The biggest players on a team sometimes have the biggest insecurities. But for some LSU women’s basketball team members, basketball has helped them improve their self-images.
Freshman center Derreyal Youngblood, who was given the nickname “Tank” because of her big head as a baby, said she’s dealt with insecurities for most of her life.
When she was younger, Youngblood said she never looked people in the eye when she talked to them because of her lack of confidence. She also said she would get upset about the way her clothes fit.
“[My pants] would be ankle wipers, or sometimes pants wouldn’t fit my thighs,” Youngblood said. “They wouldn’t fit my waist or were too small for my legs.”
Youngblood said until the seventh grade, she was the tallest person in her classes. When she transitioned to junior high, she said she had a realization, “Oh my gosh, there’s kids like my height.”
Junior forward Shanece McKinney is 6 feet 4 inches tall. She said she wasn’t tall until she hit a growth spurt in eighth grade. But with a father standing at 6-foot-5 and a mother at 5-foot-10, McKinney was never insecure about her height – her parents always told her it was a beautiful thing.
This size of her feet was another story.
“When I was shorter, I had big feet,” McKinney said. “I used to feel like, ‘Oh my God, I’m a clown.’ When I got taller it kind of matched, so I grew into it.”
People usually assume McKinney plays volleyball or basketball, and she said she loves her height and embraces it.
“I wear heels and everything,” McKinney said. “People say, ‘You’re so tall, why do you wear heels?’ I’m like, ‘So, just because I’m tall doesn’t mean I can’t wear heels.’”
LSU coach Nikki Caldwell recalled asking an elementary teacher why the students had to be lined up shortest to tallest because it wasn’t fair that she always had to be last. But other than that, the 6-foot coach said she couldn’t think of any insecurities she had about her height while growing up.
“I actually enjoyed being tall up until the time you start liking boys, then they’re always shorter than you,” Caldwell said. “Other than that, it was great because everybody wanted to pick you on their team.”
Caldwell said taller people see the world differently than most people do, so their height should be appreciated.
“You don’t miss a lot, and people don’t miss you,” Caldwell said. “You pretty much stand out, and that’s a good thing.”
Caldwell said height is out of a person’s control, but a positive attitude and good health is not.
Basketball helped improve Youngblood’s maturity and confidence level. She learned to embrace her size and look people in the eye.
Basketball also introduced Youngblood to people who had physical and mental similarities to her, Youngblood said, including her best friend Amber Cooper, who plays for Boston College.
“That was my first time ever seeing a female athlete that was my height and as goofy as me,” Youngblood said. “She brought out my personality because she was all out and open, and I was all shy, and I realized, ‘Hey, she’s proud of her size, why can’t I be?’”
Caldwell said athletics builds self-esteem; conditions the mind, body and spirit and allows players to learn to communicate and collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds. But Caldwell said being a member of any type of team is just as beneficial to battling insecurities.
“Everyone should be doing physical activity of some sort, but belong to a team,” she said. “Whether you’re in a band or some type of club organization — checkers or chess — belong to something, represent something more than yourself.”