Life Lesson Series: Pivoting On and Off the Court

The game of basketball has taught account executive Caitlin Purk countless life lessons — many that she keeps top of mind as a professional communicator.

As kids, we all have one true love. For me, it was basketball. I started playing in an organized league when I was seven years old. The amount of structure that occurred at the time is up for debate. My biggest concern was if my t-shirt jersey would match my shorts.

Over the years, I became less concerned with my uniform and more focused on competing. I spent countless hours laying on the living room floor perfecting my shot. Summer nights were spent outside with my dad and sister playing HORSE.  

The game of basketball has taught me countless life lessons — many that I keep top of mind as a professional communicator over 20 years after my court debut. Here are the Final Four:

1. Teamwork makes the dream work

There’s no “I” in team. No matter how cringe-worthy that phrase is, it’s true -- even for the greats like LeBron James. Whether you’re vying to take the series lead in the NBA Finals or you’re developing a strategic communications plan, it can’t be done in a vacuum. You have to be comfortable relying on your teammates and taking advantage of their strengths. And more importantly, you have to be willing to admit that not everything is your thing. The sooner that happens, the better off your team will be.

2. Hustle — you never know who is watching

You might not always be the smartest person in the room, but you can absolutely control if you are the hardest working. This is true on and off the court. Your hustle separates you from the pack. Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile. Say yes to new learning opportunities. And be willing to take the lead, even if it’s outside of your comfort zone. The right people will take notice.

3. Small victories are still victories

Let’s be real. Everyone likes winning, but growth happens during losses, too. You might not win the game, yet there are certainly moments to be proud of. In the communications world, some of your ideas will soar, while some fall flat. Even if you feel like pulling a Bobby Knight and throwing a chair across the room, take the small victories in stride.

4. Playbooks are necessary, but not always needed

The best basketball players (and communicators) know when to step away from the playbook and take advantage of opportunities. Maybe it’s switching from man-to-man to zone defense or moving from print to online advertising. As communicators, we have our strategic plans, but we must be willing to pivot at any given time. You never know when that one move could lead to an open shot.

Even though my basketball shoes and ankle braces are dusty, the invaluable lessons I’ve learned from the game have shaped who I am as a communicator. Swish.