Leading Women: Coach Laura Beeman Develops Strong Wahine On and Off the Court
Reading time: 6 Minutes
March 14th, 2018
Laura Beeman, head women's basketball coach at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says her job is not about winning games. It's about helping the young women who play on the Rainbow Wahine Basketball team become great people.
While wins are exciting, Beeman finds that preparing the players for life is even more important—teaching them about having integrity, fighting for what's right, taking a stand.
“If the players go out into the real world and are not ready for it, then I haven't done my job,” she says, adding that if she's doing her job right, wins automatically follow.
Beeman, herself a college basketball player, knows how life-changing a good coach and mentor can be. She was playing at Cal State San Bernardino, when a coach from University of Redlands spotted her talent. The coach invited Beeman to transfer to Redlands to help as an assistant coach while earning her master's degree in educational counseling. Little did Beeman know, that initial yes to the Redlands coach would launch her own coaching career. After graduating Redlands, she went on to coach basketball at nearby Mount San Antonio College, where the job required that she earn a second master's degree, this time in physical education.
When Beeman began coaching at UH six years ago, she and the players were wholly unfamiliar with one another, which meant trust would have to be earned on both sides. As coach and players became acquainted, the team confided in her that they were tired of being an “average” team. They believed they could be champions and were ready to give it their all.
Beeman's philosophy became, “It's not OK to be OK,” and the team took up the challenge. Her three goals for the team:
- Represent the university and the state with pride and integrity.
- When you walk off the court, leave "it" on the court. (Basically, avoid letting frustration experienced during a game or practice carry over into your personal life.)
- What you do off the court matters, both in the classroom and in the community.
Nevertheless, this past 2017-'18 season has been a rocky one for the Wahine, and while they didn't achieve the wins they hoped for (12 wins, 18 losses), Beeman is proud of their perseverance.
“We just couldn't get it together on the court,” she says. “It was probably my most challenging year yet, and I can only attribute that to the team being incredibly young. But it's been some of my proudest moments with the players off the court. They have really grown and learned to work through conflict.”
Guiding these young women, not just in basketball but in life, continues to be Beeman's great passion. With many members of her team coming from out-of-state, she has her work cut out for her.
“The distance is scary for some kids,”says Beeman. A Hawaii-based player who is experiencing a rough day or season can seek out their friends or go home to their parents for comfort. But a transplant recruited from the Mainland has to deal with problems on her own, or with teammates or the coach—exactly the people she might need timeout from. Nevertheless, those who do clear such hurdles gain a wonderful sense of maturity from the experience.
Every member of the team needs to be functioning at her optimal best for the team to prosper, which means working as a cohesive unit. Beeman notes that one particular saying a player shared with her expresses the thought perfectly: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
In addition to being her team members' top cheerleader, Beeman has a penchant for helping grade school students as well. Reaching out to at-risk youth, in particular, has long been a cause close to her heart. Beeman's own carefree childhood—climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek and ball games in the street—has inspired her to give back, so that today's children can experience that same carefree feeling.
In the classroom, she shares invaluable lessons, “Let's talk about how you can get a college degree, or go into a trade, or not get in an abusive relationship, or stay away from drugs and alcohol.”
She brings her Wahine team members into the community as well, to serve as role models for Hawaii's keiki. The players read to elementary school students, conduct free basketball clinics and engage in shoe drives for homeless youth. Her basketball players open up to these children, sharing their own challenges on the road toward becoming college athletes.
“We want those kids to know that regardless of their situation, they can wear this uniform, and they can do great things for their state,” she says.
When Beeman is not in her coach's uniform, you might find her doing yoga, gardening, or walking her two 80-plus pound dogs—a lab and a terrier mix—at the Hawaii Kai Marina or down by the ocean. She also enjoys unwinding by helping her partner Carla Houser, a social worker who focuses on bettering the lives of homeless kids. Houser is executive director of the non-profit RYSE (Residential Youth Services & Empowerment) Hawaii, a homeless shelter opening soon on the grounds of the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility for 18- to 24-year-olds who are at-risk and homeless.
As an openly gay woman, Beeman wasn't sure how the Hawaii community might respond, but it turns out she had no cause for concern. Her sexuality has never been a factor with her players, who know and admire Carla. The two exemplify a healthy, positive relationship that Beeman hopes will benefit her students as they go through relationship journeys of their own.
The couple has been considering fostering or adopting a child…but for now, when asked whether she has kids, Beeman proudly responds that she has a whole team of nearly 20 of them.
The views, opinions and/or positions expressed by the interviewee in this article are his or hers alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Bank of Hawaii.
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