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When coaching millennials, it's all about empowerment

3 Sun Devil coaches say they rely on collaboration, encouragement to instill leadership in student-athletes

June 07, 2016

Coaching millennial player-athletes is all about empowerment, according to three of Arizona State University’s most successful coaches.

“Especially with millennials, just telling them what you want them to do is not going to work,” said Charli Turner Thorne, head coach of the ASU women’s basketball team.

“It’s not top-down. We call it horizontal — more peer-based, collaborative. We’re educating them to be leaders and empowering them,” she said. “When you’re a freshman in our program, you will get leadership challenges that first year.”

Turner Thorne spoke at a panel discussion Monday called “Whatever It Takes: Effective Leadership,” sponsored by the ASU Alumni Association.

The other panelists were Missy Farr-Kaye, who just completed her first season as head coach of the women’s golf team, and Sheila McInerney, who has been head coach of the women’s tennis team for 32 years.

McInerney said her leadership style has evolved over the years.

“I’ve become so much of a better listener,” she said. “I ask a lot more questions. I learn as much from my players as they do from me.”

She said her goal is to foster independence in her student-athletes.

“My thing is to free them,” McInerney said. “I give them the techniques, but you want them to be problem solvers.

“It’s not just tennis. It’s how they’ll solve problems later in life.”

Farr-Kaye said that it’s crucial to encourage young women to believe in themselves.

“It always astounds me that we have some of the most elite golfers in the world, extremely intelligent, terrific students who do everything great, and they still lack that confidence, that belief in themselves,” she said.

“One of the most important things I do is to say to them — look them right in the eye — and say, ‘I believe you can do this.’ I’m still constantly having to remind them how good they are.”

The women also talked about the difficulty of creating a work-life balance and not becoming consumed by the stresses of being a Division I coach.

“I spent last weekend walking 18 holes with an eighth-grader,” said Farr-Kaye, who has three sons. “The recruiting cycle is now so early and so long that you can put three or four years into developing a relationship with somebody and if they choose to go somewhere else — gut-wrenching is a light way to put it. Your head is spinning.

“Mindfulness is a word I love, but I’m a work in progress,” she said.

Turner Thorne said that hitting a perfect balance is elusive.

“I’ll be honest, for me that’s Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster — maybe it exists and maybe it doesn’t,” she said.

She also is working on pursuing mindfulness and trying to be present in the moment.

“How do we live our life where we’re not dwelling on the past? If we can do that, we’ll be great leaders,” she said.

“I am working on it, and I’m trying to help our young women work on it because it’s a life skill.”

Time helps, said McInerney.

“With age does come experience. You learn what is important and what isn’t important,” she said.

“You realize that when you’re coaching, it really comes down to those relationships, and you know why you’re coaching — to give these women confidence in themselves and to learn a sense of themselves.”

Top photo: Sheila McInerney (right), head coach of the Sun Devil women's tennis team, makes a point at a panel discussion called "Whatever It Takes: Effective Leadership." The panel was moderated by Paola Boivin (far left), sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and, and included Charli Turner Thorne, head coach of the Sun Devil women's basketball team (second from left), and Missy Farr-Kaye, head coach of the Sun Devils women's golf team. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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