Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Master(ing) Mindset

Do you ever have those experiences where it seems like mutually exclusive areas of your life collide? You know, where you've talked about something with someone and the same topic comes up again in a completely separate context (and I'm not talking about in your Facebook feed!)?

Well that's exactly what's happened to me this week on the topic of mindset.

I'm writing - as usual - from the road, coming off an excellent Sports ETA 4S Summit in Providence, Rhode Island. Other than the nor'easter that planted itself over the city for my entire trip there, I was really impressed with Providence...especially the amazing food scene!

Me and Elizabeth Beisel
At the 4S Summit, we were fortunate to hear from 2-time Olympic medal-winning swimmer and Providence native, Elizabeth Beisel. Beisel was a phenomenal, down to earth speaker who talked about her swimming career and how she really had to work on her mindset freeing herself up to swim to her potential. Beisel was a former University of Florida swimmer, and it was a cool coincidence that I got a picture of her name on UF's Olympic Swimmer plaque that adorns the wall at their natatorium just the week prior.

See Beisel's name as a bronze and silver medalist 
On that trip to the Swamp, I also finished up the popular book Can't Hurt Me by former Navy Seal, David Goggins. As many of you who have read it are aware, Goggins' story is incredible, and his life lessons boil down to one thing: taking control of you mindset. If you haven't read Goggins' book, I really recommend it.

This guy is an absolute maniac! Photo: SealGrinderPT
Here's the crazy part...

You don't have to be an Olympic swimmer or a Navy Seal for mindset to play an integral role in your everyday life.

Take little ol' me.

I've struggled with my mindset for about as long as I can remember. Letting my circumstances dictate my joy, confidence, contentment, actions...the list goes on and on. I always thought I was at the mercy of what I thought.

The two examples I gave earlier have also come on the heels of a program I've been going through called Performance Mindset (TM) developed by former NFL Player Jon McGraw, and his company, Vision Pursue. I've been so impacted by Performance Mindset that I'm bringing in Jon to do a training for our industry's leaders at the Chief Executive Summit in Louisville next month. Register and get there if you haven't already - the lineup is awesome.

Anyone with kids can relate to this! Photo: Orthochristian

As I chip away at mindset, and learn more about how the brain works, it is a daily grind. And quite candidly, I still have what I call "mental hissy fits". But, when I slow down and look behind me, I see great progress toward mastering my mindset. And I believe it's worth it.

Just like the analytical thinking I developed in doctoral school, I don't have to accept every thought that my brain spews out on autopilot as gospel. I can separate myself from the situation I'm in. And the golden nugget is, this skill is applicable to every aspect of my life...and yours! You don't have to be a professional athlete, a Navy Seal, or otherwise. You can just be you.

Moving into the holiday season, it's almost time to start watching the classic John Hughes movies that mark our family traditions. My mom's favorite is Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the journey of two men (played by John Candy and Steve Martin), desperately trying to get home for Thanksgiving. It is a comedy of errors. Here is a clip from my favorite seen about "two pillows".

Here's the take-away...

I'm sitting in DFW *hopefully* on the last leg of travel home from 4S Summit that very well could put Del Griffith and Neil Page (Candy and Martin's characters in the movie) to shame. It's been a 48 hour circus.

The old me would have come unglued at the situation. Festered on it so much I drove myself crazy. Making a mountain out of a mole hill. I'm not going to kid you and say there weren't times I didn't want to throw a temper tantrum like one of my kids, but this was also an excellent opportunity to put some of my mindset work into practice. To master the mind. To hold up my thoughts to my truth and declare one correct. To take some deep breaths. To remind myself what I'm thankful for (air travel is one, even though sometimes there are trips like this one). To avoid becoming a victim of my circumstances.

With all things in life, mindset isn't about a finish line. It's a lifelong journey. One I'm on. One I hope you are on, too.

As Albert Einstein once said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." This is Stoll on Sports.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Fields That Built Me

In my last edition of Stoll on Sports, I ragged pretty hard on the state of youth sports, particularly the win-at-all-costs culture it has created, and the harm it causes young athletes physically, mentally and emotionally. I still stand by those remarks, but this edition is going to take a lighter tone to the same topic.

You know the hit Miranda Lambert song titled "The House That Built Me*"? About a woman who goes back and knocks on the door of her childhood home, asks to walk around and is flooded by memories stacked one-by-one that over time, made her who she is today. I love that song. How can you not?

I had a similar experience recently when I was on a great Midwest tour for my work with Sports ETA. While visiting Cincy, CLE, L'Ville, Indy and CBus, I stayed with my high school best friend's family for a few nights in the 'Nati. One humid evening, after a run at a local park, I drove through my old neighborhood then stopped at my old school, Sherwood Elementary. I didn't go admire the building. Rather, I went high atop the athletic fields overlooking the playground. A playground, I might add, that is chalk-full of injury-proof apparatuses, unlike when I was a kid when the objective of recess was to defy death daily.

Slowly, I started to remember...

