Encourage means to ‘give courage.’ Speak it into other people’s lives.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
This post is part of a series from the 2015 NWA Business Women's Conference with guest blogger Sarabeth Jones.
Becky Hammon is breaking new ground as the first female coach in the NBA. After an impressive 16-year career in the WNBA and an Olympic medal, she was hired by the San Antonio Spurs as a full-time assistant coach. After just a year in the job, she led the Spurs Summer League team as their head coach and won the championship, simultaneously becoming the first female head coach in the Summer League, and the first woman to win it all. Listening to her give the keynote at the Northwest Arkansas Business Women’s Conference was inspiring; this is a confident, charismatic, and strong woman who is making her way in an area that has only been open to men before.
This isn’t the first time she’s done it. She’s spent most of her career challenging what’s expected of her. First of all, she’s short for a pro basketball player, measuring just 5’6”. She wasn’t recruited for college ball out of high school. She wasn’t drafted out of college. Her Olympic medal came as a member of the Russian women’s basketball team because she wasn’t invited to try out for the U.S. team. And now, she spends her days coaching men who are at least a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than she is. Her life story reads like a series of if:then statements: If someone says, “This is too hard, it’s never been done before,” then her response is, “I’ll do it. Why not?”
So when she talked about courage, I was all ears. Returning to the story of joining the Russian Olympic team, she told us that it was a turning point in her life. It was her only option to play but it certainly wasn’t what she had hoped and dreamed for. She had to become a Russian citizen in the process; at that time no other U.S. women’s basketball player had ever played for another country. Knowing that she would face criticism and negativity in the media, and that people wouldn’t understand her decision, she weighed it all out and decided to go ahead anyway.
“That built courage in me,” she said, and later she added, “it’s impossible to gain courage without fear.” And then she told us that courage is also our gift to others. “Encourage means to ‘give courage.’ Speak it into other people’s lives.” I immediately thought of a wonderful line I read recently by Idelette McVicker, where she talks about Mary (the mother of Jesus) and Elizabeth. Mary comes to Elizabeth pregnant. It wasn’t what she had hoped for, and she knew she would face much criticism, that many people wouldn’t understand. Elizabeth gives her the gift of courage: “Elizabeth sees her friend like God sees her,” McVicker writes, “Elizabeth sees her sister into the future.”
Like Elizabeth to Mary, Becky Hammon’s friends and family spoke courage to her in the midst of her decision. That same courage has continued to move her into her future, into places no one has ever been before. What an amazing lesson for the rest of us! Certainly, not all of us are attempting to carry and birth the Savior of the world, or even to be the first female coach in the NBA. But there are things in the life of every leader that feel just as frightening and impossible, and we can help each other in the middle of it. We can see our friends, our co-workers, our family, our children – like God sees them. We can speak courage into their lives. We can see them into the future.