooperate with others.
  • Win (and lose) with dignity and respect.

Kudos to women of all ages who participate in sports activities. These women can serve as role models for developing life skills for leadership.


Becky S. Cornett is a member of the WELD Impact Committee and Barb Smoot is the president and CEO of WELD. Women for Economic and Leadership Development desires to increase the number of women in business and government leadership in Central Ohio.