Education Opinion

Leadership Lessons from the late Kay Yow

By LeaderTalk Contributor — February 16, 2009 2 min read
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Last month, Kay Yow died after a decades long battle with breast cancer. Our local paper ran an article yesterday on five lessons that she taught to all of her players through the years. It’s a compelling read and her lessons are as much a series of leadership lessons as coaching lessons. It’s important to put her lessons into context. She was a basketball coach before Title IX and before women’s sports were being placed upon an equal footing as mens sports. She labored in the shadows of a larger than life location as far as basketball is concerned. Let’s face it-Duke, Carolina, and NC State are paramount in terms of college hoops in our area of the country. She led, cajoled, coached, reprimanded, and loved the sport and was instrumental in getting its footing in this part of the country. There are legions of stories of how she helped other coaches get their programs up and running. Yet, as the newspaper story link outlined, she was best known for leading and teaching.

I had the opportunity to run into her 5 or 6 years ago during a summer camp for young women. I was amazed by her energy and enthusiasm. It was the middle of the summer and I was one of about 8 basketball officials who were hired to help officiate some scrimmages during the camp. 8 basketball courts, 16 coaches loudly exhorting their players, and here comes Coach Yow, with a tray of small cups of water for the officials between games. She gave the cups to us during a break between scrimmages and reminded us of how important we were to these young ladies, some of whom had never been outside of their county before this camp. She took the time to tell us stories about many of her players who got an extra bit of help and encouragement from the most unlikely places. She ended up the story with a reminder that we played an important part, even though it seemed like we were simply officiating a series of scrimmages for about 200 young ladies. It didn’t really strike me until I read of her battle with cancer that I more fully appreciated her example of servant leadership.

This part of the world misses Kay Yow. Basketball misses Coach Yow. Thousands of people who have been a part of her Hope for Hoops miss Coach Yow. And yet, I’m confident that her lessons of hope, positive outlook, and servant leadership lessons live on in the young women she coached, those she competed against, and people like me who were fortunate enough to be a very small part of those she touched.


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