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PODCAST EPISODE 42: ANN WAUTERS | KEYNOTE SPEAKER; PRO ATHLETE; ASSISTANT COACH, WNBA CHICAGO SKY





Pro basketball player, championship winner at all levels of the sport, Assistant Coach of the WNBA Chicago Sky, and Keynote Speaker Ann Wauters knows something about teams. Through her storied career, she’s played on and led many successful teams. Ann now shares her experiences and knowledge with younger players through coaching and mentoring. There’s many parallels between team building in the sports world and the corporate world, says Ann, and in today’s episode, she shares the ingredients for a successful team with us.


Here are my four big takeaways from the conversation:

  1. Honest feedback is crucial for growth and success. As a player, she always valued the feedback she received, because how else would she get better?

  2. It’s important to have a strong support system in place.

  3. Getting vulnerable with your teammates off the field helps build trust with each other.

  4. Focus on things you can control, rather than wasting energy on what you cannot control.


Ann has had a remarkable life and I’m so grateful that she shared her stories with us. I know you’ll enjoy this episode.


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TRANSCRIPT

Ann Wauters: for me, Team, I always use it a little bit as, as the T for trust. the E for energy, the A for accountability and the M for mindsets, those four things are for me crucial for teamwork.


Aaron: I'm Aaron Levy. And I have this vision of a workplace where your manager doesn't suck; where instead your manager is your coach, helping you to reach your full potential at work. I founded Raise The Bar, wrote Open, Honest and Direct, and started this podcast to help companies transform their workplace to a place where both the company and employee succeeds.


In this podcast, I get to interview leaders who built high-performing teams. And learn from them on what it takes to unlock a team with potential.


Aaron Levy: Today is a special episode. We're lucky to have a professional athlete who has been successful on so many levels. Ann Wauters has played for more than 20 years of professional basketball in seven different countries.


Over three continents, she's won four times in the Euro league. She was drafted first in the WNBA, won a WNBA championship; she's won a Euro cup title, Bronze medal in the European championship and was also named European player of the year five times. Ann comes on and shares her stories and her lessons of what it takes to lead and play on and be a part of high performing successful teams.


And her stories translate not just to the basketball court, but also into to life and to our teams at work. And so I think you're gonna get a lot out of this conversation with Ann. Enjoy.


Aaron Levy: Ann I'm just so excited to have you on the podcast and to have this conversation with you. When I first got introduced to you, I was like, oh my God, what a storied career you've played basketball for more than 20 years with some stops and starts to build a family in between.


You've won the Euro league title four times, the WNBA championship, Euro cup. You had a bronze medal at the European championships. You have done quite a few things and not just your playing career, but also you won the championship with the Sky last year. So like thank you for coming on.


Thank you for making time.


Ann Wauters: Well, thank you. First of all, for having me, Aaron, I always love to share my experiences out of the sports world with all types of people, you know, from business world, corporate world leadership. I think there's so much parallels to be really honest when we look at a basketball team and when we look in corporate settings.


So I'm always really, really happy when I can share those experiences. And at the same time, I'm always open to listen to what we can learn. So I love it when we can have those different worlds coming together.


Aaron Levy: Yeah. I wanna dive so much into that. Like you've been successful in so many different teams and so many different stages.


And before I get too ahead of myself, I'd love to just hear your story. Like, how did you get here?


Ann Wauters: Yeah, well it's kind of a nice story to be honest. So I am a Belgian and when I was growing up in Belgium, well, basketball is not as popular as here in the states.


So it was kind of by coincidence. I started to play basketball because our whole system is different and we do have some school sports, but everything is more so organized in clubs. So from a young age, you kind of already have to choose which sports you're gonna do. And at that time I didn't really have one sport that I was doing, but I was already very tall.


So one one day somebody who was in my class just asked me and said like, Hey, why don't you join me for practice? After school? And I was like, okay, why not? And that's how I kind of yeah, by coincidence really fell into the basketball world. And at that time I was this tall teenager kid. I didn't have that much confidence to be honest in myself, cuz I always wanted to look smaller and I wasn't really proud of being that tall.


And when I started to play basketball, that's already the first thing that really, really helped me. It felt like I was at home and that all of a sudden, while I saw other people that were all so tall and being that tall also was a big advantage for me. So slowly then I started to believe more in myself.


My confidence grew. So that's already I think maybe the biggest thing that basketball has taught me. And from there on everything went pretty quickly. I started to play professional basketball right after high school. So I didn't go to college. So that's a little bit different also.


Aaron Levy: You went straight to play professional, well, that's a big leap.


Ann Wauters: Yeah. That is a big jump into the unknown. It was already kind of a big jump really and unknown also for my parents, for example, they wanted for their daughter, like a more traditional path where there's education, where there would be a degree, university and all that.


And I kind of, at that time, I already was maybe a strong character. And, and I kind of felt that I was like, Ooh, I wanna do something with this basketball because in those couple years that I was playing basketball, it helped me. I felt so good. And I, and, and I was already really passionate about it and I wanted to get better and better and better.


So I knew I felt deep inside of me that I wanted to do something more with basketball for example, here, college, where you have your education and you play sports at a high level. It's not really like that in Belgium.


So when I got the opportunity to go and play in France, professional basketball, well, that was big. I mean, and I didn't even know that at that time I could make money by playing basketball. So everything was very new. It was very new also for my parents.


