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DESIRE, DREAM, VISION: How Sports Fuels Leadership

DESIRE, DREAM, VISION: How Sports Fuels Leadership

As this year’s LPGA Kia Classic once again begins here in sunny San Diego, the women’s leadership event kicks off the tournament with inspiration and camaraderie. Last year, AMS Founder Kathy Cunningham had the honor of being the emcee for this prestigious group of women. She writes of how she prepared for this job with her own inspirational story.

From Kathy Cunningham, AM Strategies Founder and host of The Show Runner Marketing Podcast

I had the honor to be the emcee of the Women’s Leadership event for the LPGA Kia Classic last year. I remember looking out into the audience and saying, “I think I’ve found my tribe.” The panel discussion was on, “How sports help form our leadership skills”. In preparation, I began reflecting on my own leadership life lessons. Back in my old gymnastic days and the inspiring mentors that helped me set and reach my goals, and build lasting abilities. I’d like to share some of those lessons.

Never Giving Up

In high school, I remember getting up early before the sun and walking to practice for gymnastics. We had to start earlier, 6:00 A.M., before the boys’ teams practiced because we tumbled on the boys’ wrestling mat. The first year my coach taught us a ‘fun’ game. If at any time during the practice you said, “I can’t”, she would make us run a lap around the gym. My first lessons of fortitude and to never to give up were born.

Goal Setting, Hard Work, and Determination

My second year, I was disappointed because I could not compete in the “all-around” event because of the uneven parallel bars. I could not even pull myself up and over the bars. So that summer, I went home and did pull ups on the bar my brothers had hanging in the doorway to their room. First, I couldn’t do any; then one or two. By the end of the summer, I was doing several a day. And by my third year I was able to add bars to my repertoire and join the elite group of “all-around” competitors. Again, sports had taught me the lesson of goal setting, hard work and determination.

Envisioning Success

As Muhammad Ali once said, “Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them — a desire, a dream, a vision.”

Another lesson I learned from sports is that preparation leads to success. We would always sit in a circle to stretch and warm up as a team. Here is where my coach first introduced me to visualization. She would have us lie on the mat and perform our routines in our head. You watched yourself walk in, solute the judges, and then complete your performance flawlessly.

Then, before we went out on the floor to perform in competition, I would run through my performance in my head, completing each trick successfully in my mind. I remember how amazed I was one meet, when I landed a back-handspring flip in competition. It was the combination of repetition and practice, mind control and adrenaline all culminated in the successful execution and landing. I finished with hands up in the air, saluted the judges and pranced off the mat to the applause and hugs of my teammates, who all knew I had never landed a back handspring flip in practice before! I have used the technique of visualization all my life. Still to this day I visualize a successful interview before I go live on TV, or walk through a business meeting in my head, or paint the picture of what victory will feel like. I credit sports with the confidence to know that I can do it, whatever it is.

So, What is Leadership?

Leadership is coaching. I believe that my high school gymnastic coach, Chris Logan, taught me many lessons; how to keep my team breathing under stress, how to prepare and train each player to be the best they can be, and how to be gracious in victory and defeat. Even though we lost many of our meets, we always had fun and provided each other with emotional support and camaraderie. We learned not only to be successful ourselves, but how to lead each other to personal victory. And we never said, “We can’t!” I won the team’s award for most improved two years in a row, the third year I won the Coaches Award. My senior year, my name wasn’t called for most improved or coaches award, disappointed that I didn’t win anything that year; I was shocked when my coach called my name for Most Valuable Player!  How could that be me? That taught me my biggest lesson because I might not have been the best on the team, but I learned how to become the most valuable.

In sports, life, and leadership I’ve learned to be prepared, confident, enthusiastic, competitive, loyal, and dedicated; and that being part of a team is very special experience.

I will leave you with the words of two-time Olympic champion, Gail Devers, “Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.”

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