I’m a strategic communications professional located in Kansas City. I’m also still riding high over the Kansas City Chiefs AFC Championship victory while gearing up for Super Bowl LVII vs. the Philadelphia Eagles on Feb.12.
With a smile on my face and butterflies in my stomach, I can still replay the most fist-clenching moments of that game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 29. I’m reminded of the emotional power of sports and their unrivaled ability to unite and inspire.
I grew up playing sports, sometimes on a team and sometimes alone on a cracked pavement court in my small Kansas hometown. I even wanted to pursue it as a career.
In college, I interviewed with a PR firm for a coveted summer internship to help with a big Major League Baseball event. I vividly remember the last interview question: Why did I want to work in sports? It should have been a softball, but I wasn’t prepared to answer.
I knew I loved sports. I enjoyed watching them, playing them and getting caught up in the drama and intensity. I knew I appreciated the life lessons that came from being an athlete, a competitor and a teammate. Still, I had never looked inside myself to understand why I wanted to make a career out of it.
But at that moment, I had clarity. I finally realized what fueled my passion, so I answered: “Sports has the power to unite people, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. As a communicator, my job is to impact and motivate an audience through a message, and there’s no better messaging stage than a sporting event. Sports bring together people with differences in background, culture, age, ethnicity and opinions, and somehow unity prevails.”
And while I didn’t accept that internship offer and went on to pursue another career, I’ve often observed the power of communications in sports in big and small ways.
Becoming a coach
I recently started coaching my first-grade daughter’s basketball team. It’s a role I joyfully agreed to play. Basketball was always my favorite sport growing up, so I was thrilled when my daughter showed an interest. I expected coaching to be fun and an excellent way to bond with my daughter but moving from player to coach has reminded me of several essential communication lessons.
Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. Even Patrick Mahomes had to be encouraged the first time he threw a football. On the sidelines, it’s easy to yell out commands or focus on mistakes, but it takes extra effort to pay attention to what each player is doing right and have something positive to tell them when they come to the bench. The payoffs are their smiles and eagerness to get right back out on the court. We can apply this same lesson to the professional teams we manage every day.
Be willing to adjust your message to fit your audience. As a coach, you can prep for practice or a game and think through every detail of how you will run a drill. Then you get there, explain it just how you rehearsed and it doesn’t sink in — time to pivot. Determine the roadblock to understanding, be willing to see it from their point of view, adjust and then celebrate as a team when it finally works. This same approach works for leadership communications, too.
Demonstrate empathy. You could have guessed that coaching a group of 6-year-old girls requires empathy, but you need it at every leadership level. Showing that you care — whether the person is hurt, frustrated or fearful of failure — is the absolute foundation of establishing trust. Once trust is there, people become more coachable and willing to win together.
As we approach football’s biggest night, and as I reflect on my experience coaching my daughter, I am still genuinely moved by the power of sports. It’s rewarding to think I’ve come full circle now from that young college student who wanted to pursue a career in sports communications to doing it every Saturday morning with a team of eager 6-year-old girls.
Nellie Betzen is a director of client accounts at Spring Green Communications, providing strategic communications and marketing counsel to engineering and energy-focused clients. She lives in the greater Kansas City area with her husband and three young children, who all frequently sport Chiefs, Royals and Kansas State Wildcats gear. Find her on LinkedIn.
[Illustration credit: @chiefs]