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A Hall of Fame Coach Shares Her Secrets for Off-the-Court Success

As part of Bentley's PreparedU Project, Barbara Stevens, Hall of Fame coach of the Bentley women's basketball team, shares how the principles for success on the court translate to success on the job. 

Sports are a great platform. And they help teach students and prepare them for the world that awaits upon graduation. What you learn on the basketball court, for example, extends far beyond the X’s and O’s. So, as a coach, my mission is to give my players all they need to be successful in their future careers.

Most of the young women on my teams get jobs when they graduate. Some go on to graduate school, and a few coach, which is a huge honor for me. But as long as I’ve helped them become what they were meant to be, and as long as they feel good about themselves and ready for the next step, I feel like I’ve done my job.

In many ways, I view our team as an organization: like the best companies, it’s a group set up to successfully accomplish goals in a collaborative way — hopefully with no egos. Actually, if we’re honest — and I try to be — I’m running a business, in the sense that our players get scholarships. So they absolutely need to be as productive, responsible and accountable as possible.

There are certain things that we try to teach student-athletes on our team, and I think this helps set the stage for some pretty meaningful life and career lessons. Here are a few of them:

Trust and Respect Are Two-Way Streets

Whether it’s a basketball team or a company, you need people that buy in, who are coachable. But the team coach or company manager has to show the team members or company members the same kind of respect in order to be trusted, and in order to succeed. 

Sacrifice Personal Agendas

I talked about no egos before, but I really think that you’ve got to work together in a company and play together if you’re on a team. Unselfishness makes organizations great. As Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke’s men’s basketball program says: a fist is much stronger than five individual fingers.

Internal Leadership Is a Must

Teamwork is critical, but so is leadership from within the organization or team. Usually, when we talk about leadership, we’re referring to the people at the top — the coach or CEO. But equally important for me are the people who do the work on the court or in the office. They have to step up and take charge. This is a major piece of success.

All-In Peer Support

There’s something terrific when a teammate on the court, or a colleague in business, says, “I’ll be there for you,” or “I have your back.” Saying it is great, meaning it is better. Actually doing it is best. This creates a real feeling of togetherness and real confidence about winning.

There Are No Shortcuts

You have to be tough and resilient to succeed, no matter what field you choose. The same is true on the basketball court. Putting in the hard work over time reaps real benefits, and you can’t expect to win without it.

Working Under Pressure

The players on my team take the floor in front of an audience and need to do what they’re supposed to do — and do it well. The same is true in a company setting. The pressure to perform never goes away, and you have to learn to embrace it and rise to the occasion.

Have No Fear

Confidence is the biggest thing we try to instill on our teams. Our players hate making mistakes and feel badly when they do. This is a very similar feeling that young people in business experience. One of the most important goals for a coach or executive should be to help make the people who surround them unbreakable.

I love basketball, and I love coaching basketball, which, in my opinion, is the greatest job in the world. And I hope that all my players eventually feel the same way about their careers.

A few years ago, I brought back Lori Bender King (Bentley ’89) — shooting guard and captain on the first Bentley women’s basketball team to make the Division II Final Four — to talk to my players. Lori is now chief operating officer of Stonewall Kitchen, a gourmet food company where she’s been for the past 16 years. She talked about the work ethic you need to succeed, and how much she really likes what she does for a living.

As I tell my players, the two go hand in hand.

 

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