Women’s Sports Help Prepare for Life, Teamwork, and DisciplineMay 24, 2023 11:29AM ● By David Dykes
Women’s and girls’ sports.
I have three daughters who played, and will be eternally grateful they had the chance.
The oldest, Sara, won a high school track state championship in Georgia. Her sister, Abby, lettered in high school soccer. Ellen, the youngest, excelled in youth soccer until she blew out her knee.
I’m certain they learned about hard work, teamwork, and discipline.
But most importantly, I think they became better prepared for life after sports.
The NCAA women’s basketball tournament this year showcased a lot of talent and competitiveness and, as a Louisiana native, I was happy for the eventual champion, the LSU Tigers.
It was a disappointing end for Dawn Staley and her University of South Carolina basketball team, which didn’t make the tournament final. The Philadelphia native is honest and real, and has done wonders for women’s basketball in South Carolina and beyond.
She’s a women’s basketball legend and a class act, even in defeat.
At South Carolina, she has won two National Championships (2017, 2022). She has been named National Coach of the Year multiple times.
Prior to taking the helm of the Gamecocks on May 10, 2008, Staley made her coaching debut at Temple, helping the Owls reach the postseason seven times in her eight seasons on the bench, including six NCAA Tournament appearances.
At the invitation of Jackie Carson, Furman University’s head women’s basketball coach, Staley came to Greenville last year for the Furman Hoops & Heels fundraiser and to help raise the awareness of women’s basketball.
“It’s great to be in this space. It’s long overdue,” Staley told reporters. “I hope that the people that are in it will continue to do things like this and come to the events and raise the awareness because there are people that have come before us that took our game to another level. Now that it’s at the level where a lot of eyeballs are on it, we have to do things like this. We have to work inside-out.”
She called herself a servant of the game, and said she likely will never be able to repay her debt to basketball, which “has been so incredibly good to me.”
The biggest challenge: “If people hear and see just who we are as people, you’ll know that we’re kind, we’re good. We’re experts in our field. We’re doing things that males are doing. Some males are failing. Some females are failing. But when you’re able to do it and be pretty good at what you do, you should be rewarded for that.”
Asked how she teaches young women to handle adversity and what it’s like to fail, knowing only 2 percent of college athletes will go pro, Staley said, “That’s tough. No. 1, you have to be completely honest without bursting someone’s dream. You’ve got to forge relationships and you have to have real honest, honest communication with young people. We try to sometimes dance around what it really is.”
She added, “It’s slim-to-none to be able to be a women’s professional basketball player. Slim-to-none. And that is only the cream of the crop. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t very good basketball players. It’s just there aren’t enough opportunities, not enough teams, not enough roster spots. You’ve got to do the best that you can to prepare them to not only compete, have healthy competition within your program, but prepare them for the rest of the world.”
International players are coming to the U.S., securing roster spots in the Women’s National Basketball Association, the American professional basketball league, Staley said.
The WNBA is an option, but not the only option, she stressed. “Women’s basketball players – they graduate at a high rate so they’re prepared if they have to pivot and go in a different direction.”
Staley signed with the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting in 1999. Including the 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Houston Comets, Staley played in the WNBA All-Star game five times and was the first player in league history to represent both the East and West teams during her career. A member of the WNBA’s All-Decade Team, as selected by a panel of national and WNBA-market media as well as the league’s players and coaches, Staley twice earned the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award (1999, 2006) and won the WNBA Entrepreneurial Spirit Award in 1999.
Following her retirement from the league, the WNBA began awarding the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award in 2007, honoring the player who best exemplifies the characteristics of a leader in the community in which she works or lives.
As a player, Staley’s success came early in her career, beginning with being named USA Today’s National High School Player of the year in 1988 as a senior at Dobbins Tech. She went on to a four-year career at the University of Virginia that featured three trips to the NCAA Final Four, including a championship game appearance in 1991 after which she was named Most Outstanding Player.
A two-time National Player of the Year (1991, 1992) and three-time Kodak All-American (1990, 1991, 1992), Staley was the ACC Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992 and the league’s Rookie of the Year in 1989. Finishing her career as the only player in ACC history – male or female – to record more than 2,000 points, 700 rebounds, 700 assists and 400 steals, Staley is one of three players at Virginia to have her jersey retired.
She was named to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary Women’s Basketball Team in 2002 and earned a spot on ESPN.com’s “Top Players of the Past 25 Years.”
In April 2008, she was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Asked what one thing she would do differently in her coaching career, Staley said in Greenville last year that she would have changed her initial outlook. Players now deal with myriad issues, including name, image and likeness (NIL) deals and a transfer portal that can impact recruiting. She cautions that as student-athletes they should be careful whom they invite into their lives and trust.
“When I first got into coaching (at age 29), the only thing I thought about was basketball, just making sure our players were pros,” she said. “When I first came to South Carolina, our players – they didn’t even think about the WNBA. They were thinking about other professions. And I’m just like, ‘What? You want me to spend time with you so you graduate and you go in this other profession that I really have no idea (about)?’”
“Now I see that there is another side of athletes that we need to tap into,” Staley added. “I wish I learned that a lot sooner than later.”