ESPN anchor Lisa Kerney on playing and competing with passion
By Greg Bach
During the teen years of ESPN SportsCenter anchor Lisa Kerney, it wasn’t unusual to find her dribbling a basketball in the driveway with her right arm tied around her waist.
Or to catch her jogging down a neighborhood street dribbling a basketball with only her left hand.
The Kansas City native loved basketball.
And cherished chasing improvement.
“Basketball has just always been a passion of mine,” says Kerney, who joined ESPN in 2014 and can most often be found anchoring the night editions of SportsCenter. “I remember that I just had a ton of fun and I was self-motivated.”
She recalls with a smile those evening driveway sessions with her dad that not only provided great bonding time but helped turn her into one heck of a good ball handler, too.
“I remember those nights where I would be out in the driveway in high school and my dad would be out there and he would actually tie my right hand around my waist so I couldn’t use it so I had to dribble with my left hand trying to develop both sides to be ambidextrous,” Kerney says. “I’m always the person who is pushing myself the hardest so I think my parents were probably a good balance for that. They supported me in every way possible.”
Growing up in a large family, with three sisters and a brother, they were always playing – and competing – against each other.
“We had a huge competitive component in our family,” she says.
Besides basketball there was lots of soccer and even tennis among the sports they played.
“Anything that had to do with a ball and running around we were all about it,” Kerney says.
She attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kan. Just as talented with a basketball in her hands as she was with a soccer ball at her feet – she was good enough to have played collegiate soccer if she had wanted to go that route – she helped lead the school’s soccer team to a pair of state titles.
And when basketball season rolled around she ran the show as point guard and team captain.
“I loved to push the tempo,” she says. “I was always screaming ‘outlets’ the loudest. My sister was a center so when we played on the same team I was screaming at her ‘let’s go, let’s go.’ I always wanted the ball to get it up the court.”
The leadership role was also a natural fit.
“I really embraced that role from an early age and I took it very seriously, too,” she says. “I felt like people related to me well and my teammates related to me well and I was a champion for them as much as I pushed them in that leadership role as well.”
Carrying the captain label can be a burden for some young athletes, but Kerney embraced it and the responsibilities and expectations that went along with it.
“I think it’s leading by example,” she says of how to make it work. “It was just high school hoops but for me it was everything. I took it incredibly seriously, even just the little things.”
Just how seriously was evident when this story was shared at her school’s senior banquet: “I go back to my high school coach where I remember at our senior banquet he brought it up that I had never lost a sprint my entire high school career with all our shuttle sprints and running we did in practice,” she says. “I took it so seriously I gave it everything I had. Just to take it that seriously and to put that much effort and passion into it, that’s leading by example, and always just giving everything you have.”
It’s a great mindset for coaches of all sports to stress to their young athletes: play with passion, play with heart, and play with maximum energy at all times.
Kerney went on to play basketball in college, playing two seasons at Northern Colorado and then transferring to Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., for her final two seasons.
Looking back, her journey from her youth sports days through college provided countless memories.
And golden life lessons that she uses every day.
“I was naturally pretty confident but sports solidified that no doubt,” she says. “And it also gave me a sense that I could take on challenges, whatever they might be, knowing that I can figure it out and if it doesn’t go right the first way then there is always a different way to get to wherever I’m trying to go and whatever I’m trying to accomplish.”
The mom of four – her husband is former All-Pro defensive end Patrick Kerney – she’s looking forward to raising kids that attack life with that same passion that has played such an important role in her own life.
“We hope that they love sports but for us we just want them to be passionate and to work hard at something, whatever it is,” she says. “If it’s piano be the best pianist you can possibly be. If it’s music or dance, or if it’s basketball, soccer or football, whatever it is we just want them to be passionate and work really hard and be really good people, teammates and friends to everyone around them.”
Sounds like the perfect game plan by someone who has been the model of that her entire life.
Dr. Jennifer Etnier, professor of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and author of Coaching for the Love of the Game, on helping volunteer coaches be positive difference makers for young athletes
Part Two of our conversation with Lisa Yue, Founding Executive Director of the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation
Dr. Kristine Keane, co-author of the new book Be All In: Raising Kids for Success in Sports and Life, shares all-important insight on concussions, specialization, and more
Lauren Johnson, Mental Conditioning Coordinator for the New York Yankees, on helping young athletes thrive amid the stress and struggles that accompany competing in sports