After a hall of fame career and her thirty-four-year coaching tenure at the University of Tennessee,Knoxville, Holly Warlick has undeniably left a Lady Vol sized footprint on women’s basketball. She had always taken a great deal of pride as a coach in maintaining her player’s success and integrity. Yet the coaching tenure that she’s most proud of may not be a memory of her orange and white alma mater but rather her week-long visit to Taipei, Taiwan this summer where she led young women in sport-based empowerment activities.
“This was an incredible opportunity to represent the U.S. on such an important agenda,” Warlick said. “I’m passionate about helping girls and women learn to step up and empower themselves to be strong, to take chances, and to develop leadership skills.”
Coach Warlick’s experience in Taipei became possible after she was named a U.S. Women’s Basketball Sports Envoy by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Sports Diplomacy. Her work included leading lectures and sport clinics to strengthen women’s leadership in sports, foster youth development, and empower women and girls. It was this mission that led her to cross paths with Yu-Hsien “Blue” Tseng, an alumna of a globally recognized program the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society implements—the U.S. Department of State Global Sports Mentoring Program that empowers women and girls through sports worldwide.
Growing up in Taoyuan, Taiwan, a city less than an hour west of Taipei, Tseng’s life revolved around basketball, but like many other female athletes, she was confronted with challenges related to social perceptions of her muscular appearance. But Tseng never let it bother her and knew her focus should be elsewhere. “Girls need to know that it’s not important what you look like; it’s important if you can perform well in your sport,” said Tseng. “Girls deserve to be strong and confident in who they are.”
She used the criticism she received as fuel in her drive to reduce stereotypes of female athletes and to promote equality for women in sport. “When you see the struggles Blue endured with little support and resources, you understand her passion and love for sports,” Warlick said. “During our time together, I saw girls looking up to her and seeing her as the incredible role model she is. The Center of Sport, Peace, and Society gave her the confidence and understanding that girls can thrive in sports and that it will make a lasting impact on their lives.”
Through the GSMP, Tseng was mentored at the NCAA by former Director of Governance and International Affairs, Delise O’Meally where she learned how sport was governed in the U.S. and how policies such as Title IX have contributed to equality for women in sports. “My experiences in sport have made me a better teacher, and more powerful as a person,” said Tseng. “I want to encourage girls to participate in sports to improve their own confidence.”
Now as an associate professor for the National University in Taipei, Tseng provided a ripe environment for Coach Warlick to support her work and empower a new generation of female athletes in basketball.
“I think it’s really important to know what you are capable of and to what extent you can offer your help to others,” said Tseng. “And when you have a chance to spread the thoughts or ideas that can make an influence, do not be afraid to do it.”
Tseng watched Coach Warlick shape young players’ minds and motivate them to dream big and never break pace in the pursuit of what they love. She captivated everyone in attendance as she shared the story of former UT Lady Vol basketball player, Tamika Catchings, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA Most Valuable Player. “The messages that women are strong, confident, and passionate about what they love were delivered amazingly-well by Coach Warlick,” said Tseng.
Coach Warlick also worked with the athletes on basketball-specific skill development, but the greatest coaching came afterward when she personally gave each athlete a special wristband.
For Tseng, she will never forget the words that outlined her band: “To whom much is given, much is expected,” which reminded her of the GSMP, the access she now has to new opportunities and resources, and the responsibility she carries to make a positive change in the community.