  • I remember walking through the woods at the top of my street to take the short-cut to the fields (we did crazy things like that back then).
  • I remember my first softball practice with the coach who would coach me in every sport for nearly 8 years (he wore the same polyester coaching shorts every practice, you know the ones!). 
    This isn't my coach, but the outfit is on point. (Photo: Coach Glass Podcast)
  • I remember two softball fields with meticulously manicured, thick, green grass in the outfield that spilled into a few soccer fields (not even second thoughts given to how unsafe it was to have simultaneous games going on).
  • I remember sledding down the hill in between the fields in the winter time (only a couple broken arms resulted).
  • I remember school field days kicking-off highly-anticipated summer vacation (God bless Field Day, am I right?). 
  • I remember playing 3rd base because I was the only kid that could throw it from 3rd to 1st (No wonder my shoulder is shot).
  • I remember playing 4 or 5 games a day until the lightning bugs flickered at night (then we'd play capture the flag until someone's parents eventually figured out we never came home).
  • I remember unknowingly seeing my passion for sports ignite (who knew those days would lead me down the path to my career?).
Time has a funny way of changing memories, the outfield was overgrown, the benches were splintered and warped, the backstop fencing was mangled, and the soccer fields were so small that goalies frequently scored. Heck, it was probably like this when I was 9 years old, but I didn't know the difference.

If I'm honest, I sat on that old, beat-up bench, exhausted from driving so hard in this career focused on this childhood passion of mine. The same bench where hundreds of kids have sat before and after my hay-day.

I smiled. I laughed. I cried. Sloppy tears.

Then it struck me...

These were the fields that built me.

Here they are. Funny how majestic this place was in my mind.
Lambert eloquently sings, "You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can. I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am."

Now, I'm not naive enough to think it there were no obnoxious parents or hyper-competitive kids, but I hope we never forget these special places in the sports history books of each of our lives. It wasn't about $400 baseball bats, fancy elite travel team uniforms, and scholarships. Then it was about kids being kids, having fun, making memories and experiencing true community.

Today it's about taking a couple minutes to slow down, reflect, feel the feels, appreciate the journey, and be grateful for this awesome, beautiful, crazy thing we call life. We each have a unique story to tell. This is a little bit about mine.

"Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory." - Dr. Seuss

This is Stoll on Sports.

(*Written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin)

Friday, June 28, 2019

Youth Sports Soapbox

There are a plethora of news-worthy happenings in sport lately. The NBA draft, Women's World Cup, announcement of the 2026 Olympic Games locations in Italy, and most importantly, the Sandlot-style adults and kiddo baseball game that's about to go down at Casa de Stoll tomorrow night with good friends, ribs, and, of course, s'mores.

But chances are, in the clutter of happenings, you may have also picked up this viral video that emerged last week from a little league game right here in Colorado:

As a sports nerd, this behavior is absolutely maddening. It runs in direct contrast to all the reasons sport is good. The work ethic, teamwork, sportsmanship, humility, perseverance, practice, dedication and so, so much more.

On the flip side of the less-than-shining Colorado video, you may have seen this clip from an interview with University of Michigan Head Baseball Coach, Erik Bakich, when asked about the makeup of his College World Series appearing team:

(I hope the NCAA is profusely thanking Bakich for providing the best video clip they've had in years.)

It's no secret I'm not a Xichigan fan. I'm a Buckeye kid through and through. But it's hard not to get behind this guy. Michigan lost the decisive Game 3 to Vandy on Wednesday, but this Bakich is a winner in my book, and to the National College Baseball Writers Association as well.

This is an example of sports transcending team affiliation or status quo. It's part of  how sport draws us in.

Congrats to Coach Bakich on his Coach of the Year award. Photo: NCBWA
You see, as Coach Bakich so succinctly noted, there are a massive amount of kids out there missing out on the opportunity to play sports, not for the college scholarship and potential of DI hardware, but for those important benefits that help shaped me, and so many others.

These benefits are not reserved for individuals who are the most athletic, have the financial resources to play for the triple platinum travel team, or whose parents are willing to throw down over the call of a 13 year old umpire at a little league game for 7-year olds. (Sidebar, see my post about serious issues facing officiating here.)

Yes, my expertise is sport tourism, and youth travel sports is a significant part of that industry. But I'm closely following participation numbers and statistics put out by our friends at the Sports Fitness Industry Association and others. It's not IF they will impact our industry. They already are.

I'm not suggesting there is no place for travel sport. Heck, I was an AAU basketball player from the ages of 10 to 17. I didn't get a scholarship. And that wasn't the point. My parents let me play because I enjoyed it. By the way, they were the first to support me when I started getting burned out my junior year and I picked up softball en lieu of summer bball, which I eventually played in college. (And I use the term "play" loosely, b/c I mostly warmed the up in the 4th inning, and pinch ran late in the game. Otherwise, I was one helluva stats-keeper and practical joker).

What I am suggesting is that if we focus solely on elite travel sport, we are doing a disservice to our youth (youth obesity rates among other metrics, hello?). And there are plenty of resources on this topic, such as this report by Samford University.

