Special to NDNation
NOTRE DAME, Ind.—Seated at a podium two years ago at the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Tampa, Fla., then-Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw was posed a question about hiring practices in the sport and her role as a voice for women.
McGraw, who a couple of days later would coach in her seventh national championship game, leaned back, took a deep breath and delivered a thoughtful, powerful, passionate, emotional, and widely shared response that spoke directly—very directly—to the lack of women in leadership roles, not only in sports but also in business.
“You know, I don’t know that it was anything that I planned, but I think at that point, I had an all-female staff and I had been getting a lot of questions about the all-female staff,” said McGraw, who retired following the 2020 season. “And you know, it just started to resonate with a lot of people and I’ve always felt that it’s important that we really understand that women can lead and to show people that women can lead. So I think I just had a breaking point, and that was the last straw—that question—and there it went.”
It went far. Later that day at practice, a student manager informed McGraw that Barack Obama had retweeted a clip of her comments. Later she had a note from Hillary Clinton. Those were just two of the many who took note of McGraw taking a stand.
Two years later, McGraw’s “rant” is the genesis of a new book from McGraw and Ave Maria Press—Expect More! Dare to Stand Up and Stand Out: A Guide for Women on Reaching Their Potential.
The book is filled with stories from McGraw’s 33 years as head coach at Notre Dame; stories such as how former star player Skylar Diggins helped change the veteran coach’s mindset about the way players celebrated their success; how she designed her practice schedule for the entire season in detail, but did so in pencil; and how another former star, Arike Ogunbowale, shrugged off a poor shooting night to eventually hit the game-winning shot in a Final Four win over rival UConn.
The stories are behind-the-scenes looks at one of the most successful programs in the country. But they’re also an open book on how successes in sports form a pathway to success in life. Sacrifice, work ethic, perseverance, and working toward a common goal are just a few of the lessons of Expect More!
“They really come into play when you enter the business world,” said McGraw, who now teaches a class in sports leadership at Notre Dame and serves as a studio analyst for the ACC Network.
McGraw offers that changes need to be made and parents can play a big role. Instead of telling girls how pretty they are, she said parents should tell them how smart they are. Instead of walking into a store and seeing everything in pink for a girl and all of the things that boys can build, offer equal opportunities for both at those young ages.
“We’ve got to change that,” said McGraw, “and we’ve got to start it younger.”
Her first advice to parents who want to raise strong young ladies is not to be afraid to let your kids fail. It can be tough to watch, she said, but they have to learn to face adversity and to fight their own battles. Don’t be the parent who calls the coach about playing time or who tries to fix every little problem, McGraw said.
“There’s nothing worse than watching your child struggle, but believe me, having them face that adversity, having them go through things, having to fight your own battles and work your way up, yes, sometimes you’re not going to be the one who plays all the time, who gets to take the big shots and gets an important role on the team,” she said. “But their role is important and I think it’s important everybody finds kind of what their niche is.”
She also discussed what she went through as a player and earlier in her career. The girls played in the afternoons while the boys played at night. There weren’t scholarships available for women. Gear, nice locker rooms, or sneakers? Nope. Practice time? It started for the women once the men were done.
In Expect More!, McGraw said she believes women can further close the gap by exuding more confidence and in being more aggressive in going after what they want.
Good change has occurred, however. There are now female coaches in the NBA—not the WNBA—the NBA. A woman recently refereed in the Super Bowl. And a woman is now the general manager of a Major League Baseball team. Yes, there’s been growth. But McGraw longs for the day when these examples are commonplace.
“And the whole point of my rant at that Final Four was, I don’t want it to be a novelty anymore,” she said. “I want it to be something that is just normal.”
Robert Wieneke is the curriculum sales and marketing manager at Ave Maria Press. He is a former sports writer at The South Bend Tribune.