After suffering through two losing seasons, Dawn Staley wondered if she had made the right decision to accept the position as the University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach.
The highly-decorated basketball star and successful coach at Temple University decided to change her approach to coaching. Perseverance paid off as Staley rebuilt the struggling Gamecock program and led the women’s team to the NCAA national championship in April.
“I implemented everything I used at Temple to no avail,” Staley said. “That’s when I realized I had to change how I interacted with them (the team she inherited.)”
Speaking at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce Execuvision fall session, Staley told her audience she used six attributes to build a championship team: confidence, focus, mental toughness, leading by example, the ability to delegate and honesty.
Staley, an American basketball Hall of Fame player and coach, is a three-time Olympian. She played point guard for the University of Virginia before playing professionally.
After coaching six years at Temple University in Philadelphia, Staley said she had taken the team as far as she could so she accepted the coaching job at the University of South Carolina in 2008.
Her team posted losing records in her first two years at USC and Staley told her audience at the Dunes Club this past week that she wondered if she had made a big mistake becoming the lady Gamecocks’ coach.
However, she relied on life lessons she had learned, created a recruiting network in the Southeast and created a winning culture at USC.
Staley said one of her first tasks was to instill confidence in her team.
“If there is such a thing as a competitive gene, I have one,” Staley said.
She also taught her team to focus on the game and to be mentally tough.
“College was the first time I felt truly challenged,” Staley said. “I learned to control my emotions and remain unflappable even in the most intense situation.”
The former Olympian, who was chosen to coach the national team in 2017, said she learned to lead by example. And, she found out that she couldn’t do everything herself.
“There is no weakness in not being able to do everything yourself,” Staley said. “There are parts of coaching that I have no interest in. Those are the areas that I delegate to others.”
The USC coach said she had to be honest with herself when she decided to leave Temple for USC.
“I knew we (Temple) wouldn’t compete for a national championship because we couldn’t recruit the necessary talent,” Staley said.
So, she left for USC taking her entire staff with her. Staley said she was surprised when she didn't immediately get the results at USC that she had gotten at Temple.
“For the first time I experienced doubt,” the coach said.
Staley said she learned that a lot of local talent in the Southeast was not being recruited by USC.
“The homegrown talents was just as good as the national talent,” Staley said.
She cultivated relationships with high school coaches, which enabled her to recruit some of the best talent around.
Staley said the championship game against Mississippi State was an emotional roller coaster. The Gamecocks beat back several strong runs from Mississippi State before securing the victory in the final minutes of the game.
“I was very aware of the magnitude of what we had just accomplished,” Staley said. “The championship has given me something of substance to say.”
The Execuvision fall session, sponsored by the McNair Law Firm, is a chance for business executives to gather for networking and to hone successful management practices. It is held several times a year with a variety of speakers.