Another example. Photo: Time Magazine
I can only reflect on my own experiences to supplement the research and reporting out there. My regret? Not playing softball (and golf - which would have come in handy when I worked for the freakin' PGA, BTW!) all the way through high school.

Back then we didn't know. But now we do.

As sport leaders, community members, parents, fans and heck, good people, we have an obligation to kids. To create opportunities, to expose them to a variety of things that they might find of interest. To quit pressuring our kids to live the lives and find the success that we never did. Kansas City has it right with their sports commission's WIN for KC program. San Antonio is crushing it with their iPlay! Afterschool program. There are good, sustainable models out there.

By the way, that 13 year old umpire is likely making no more than $20 per game to umpire 7-year old little league. Think the parents would have behaved differently if the ump was a big brother/sister of a player on one of those teams? I do. Let's not allow our selfish pride to get in the way of fostering an environment where coaches - like Michigan's Bakich - can help a kid's unlikely dream come to reality...enabling all of those good benefits of sport participation.

As Albert Einstein eloquently noted, "Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living." This is Stoll on Sports.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Bucket List 12 for 12

Do you have a "Bucket List"? If so, what's on it? I have a relatively informal one, but one item that has been on my list as long as I can remember is attending the NCAA Division I Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City. This past week, thanks to the graciousness of a dear friend, I got to check that dream off my bucket list.

If you followed the WCWS, you know that UCLA won their program's 12th National Championship in impressive fashion last night. In honor of the their 12th time taking home the coveted hardware, this edition of Stoll on Sports features my 12 Lessons Learned from the 2019 WCWS.
Pretty close to heaven for the mountain-dwelling tomboy!
Here we go...

12. There is nothing better than being at a ballpark on a beautiful summer evening. 

Bama v. OU...2 powerhouse programs

11. Softball is continuing to grow and 2020 is going to be awesome! 

The history of the growth of collegiate softball would be a wonderful case-study (I should research that!). From the long-time Pac-12 domination, to the rise of the SEC, to Minnesota's inaugural showing in the WCWS, the sport continues to grow. The NCAA tournament saw more than 500 hours of televised broadcasting. Seeing it back in the Olympic Games for 2020 in Tokyo will be epic!

10. Everyone should take a 26 hour road trip with their significant other. 

Stan happily joined me on this trip and although we were crazy enough to drive the 13+ hours each way, we really enjoyed the (kid-free) time together. We listened to books and podcasts, talked about them, plotted out our goals for the next five years and enjoyed one another's company. Nothing like a good ol' fashioned road trip!
On our road trip we realized it was 15 years to the day from our first date. So of course we got some Braum's to celebrate.

9. Life - like softball - is full of emotional highs and lows. 

In Game 2 of the Championship Series, UCLA came out on top, then OU creeped back, then UCLA went up again, then "Big Play Shay" Knighten hit a 2-out homer in the top of the 7th to tie it up. Then UCLA got an epic walk-off base hit to win it all in the bottom of the 7th.

Enjoy the highs and lows, it's how we know we're really living. I loved the towels OU fans held up that read, "Joy in the journey". So, so true.

8. Embrace your unique path. 

Sitting there at the stadium it's easy to let your mind wander to say, "I wish I would have done ___," or "I wonder what would have happened if I ___." Over the course of the weekend, I wanted to be Jessica Mendoza (who doesn't?), Patty Gasso (again, duh), part of the USA Softball staff (heck yeah!), specifically the grounds crew (my dream job is actually to mow lawns like Forrest Gump --- ask my husband, it's true). But each and every one of us has our own unique path. The greatness lies in pursuing yours - one that is perfectly designed not to be the same as anyone else's. I'm meant to be on the path I'm on, and you're meant to be on the path you're on. It's a beautiful journey!

Some days I wonder if I missed my calling. Photo: Spotern

7. Sports is what we do; it's not who we are. 

Kelly Barnhill had a phenomenal pitching career at the University of Florida. She struggled at the WCWS. Florida wound up exiting after two straight loses. Here's a great ESPN article reflecting that sentiment. Kelly, hold your head up high. No one can take away your accomplishments and softball is merely what you do, not who you are. This is true no matter what you do.
ESPY Winner Kelly Barnhill is one of the best pitchers in history, despite the outcome of the WCWS. Photo: ESPN

6. Honor the legacy. 

UCLA did a great job honoring legacy throughout the WCWS and Head Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez spoke about the legacy of John Wooden on all of UCLA athletics.

As another example, Dot Richardson was sitting behind us for most of the series. People, DOT freakin' RICHARDSON! I idolized her as a young player. She charted the course for so many of us in the game. Many notable softball vets came by and spoke with her, but it was amazing that many more young players did not. The truth is, many probably have never heard of her. There is a legacy in sport that if we do not share, will not get passed on. Kudos to the USA Softball Hall of Fame Museum for preserving this legacy.
Dot Richardson. A legend. I met her once, I'm sure she remembers! Photo: Dr. Dot Richardson

5. Softball is a family sport. 

How many other championships do you attend where the game's best players are sitting with fans, taking pictures and signing autographs? Where ESPN talent sits with the crowd regularly? Not many. There is something about this sport, and our host, USA Softball President Craig Cress nailed it when he told me, "That's exactly what we want this event to be." And it certainly is.

