With 1 Sentence, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark Just Taught an Incredible Lesson in Emotional Intelligence

Caitlin Clark of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates after beating the LSU Tigers 94-87 in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament on April 1, 2024, in Albany, New York. Photo: Getty Images

On Monday night, Caitlin Clark and Iowa defeated LSU 94 to 87 in the most highly anticipated game of the Women’s NCAA Tournament. The game, which was a rematch of last year’s championship, lived up to its hype.

Of course, the fact that these are two great teams isn’t the only reason everyone was looking forward to the game. It’s because those teams feature the two biggest stars in Women’s College Basketball, Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese.

You may remember last year’s championship game wasn’t without controversy. In the fourth quarter, when it was clear that LSU would hang on to win, the team’s star, Angel Reese pointed at her middle finger and waved her hand in front of her face, mimicking John Cena’s infamous “you can’t see me” gesture.

ANGEL REESE HIT CAITLIN CLARK WITH THE “YOU CAN’T SEE ME” 👀 pic.twitter.com/Zj3mqIzkk9

— ESPN (@espn) April 2, 2023

Reese faced criticism over the gesture, despite the fact that Clark had previously done the same thing on a number of occasions. After that game, the two stars made it clear they “don’t hate each other.”

“I don’t think people realize it’s not personal,” Reese said. These are two of the best players and–more importantly–toughest competitors in their sport. They’re doing what competitors do at the highest level and on the biggest stage.

“I don’t think Angel should be criticized at all,” Clark said later. “I think everybody knew there was gonna be a little trash-talk in the entire tournament.”

With less than 2 minutes remaining, Reese was again the story–only this time, it was because she fouled out on a questionable charge call. It wouldn’t end up mattering. Despite the fact that the teams were tied at 45 at halftime, Iowa was now up by 10, and LSU never closed the gap enough to matter.

After the game, Clark, who scored 41 points while setting a record for the most 3-pointers in a tournament game, was asked, “Was revenge on your mind coming into this game for what happened last year?”

To be fair, it’s not a super unreasonable question. The expectations for this game were the same, even if the outcome wasn’t. People expected to see two rivals battling it out, each looking to get past the other for a chance to play in the Final Four. But most of the people watching expected it was personal–at least, for Iowa.

“To be honest, no,” Clark said. “We prepared for this game. We focused on Iowa. We do what Iowa does, and we’ll come out on top. It’s not about last year. You worry too much about the past, you’ll get caught up in that. It’s about being present where your feet are.”

I don’t know if it’s possible not to have thought about revenge at all when you’re faced with the opportunity to take out the team that sent you home last year without a championship. That would be the human reaction, and it would be understandable if Clark’s answer had been about how much it means to beat a team they had never beaten before en route to their second straight Final Four.

But, she didn’t take the bait.

In fact, Clark’s last sentence is a remarkable lesson in emotional intelligence–the ability to understand and manage your emotions. Championships are won on the court, by players who are focused on executing their game plan in the moment, not those who are weighed down by the extra burden of history.

It’s also a useful reminder for everyone–to be “present where your feet are.” There are plenty of things that could distract you from whatever it is you’re trying to do. There will always be something to draw your focus away from your goals and the best leaders recognize the distraction for what it is, and instead focus on what is right before them. That’s true, even if the thing you’re trying to do isn’t winning a national championship.

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