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The Alumni Experience: Gaining the Confidence to Coach

3 years ago

(Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

I’ll never forget the moment that launched my basketball career. I still remember it vividly: I was sitting in my seventh-grade classroom at Saint Agnes School. A priest came in the classroom and said, “We’re going to start a girls’ basketball team. Who’s interested?”

I was the first to raise my hand. Then I looked around and thought, “Dang, am I the only one who’s going to do this?” This was a decade before Congress passed Title IX. Girls’ teams were still relatively uncommon. But my teachers at Archdiocese of Philadelphia Schools were always encouraging us to get involved. Even as an introvert, I felt comfortable trying new activities.

Eventually, other girls in the classroom raised their hands too. And together, we became the school’s first all-girls basketball team. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed playing together. It was one of those things where I realized, “Wow, I love this game.”

I continued playing as a student at Bishop Shanahan High School. During my senior year, my team finished the entire season undefeated. The school put a banner up for us, and we felt really special.

Looking back, however, I realize that the most impactful moments actually took place between the celebrations. Along with lessons about sports and academics, my coaches and teachers instilled values in us — values that reinforced what my parents taught to me and my seven siblings at home.

I learned about kindness on the bus, when our coach told us that it wasn’t right to make fun of a teammate, even if we were joking. I learned about diversity during practice, when I learned to work with and appreciate girls from completely different backgrounds. I learned about responsibility during games, when my actions had clear consequences, and my uniform represented my entire school.

Now that I am a coach myself, these are all values I seek to cultivate in my own players. I create and enforce team rules, establishing clear-cut roles and expectations for every member. And I encourage a team-first approach: we are all expected to put one another ahead of ourselves. That’s something from my time at AOPS that’s really stuck with me — the importance of believing in a mission bigger than yourself.

That sense of purpose and belonging helped me develop confidence in a formative stage of my life. Women in particular are so conditioned to wait for someone to give them permission — to apply for that job, to go for that scholarship, to make that team. Playing sports allows you to go all out without worrying about the outcome, or what people might say.

Even when my current position at Notre Dame first opened, I thought, “Nah, I’m not going to get that. That’s going to somebody else.” But my husband kept encouraging me. “Just send in your resume,” he said, “just to see what happens.”

I applied, and I got a job that has allowed me to take part in some really meaningful moments. But the paths to those accomplishments were paved with many challenges and mistakes along the way. I am grateful that my time in AOPS helped lay the foundation that taught me to keep raising my hand, even in the face of doubt — as a college basketball coach, as a former basketball player, and as the quiet student in that seventh-grade classroom.

Muffet is a 1973 graduate of Bishop Shanahan High School. She is currently head coach of the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team, which she led to national titles in 2001 and 2018, and a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.