As an aside, we ran into a friend of ours (who was in our wedding and we haven't seen in 12 years) sitting in the very seat in front of us! We bonded over softball, the glory days and caught up just like old times. It was awesome! It was family.
Karen and me taking in some softball, just like old times!

4. There is immeasurable beauty in game. 

I was struck by the diversity of ethnicity and even body-type of the accomplished athletes on the field. I love that softball is a place where differences are celebrated and there is no "stereotypical" player. This phenomenon seems like a rarity in sports.

3. Oklahoma Head Coach Patty Gasso (among many others in the sport) is a class act. 

Love this picture of Coach Gasso enjoying the ride with some players. Photo: Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma
My respect for OU's remarkable coach grew immensely this week. Particularly by watching her response - and by example, her team's response - to their uncharacteristic loss to UCLA in Game 1 of the Championship Series. No excuses. Clarity that the score, game or series does not define their team. Genuine care and love for her players. Acknowledgement of the quality of UCLA's program. Patty displayed a shining example of sportsmanship, humility, leadership and resilience. Most of you know I'm an avid Ohio State fan, but Coach Gasso made an OU Softball fan out of me.

2. OKC is the epicenter of softball around the world. 

USA Softball nailed it. OKC nailed it. The heartbeat of the sport of softball is unquestionably in OKC. And deservedly so. Everywhere we went we were greeted by exceptional hospitality, amazing food, fun-loving fans, and a community that knows how to roll out the red carpet. The value softball provides to the city - economically, socio-culturally and through exposure - and reciprocally, the way the city embraces the sport is second to none. Craig, Sue and teams, well done! Other organizations should take note.

Always stunning and heart-wrenching Oklahoma City National Memorial
And last but not least...

1. In case we forgot, life is about making memories. 

UCLA's victory celebration. Photo: Extra Innings Softball
For all involved, whether fans in the nosebleeds or players on the field, the WCWS displayed a microcosm of this truth. Just search #WCWS and look at the memories, stories, smiles, tears, and jubilation on the event's social media feeds. At the heart of the WCWS, it's about fostering an environment to make memories, contributing to the lives of each and every person touched by the event. The memories gained over this last week will be with me long after I forget which team won the championship.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked, "Life is a journey, not a destination." This is Stoll on Sports.

Photo: QuoteFancy

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

My Etiquette Fail - Or So I thought

Way back in April, I had the pleasure of attending an etiquette session led by Patricia Rossi at the NASC (now called SportsETA) Women's Summit in Tampa. This was the second annual Women's Summit held in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Final Four basketball tournament. I wrote about my take-aways last year as well.

Patricia was the last presenter in a 48 hours chalk-full of wisdom and knowledge bombs. All 70 attendees were exhausted, and perhaps more than a little sleep deprived, to say the least. You might say she had drawn the short straw. Not to mention, she was presenting to a bunch of awesome women who work in sports...let's just say (and I'm just surmising here), but this industry may be a bit more casual on the etiquette side of things than say, corporate finance.

Patricia with the entire SportsETA Women Summit contingent.
In a nutshell, Patricia rocked the house! She was engaging, hilarious, and an absolute delight. She is a southern belle that (if I'm honest) at first impression, intimidated the heck out of this mountain-dwelling tomboy.

She broke down walls of intimidation immediately. We learned a million etiquette tips, laughed until we *about* peed our pants (no, just me?!), connected to one another, and made lasting memories.

So here's the thing that stuck out to me. Patricia spoke about how she went to journalism school trying to "train" herself out of her natural (and charming) southern drawl. It failed. What she found was that the part of herself she was trying to change, was actually one of her most intriguing and genuine characteristics...she called it her "quirk".

She impressed upon us to embrace our quirks, too, whatever they may be. She asked, "What did you get in trouble for as a kid?" That's your quirk. It took me less than a nano-second to identify mine. My table mates - most of whom know me already - called me out on it, too.

My special quirk is that I tend to be a bit of...how do I put this delicately...a smart ass.

Those that know me, know I love a good laugh and am the first to crack jokes. Quite frankly, it's been a part of my DNA as long as I can remember. Sometimes it emerges out of my sociability, sometimes creeps out of nervousness, sometimes it's just default, and sometimes I just plain don't think before I speak. (What can I say, but Mama Tried!)

True American legend and singer of "Mama Tried", Merle Haggard
A couple days before I left for Tampa, I gave an impromptu lecture to my sport operations class about networking as many of them are graduating this weekend and asked for some tips entering the "real world". I talked about being authentic, genuine and respectful. About following-up. About differentiating themselves. About how networking is a continual and amazing journey. About how the essence of networking is really sacrificial relationship-building.

After Patricia's presentation, I got the opportunity to put my lesson into practice.

