JULY 2011 ENTREPRENEUR OF THE MONTH: TRUDI LACEY
The head coach and general manager of the Washington Mystics women’s basketball team has no time, or patience, for small-mindedness. Here’s why she’s always thinking big—and how you can, too.
By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent Magazine
Dressed in a tan pantsuit and black heels, Trudi Lacey watched intently from the sidelines on June 16, as the women of her team, the Washington Mystics, battled the players of the Connecticut Sun.
The Mystics were eager to bring home a win for the 7,000-plus fans who gathered on the hot, rainy night at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, DC.
The Mystics had lost 89-73 to the Sun on June 4, their first loss of the season. And by the end of the first period, the Sun was ahead, 23-11.
Lacey was concerned. She knew that her team, which has suffered a handful of injuries since the season’s start, had to step up and play defense.
“First and foremost, we need to play defense,” Lacey had told the sports reporter from The Washington Times prior to the game. “I have been preaching it, and they just need to shift their mindset and play defense for the entire game.”
Despite the high scoring of 19 points by Mystics player Kelly Miller, 11 points by Matee Ajavon, 10 by Nicky Anosike, and 9 each by Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman—the team didn’t find redemption.
As she does after each final buzzer, Lacey spoke eloquently to the journalists gathered in the media room after the game.
“It was another tough loss,” she admitted. “We just got off to a slow start, and although we showed a lot of heart in trying to come back, it was our defense that was the problem.
It’s a repeated pattern, and we need to change our mindset and start scoring earlier in the game so we put the other team on the defense. Our players work hard. They deserve to win. And they will.”
It’s Bigger Than the Game
While winning is critical to the success of her team, Lacey knows that there’s more happening on the court than scoring baskets.
“The Women’s National Basketball Association is filled with people who are not only amazing players, but amazing people,” says Lacey, who was named to head the Mystics on November 25, 2010. This is Lacey’s first season leading the coaching staff, and her third with the DC organization.
“They are solid citizens who care about the sport, the team, and empowering other women and girls to be the best at whatever they choose to do.”
Lacey, of course, knows this from experience. Prior to joining the Mystics three years ago, she was the head coach of Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina, and spent time as the head coach and general manager of the Charlotte Sting from 2003-2006.
She also had coaching stints at the University of Maryland, the University of South Florida, Francis Marion College, Manhattan College, and James Madison University.
In fact, Lacey got her start in women’s basketball on the court. She played for the legendary coach Kay Yow at North Carolina State University, and was an All-American basketball player. Her jersey was retired by the school in 2000, and she was named to the ACC All-Legend Team.
Off the court, Lacey is President / CEO of Lacey & Co., LLC, a comprehensive executive coaching firm that specializes in strategic initiatives, performance coaching, personal development, and organizational leadership training.
One of her programs, called “It’s Bigger Than the Game,” (BT2G) is a youth-development program for ages 8-13, which combines an interactive curriculum of basketball and life-skills training to inspire authenticity and personal power.
Giving back is critical to the woman who grew up in Clifton Forge, VA, and received her bachelor’s degree in business management and master’s degree in sports management from North Carolina State University.
She serves on the board of directors for A Child’s Place, the National Kidney Foundation, the Johnston YMCA, and Mothering Across Continents, which addresses the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa.
Playing for Keeps
“Women’s basketball is one of the greatest sports because once you get hooked, you will be hooked for life,” insists Lacey, who despite her power on the court as a player and leader, has a Zen-like quality about her.
Sitting in her windowed office that overlooks the bustle of F Street at the Verizon Center, her sense of inner calm seems to ooze into the room, which is a contrast to the bright red-and-white frenzy happening in dozens of offices nearby that house the headquarters of the Mystics / Wizards support staff.
Here, the walls are taupe, the lights are dim, and throughout the room are mementos that inspire the head coach—a photograph of a ballet dancer, plaques that feature inspirational quotes, and a framed picture of Tina Turner in concert. (Lacey confides that her fantasy, despite not being able to carry a tune, is to be a backup singer for the queen of rock and roll.)
Dressed in a black sweat suit, the coach talks about her philosophy of leading top athletes to achieve their best.
She begins by pointing to the whiteboard that covers the entire wall behind her desk. On it, in black marker, she has written, “Notes to Myself.” Among them are: “Our challenges are opportunities for growth,” “Create service in an interesting, deliverable, and authentic way,” and “Stay calm! Carry on!”
“Of course, we are trying to win as often as we can,” Lacey shares. “This is a physical sport, and the goal is to overpower the opponent. But we aren’t trying to be a men’s team where they play above the rim and dunk. We use finesse.”
Plus, Lacey believes, “playing great basketball isn’t the only thing we are doing on the court.” Her mission, she says, is to inspire more fans to fall in love with the game of basketball—and the belief that with hard work, anything is possible.
“I believe in my players,” she says. “As the head of my coaching company, I believe in the children and adults that I know can accomplish the great things they dream of. This is easy to do when things are going well, but when things are tough it’s especially important. But then, that’s what a coach is here for.”
Leading From Strength
Lacey says she has learned five lessons in her career, which carry her through the wins and losses.
1. Listen. People want to be heard. It’s not that you’ll always agree with what they say, or that you’ll change your mind or plans. But take the time to listen. You very likely will learn something—about them, and about yourself.
2. Be patient and persevere. This is especially true when you are stressed. You don’t always make your best decisions when you are exhausted, frustrated, or worried. But even in these times, do your best to be centered and focused, and try not to overreact.
3. Be present. Even when you don’t want to, be in the moment and enjoy the process of learning as you pass your way from one experience to the next.”
4. Remember, life is a journey. Yes, people say this all of the time. But I can tell you from experience that it is true. The reality of life is that things aren’t always going to go well. Those who win in the end are the ones who gracefully weather the storms and hold on to their vision.”
5. Be authentic. Just be who you are, and like who you are. The world tells us to be like others, that if we model their behavior we’ll be happy and successful. But I disagree. Don’t change for anyone. The power is in finding your own way.
For more leadership lessons, read some of the Mystics players’ Tips for Entrepreneurs.