By Kate Parsons Proctor
Special to the Reporter
“You are not here to be perfect. You are here to be yourself.”
This is what Val Whiting does best. Teaching and empowering young players to believe in themselves. Whiting coaches multiple girls basketball after-school programs in Lake Washington and Northshore elementary schools.
Whiting describes her program as, “an after-school team, not one that competes. It’s geared to help not only build fitness, coordination and basketball skills, but self-esteem, confidence and competitive spirit.” She believes that girls can learn lifelong lessons through her program. She notes that her players, “have become leader and peer mentors” through playing basketball.
One story that Whiting recalls is when one of her athletes was not having fun on a team Whiting coached a few years ago. The girl took long breaks between plays and generally seemed unengaged with the sport. When Whiting reached out to the girl’s mother, she soon realized that the girl believed she was the worst player on the team. This left her with little confidence and no will to improve.
After Whiting coached the girl that basketball was not about perfection, but rather it was about learning through being yourself, mistakes and all, Whiting saw “a total 360 in the spirit of her player. All it took was a simple email and reminding her that it is OK to not always be the best,” Whiting noted. The girl quickly grew to love basketball and her time on Whiting’s team. She even made team captain.
Some of the other tactics Whiting uses to empower her teams is teaching the girls to eliminate negative self-talk. When they do complain, or utter words of self-doubt, the entire team must participate in a set of pushups. This teaches the players that their words have power and shifts their mindset from negative to positive. Whiting notes that these skills are vital for young athletes as the mental game of sports is as important as the game itself. Whiting also challenges her athletes to attack new skills in order to boost their confidence when they successfully execute a new drill.
Whiting has been coaching since 1989. She was once a Stanford University All-American and WNBA player. Whiting originally had her sights set on cheerleading, but she quickly fell in love with basketball. She was initially inspired to start playing after a teacher encouraged her to try out for the school team. During Whiting’s four years at Stanford, her team won two NCAA championships and were three-time final four participants. Whiting was named national player of the year twice, the national freshman of the year, and was the all-time leading rebounder and scorer.
Whiting graduated from Stanford with a degree in biology and was admitted to several medical schools, however, she chose to pursue her love of basketball. She played for the WNBA from 1996-2002, playing for the Detroit Shocks and Seattle Reign. She was an alternate on the US Women’s National Team that won the 1996 gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2006, Whiting was named by ESPN Magazine as one of the Top 25 women’s basketball players in the history of the NCAA. Whiting currently serves on the National Advisory Board for Positive Coaching Alliance.
Now in her work as a coach, Whiting’s goal is to empower young girls through basketball. With a small group of athletes, Whiting is able to give each athlete individual attention, allowing them to hone the art of the sport. She notes that as a coach she “looks at the student athlete as a total package” to effectively improve each athlete’s “long-term personal development.”
The message Whiting sends to her players is that it is OK to make mistakes. “We all need permission to fail,” she remarks. “Yes, we want to win, but we also want to get the life lessons out of being a coach, parent and teammate.”
Currently Whiting is expanding her program to other schools in the area, including at Redmond Elementary. If you are interested in bringing Whiting’s program to your school, contact your local PTA. Whiting can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.