A message with meaning
By Greg Bach
The one-sentence, 16-word message was everywhere.
Whenever Ruthie Bolton would go to her bedroom, the bathroom, or head outside to play as a child she’d see the words, read them – and soak them in.
They helped fuel a legendary basketball career – punctuated by two Olympic gold medals – as well as a life deeply devoted to helping children grab onto that same powerful message her father cultivated in her childhood home in Mississippi all those years ago.
“My dad lived by the quote that life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it,” Bolton says. “He put that on every door in the house. It was on the bathroom door and on all the bedroom doors. He told me that every time I go by he wanted me to read that and understand that this was going to be huge in my life one day. So that’s what instilled in me the importance of having a positive attitude.”
Bolton relied on that attitude, blended with an epic work ethic, to shove adversity to the curb every step of the way. At Auburn she was told she wouldn’t see much time on the court, only to become the first Lady Tiger to have her number retired after leading the team to three Southeastern Conference titles and two national title games.
She wasn’t even invited to the U.S. National Team tryouts. So, she found her own way there, played her heart out and made the team, and was an integral part of the gold-medal winning U.S. squad in Atlanta. Two years later she tore her ACL and was told her career was done – and her response was to ignore those words, get back to work, and earn a spot on Team USA and once again help lead it to gold at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
And she was a standout performer in the WNBA during this span, scoring more than 2,000 points and twice being named an All-Star.
“My dad encouraged me, lifted me up, inspired me and advocated for me,” says Bolton, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. “But he didn’t go out and make any shots for me and he didn’t run any sprints for me – but he encouraged me. Being surrounded by someone who really believes in you and gives you words of wisdom is just powerful.”
Consider those words for a moment.
One of the greatest Olympic basketball players of all time vividly remembers what was said to her growing up. So imagine how impactful the words you choose are in conversations with your young athlete before and after practices and games, or on those post-game car rides.
And they can be life-changing.
PASSION FOR HELPING KIDS THRIVE
Bolton knows that along the way young athletes are going to encounter disappointments and setbacks, doubt themselves, and even consider bailing out on the sport during rough patches.
Because she went through all those experiences, too.
And had those same thoughts swirling in her head.
But her dad’s words were so powerful, and so positive, and so relentless, that they helped block out that negative noise whenever it would threaten to take occupancy in her mind.
“My dad consistently told me over and over ‘you are special, you are unique, you have your own set of fingerprints, and I believe in you,’” Bolton says. “He lifted me up and I feel indebted to do the same for young kids. I have this deep passion inside of me for kids to excel and to thrive and to be the best they can be.”
Bolton conducts her Aim High Sports Academy, which helps transform young lives through the power of sports.
“I’ve been where these kids have been and I’m just so passionate about them rising above and I just don’t want them to quit,” she says. “I don’t want them to walk away. I just want to whisper in their ears to remind them of how special they are and how unique they are because that’s what my dad did for me.”
Bolton is a popular speaker, where she shares her story and gripping motivational and inspiring messages to a variety of audiences. She is also the author of two books: From Pain to Power, where she shares her story of being in an abusive marriage; and The Ride of a Lifetime, detailing her amazing journey from McLain, Mississippi to the top of the Olympic podium.
“Even when we played and lost I would ask myself what positive can I take out of this,” Bolton says. “If I had a bad shooting game I would always try to find some loophole, something positive that I could hold onto even in the midst of adversity and negative thoughts to help me transition to my next moment. Because you can wallow in self pity and then you can become a prisoner of your emotions and be self-defeated and I just refused to be there and encouraged myself that there is always a bright side and always a way out.”
Now, that’s a golden message from an Olympic legend that all young athletes can follow.
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Add these tips to your coaching toolkit to help young athletes broaden their outlooks, enhance their emotional health, and compete with honor