Achter learning how to be leader of young women

J. Patrick Eaken

It takes a true leader to coach college athletes in today’s world — ask University of Loyola Chicago women’s basketball coach Kate Achter.
        Achter, a 2004 Clay High School graduate, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Clay High Alumni and Friends Association’s distinguished alumni and hall of fame banquet.
        Achter, a standout player at Clay and at Bowling Green State University, is set to begin her fourth year as head coach at Loyola. She has the Ramblers poised to make a move up in the Missouri Valley Conference, but first she has to learn to deal with her athletes on a personal level.
        She was introduced by Clay High School Principal Jim Jurski, who mentioned as many accolades as he could, including that she led BGSU to four Mid-American Conference championships and made three appearances in the NCAA tournament during her playing career. She is the schools’ all-time leader in both assists (688) and free throws made (551).
        To list all her Clay and BGSU accolades would take at least two pages of newsprint, but when she was hired by Loyola she was the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I womens basketball.
        Now, Achter wants to be known for her role as a leader of young women.
        “I would be thrilled if the next time you see me we have a couple more things to talk about,” Achter said. “You know — my team has reached the NCAA tournament, and I have players who have gone on to play professionally and things like that.
        “The question I get asked most is ‘What do you really do?’ Which I don’t know if that is a flattering question or simply out of curiosity, but in a sense what I do is I lead people on a daily basis. Now, I always think back to my time at Clay as a student-athlete and I was lucky enough to play for my dad (Roger Achter) and the type of leader he was for us as young women I try and utilize a lot of things with my women. I lead people, but in a bigger sense, I lead women and that’s something I take very seriously. It’s a very important part of my job.”
Smart student-athletes
        The young women she leads are athletes, but they are students, too, Achter notes, and have high aspirations academically, too.
        “I have a very, very strong group of bright, young women. I have two pre-med students, I have two exercise science students, I have three MBAs, and I just had a junior tell me she is going to take the LSAT (law school admission) this summer. I have surrounded myself with people who are entirely smarter than I am,” Achter said with some sarcasm.
        “One of my challenges when I lead these young women is to try and unite them. And, when I first approached this job, which was difficult in itself, I really set three kind of key areas that I wanted to focus on and those areas didn’t necessarily have anything to do with basketball, although, we do a lot of basketball. We run ball-screen offense, we run transition, we like middle ball screens, we teach ball screen defense, jam, switch, run, trot, underneath — all those things. That is my job,” Achter continued.
        “The first area is love, care, and acceptance. We have kids from all academic backgrounds, but we’ve also got kids who come from different socio-economic backgrounds. They believe in different religions, they look different and they come from different parts of the country. So, how do you find success when you’ve got a group of individuals like that?
        “Fortunately for me, I have a small sample size because I have 15 women I have to work with. But we focus on three words in this area — love, care and acceptance. So, my message to them is if you can love each other unconditionally, and you can care for each other and you can accept your differences, we are a better team. Now that doesn’t mean you put aside your differences. You just talk about them as adults. But if we can do those three things on a daily basis, we are a better team.”
        Achter said the second area that she focuses on is teaching her players on how to fail. She asked for a show of hands of people who are dreamers.
        “You had dreamt a vision and you built your life around it. For those of you who raised your hand, did your life turn out exactly the way you envisioned it to? Life is a winding road. There are switchbacks, there are steep roads, there are roads with speed bumps, and if you are in Toledo, there are roads with potholes,” Achter said, adding a sarcastic touch.
        “Now, my job as a leader is to help them navigate those roads, or at least manage those expectations. Life is not perfect and when you have pre-med students who are striving to be perfect, how do you help them tackle that? Well, my job is simply to empower them and to let them know that failure is a better teacher than success sometimes. It’s really easy to say that when you are getting a B-plus instead of an A, but the issue is teaching resilience to our kids on a daily basis.”
Choices have consequences
        Achter said the third area she focuses on is about choices.
        “My players have a choice to make every single day. They can choose to come to practice on time, they can choose to be present in practice, they can choose to be present in class, or they can choose not to do all those things. But choices have consequences,” Achter said.
        “My job is to get them to believe that their choices impact other people or not really to get them to believe it, but to see how they can impact other people. So, they can make a decision that, ‘Well, on Friday night, I’m going to go out and enjoy Chicago. I know I’ve got practice at 8 o’clock the next morning, but my social life is more important. So, if they really love, care and accept their teammates and understand what they are fighting for, they are going to make the decision to stay in and do their best, and then they can go out on Saturday when they have Sunday off. So, those three areas are really big for us and they are not easy with 18 to 22 year olds.”
        Achter added that there is always something that gets in the way, and that is people’s feelings.
        “Something that I’ve learned very early in my coaching career is that people never forget how you feel. Within 10 seconds of me standing up here, you felt something — good, bad or indifferent. And, that’s a secret to every interaction in your daily life. When I coach my players hard I know they feel a certain type of way. When I am encouraging them I know they feel a certain type of way. But at the end of the day through their four years, or five years, and for some people six years, I want them to leave college and feel very strongly about the experience they’ve had with me.
        “Now, on the flip side of things, I don’t think they understand how much they are making me feel. I, in a leadership role, understand that I love these kids. I care for them, I accept them and I know that sometimes their choices lead to failure. But at the end of the day, the reason I keep coming back to them is because of how they make me feel. We have this motto at Loyola, ‘Go forth and set the world on fire.’”


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