Sunday, January 25, 2009

Leadership is everyone's responsibility

My sister was an outstanding gymnast in high school, so when I come across a story about gymnastics (which doesn't happen too often), I'm usually intrigued.

This morning, the Atlanta paper has a terrific profile of UGA coach Suzanne Yoculan, who after 25 seasons and nine national titles, is retiring at the end of the season.

After her team posted its lowest team score in more than three seasons in an opening-season loss, Coach Yoculan told her team that "we are in big trouble unless some things change — and things will change."

At practice the next day, as the team gathered for a pre-practice meeting, three words were written on the whiteboard:

Fitness, Skill, Effort.

Coach Yoculan asked her athletes to rate themselves on a scale of 1-5.

If you’re all not a 5,” she said, her voice gaining an added edge, “it’s your fault. If you’re not confident in all those areas, it’s going to catch up to you.”

According to the article, "that behind-the-scenes lecture was classic Yoculan. It was meant to challenge, to provoke a change. A similar blunt assessment had upset a few of the parents attending a team dinner that weekend. But there is no time to tiptoe — never has been, with her."

The article describes how Coach Yoculan, who's compiled an overall record of 807-116-7, has taken "a program that averaged 200 fans a meet when Yoculan arrived in 1984 to one that attracts more than 11,000 now (outdrawing men’s basketball). You don’t get to practice in the finest facility in the 67-team world of D-I women’s gymnastics."

Interestingly, UGA's team doesn't have captains. "Yoculan doesn’t believe in them."

Leadership is everyone’s responsibility,” she said. “Everyone needs to learn to speak for themselves.”

When asked why she's retiring, at the relatively young age of 55, despite being at her peak, Coach Yoculan puts it plainly:

I don’t have anything left on my gymnastics bucket list.”