LOS ANGELES — For our last interview during the month of March, we talked to our very own, Elaine Owusu. Elaine, originally from Chicago, is a force to be reckoned with on the court. Not only does she have moves that leave us wondering “HOW”, she is someone who lights up each game whenever she steps on the court.
Elaine’s discipline to the game doesn’t go unnoticed and neither does her kindness and attentiveness for her team. She’s the first one to cheer when someone makes a shot, and gives other players the confidence to keep shooting.
We are honored to speak with Elaine, and we hope you enjoy getting to know more about how special she is to all of us at SheHoopsLA.
You bring such great energy and sportsmanship to every game you play. Can you tell us what basketball means to you?
It’s interesting, basketball can be a confidence booster but can also be a confidence drainer. My parents and I didn’t really understand the athletic culture and all that goes into competing as a young athlete. I would go to practice, go home, and just wait for the next scheduled practice. Growing up, the other girls I played with practiced with other trainers and were gaining more skills than I was. This led to a little bit of imposter syndrome within myself resulting in comparing my abilities to others’. So in that sense, it was a confidence drainer.
However, when you’re in a really good space, like SheHoopsLA for example, where we’re all just coming to have fun, it’s a real confidence booster. My biggest fear is losing the joy of the game because of competition. When you’re playing for fun, you’re able to pull out some moves, try new shots, and no matter what people are cheering you on. Basketball is about community with others, encouraging people, and helping people be better. Luckily, I’ve found those spaces or better yet, I found the people who make those spaces. So, that’s what basketball means to me – being on the court, having fun, and just being free.
In the midst of facing so many challenges as not only a woman, but a black woman, how do you manage your mental health?
There are those days where you just feel very down or easily triggered. For me when it came to basketball, I never wanted to make a mistake and cause one of my teammates or coach to be upset. I remember feeling sick before a game and didn’t want to start because I didn't want to be the first person to go out there and mess up, and I didn’t realize this was living inside of me until now.
Thanks to more open discussions about mental health, I know what to call it - anxiety. I’ve been working on implementing the right coping strategies in order to calm down and slow down. The biggest thing for me right now is being able to recognize these emotions in the moment, and knowing “it’s okay, don’t freak out.”
Have you ever felt like you’ve had to dim your light, your achievements, or your successes for the comfort of others?
All the time. Especially in the workspace, but also as a grad and undergrad student. When you're so often the only black girl in every space, you realize how much you have to overcompensate for other peoples’ insecurities. For example, if I feel discomfort in my job and have a legitimate complaint, I have to keep in mind how my lodging that complaint will come off as a black woman in that space. And now that micro-aggressions and anti-racist platforms have surfaced, it’s almost like people try to overcompensate because of their guilt or whatever it may be – they end up making assumptions about how I’m feeling and don’t ask. It brings you to the realization that you’re giving all this thought and care to them, but it’s not reciprocated.
When it comes to sports, being a female athlete in general is tough. No one comes to watch your games. No one thinks that highly of you compared to the men. Every time you step in a gym to play a pickup game with a group of guys, they treat you like you must be new and don’t know how to play. They’re very slick about it too and you end up feeling like you have something to prove when a lot of the time you’re better than them. There’s always something to prove as a female athlete.
It’s hard and frustrating to minimize my feelings, that are valid, for those who are not thinking of me in the first place. As a student and growing into my professional life, I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s just the way it is. It’s not fair, but it’s what gets me by.
Who did you look up to while growing up?
I always say Lebron James because he’s the first person I saw play and that inspired me. BUT there was this woman named Morgan Tuck who played for the Connecticut Suns in the WNBA. She actually went to my high school. She was a baller! She led our high school team to three or four state championships. She was Miss Basketball Illinois. And I remember looking up to her so much. I wanted to go to UConn and play college basketball because of her. When I saw her, I saw a winner. And, bonus, she was a woman!
Why do you think International Women’s Day matters in today’s world?
It offers us an opportunity to put the spotlight on women. There’s all this discourse around these months/holidays etc. like, “Oh we should be celebrating black history month all year round or women all year round” but the truth is we don’t. So to have a day that forces people to recognize what women have been and are doing… that’s important. Now, these corporations are posting things, and regardless of the intentions of these companies, it’s visibility. People are seeing these accomplishments women have made across professions, interests, and sports. I learn something new every time. Women are so powerful and there are so many of us doing great things. We're going to continue to fight to have our equal rights.
What would you say to your younger self?
Have confidence in yourself and what you can do. There’s going to be a lot of moments where you’re going to question yourself and your place in things. But have confidence in the things you’ve done and the vision you have for yourself. It will all work out. Also! Learn how to take a compliment and appreciate yourself a little bit (that’s a work in progress for me too).
🔥Rapid fire questions🔥
What advice would you give to someone who has faced the similar challenges as you when it comes to basketball?
Just enjoy the game. Don’t let where other people are keep you from learning something new. We live in a world where comparison is everywhere so when we start something new, the first thing we do is look at the people who are at the top of their game and become discouraged by their success. But of course those people have been playing for X number of years, and you just started. Enjoy your process and you’ll start to see your own successes.
What is a personal quality that you are currently cultivating or would like to cultivate that stems from a woman that you admire?
Candace Parker has been very inspiring to me. Her hometown is actually close to my home, about 15 minutes away. With all her accolades and being a dope-ass athlete, people still wrote her off and told her she was done. Now she’s on TNT doing all these analyst things and commentary that women traditionally don’t get the opportunity to do, and she’s doing it for men’s games. That’s so dope. There’s a group of women now – Candace Parker, Taylor Rooks – entering these male dominated spaces and doing the damn thing. I take a lot from them. It makes me believe that I can do it too. Even if it’s not sports, just the mentality of pushing through existing barriers.
What’s your favorite hype song at the moment?
Hold on. Let me check my Spotify… I have a playlist called ‘Vibes’ that’s all R&B, so it’s not a pump playlist but it's what I listen to the most. If I do want to get hyped though, it’s No Friends In The Industry by Drake for me.
For more about our superstar player Elaine, follow Instagram account @1nonlyelaine.
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