A Standard for Greatness

Geno Auriemma
Geno Auriemma

Let’s get something clear, I spent the first 30 years of my life unable to tell you one simple fact about Women’s College Basketball, much less the UCONN Huskies. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know they existed. The most I knew about this particular world of sports was that it was on a random channel like ESPN2, 3 or 23, and if it was a rainy Saturday afternoon and I happened to be home, bored out of my mind and flipping channels because there was nothing else to watch, I might have noticed some girls on a court and thought, “That’s cool,” and then continued on until I stumbled upon the second half of a romantic comedy — like 50 First Dates or Sleepless in Seattle — that I would happily re-watch for the 68th time while intermittently dozing on the couch. You get my point. Although I’m sure it’s great for those who care about it, women’s basketball is just not my jam. Or, rather it WAS not my jam (grrrr...I hate that I’m even admitting it in writing).

Enter my future husband into my life ten years ago, and with him came UCONN basketball. Just as he was going to have to endure thought-provoking off-Broadway theatre that he would eventually grow to appreciate but never choose to attend, in getting married I was choosing a life of February and March evenings that would be forever dictated by the schedule of March Madness. During the first five years, I was too cool to bother with it. But over these last five years, especially since having a child and seeing her begin to embrace the game, I decided to accept the fan I was becoming, for better or worse. Actually, it's for the better, because upon closer inspection, I began to realize that I was in fact watching greatness. Did I mention that if they win tonight, they will have won four national championships in a row, which has never been done in NCAA basketball history — women's OR men's(!)? So my coaching ears started to tune in more, and along with the games, I began to really pay attention to the interviews with the players and their infamous head coach, Geno Auriemma.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma and his team. (*photo by Jessica Hill, AP)
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma and his team. (*photo by Jessica Hill, AP)

So what makes this team so special? What sets them apart from every other skilled  basketball team? Don’t they all work hard? As they are on the brink of making history yet again tonight, I thought I would share the top 5 things that make Geno and the UConn Women’s Basketball Team the best at what they do, and why I believe it matters.

What all artists (and humans alike) can learn from the UCONN Women’s Basketball Team...

1) They don’t apologize for being great. 

With all of their dominance over the sport, a national debate has begun to ensue on whether or not this team is bad for the sport. Geno is unapologetic. Watch this video for a good idea of what this is all about.

My coaching advice for you: Master this one before you do anything else. Get to a place where you are so comfortable with your greatness that you don’t have to brag and you don’t shy away from it, and you certainly never apologize for it. You simply embody it and trust it — do this and it will come out in how you behave, engage, and do your job every day. Through every email, phone call, meeting, rehearsal, performance, you must first BE great and then be proud of your greatness.

This is what happens when you own your greatness.
This is what happens when you own your greatness.

2) They practice harder than they have to play in a game.

Geno expects the practice to follow the game. In other words, if you have a lousy practice, you're going to bring that mindset to the game. Ultimately, it’s how you execute that’s important, and that execution begins (and gets honed) in practice. Geno sets a bar and expects each player to rise above it whenever they're on the court, whether scrimmaging against their own teammates or playing a tournament game against another team. By fully preparing themselves for every possible scenario on the practice court, the team will be ready for whatever comes their way in front of a crowd of thousands.

My coaching advice for you: Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Do the work you need to do to be in the right mindset for anything to happen, because it will. Be ready for everything. You can master the art of auditions and story pitches, but go the extra mile and prepare for any scenario that could arise. Just as important, make sure you're in the right mindset when you're going into "the game." Going above and beyond before you step onto the court will make all the difference once you do.

3) Geno Surrounds himself with a powerful coaching staff.  

Upon winning National Coach of the Year for the eighth time in his career, the first person Geno thanked was Associate Coach Chris Dailey, who has been at Geno’s side for the entire 31 years that he has been at UCONN. His assistant coaches are former players who understand the culture and believe in making the most out of every moment. Geno is often compared to John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach from UCLA in the 70s, who said, "It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Geno's staff supporting the vision is a thing that won’t show up in any box score, but makes all the difference.

My coaching advice for you: Have a stellar team supporting your big vision — whether it’s your manager or agent, your coach, teacher, mentor, family or your best friend — because no one can navigate this business alone. Build your support team and feel empowered by knowing that they not only have your back and want the best for you, but will also push you to be better than you ever imagined you could be. (*Click here for more inspirational “Wooden-isms.")

4) They bring genuine enthusiasm to every game.

In the above clip from an interview on Sunday, someone suggested that the secret behind this team's consistent excellence and dominance of the game is their tremendous enthusiasm on the bench. Watch the clip and imagine that Geno is the casting director or producer or whoever is responsible for hiring you for your next job.

My Coaching advice for you: This is real in our business. How you are "being" in every moment that you're out there has an impact, whether you realize it or not. It doesn't matter if you're auditioning, in a development meeting, or at an industry party. Geno says, "I’d rather lose than watch certain behavior on the bench." People want to work with the best — not just the most talented, but the best people. And if you're not feeling enthused, find a way to plug back into your joy for this business. That’s your responsibility for as long as you are going for it.

5) They are not afraid to set goals and say them out loud.

Check out this article — UConn Women On Brink Of History: 11 National Titles And Four In Row Possible — and read about how Breanna Stewart, Player of the Year and first team All-American, told Geno that she wanted to come to UCONN to win four national championships. She is now one game away from realizing her goal. Regardless of whether they win tonight or not, she is damn close to fulfilling a major dream, and if I were her, I’d be proud as hell to have gotten this far.

My Coaching Advice for you: Don’t be afraid to go after what you really want. Set your goals and commit to them. No more procrastination. No more excuses. Just get clear about what you really want to do, say it out loud, and get started doing it.

At the end of the day, it's about commitment. These girls come to UCONN because they want to be the best players they can possibly be and they believe that this program and Geno have the ability to make it happen. While I don’t profess to be Geno or a coach at his level, I’ve become a better coach by watching him remain committed day in and day out, year in and year out, not just to every game, but to every play. Each and every moment is an opportunity to be great.

So, tonight at 8:30pm, I invite you to watch history in the making. It’s either going to be the greatest victory or the greatest upset in the history of the game. Either way, one thing is for sure — my husband will be pacing around the living room nonstop like a crazy person, along with the entire state of Connecticut.

Proudly signing off: GO HUSKIES!