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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sandra Kay Yow, June 22, 2005. Interview G-0244. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Teaching self to become a basketball coach

Yow describes her first experiences in coaching, presumably during the 1960s prior to her tenure as the women's basketball coach at Elon University. As a coach at Allen Jay High School, Yow notes that while the men's coach mentored her in her first years, she largely learned just in the process of coaching and by trial and error. Although she was one of the first women to become a prominent collegiate basketball coach, Yow argues that she did not see herself as a pioneer, but rather as a survivor intent on self-improvement.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sandra Kay Yow, June 22, 2005. Interview G-0244. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's really interesting, and really gets to the subject of what we are talking about which is leadership, and I guess you went to college, and then you came out and got a job teaching and coaching. Is that right?
SANDRA KAY YOW:
Yes.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
And I guess that's when you started to then be the role model for the girls that you were coaching. I'm curious what you went about trying to teach them especially early on when you were just starting to be a coach. What were your goals for your team?
SANDRA KAY YOW:
Well, I think when I first started out coaching I didn't really have a mentor. I think this is one of the things that I missed, because there were very few women coaches. Actually I really didn't know one, personally. Then I hadn't been trained to be a coach. So I was sort of on my own, except the men's coach at Allen Jay High School where my first job was. He had coached women and men for thirteen years.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Okay.
SANDRA KAY YOW:
Okay, and had had championship teams, so he was great. He said he would help me learn how to draw up practices. Actually, he would sit on the bench with me during games until I felt more comfortable. He was very willing to help me. He was a very fundamental coach. He was an excellent coach. So this was a person who started helping me. But after a while I started being able to do the practices, and he felt I could be on my own for the games more. He helped whenever I asked questions, but he had his own team and his own program. So I attended clinics. I read books. I looked at films about basketball. I learned on my own. I just had to go out there and ask the questions and try to learn, and that's what I did. I think that today, women going into coaching have a greater opportunity because they have many people who could be role models now, and many of them actually played at the high school, college level, AAU; they've run through a number of coaches, and so they were very fortunate. Somebody like Sue Gunter who played AAU—I didn't even know about AAU. I lived in North Carolina, small town, and I didn't know these things existed except for after my senior year of high school basketball, I was asked to play for what was termed a 'semi-pro team,' for Payne Oil Company. I played for just that season after my senior year. But then when I went to college I wasn't here to play. I just got a little taste, but I still didn't know that there was Wayland Baptist [College] or Nashville Business [College]. I didn't know that. No, nobody ever told me about it. I had to learn a lot on my own. It is really great that today there are a lot more role models and a lot more help for people getting started; so just start at a higher level, just like players start at a higher level today, so we can reach greater heights overall because of that. But I can't really remember when I first started coaching. I think my concentration—as far as teaching qualities and characteristics—would have been along the lines of mom: really about staying positive. About maintaining our confidence, about working really hard, and about being good team members. Those things I have always known about in other situations, and I can see how it was magnified in sports. If we're going to do this we've got to get on the same wave length, and we've got to come together as one in order to be at our best. And there's no way we can have one person this direction, another this direction and expect to accomplish a task with excellence. So I think that's where I would have been at that time.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You were really a pioneer in terms of being a female coach. Did you think of yourself that way? Did you have a sense that you were doing something that women really hadn't done before?
SANDRA KAY YOW:
I guess I never thought of myself as a pioneer. I think I was just trying to survive, trying to get better. I'm big on people not just getting by, but getting better. Trying to improve, because it's through improvement that one has a chance for success and a team has a chance to win. You have to continually improve. So I was always focused on learning. I know learning is a lifetime process. I've been coaching basketball forty years, and I still have much to learn. Look at the tapes. All those new DVD's that I will be watching, and so it's nothing within me that ever thinks I have arrived, or that I know. I know that there's more and more to learn, and every little thing that you learn. . . knowledge is power, and it can really help take you to higher levels. I can help take my individual players and our team to higher levels, the more that I learn. Learning is a lifetime process.