Coach Auriemma, Nika Mühl, and the Art of Leadership

We are all on borrowed time and the moments we get one day with someone can be gone the next.

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Leadership and coaching are profound responsibilities, carrying both a sacred privilege and duty.

Geno Auriemma, known for his nearly four-decade tenure as head coach of UConn Women’s Basketball, has not only accumulated victories and championships over his illustrious career — he’s also profoundly transformed lives.

Recently, he shared a poignant moment with player Nika Mühl, a Croatian-born point guard recently drafted to the WNBA's Seattle Storm after four years at UConn. 

Before departing for Seattle, Mühl visited her coach for a farewell — an exchange that offers three timeless lessons on leadership:

1. We are more than our titles

Renowned poet Dr. Maya Angelou famously said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

As leaders and coaches, our roles extend far beyond mere titles. We are catalysts for inspiration and transformation in the lives we touch. Coach Auriemma exemplifies this, fostering deep connections with his athletes over decades and generations. Despite an evolving landscape in college athletics, Coach Auriemma has built a culture of trust, respect, and commitment with his players so that authenticity, vulnerability, and greatness can flourish.

2. Our top performers also have doubts and need reassurances

Imposter syndrome affects even the most accomplished and highly skilled individual. In the video, Mühl expresses doubt about her future with the Seattle Storm, after Coach Auriemma says he looks forward to seeing the schedule and getting to a game. Mühl says "If I make the team." Coach Auriemma responds with unwavering faith and reassurance.

"Come on, stop,” he said. “It will take you one practice to figure out what you got to do to make the team and then you just do that. They drafted you for a reason. So do what they drafted you for."

His words remind us to support and uplift those we lead, including our high performers. We can never assume someone is good and has it all together. Each day is a unique opportunity to instill belief in someone.

3. Give people their flowers while they can still smell them

Mühl’s heartfelt gratitude toward Coach Auriemma underscores the importance of acknowledging the impact of others while they are still present and alive.

"Just thank you. Like you changed my life and your impact...” she tells her coach. “You have impacted so many people around me and including me. There's never been a single person like you and there never will be in this world. I hope you know how special you are. You are legendary. But not as a coach. To me you're legendary as a person and I'll cherish that forever." 

We are all on borrowed time and the moments we get one day with someone can be gone the next day. Mühl’s words serve as a precious reminder to cherish and express appreciation for those who shape and positively influenced our lives. Whether through a call, a handwritten letter, or in person, acknowledging someone's influence and impact on us can deeply resonate and touch a person in ways only the soul can feel.

Realize influence and power are potent forces within each of us. As leaders and coaches, it is our responsibility to wield them wisely, nurturing curiosity and excellence in those we coach and lead. By providing both inspiration and practical guidance, we empower individuals to evolve and thrive, ensuring they leave our guidance better equipped for their journey ahead.

In the end, it's about more than wins and losses — it's about life and the enduring impact we have on others, forging legacies that transcend the confines of a sport or industry. 

Mühl will always have a place to call home at UConn — in large part, because of her coach.

"I don't think anybody here will ever forget you," Coach Auriemma told her.

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