I reached out to Patricia to thank her for her presentation, and specifically noted how her point about quirks resonated with me.

People. She called and left me the sweetest voicemail THAT VERY DAY! Keep in mind, this is a successful woman who travels extensively, is a regular on national TV, works with corporations and professional sports franchises, authored a book, and probably has a laundry list of other pressing items on her list. She didn't just respond to my email, she picked up the phone and called me. Actually dialed a number that wasn't programmed in her phone. In fact, the voicemail is still on my phone and sometimes I listen to it to remind myself that the small things we do can have an impact on people. (Don't worry Patricia, I'm not a creep or anything!).

Seriously, look at the penmanship! Far cry from my chicken-scratch.
Not only that, but she offered to send me a copy of her book, that I did not receive at the conference because she only had a few copies. Without delay, my personalized, signed copy of Everyday Etiquette arrived at my door with a thank you card written in the most gorgeous handwriting I've ever seen.

That, my friends, is above and beyond sterile, self-serving networking, and into the land of genuine relationship-building. It was an amazing example to share with my class.

You see, Patricia's authentic approach overflows. It makes people comfortable, even with their quirks that often express themselves as insecurities. It certainly did for me.

Hey look, some people were half paying attention to our presentation!
Earlier this month at the SportsETA Annual Symposium in Knoxville, I got the opportunity to present to a room full of event rights holders on the riveting topic of local politics. My initial thought was, "Oh no, a bunch of strangers and the worst possible topic, I better keep it serious." But instead, I embraced my inner-quirk, managed to weave in Tombstone, The Simpsons and Anchorman references, recruited a great colleague to co-present, and proceeded with confidence knowing - and most importantly, accepting - who I am.

If you ever have the chance to meet Patricia or invite her to speak, I highly encourage that you do so.

On Patricia's website, you'll see her mantra is: "Kindness not formality ~ Relationships not rules". Sage advice regardless of your walk of life, industry or role. Patricia, I hope you know that while I may be bombing at implementing proper table manners, the most important thing you taught me has taken root in my soul. And for that, I sincerely thank you! This is Stoll on Sports.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Is Your Organization in Athletic Position?

My kids are playing coach-pitch baseball this year for the first time. I love baseball and softball, so it makes my heart so happy that they are loving it. One of the things we're working on with them both in the field and in the batter's box is to be the good athletic position. Up on the balls of their feet, not back on their heels. Ready to field a grounder, ready to take a whack at the pitch. It's universal for any sport, but it's hard to remember that athletic position isn't natural for young ones during their first foray into playing sports.
Athletic position for any sport. Photo: Science for Sport
I ventured over the mountains last week for a quick stop in Colorado Springs to attend the Association of Chief Executives of Sport (ACES) Conference. ACES is the membership organization for those individuals who are responsible for running the United States' National Governing Body organizations for the Olympic Movement.

The conference was chalk-full quality education, and the National Association of Sports Commissions had the privilege of facilitating pre-conference education to kick-off the event. One of the speakers was Marilyn Hannes, President of SeaWorld San Diego. Hannes spoke with truth and candor about crisis communication and planning by drawing on the very real and public challenges faced by her organization in recent years.

Hannes presenting to ACES executives
Hannes' presentation drew on numerous parallels to what the world of sport is facing today, particularly in the Olympic Movement post-Larry Nassar and the other controversies that have tainted some of the USA's most historically unifying and pride-inducing sports.

Hannes mentioned multiple times in her presentation that she wished SeaWorld had done a better job articulating all the great things the organization was already doing for marine life and the health of the ocean long before coming to its non-glowing return to the public eye through the Orca Whale controversy. To put it simply, SeaWorld was sitting back on its heels, the antithesis of "athletic position" in business.

The organization could have been banking goodwill to draw on during rough times. But it wasn't. There are many, many more nuances to this particular story, but the point is that often times, whether a small organization or a big one, we do not do a stellar job telling our story in advance. In any industry. Our reactive nature can wind up hurting our organization by calling into question credibility when times get tough.

Photo: SeaWorld
Hindsight truly is 20/20. But in today's world, organizations cannot afford to be on their heels. Hannes - and others at the conference - spoke candidly about the human and financial resources required to deal with a crisis. These efforts can wreak havoc on an organization's core business functions and leave it hanging on for dear life, if it survives at all.

Dr. Daniel Diermeier from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern has an excellent book called Reputation Rules in which he details how an organization can surmount dire PR situations. It's a fascinating look at many of the biggest organizational controversies of our time and how they did - or didn't - overcome. The focus is restoring public trust by addressing four elements: empathy, transparency, expertise and commitment.

At the ACES opening reception, I got to hear new USOC CEO, Sarah Hirshland, convey her vision for the future of the Olympic Movement. She nailed Diermeier's four elements of trust succinctly and convincingly. There's no doubt it's a long way to recovery for the US Olympic community, and only time will tell the outcome, however.

Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the USOC. Photo: TeamUSA
As for Hannes' and SeaWorld, her courage to share the organization's story and the clear leadership she has displayed throughout, coupled with the truly remarkable programs in SeaWorld's portfolio, have resulted in noteworthy growth in attendance and renewed goodwill development. They are now in true athletic position.

Unfortunately, it's not "if" but "when" an unpleasing circumstance will hit the press. Regardless of the size or type of your organization, it is prudent to have resources and plans in place, along with a whole bunch of goodwill. As Hannes described, this effort isn't a "one and done", it's diligent, purposeful, and perhaps most importantly, continual.

Go Red Sox! Photo: K. Sweet
Marshall Field once noted, "Goodwill is the one and only asset that competition cannot undersell or destroy." What are you doing to enhance your organization's goodwill today? Get off your heels, get your organization in athletic position, and be ready for the ball to come your way. This is Stoll on Sports.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Live a Zip Ties and Duct Tape Life

A couple weeks ago my husband surprised me with a late graduation gift that I've been eyeing for quite some time: A brand new mountain bike! To say I was ecstatic is an understatement. I love mountain biking. Am I good? No. Do I try? Yes.

In case you're curious, my new bike's name is Margo. As in, "Why is the carpet all wet, Todd?" "I DON'T KNOW, MARGO!" Because when I showed it to my mom she said, "It's a beaut, Clark!" I went down the rabbit trail, one thing led to another, and *poof* Margo is the name.
Sweet Margo!

We all know I'm an "in my comfort zone" type of person. In fact, if you don't know that you either don't know me, or you've fallen victim to my forced attempts to live life jumping off the dock when no boat is in sight despite the fact I want the boat tied securely to the dock before I step on board. I work really hard to push myself out of that comfort zone. I  know all the cliches. I know nothing good comes from within my comfort zone, and that's where I grow, blah, blah, blah.
Ummm...This boat is not tied up tight enough for me. Who's shoddy work is this?

As I've gotten older I believe the "fake it till you make it" mentality is finally starting to ingrain itself through my think skull and now (I can't believe I'm typing it out), I actually enjoy seeing what else is out there.

So back to the mountain bike.

I usually like to ride trails I know, with people I know (and trust immensely) in case I get abducted by aliens, or the apocalypse occurs, or I get a flat tire.

Yesterday I went for a ride by myself, on trails that I can't ride in my sleep, in non-perfect conditions (flurries, showers, sunshine, a standard Colorado mix). What may be meaningless to some was a big deal for me. I was proud of myself and I wanted my husband to validate that pride. Which he did, after I asked him if he was proud of me, of course.
Proof of my solo adventure (and the crazy CO weather)!
Then he threw in a curveball of Stan wisdom that usually, when it comes, feels like a cranial punch.

He asked if it was a big deal for me and when I told him about the aliens or apocalypse he simple said, "You'd figure it out."


He is so right.

The truth is, in this circus of life we are all just figuring it out. No one knows the divine road map.

Enter zip ties and duct tape.

I'm a firm believer that the most valuable asset someone can have is not a specific experience, a perfect pedigree, a piece of paper with your school's name hanging on the wall...it's the MacGyver ability. Yes, you know, MacGyver. I hear he's made a comeback, but the original show is the one to which I'm referring.
This MacGyver, not that new young whippersnapper
With seconds left before a bomb detonates in a locked space the size of a shoe box, MacGyver could avert disaster with a zip tie and some duct tape. Every week, a different compromising situation and a different mind-blowing solution with bobby pins, a Tic Tac, or whatever was handy.

If you're still following this spider web, here's my point: Whether it's business, personal growth, relationships, whatever, we all need to use the resources we have to move forward. You have what it takes for your journey! It looks different for all of us. No one is perfect. Truly, NO ONE! We are all figuring it out, stubbing our toes and busting our chins along the way. That's the beauty of it.
This guy is having a serious bad day, he's in a suit and tie getting abducted, at least I would have been on my bike!
So my husband was right. If something would have happened on my ride - maybe not an alien abduction - I would have figured it out. Just like I have in the past and like I will again in the future. And you know what? I'd be a better person for using my ingenuity, volition and creativity to do so.

Last week I attended the 2nd Annual NASC Women's Summit in Tampa, where I heard the talented Blair Bloomston from Game On Nation speak about personal branding (she's awesome, by the way). Blair so eloquently reminded the audience that our work (or fill in the blank) is part of the bigger story of our life, not the other way around.
Opening reception of the Women's Summit. Drinking cocktails on the beach on a Wednesday. It was rough. Photo: NASC
All these circumstances we face, they are a part of building you. They are a part of building me. Our unique purposes and stories. So embrace it. Step out of your comfort zone. Keep a list of the times you push your boundaries and reflect back on them when you doubt. Remind yourself that you are awesome and that no matter what you face, you'll grab your zip ties and duct tape and figure it out!

This is Stoll on Sports. I gotta go, Murder She Wrote comes on at 7...