Yeah, they were a little bit scared, I think, you know, that their daughter would choose all of a sudden a different path. But at the same time it felt also good. And I was right away I, I had the level already to play professional basketball. Of course I had tons that had the things that I had to improve that I had to learn. Really, it made me happy and I was doing it every single day.


I was just really keen on getting better. And I think in life also, a lot of times you do have to be lucky. And I was fortunate enough that I right away, I got into a team in the north of France which was a really professional environment. People were really helpful, but also taught me what it meant to be a professional athlete to have that kind of discipline, to have the desire, to get every single day, a little bit better and to really improve not only my basketball skills, but also my physical skills, my, my basketball IQ.


Everything around it, but most definitely also I've learned there a lot of things about teamwork. Like how can we as a team really perform at our best. And that was really kind of the foundation or for me getting that kind of an education. It wasn't like a university education I was getting, but that kind of education I really got in the north of France early in my career.


Aaron Levy: It was the, it was the real life education.


Ann Wauters: The university of life, which I like to call it , but everything again went pretty quickly. And then after two years playing there, I got drafted and it was a really big jump again. I got drafted to go and play here in the WNBA

and I was a number one pick and that was like big and I didn't even know what was happening to me. And that opened again a whole new world for me. Coming here to the states it was a different culture and basketball of course is very, very popular here. And people are also even in a different way.


I would say maybe really how they look at basketball. People what they think about it, how they see it. And that was always so good for me to have all these different impressions, all these different perspectives, also on how to, to play the game that I loved so much and where I could always take some stuff to learn and to get better.

And so that's when I started in 2000, doing both seasons. So a lot of female basketball players, they play in the long winter, they play in Europe. So I've started in France, but afterwards I went to Russia, Spain, Turkey, and then in the summertime we play here in the WNBA cuz it's only a summer season for now. But so that was kind of for me, like a really, honestly a great life, you know, I was playing 12 months out of the year.


Aaron Levy:. No downtime. How does your body handle that?


Ann Wauters: Yeah, that was a little bit the consequences, when you're in your twenties, everything is fine and you can handle it and all, yeah. I loved it, to play at the highest level. But then once yeah, you get a little bit older, it got harder. It did definitely got harder. And then I couldn't combine all the time the two seasons in one year. So then I had to take sometimes a summer off to recover and to keep on playing then more so in Europe, in the second part of my career, even though in 2016 I still came back to the WNBA and I won the WNBA championship with the LA Sparks.


Which was also pretty awesome because that was my last season. I was playing here in the WNBA and still getting that championship. And I know how hard it is to get it here. Cuz it's very competitive. It's 12 teams that are competing with each other. So it's been a journey.


It's been a really, really nice ride I would say. And now to see that I can transition in a different role, but still very close to basketball. It makes it even more special. Now seeing that I can take another role as an assistant coach here with the Chicago Sky. It's been new to me, but at the same time, I'm really, really enjoying it again, sharing all those experiences that I've gone through, like throughout my career, sharing them now with those younger players who have lots of talent, but still can improve so much. And I think I'm really starting to like that journey too.


Aaron Levy: I mean, not only did you have a 20 year playing career with various teams, but somewhere in the middle of that you had three children with your partner.


Like, how did you, how do you fit all that in? I'm thinking like the 12 months of basketball traveling between Europe and, and the states, and then bringing kids and a whole family through the whole journey. How, how did that fit together?


Ann Wauters: Well I think I have to be very thankful having my family because they were the reason also why I was able to, to play that long and also chase my Olympic dream, which I just recently just only last summer.


And it was the first time ever that Belgium got to the Olympics and I was a part of that team. So it was like really, really a dream for me that came true. And I can honestly say it's really thanks to my family, my kids, my wife, that I was able to do that and really chase that dream. So I'll take you a little bit back at one point.


In my career, I was playing, like I just told you in France, then I went to Russia in the summertime here. Everything was around me. It was always around my schedule. It was about when I have practice. when I have games and at one point I didn't feel like it was enough anymore for me. I needed more. I needed something else too.


And I was already together with my wife. I, I met her pretty young and she was able to travel a lot with me. So she knew the kind of life I had and that we had together. And it was just. Also a great, perfect time for us to start a family.


And she was willing also to kind of be the prime caretaker, I would say so that I could also still be a basketball player and focus on my career. But at the same time, having that balance, having a family coming home to kids, coming home to my wife, it gave me really like Yeah, that, that kind of balance that at that time, I, I definitely needed in my life.


And so then we just took them everywhere we could, our kids and we, we kind of had the same life we were having before, but now just, we, we took all our kids with us. So we were pregnant actually at the same time, which was also pretty unique and pretty awesome experience.


Aaron Levy: So you and your wife each were pregnant at the same time.


Ann Wauters: Exactly. Yeah. Oh my gosh. you know, that happened how there? It was in all. I see. We had really nice pregnancies, so that time was really, really awesome because I had been playing like 12 years abroad and it was a time for me to just be at home in Belgium, enjoying the small things of life. We just had built a house.


We were like, just decorating it. Like just being really, really like chill at home with our friends, with our families, getting ready to really start our own little family. Once the babies were there, it was more challenging.


We underestimated that a little bit, that part, but, oh my gosh. It was, it was tough. I admit it was tough. And I must say, I think even more my wife, because after three months when I delivered our son I had to be back on the basketball courts because I, I already signed a contract. So there was not, not a lot of time. And to Spain, we were there.