Can We Talk? Coaching Confidence

Can We Talk? Coaching Confidence

Former hoops coach teaches peers
about communication and leadership.

By Paul Sterman

Celia Slater teaches an annual class for college athletic coaches called “Find Your Own Voice.” The class helps the coaches develop self-confidence as communicators. She makes sure to also tell the class about Toastmasters – what it is, how it works and, most importantly, why they should join.

“Toastmasters changed my life,” she says. “It helped me regain my confidence. I really give Toastmasters the credit for that, and I love to share what they did for me by paying it forward – by sharing my story with these coaches.”

Slater, a former member of the Lamplighters Toastmasters club in Wilmington, North Carolina, even leads the class in activities patterned after Table Topics. Group members speak extemporaneously about various topics. She selects scenarios relevant to the coaching, such as speaking to an athlete’s parents or to the president of the university.

Slater teaches the course as part of her job as executive direc- tor of the WinStar Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides skills training to coaches and athletes in the United States. Chief among those skills: communication and leadership.

The coaches and students represent a range of sports at the youth, high school and college levels. The colleges are from all different divisions in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Coaches, says Slater, have many opportunities to lead. “You have to be able to communicate effectively with everything you do, from talking to parents to talking to athletic directors to talking to student athletes,” she notes. “You’re making this first impression and you have to get it right.” 

Starring on the Court
As a young woman, Slater was a star athlete. She led her high school basketball team in Florida to three state championships and then was a varsity player at Florida State University, winning the Most Valuable Player award her senior year.

She then found success as a coach. She became the first head coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and later headed up the women’s team at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.

But Slater’s career stalled and she left the coaching profession to work in athletics administration. In 2003 she joined the Lamplighters club.

“I came to Toastmasters at a time when my confidence was at an all-time low,” Slater says. “My coaching career had ended and at the same time, I had the dream to form a women’s coaches academy to help train coaches in communication and all skills beyond the X’s and O’s. Right then I had to get my confidence back if I was going to be in a leadership role and make my dream come to fruition.

“I can confidently say that joining Toastmasters helped me enhance my leadership abilities.”

As a novice Toastmaster, Slater found giving speeches excruciating. In fact, when launching WinStar, she could barely speak in front of a room full of people. But by practicing in her club, the ex-athlete steadily boosted her skills and comfort level. In 2004, she gave an acceptance speech when her alma mater, Florida State, presented her with an award as a “Champion Beyond the Game.”

“That was nerve-wracking to have to give that speech, so I practiced it in front of my Toastmasters club, and they were great in helping me,” says Slater, who was in Lamplighters for about two and a half years before moving to Florida.

“I really loved my club,” she adds. “I looked forward to going every week.” 

Making WinStar Work
The Toastmasters training paid off, giving Slater the confidence and communication skills to lead the WinStar Foundation. Where she once struggled mightily to speak to audiences, now she gives speeches all the time, traveling throughout the country and delivering keynote presentations, teaching classes and running workshops for coaches and athletes.

“I wouldn’t have people calling me and asking me to speak to them,” Slater notes, “if I hadn’t taken the step to join Toastmasters.”

Ann Salerno has witnessed the dramatic growth in her colleague. “Initially, Celia was very nervous and uncertain about speaking,” says Salerno, director of education for the NCAA Women Coaches Academy, one of the programs that WinStar runs. “Because of Toastmasters, she gained confidence and poise – she is an engaging and inspiring speaker!”

The coaches and athletes, Salerno adds, respond positively to Slater’s speeches: “They trust her. Celia is authentic and professional, caring and compassionate – and tough. She motivates them and expects them to do their best.” 

Paul Sterman is an associate editor for the Toastmaster magazine and a member of Le Gourmet Toastmasters in Costa Mesa, California.