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Portrait of a Leader
The Four Highly Effective Traits of Tracy Stalls
Last Saturday night, in front of the 103rd consecutive volleyball sellout at the NU Coliseum, Tracy Stalls took 13 swings and had 11 kills as second-ranked Nebraska swept 22nd-ranked Oklahoma.
Stalls’ .845 hitting performance impressed everyone, including Dan Whitney, a.k.a. Larry the Cable Guy, who went into a meeting room afterwards to both praise and entertain the defending national champion Huskers.
The "GIT-R-DONE!" Guy probably thought he was going to be the post-game show, but Stalls delivered her own comedy act with what others describe as an impressive repertoire of animal noises. “She was cracking him (Larry the Cable Guy) up,” Nebraska Coach John Cook said.
Stalls, a 6-3 senior co-captain and middle blocker from Denver, might be the most serious-minded amateur comedienne in the country. “Everything she does has a purpose,” Cook said. “She is your classic leader and will do anything to encourage and inspire her teammates. I’ve coached a lot of dedicated athletes, but I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a more dedicated leader.”
Stalls has all the credentials . . . first-team All-Big 12, first-team Academic All-Big 12, first-team All-Central Region, second-team All-American, U.S. National Team Camp participant, team representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
We could keep going, but Stalls is focused on one thing only – finishing her Cornhusker career with another national championship. Individual honors are nice, but not part of her priority system. The same applies to individual stats. “I don’t like numbers,” she says. “They’re just a dangerous thing.”
All that matters to Stalls is helping her team get into the physical and psychological shape needed for another successful national championship run.
|The Four Highly Effective Traits of Senior Tracy Stalls|
1. Live by Example
We’ve decided to package our portrait of a leader and call it “The Four Highly Effective Traits of Tracy Stalls.” We thought it best to let Tracy explain those traits in her own words. Then, if you wish, please feel free to share with us the ones that mean the most to you. Better yet, think of some other successful leaders in Nebraska athletic history and describe how you think they stack up to Tracy’s take, which includes:
Live by Example
This means more to me than anything because no matter what comes out of your mouth, if what you do isn’t in line with what you say, there is no respect and no reason to listen to you. Living by example allows people to respect your voice.
How you live is what you are. What is your character? How are you working to develop your character? Are you maxing out in everything that you’re doing and everything that you can control? Do you understand what it is that you can and can’t control? As a competitor, on the court, during intense times, do you want to make the play or are you afraid? That makes a difference between being a leader and a non-leader.
Leaders find a way to win and be good when it is hard. Leaders relish the battle. They listen and have patience. They respond to things instead of just react. Leaders make choices in their lifestyle that support their character. When you lead by example, you’re honest, trustworthy. You can keep a secret. When you are in a position of leadership, people watch what you do and how you respond. Enjoy the responsibility. Take on the challenge.
Communicate with Compassion
The most important role of a captain is to be a mediator between coaches and players. If there are small issues, you do your best to figure them out and get them taken care of. Don’t let anything slide. Make sure everyone knows what’s going on and where everything stands.
Things always go on in the locker room. Leaders decide what can be taken care of between and among teammates, and determine when we need to bring issues to coach. We have to be aware and discern what’s happening, so he is fully aware of how we feel. When you become aware, you can communicate without fear of confrontation. That is something I’ve learned here. I am not afraid of confrontation, and I know there is a right way to handle it.
If you watch and understand how people respond, you know what to say to them. My faith helps me communicate with compassion, patience and love. That is something I’ve really learned since I came to Nebraska – what it’s like to serve my teammates and look for opportunities . . . taking time to hear about their day and developing that love and trust.
Being a good listener is the biggest part of being an effective communicator. When you know what people are thinking and how they’re feeling, you can help build them up. Don’t look to gain anything from that person. Just find ways to know who they are, so you understand why something might be tearing them down. Sometimes, communicating can take a lot of hard work, but it’s the only path to mutual respect.
Share a Vision
When you learn how to communicate with compassion, you gain the ability to share a vision. Leaders get others involved and engaged because they actively pursue and get others’ feedback. Leaders do the best they can to get everyone on the same page and keep everyone there. When you have an issue, everyone works together to figure it out.
On every successful team that I’ve been on – whether it’s a club championship or last year’s national championship – it’s important to have a mission statement. Any successful corporation has a mission statement that makes it very clear what your purpose is. When you know and understand the desired outcome, you can focus on the process and what you can control versus what you can’t control. It’s amazing how much more you can accomplish when everyone understands what’s expected.
Last year, our team used a pyramid to guide our actions, and it worked well. This year, we have a circle. We’re looking at intangible things that aren’t necessarily measured by stats, but still affect the outcome.
For example, I can’t necessarily control where the set is, but I can control how I prepare to get whatever comes my way. I can control if I am giving my best effort to get up to the ball on time and how my mindset is. If I’m ready to compete and swing, I’ve controlled what I can control.
The circle approach is designed to help a teammate who might fall back or distance herself when something goes wrong. As a leader, you have to be aware when that happens and do what you can to help – whether it’s having lunch or talking to them . . . just doing something to pull them back in to the circle so that we are unified.
Be Proactive and Be Humble
I’m convinced that leaders need to be both proactive and humble. I’m hyperactive and want to have too many meetings, so I’ve asked my fellow seniors to help me with that. We’re all aware that we’d rather be proactive to eliminate confusion or make sure something doesn’t fester, but we’re also trying for the right balance.
Humility is just as important as being proactive. There’s no question that I don’t know what I’m doing all the time. I am going to mess up. But that’s part of the process of the circle approach – to be able to create a sense of vulnerability where people can feel like they can be themselves. When we can all acknowledge our own weaknesses – and talk about them – we’re living by example, communicating with compassion, sharing a vision and being proactive and humble.
When you put all those elements of leadership together, you create the will to change, the opportunity to grow and improve your chance to succeed . . . together, as a team.
Editor’s Note: Tracy Stalls, who had 10 kills in 20 swings in the Huskers’ three-game sweep at Baylor Wednesday night, is one of four Nebraska seniors who will play their last regular-season game in the Coliseum Saturday night against Texas Tech. Sarah Pavan, Christina Houghtelling and Maggie Griffin will join Stalls in a post-match ceremony honoring the seniors.
The Voices of Husker Nation
"I've been a huge Tracy Stalls fan over the years, and I'm particularly impressed with her play this season. She always seems to be the unsung hero of the Nebraska volleyball team, so I'm glad your article gave her some much overdue accolades." - Christopher Waller