Opinion: Winning on and off the court

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Interview with Pam Borton, Head Coach, University of Minnesota Women’s Basketball

By Grayce Belvedere Young, President, the Prouty Project

As noted on the University of Minnesota’s website:

Pam Borton has put her mark on the Minnesota women's basketball program in her 11 seasons as head coach. Borton has guided the Golden Gophers to a Final Four, three Sweet Sixteens, six NCAA Tournament appearances and three seasons of 25 or more wins, while also becoming the winningest head coach in program history in her ninth season at the helm.

Under Borton's guidance, Minnesota has graduated its student-athletes and achieved academic success, accomplishing over a 3.0 grade point average every year since her arrival. In addition to her teams' 3.0 grade point average, the Gophers also boast a league-best 74 Academic All-Big Ten honorees over the last 11 years.

Your record at the U of M is incredibly impressive, what do you love about being Head Coach?

I have the opportunity to affect women’s lives every day – on the court and off. I am honored to watch them grow and be able to encourage them to keep striving for their maximum potential. I enjoy talking with them about their athletic dreams as well as their academic dreams.

Additionally, the U of M is an awesome university to be a part of – the parents, the alums, the boosters, and the basketball staff. There are so many people who contribute to the success of the Women’s basketball program.

Tell me about a success story for one of the women you coached.

I have coached some great players and we try help the student/athletes “get it” on and off the court. “Getting it” is understanding what we do, say and expect from them on a daily basis. Discipline, work ethic, being a good teammate, respecting others, handling pressure and expectations are a few examples. Sometimes it’s big things like eating properly and taking care of their bodies to be healthy athletes. Sometimes it’s small things, like remembering to say “please” and “thank you.” These may seem like simple things, but they are very difficult to learn under the spotlight when you are 17 – 22 years old.

I had an athlete a few years ago who struggled with the mental part of the game. She learned the meaning of taking ownership and accepting responsibility her senior year. We were playing in the Big 10 semi-final game in 2005, and she put the team on her back and won the game. The following night we were playing MSU for the Big 10 championship and she had an off night. After the game, she sought me out in the coaches’ locker room and apologized for not playing well and letting the team down. She was very upset and at that point, she had learned what an All-American’s role is in big games. I gave her a hug and told her we would not be playing for a championship if it wasn’t for her.

How do you reach each player?

I find out what is important to each player and how to motivate each player in order to tap their potential. Some athletes are more focused on their education than playing professional basketball after graduation. Others are focused on getting ready for a professional basketball career. My job is to tap into each person’s vision for themselves and help them work towards that. Although, some days I feel like their mother – Did you eat well yesterday? Did you sleep well? As their coach, I wear many hats!

Every year, you get new players and have one year to get them to a high performing team. How do you build the team?

I set high expectations and boundaries to align the athletes towards our team goals and their individual goals. I remind them that this is their team and encourage take ownership in the program. I want the athletes to value each other and each other’s talents to really get them to buy-in to the team’s success.

For success to occur, I believe you must love what you do. And I do. I’m excited to see my staff and the players every day. I’m excited to teach them the strategy of basketball and help each player improve her skills. I choose to embody positive energy and create an environment where people have fun and do their best on and off the court.

How do you balance the atmosphere of fun with the tough conversations, particularly when someone isn’t playing well?

My job as Head Coach is to push them outside of their comfort zones every day. By doing this, they are improving and they see that. If they are in their comfort zone, they are not growing and not getting better. They want to get better and I want that as well. I balance the educating, mentoring, nurturing kids, with challenging them on the on the court in order for them to improve as an all-around individual.

Speaking of community, you co-founded an organization called TeamWomen MN. Tell us about this organization.

A friend offered up the idea of creating an organization focused on helping women grow their leader capabilities and provide mentoring opportunities for other women, at all stages in one’s career. I offered to help and that evolved into my co-founding the organization.

As I look around in business circles, academic circles, political circles, there are not enough women in leadership positions. The lack of presence and women role models is concerning. I am committed to helping and encouraging women to grow into leadership roles. Women need to support other women in this effort. That is what TeamWomen is about – networking, mentoring, encouraging women to gain confidence in themselves as leaders. This is a natural progression from working with college young women to women after college and all ages.

Grayce Belvedere Young leads the Organization Development practice area at the Prouty Project. She brings twenty years of strategic planning and organization development expertise in numerous industries as well as the nonprofit world. Grayce partners with leaders to set strategy, drive alignment and execution, and develop talent.

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