An Interview with Coach C. Vivian Stringer
Conducted by Rutgers Leadership Scholar Vanity Jenkins
October 27, 2009
Vanity Jenkins: What type of leader do you see yourself as and did you always think that you would be a leader?
Coach C. Vivian Stringer: I donít know. I mean, I donít know if there are categories of leaders. I think there are those that demonstrate by the things that they do. I do think that I sort of always wanted to take charge because nothing seemed to move quick enough. Nothing seemed to move fast enough. My attitude is that if someone doesnít do it, Iíd rather do it myself.
VJ: Do you feel a particular responsibility to the African-American community, being one of the few African-American women in a leadership position?
CVS: Itís interesting because I feel a responsibility to all women. I want a woman to be comfortable and confident and to know that certainly sheís been up to the task. Sheís more than demonstrated that she could do just everything, and specifically for the African-American female. Itís so important. Itís kind of interesting because the female has always been the head of the household for such a long time, has been the backbone, been the glue that kept things together. Yet, think about this ó the female gets seven cents on a dime. I just heard that women have to pay more for their insurance. Now why is that?
So, youíre getting paid less, youíre going to pay more for your insurance. Someone needs to step up. I was saying to the team the other day, ĎWhich of you are going to be my lawyer?í Then I said, ĎOK then, you need to address these issues.í
We [need to] ask questions as women. We are so used to accepting a role. We receive information and react to it. Thatís too bad. I think that the more women we have [as leaders], itís going to cause us to ask the questions that we need to ask and cause us to react the way that we need to react. We as women ó Iíd like to see us determine our own destiny a little bit more.
VJ: What characteristics do you possess that allows you to transform the lives of young women?
CVS: Thatís a good question. You could probably tell me better than I could tell you! I was just thinking today, you know itís that look. You know how sometimes I can really get on somebody? I hate to see them drop their heads; I just lose my mind. I hate to see them back down because I said something. Because itís just as important that they are mentally strong as they are physically gifted.
Sometimes, you can have a lot of talent, but the determination Ö youíve seen players break, you know, mentally break. [Like] when you have 10,000 people and you know everyone is holding their breath on a foul shot. You may have 10,000 people cheering against you and youíve practiced all week for that opportunity to perform. Then, all of a sudden, you just lose it.
My attempt is to make it so tough on you at practice that you are so confident, that youíre cool, calm and you just know how to do it. And so, while you may not be able to appreciate it now and you may be upset, youíll come to know that youíll handle all that because thereís nothing too great for you to do if you really want it. And at the highest levels to transfer the lessons weíve learned in basketball and the responsibilities of everyone.
Hopefully those leadership lessons that teach you that you can be down and not out, but donít give up and keep trying and come up with another reason to get it done. I think thatís ultimately what weíre having happen with our team.
VJ: What have you learned over your lifetime that you believe is crucial to pass on to the next generation of leaders?
CVS: Thereís a lot of things, but I think todayís leaders need to remember that itís a basic human function ó whether it happened 200 years ago or just yesterday ó for people to have a need to be wanted, a need to feel important and a need to be a part of something. But you canít tell people to do something that youíre not going to do yourself. You have to be willing to sacrifice; they have to see that youíve committed yourself, that youíve spent the time. How are you going to push someone to do something?
I donít think that thereís anyone on this earth that really wants something just handed to them. I think that we all want to feel good about what we do and a leader can recognize the smallest thing. The leader is able to recognize that everyone wants to feel good. Everybody wants to feel good, everybody wants to feel important and everybody wants to feel wanted.
Youíve watched different types of leaders on the court. We need a vocal leader, as you know, and then there are some of the greatest players and they just do. They work hard and just do. I think if you really pour out your heart and you really show that you care then the players will also care. I think the people, whoever they are, will also care.
VJ: What advice could you give me as a young woman with hopes of leadership in my future?
CVS: You know, when I think about you, you have so much talent and youíve been soft and quiet. Youíre not the kind of person that says, ďYes, you know I was performing in New York at a very young age.Ē Remember when I exposed that to the team and they were like, ďWhat? Are you serious?Ē You were really shy about that and you didnít want to tell anybody.†I can understand that, but you have so much to give. People arenít going to know that unless youíre a little more vocal, expressive. People admire you, but they wonít know you have all of this talent.
