Heels are part of hoops coaches' game plan
The leopard-print booties with 4-inch heels and a shiny zipper stand out among blue-and-white high-top sneakers.
It's a timeout during a women's college basketball game at Petersen Events Center in Oakland. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw sports the animal-print footwear as she instructs her players on the next play.
Wearing heels on the hard court is a style chosen by many female college coaches and those who lead high-school squads.
“I feel comfortable in heels,” says McGraw, who is known for her footwear, especially animal prints, and her coaching prowess. Her team is No. 2 in the weekly Associated Press College Basketball poll.
“They are part of my uniform. I am a role model for these young women, so it is important for me to dress well, and wearing high heels is an important part of that,” she says.
“We want to look professional,” says the opposing coach, University of Pittsburgh's Suzie McConnell-Serio. “Just because we are basketball coaches doesn't mean we shouldn't get dressed up.”
Adding some height is one reason McConnell-Serio wears heels. On this night, she went with patent-leather pumps.
“And I am not superstitious about which shoes to wear to which games. I choose my footwear based on my outfit,” she says. “Sometimes, after games, my feet are killing me. But I don't think about that during a game. Everything you do is based on success — from how you perform on the court to how you look while you are performing on the court.”
Most college coaches wear heels while pacing up and down in front of their benches, and use the heels to make noise stomping on the court.
“You just get used to wearing heels,” says Penn State coach Coquese Washington. “I try to find comfortable shoes, and I tell my players ‘These are 40-minute heels, so no overtime.' I think of it as going to work and putting my best foot forward. It's game day. It's about looking professional. And you feel good when you look good.”
Washington cautions that coaches need to be aware of where they are on the court so they don't trip or get their foot caught with players and assistant coaches sitting on the bench.
McGraw broke a heel in a game against UC Santa Barbara in the first round of the 2005 NCAA tournament in Fresno, Calif. It had to be repaired with duct tape and colored in with a black Sharpie marker. Washington snapped a heel once stomping her foot at a Big Ten Conference Tournament game after a questionable call by an official. The trainer had to do some shoe surgery at halftime, which required lots of glue.
“I can actually run in heels,” McGraw says. “And I can chase people on the court in heels if I have to. Shoes make the outfit and, plus, I am not that tall, so wearing heels makes me look tall anyway.”
But even tall women want to stand out, says Georgia Tech graduate-assistant coach Nisha Adams.
“The heels make the outfit look better,” says Adams, whose black pumps add 5 inches to her already 6-foot-2 frame. “I am pretty coordinated, so I don't have trouble wearing heels on the court.”
Neither does Valley High School girls basketball head coach Mindy White.
“I like to look professional when I coach, and I am still young. I am in my 20s, so I like to bust out my 5-inch heels,” says White, a registered nurse who wears scrubs and flat shoes to her day job. ”I believe women in any profession, whether you are coaching or working in an office, get confidence from wearing high heels. It is also good for our players to see women who dress professionally. It gives them someone to look up to and to know that we take what we are doing seriously, that we look the part.”
She says one of her favorite designers is Jessica Simpson. Other popular brands among coaches include Nine West, Gucci and Guess.
“I do think you have to spend a little more on shoes you will be wearing when you coach, so your feet won't hurt at the end of the game,” White says.
There can be dangers associated with high heels, says Dr. Jane E. Andersen, a podiatrist at Chapel Hill Foot and Ankle Associates in North Carolina, including foot problems like blisters and calluses.
“They are in danger of spraining an ankle because they are moving up and down the sideline on the court,” Andersen says. “They also might be lunging forward and they can fall because the floor might be slippery from sweat. They also could injure their Achilles (tendons).”
But, she adds, most are probably experienced wearing high heels and know what they are doing. “Most of them are or were good athletes, so they are in shape and can get away with it.”
There are shoes that are made to be worn for a short period of time versus others that can be worn longer, Andersen points out.
“Coaches want to make sure they have shoes that are comfortable for the entire game time,” she says. “They might want to keep the heel height at 2 inches or less, make sure it is thicker and has a generous toe box area.”
Dr. Vonda Wright, orthopedic surgeon at UPMC Center for Sports Medicine — and a stiletto wearer — agrees that coaches need to be cautious. High heels are not great for a woman's bio-mechanics and can cause a shift in body weight that can put a lot of pressure on the front of the legs, she says.
“Coaches need to make sure their calves are strengthened and they have a strong core,” Wright says. “I bet coaches wear heels because it makes them look more confident and they have a better self-image and they perform better. Heels make a woman feel strong and powerful. And coaches are powerful women.
“People might wonder why women wear expensive heels, but look at the male coaches, they wear $1,000 suits and often toss their jackets,” she says. “A sweatsuit doesn't portray the image these women want. They raise the bar with their fashion style in wearing high heels.”
Wearing heels is classy, says Lisa Fairman, head coach at Belle Vernon Area High School.
“People do notice, especially my players,” Fairman says. “Sometimes, I just buy cool shoes and am not sure if I will wear them coaching, but when I find an outfit they look good with, I put them on, including leopard print, silver and gold shoes. Sometimes people will say, ‘Who would buy a leopard-print shoe?' And I say, ‘I would.' ”
One of her players bought her a pair of really high heels and dared her to wear them, and she did. Fairman has slipped on the court, but not fallen.
“I have always taken pride in dressing up for games because I am representing my school,” Fairman says. “My shoes often become a topic of conversation. I also stomp my feet a lot when I am coaching. I am very animated when I coach. I am up and down the sidelines and at the edge of the (coach's) box. I will probably break a heel one day from stomping too hard.”
As a physical-education teacher, Keystone Oaks High School girls basketball head coach Nikki Presto, who played under Fairman when Fairman coached at Thomas Jefferson, wears tennis shoes and sweatsuits most days, so putting on some heels on game day is a welcome wardrobe change.
“When the players see I am dressed up, they know it is time to go; it's game time,” Presto says. “Wedges are more comfortable, but I wear all styles of heels. The pair I wear has to go with the outfit because, believe me, my players will say something.”
Andersen has a solution for coaches who want to wear heels:
“Treat heels like dessert,” Andersen says. “Don't wear them all time. Just on special occasions, like game time.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7889.