An Interview With PGA TOUR VP Of Communications, Kirsten Sabia
“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from playing sports. Teamwork, leadership, winning, losing, competition – all elements of the workplace, especially in the professional sports world.”
As Vice President for Integrated Communications for the PGA TOUR, what responsibilities do you have?
My role is two-fold: I oversee Internal Communications for the PGA TOUR. We have nearly 1,100 employees around the world, but most are situated in northeast Florida. Based on where those employees live, we might message them on our various lines of business through quarterly town hall meetings regarding being a TOUR fan, through daily-news clippings or on corporate transparency in times of crisis via a TEAMs chat with our Commissioner (our CEO).
In addition, the Communications department oversees storytelling and content for the TOUR – content you may see within our broadcasts, across our digital channels, onsite at our tournaments or through the voices of our players. I help manage the communications across the myriad messaging levers that the TOUR owns and operates to ensure that we are all integrated.
What sports (and positions) did you play growing up – and when?
When I was a kid, in the old days of neighborhoods, I played every sport you could play. I was a tomboy at heart on a street of boys – we played hockey in the cul-de-sac, tackle football in the neighbor’s yard, fished on the weekends, and skied at night after school.
I played Little League on the boys’ teams until I got to high school and had to switch to softball (four-years Varsity). I played basketball in middle and high school, finally riding the Varsity bench as a senior (I was only five feet tall at the time, after all). I coxswained the freshman crew boat my first year of high school and then senior year tried out for the Varsity soccer team (as a goalie) and made it. I rode the bench then, too, but we won the Connecticut State Championship in 1987, finishing 20-0. I ended up playing Soccer all four years at Dickinson College (my junior year on a professional women’s team in Bologna, Italy).
How do you feel that participating in sports (i.e. being on a team) contributed to your professional path?
“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from playing sports. Teamwork, leadership, winning, losing, competition – are all elements of the workplace, especially in the professional sports world.”
While not always one’s first choice – the responsibility of sitting on a bench can be more about leadership than being the person wearing the C on their sleeve on the field; that same person behind the scenes can hold up the leaders who are in the C-Suite. Winning is fun, but knowing how to lose and be a good sport can make you a better person, because you can learn from your mistakes. Cheering on the pitcher from centerfield, providing her with confidence is no different than moderating a meeting where you might not be the main speaker, but you are helping that presenter share their story. Debating with the umpire or a referee about a call (even though you never win those debates!), taught me the difference between respect and insolence.
“Sports can teach you a great deal about core values.”
How has your experience as a woman been in your field/industry?
Personally, playing sports contributed to my becoming extroverted and confident.
I work for a men’s membership organization at a senior level. I am – at times – the only woman in the room. I don’t let it stop me. I am not a wallflower. In the end, we all want to win, achieve our goal, be a good sport, but I also think my still-tomboy, yet feminine side, has allowed me to bring a different perspective to the table.
It was harder when I was younger, because the world was different. It was more traditional from a gender perspective. However, as I mature in my career, that disparity is much less apparent. Our leaders are now my peers, and they grew up in an age when Title IX existed, and girls had as many opportunities as boys.
Why do you feel that it’s important for girls and women to participate in sports, and / or to simply be active?
First and foremost, being active is about being healthy. We are all different colors, shapes and sizes, but if we are active, then we are one big step in the right direction of being healthy. I have a friend – she was tall and skinny – but she couldn’t run 100 yards to save her life. She couldn’t touch her toes. Her cholesterol was on the higher side. But, she started running! Now, a decade later she is doing 15Ks and half marathons. She’s still tall and skinny, but much healthier because she is active.
The side effect of being active is it allows you to set goals – and goal-setting, and goal-achieving – is one of the traits of a successful business person.
You are a terrific golfer. What is it about the sport that you like?
I see golf like skiing. If you learn when you are young, you will always have a knack for it. I learned how to play golf when I was 12 or 13 and really picked it up in my mid-20s. I’ve since retired from skiing, but find that golf is just as much about athleticism as it is about maintaining a social life. I love that you can play golf with all skill levels – men or women – and still play your own game. The handicap system creates parity, whereas fast runners and slow runners don’t always go hand in hand. Or a 4.5 and a 3.0 tennis player. Playing against each other is challenging. In golf, we all play the same game. We just score a little differently.
What advice would you give to a young person looking to break into the business side of sports?
Network. Find an internship that has context. Just loving the sport isn’t good enough. Also, understand that in a game like golf or tennis, you sometimes actually play less when it ends up as your profession!
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