Sooner Stilettos Take a Pass in Other Set of Shoes

The traditional model of mentoring is where a wizened professional bestows his or her wisdom and lessons from experience on an up-and-coming individual. The mentees watch, listen, learn and consult as they make their mark on the world. But for the organization Sooner Stilettos, the concept of mentoring this year included walking, even dribbling, in the other person’s shoes.

Formed in 2003 by the University of Oklahoma women’s basketball head coach Sherri Coale, the Stilettos are a group of (mostly) female community and business leaders who support the athletic efforts of the team, as well as act as role models and mentors for the young women.

“We advise the players on how to be successful off the court; how to dress, how to interview and how to be successful leaders in their community,” explained Mary Blankenship Pointer, president of Sooner Stilettos. “But I have never believed mentoring should be a one-way direction.”

This year, Pointer asked the professional women to trade in their work shoes for basketball shoes for a session in reverse mentoring. “This time, the girls mentored us by teaching the Stilettos how to play basketball,” Pointer said.

For nearly two hours, the Stilettos became the pupils of the OU women’s basketball team. They passed, dribbled and shot the hoop—learning from the young masters of the court.

“I would say it was a night off, but that wasn’t the case,” said OU women’s basketball player Maddie Manning. “They were put to work.”

The Stilettos took their coaches seriously and focused on learning the fundamentals. Proper shooting form was the hardest skill for the Stilettos to grasp. “They were pretty good when we broke it down into steps, but when we cut them loose into drills…heads up,” Manning cautioned.

The majority of the Stilettos have never played basketball and quickly learned that it is challenging game. “We really had to put our egos out there and be vulnerable,” Pointer said. Even though the session was as much fun as it was work, Pointer notes that after the session the Stilettos were exhausted—and sore for the next week.

“The Stilettos are always giving to us and putting on different events; it was fun to flip the switch and give them something in return,” Manning said.

The Stilettos meet regularly and host a variety of events, usually bookended by meet-and-greets and business card exchanges that help student-athletes gain valuable networking connections as they seek career advice, and future internship and employment opportunities. Through their interactions with players, Stiletto members help shape the development of OU’s female student-athletes and guide their journey in becoming the next generation of business, community and philanthropic leaders.

For this basketball session, though, the proverbial shoe was on the other foot. “It was fun to bond with the Stilettos on our turf and show them a little of what we do daily,” Manning said.

Pointer plans on continuing to find other ways the Stilettos and OU women basketball players can learn from each other. “Reverse mentorship is a meaningful way to empower players to share their strengths and remind us all that everyone one has something valuable to offer.”