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Achieving Success through Sports and Events Tourism

This week I'm sharing a blog I recently authored on behalf of the NASC for Civitas  (an organization that helps with development of special districts, such as tourism or business improvement districts) about the sports and event tourism industry's "Whys" and "Hows". The link to the original blog post is below. I love learning from others and sharing knowledge. I'm equally excited about the good work taking place in our industry to expand research-related and educational value. I hope this post is beneficial for those in the trenches and on the periphery of our great industry:

Achieving Success through Sports and Events Tourism

Among the numerous segments comprising a destination’s tourism portfolio, often exists sports and event tourism. These efforts may reside in any number of organizational structures from within a destination marketing organization (DMO), a government entity or stand-alone organization. The growth of sports and event tourism has been undeniable. The industry’s professional association originated with merely a dozen communities gathering to share ideas more than 25 years ago. Today, what would become the National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC), serves more than 840 members from across the country and beyond.
As the go-to resource for the robust sports and events tourism industry, the NASC serves not only destination representatives, but just as importantly, sports and event rights holders looking for host destinations that can accommodate their events, venue and facility operators, and a plethora of industry suppliers. Destinations ranging in population from less than 100,000 residents to more than 1,000,000 residents are realizing the vast array of sports and event tourism opportunities spanning from youth tournaments to World Cup host locations and everything in between.
This evidence begs the question, why are destinations emphasizing sports and events tourism, and how are they achieving success? While reasons for entry into the market vary by community, research shows increasing economic impact, destination brand perception and awareness, and socio-cultural leverage (such as building a sense of community and quality of life among residents) top the list.
When it comes to how, destinations are constantly innovating new approaches to break through the proverbial clutter. Organizations are seeking long-term partnerships to provide an annual base to their business, monitoring sport participation and popularity trends, creatively using community facility and venue assets, and launching their own sports and events properties. Combinations of these practices, among others, have fostered successful sports and events tourism efforts for many destinations.
Sports and events tourism equate to big business. As practitioners in the industry can attest, each community’s strategy for success must be unique to its influencing factors. The NASC is leading the charge in providing all segments of the industry with timely and relevant information to ensure the sports and events tourism industry continues to flourish. For more information, contact the NASC at info@sportscommissions.org or visit www.sportscommissions.org.
Jennifer Stoll, Ph.D, CSEE
Stoll Sports Strategies, LLC
National Association of Sports Commissions
Remember, Thomas Edison put forth more than 1,000 attempts at inventing the light bulb before it worked. When asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, Edison replied, "I didn't fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." This is Stoll on Sports.

Friday, February 15, 2019

5 Take-Aways from the 2019 National Sports Forum

I'm writing this week from the 3rd and final leg of my recent travels, at the home of the new Bob Stoops coached XFL team, Big D. This time I'm traveling for pleasure, to celebrate my sweet blue-eyed, red-haired niece's first birthday. Happy birthday Avery Claire!

But it was my second stop - Las Vegas for the 2019 National Sports Forum - I want to discuss today. While the conference caters to those more likely to work in the pro sports franchise/venue segment of our industry, I gleaned some wonderful insight with my sports events and tourism hat on. 

Image result for national sports forum logo

Here are my Top 5 Take-Aways from NSF:

5. Our struggles are shared.

You know what I found out being at a conference with people from the pro sports world? They share many of the same struggles as us over on the sport tourism side of the street. They are searching for innovation, new revenue streams, best practices and relationships. It was refreshing to see and hear.

4. The death of sponsorship as we know it.

Out with traditional menu-offering style sponsorships and in with highly-focused, mutually beneficial "partnerships". I attended two separate sessions discussing this exciting shift in traditional thinking. Creativity is King. Learning about creative ideas and activation strategies from groups like 4Front, and new sponsorship effectiveness measurement methods from organizations like Hookit proved especially enlightening...and relevant to many in our lane. Times are changing folks, we must adapt.

3. Alternate forms of revenue bring opportunity for sport tourism.

Just hanging out on the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The president of Las Vegas Motor Speedway was on a panel and commented that his venue operates more than 1400 event days a year - only a handful of which are NASCAR/NHRA/other sanctioned events. The rest are special events in a variety of their complex's spaces. Clearly, LVMS is just as much a special event venue, turning multiple events a day from weddings and meetings, to the NSF closing party.

Image result for lincoln financial stadium
Lincoln Financial Field. Photo: NBC Sports
This approach was not unique. The special events director for the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field shared the same sentiment commenting that she sells more than 400 events a year at her complex. These event drive alternate revenue streams for teams and venues, but they also create an accessibility, a connection point, and likely goodwill for teams and venues. 

How does this take-away relate to sport tourism? Be creative! Talk to you non-traditional venue folks. They are looking for interesting and revenue-producing collaborations. Think about how you can partner to provide a unique setting for your next board retreat or an element of your next sports event.

2. Don't go to Vegas in February hoping for a warm-up from the blustery KC and CO cold.

Seriously. KC was 4 degrees. Vegas was a slight warm-up at around 40 degrees. And it flurried while I was there. Locals were saying it "snowed". I didn't burst their bubble. Funny thing was, there were still people laying out poolside at MGM Grand. They must've been from Kansas City!

