Alliance Coach Spotlight: Stephanie Wheeler

7 Questions with Stephanie Wheeler

Stephanie Wheeler is the head coach of both Women’s Wheelchair Basketball at the University of Illinois and the U.S. Paralympic Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team.


1. Why is the Alliance important to you?

Before I became a member of the Alliance, I felt so isolated as a coach. Since wheelchair basketball isn’t an NCAA sport, as a new coach, I didn’t have the opportunity to network and create friendships with other women coaches through coaching associations or coaching conferences, and I didn’t know how to and feel confident enough to reach out to coaches on my campus. When I attended the Women Coaches Academy and became a member of the Alliance, all of that changed. Suddenly, I had this tribe of amazing women coaches who I could call on when I needed advice, a listening ear, or to share success with. So for me, the Alliance means connection, support, and growth. It reminds me on my bad days that I’m not alone in this journey, gives a platform to share success on my best days, and allows me to give back in a meaningful way to help other women coaches in their journey.


2. Defining moment in coaching?

For me, the most defining moment in my coaching career was actually losing the national championship game in 2016. We went into our championship tournament ranked #1, and made it to the championship game with high expectations. We ended up losing that game to a great team, who played a great game. I remember on the bus on the way home from that tournament, I was feeling pretty vulnerable and sad for my graduating seniors, who had been on the team through some pretty rough seasons. One of those graduating seniors came back to sit with me and we had this great talk about how she wasn’t upset or angry at how we played. All she could talk about was how much she had grown as a person and player over her career at Illinois and how losing this game didn’t change that or change how she felt about her experience as a student-athlete at Illinois. At that moment, my student-athlete was telling me the things that I should have been telling her! While I have never defined my success by wins and losses, that was a great reminder in that moment when I was not feeling great about myself as a coach, of what my most important job is as a coach. Now, if I find myself getting frustrated by a loss or by something not going our teams way, I think back to that moment and it helps me keep perspective about what is the most important part of coaching, which is how we impact our student-athletes when they are with us, and how they use those lessons once they are in the world on their own.


3. Most inspiring woman coach in your career?

The first woman coach that I ever saw or heard of was Pat Summitt. As a basketball junkie growing up in NC, I was inspired by her intensity, how hard she pushed her athletes, how hard she worked for equality, and how much she cared about her athletes. The first book that I ever read by a coach was “Raise the Roof”, and each day I coach, I strive to bring a little bit of who Pat was into my coaching.


4. What would you tell people considering joining the Alliance?

DO IT! It’s one of the most important things that you can do for yourself as a coach. There are times that we think coaching is just about the X’s and O’s and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Alliance will give you access to resources and support that will help you win at the culture and people side of the game.


5. Tell us something unique/cool about yourself. 

It’s taken me about 10 years to ALMOST complete my PhD…haha! I’m currently working on my PhD in Cultural Kinesiology at Illinois. When I took this job, I was very close to finishing my doctorate, but I went on a little hiatus to get settled into the job, and then took another hiatus while coaching the national team. I like to call those hiatus years “collecting data” though, as my area of study is the intersections of disability, gender, and sexuality in sport. Now I’m getting back on track and will hopefully graduate soon! I also have a three-legged black cat, Dash. She’s the coolest cat in the world 🙂


6. Where is your hometown?

I grew up in Norlina, NC. It’s a town of about 1,100 people that is right on the NC/Virginia border.


7. What is your favorite vacation ever?

After I competed in the 2006 World Championships in Amsterdam, 3 of my teammates and I did a little tour of Amsterdam, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Germany. We whitewater rafted in Switzerland, visited museums in Amsterdam, picnicked in Brugge, hung out on the beach in Oostend, found an awesome music festival in Geneva (where I first heard of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings), and marveled at the beauty of that part of Europe during our train rides to each place. Hands down the most beautiful city I have ever visited is Brugge, Belgium. It’s an absolute must visit!