Reflection on Leadership and Winning a National Championship from Dean Deborah Tyksinski

Our Cats are national champions and I would love to talk with you about it…once my voice returns from screaming the team on to victory. The Pavilion literally rocked the night of the game, and I rocked right along with the crowd. Somehow I feel even more a Villanovan after sharing that amazing experience with the Villanova community.

Every Villanovan watching the final game felt like a champion that night. As we bask in the glow of victory, is there something deeper we can learn from our team? I think so!

Did you notice the moments when opposing team members shared bumped fists while passing one another on the court? The little pats on the back and smiles (okay, smirks) while lined up for extra shots? Some would call this sportsmanship. I call it being human during competition. Deep respect for the humanity of the opponent is a learned response born of empathy and conditioning. It can be equally powerful off the court.

Have you ever found yourself so entirely set on winning an argument or negotiation that you actually feel threatened? Your muscles tense, your jaw tightens and your breath becomes shallow. In my experience you are losing something precious even when you gain the desired outcome — your humanity. And to what gain?  Money, power, opportunity? You can have it all when you approach conflict from a platform of shared humanity.

Let’s think about our basketball players for a moment. When they were tense and appeared nervous, they tended to miss baskets and were less effective on defense.  Later in the game they seemed to relax. I noticed them giving each other encouragement as their grace and fluidity returned. The same is true for us when we negotiate with others. The more grace we exhibit the better we listen and look for a win for both sides.

Coach Wright shared a story about a very human interaction among his players during the half time break. As he approached the locker room, Senior captains Ryan Arcidiacano and Daniel Ochefu politely asked him to let them handle the team pep talk. Talk about moments of leadership! The team captains were very clear about expectations for the second half of the game, and that the improvements had to start with them. Peer leadership is very effective during times of stress, and it led our team to make history.

Our athletes are champions both on and off the court because they are conditioned to respect their coaches, their teammates, and their opponents. I believe this is more evident at Villanova, but perhaps I am biased. Next time you find yourself tense and threatened during times of conflict or competition, how about passing the ball to your teammate and smiling at your opponent so that everyone wins? It could be history in the making…