Girls’ Team Sports Builds Global Leaders

In a college coaching career spanning seven decades, my grandfather shaped the lives of many men, including President Ronald Reagan. When I started coaching I had no such aspiration. Yet, who can say? I never dreamed I would teach sons and daughters of diplomats, ambassadors, and world leaders. The right word, at the right time, can shape an athlete. Teams force the individuals to check egos at the door. Teams demand commitment. Teams give players the courage to go on when they feel like giving up.

flying to the ISST

flying to the International Schools Sport Tournament (ISST)

For most of us it is hard to remember when women’s sports wasn’t a given. But girls were not allowed on America’s playing field until after Title IX passed in 1972. Along with my book launch, commemorating the impact of Title IX, I asked former athletes from my Dream Teams in Switzerland where they are now and how team sport helped shape them.

Yemuri – Regional Portfolio Officer, Save the Children (UK)
Nutrition, health, education for children in Niger, Mali & Burkina Faso
Social Work –University of Leeds, Masters, Human Rights University College London
Basketball was my sanctuary, my release, my discipline, my drive, and my second family. I learned responsibility, team play and how to give more than you first think you can.

Emily – Seismic Delivery Team at the BP North Sea Headquarters, Aberdeen, Scotland.
Geology/Marine Biology University of Aberdeen.
Basketball helped me get a job. At the time I was unemployed, and my teammates took my resume to work, and the rest is BP history. Basketball kept me alive as a teenager. When I came out of the hospital, there was a tournament, and I had to play. Basketball made me determined to make my life better and beat depression. It worked. Basketball is part of my DNA. I do not know where I would be without basketball. My coach during high school is like a mother to me – always has been. I still wish I could go back to playing with my high school teammates, as they were my family.

playing in the Swiss championship

playing in the Swiss championship

Anja – Melbourne, Australia Law degree University of Warwick (UK)
Masters Public International Law Leiden University (Netherlands)
One of the things I valued most was the team spirit. Being in a team is not just about the game, but also the bonds, which form between the players and their coach. Pat used to inspire us before playing a game, during training and even off the court. If something seemed difficult or if we doubted our capabilities, she made us understand that it was OK to have doubts, but that we should not let them overcome us. Rather, we should bond together as a team and play as best we could. Whatever the outcome, it was how we played that was important. That stuck with me and guided me throughout all aspects of my life to date: acknowledging my worries and doubts, but not letting them dictate my choices.

Katrina – medical student at the American University of the Caribbean.
Basketball is a team sport that has taught me about commitment, communication and faith; you have to be committed to practicing and learning from your mistakes if you hope to succeed; you need to communicate well with others to make the plays happen; and you need to have faith that your teammates are going to be where you need them. These same skills are what get me through medical school everyday; the only difference is that my teammates are my professors and peers and the plays are my clinical knowledge.

Janneke – Winona, Minnesota, Director of Live Well Winona
Growing up abroad is hard when you don’t speak the language. But basketball gave me a common ground anywhere I went. The game gave me friends; the sport gave me life skills- communication and self-discipline. You have to know where your teammates are on the court and how everyone works together. Training for a sport translates to training for life. When I’m in shape physically, mentally and emotionally I can handle a lot more.

riding the rails to another tournament

riding the rails to another tournament

Melissa – Nairobi, Kenya, management consulting Kimetrica
War Studies University of London, Masters Human Rights London School of Economics.
I’m a 5’4″ white girl with a petite frame more built for prancing to classical music than playing a sport where the aim is to jump higher, be bigger, power through and shoot over. I ended up in the hospital countless times and sustained every injury from the regular sprains to more serious concussions. I was strongly advised to stop. Yet I played. I loved it. Still love it. Now, the world can try, indeed has tried, to tell me in all areas of life that I can’t or shouldn’t do something. But it just makes me want to try harder and be better.

Claire – Nyon, Switzerland, Sports Management degree, Endicott College, Boston
One more round of free-throws… the discipline required to improve my free-throws is what has helped me with making the right choices and being patient for the desired results. It helped me to pass my university accounting class, run my first marathon and create my own “concept brand” with my business partner Urban Accents (website/blog launch April 2013).

Sophie – York, England. Human Biology, Loughborough University, Civil Engineering degree University of the West of England.
Playing basketball has helped me to never give up, no matter what life throws at me. It taught me to respect people for who they are and pushed me to be a better player/person. It gave memories that I have taken with me wherever I go and that never seem to cease to put a smile on my face.

KendallSydney, Australia, editorial assistant for messenger COLLECTIVE, global entrepreneurial magazine. Bachelors of Arts in Law and Anthropology at The London School of Economics,Masters of Law at The University of Sydney.
Playing basketball has taught me to never take anything too seriously. While I was always competitive I learnt not to take losses personally, to move on and enjoy life.

KatieSydney University of Toronto, University of Sydney
Basketball has played a big role in me deciding my career as a teacher mainly from the people I met and seeing what a big impact that coaches can have on someone.

To Tara, Nat, Raisa, Nicky, Laura, Maria, Kayleigh, Cindi, Jennifer and all my other players spread across Africa, Asia, Australia, America and Europe, I hope that you are still knocking down jumpers, running the floor and taking the charge in the real game!

To all coaches around the globe who invest in kids, never under estimate the value of your work, teaching lay ups lasts a lifetime!

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in social view.


  1. Those qualities learned from the sport of Girl’s Basketball, made for some pretty awesome leaders! (one x-pat) I happen to admire:)

    You remain a Leader/Keeper of the flame!


  2. What a special tribute to the girls you had the privilege to coach and influence, Pat. They all are making such meaningful contributions around the world. Cleary the experience of being part of a team has helped shape them into the successful, caring young adults they are today. When there is so much out there that is negative, it was nice to read such an uplifting post about quality young women who are making a difference. Thanks for sharing.

    • I agree we should celebrate the little heroes that do their job daily without the headlines or fanfare, those people that keep taking baby steps forward to make this world a better place, like you do everyday in your teaching.

  3. Pat, what a wonderful tribute to these outstanding women! It is a testimony to the impact basketball can and did have on building life skills.Thanks for sharing such an inspirational message.

  4. Fascinating post, Pat! I love hearing how something we now take for granted has positively impacted women’s lives. I only played basketball in gym class (and wasn’t terribly good at it!); I much preferred tennis and was on the courts for literally hours on end. Regardless of the sport, athletics helps build confidence and keep our bodies healthy and limber. What a good trade-off for all that sweat, ha!

    • To think that once upon a time, girls wearing t-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes was taboo. Now sportswear is fashionable and getting sweaty is glamorous! (I played tennis, too, when I was younger BEFORE I wrecked my bod playing basketball-ha)

  5. Being a part of any team is a fundamental life lesson. The things we learn, trust, spirit, camaraderie,competition, and more, are priceless. Great post, Pat!

      • I played volleyball and softball in high school but my true love for women’s sports came when I followed my niece through her high school and college sports career. She’s now an assistant coach for a college field hockey and lacrosse team. She calls me on a regular basis to tell me she can’t believe they pay her to do what she loves! We’re spending the weekend with her at the end of the month for their last regular season games. Can’t wait!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.