Iím really uncomfortable going into settings [with a lot of people]. It might seem strange because Iím around people a lot, but Iím really not comfortable. Iím not the kind of person thatís going to go to a movie by myself. You would not believe how much I really have to prepare. My husband used to get on me about that.
I want to look good. I never want to disappoint the people Iím talking to, I donít want to disappoint myself and youíre that same way. One thing that helped me was to know that, contrary to what you might think, people who speak to the public and seem to be in such command are really quite nervous. A lot of times, they really are uncomfortable doing that.
Iím at home when Iím on the court. Anything else, I am so uncomfortable. My father taught me this and I remember this because I had a piano recital in third or fourth grade.†If youíre humble ó which you are ó and youíre good, so you should be confident, you should realize that most people want to be with us. No one is wishing, I hope she falls off the stage, I hope she forgets her lines, I hope her music falls off the piano or something like that.†[My father] was saying to me that people imagine themselves in your spot. So, if youíre nervous, just say, ďIím really nervous,Ē so that people think, ďWow, Iím glad you said that because I am too!Ē I think that most of the time people are really wishing you well.
Be the person you are because it will come across as humble and considerate, concerned about what you do. You come across that way.
VJ: When you were in your twenties, what did you see yourself accomplishing? What were your goals and aspirations?
CVS: I used to tell my basketball coach that I was going to drive a pink Cadillac because I told her I was going to sell Mary Kay. But actually I knew that I had lots of dreams. I really thought I was going to be a concert pianist. I always knew I was going to do great things. I thought, you could be a concert pianist, you could be a track star, you could be a judge. With basketball, I only saw myself playing it until after I graduated and started coaching at Cheney University. Then, I realized that there were not opportunities for girls who had played sports. I felt so bad. I had to find a way to stay involved and change that.
[Coaching] really fascinated me and to this day I really enjoy putting all that together. As recently as yesterday, I continue to be so humble because I realize that I know so little. I listen to other coaches and I think, wow thatís masterful. I really enjoy that nobody can enjoy their work as much as I do.
VJ: How have you seen the world change for African Americans and women in your lifetime? How would you like to see it change in the future?
CVS: I donít think that women think the only way theyíre valued is to just get married and have a secondary role. I think that women are more liberated, more opinionated and sheís determining her own destiny more.†I think that more women are working, and so she has her own money. There are so many women that at one time depended on their husbands to put a roof over their head, to feed them and buy them clothes.
For me, I got married because I wanted to get married. I didnít need any money. I didnít have any children. It wasnít any of that, but I had to do it for me.
I remember when I was growing up, older gentlemen would say, ďWell you know, the best thing I can hope to do is to marry her off.Ē Well, what does he really mean by that? ďMarry her off?Ē That some guy will consider her worthy enough to take care of her. Heís marrying her off instead of thinking, ďWhy donít you be the next president of a college or something like that?Ē
I think that thereís a new-age woman whoís comfortable, she confident, sheís doing what she has to do and sheís able to have the family and the children and itís OK. And if she doesnít, itís OK. I think weíre asking more questions. I think society is changing too; guys are looking at the female more as an equal. Are we there? No.
Itís never more obvious than in athletics. Sports arenít played together, you know. And as a result, even the facilities are separate. Sports, in my opinion, are the last bastion of male dominance, and thatís OK because theyíre going to dominate. They are going to dunk, and thatís fine. Thatís because of Godís creation itself; the guys are bigger and stronger and all. Thereís a difference. But I think that the female is more inquisitive, more inquiring. Sheís going to ask the tough questions, and things need to make more sense to her. I donít think that thereís anything that she thinks she canít do, you know. She believes she can be anything.
Here in the U.S., we probably enjoy some of the greatest freedoms. It does bother me when I see things happening in the rest of the world. I just want to keep making other women aware. I just had a talk with our team yesterday. I think itís important to do that. My father empowered me to do that; my mother empowered me, too. I have a responsibility to do that.†If the women Iím working with are not empowered now, that this is the last chance I got.
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