Image result for las vegas snow 2019
I swear, it was barely a flurry, but it was the talk of the town - that and the Golden Knights. Photo: Pace.Vegas

1. If we look hard enough, we can learn a tremendous amount from those who might not be in our specific field of practice.

The moral of this story is clear. There is no doubt it is important for us to continually learn from one-another in the sport events and tourism industry. But, if we make a conscious effort to take our blinders off, open our mind, and pull from a broader source of information - whether it's a conference like NSF or otherwise - we might just find some nuggets of solid gold to apply in our respective worlds. 

Image result for thinking outside the box
Sometimes you can feel like a fish out of water pushing yourself to a new environment. But there is no growth without change.
At a critical and ever-changing time in our own industry, I encourage us to cast a wide net. As Brian Herbert said, "The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice." 

Thank you to Ron Seaver and the National Sports Forum team for hosting an excellent event, filled with quality learning and a hospitable, family-like atmosphere. I would recommend this conference to anyone looking to expand their knowledge of the industry and meet some all-around great people. This is Stoll on Sports.

Image result for learning quote

Friday, February 8, 2019

The So What of Sports

Let's briefly talk about the "so what" of sports.

Image result for so what

What am I talking about you ask?

Fair question. Let me explain.

You see, I'm writing this post from the Kansas City airport on my way back to Colorado from a remarkable experience attending the WIN for KC Annual Women's Sports Awards Celebration. I was invited to attend by my dear friend and mentor (or as she calls it "truth teller"), Kathy Nelson, and I'm so glad I accepted the invitation because aside from the frigid cold of the Midwest, my short stay in town (slightly more than 24 hours) also reminded me about the essence of sport...the "so what".

Kathy's team hosted a packed house of more than 2,000 attendees to see a handful of KC community members receive awards. Yes, Holly Rowe emcee'd the event and Simone Biles participated in a pure, and lovely discussion, but there was so much more.

Photo: WIN for KC

In the sports world there is big money, big risk, big reward, plenty of self-aggrandizing, and an ever-increasing drive for commercialization resulting in sport being perceived as rather (or completely) elitist. Only enough room for the cream of the crop. Not on the "A" travel team? Sorry, you shouldn't be playing at all. No college scholarship? Out of luck. You had to watch the boring Super Bowl from home since you couldn't afford the $3k per ticket price tag? How embarrassing. News flash: the Super Bowl was boring, you didn't miss anything!

Image result for boring super bowl 2019
See, even the players and coaches were bored. Photo: EW.com
These may be exaggerations to some extent, but I'd argue elitism is becoming an epidemic in sports.

In my simple mind, this mentality is the complete antithesis of what sport should be in our society.

The WIN for KC event provided a refreshing reprieve from sport as big business, and a 2 hour window into the "so what".

Does the KC Sports Commission recruit huge events for economic impact and brand perception? You bet. As most sport tourism entities do.

Image result for usa gymnastics 2019 nationals

It's all well-and-good that these marquee events, such as the 2019 USA Gymnastics Championships come to town, those are great and have a purpose, but it's what the sports commission does for the community - taking their impact beyond economic and brand and into the community that they work, live and play - that makes the difference.

In my dissertation research, I found that just shy of 50% of sport commission mission statements indicated a desired outcome related to socio-cutural leverage, or building a better community/quality of life, 66% reported desire for economic impact and about 53% concerned with brand awareness of their community.

This statistic shows that the impact of sports on the community through non-economic and branding efforts is imperative to these entities. It may be important enough to make it into the mission statement, but that doesn't necessarily mean communities succeed on making it a reality.

The team in KC has it right.

A young African American swimmer, an elite soccer player turned coach giving back to refugees, a legendary female pole vault coach who changed the standard in a sport, an amputee who got her life back with prosthetic running legs, and the legacy of women who perpetuated the vision for WIN for KC through serving as volunteer board chairs for the organization. These are the "so whats" that today's event recognized...the faces behind the mission.

Image result for win for kc camp
WIN for KC Camp, Photo: Kansas City Pitch
And you know what? The goodwill and value built in the community through these efforts more than likely drives the success of the economic and branding efforts KC also does so well. They are building ambassadors, funders, and culture. These efforts go hand-in-hand, they are not mutually exclusive.

The point here is, as sport event and tourism professionals we often stop at what we think is the goal line: driving economic impact and brand for our destination. But I'd encourage you to take a page out of KC's book, to look up, and consider the "so what" in your destination's efforts. You have to give to get. And the good work of bettering your community will not go unaccounted for in the other aspects of your business. After all, you live in your town too, so you might as well make the impact of your organization set the tone of community for your family and your kids' kids.

The essence of sport is not elitist. It's inclusive. It's a common bond. It's overcoming. It's uniting. It's confidence inducing. It's life changing. And it's for all.

Not surprisingly, the team in KC hit it out of the park today. Thank you for reminding me that sport, in its purest form, is about the "so what".

As JFK said, "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try." This is Stoll on Sports.

Image result for make a difference quote