Candace Parker has accomplished plenty on the basketball court. She’s been a champion at the collegiate and professional level. She’s won countless individual awards. But what goes on behind the dribble? How have sports influenced her life outside of basketball? What lessons from the court has Parker brought into her role as a mother?
We sat down with the two-time MVP before the launch of her adidas Ace collection to answer these questions and more. Take a look behind the curtain in this special Pro Tips feature.
Sports can serve as an important role in an athlete’s life and development. How did sports impact your upbringing, what lessons did you take from playing sports and how did sports shape the person you are today?
Parker: Sports, I think, made me tougher, made me stronger, and really prepared me, I think, for life. I know a lot of people use this lightly, that sports [are] a metaphor for life, but it really is. Because you experience wins and losses, you experience having to work through difficult situations with teammates or with the sport in general, injuries, you name it.
It really prepares you, I think, for what you’re going to face in life. So, as a kid, to have that, to play on a team sport, I think, was so important for me, and I’m so glad my parents allowed me to explore so many different sports. Because I think that with that comes a lot of different people. I don’t even know where I would be without sports.
What lessons from your athletic background have impacted your role as a mother? What ideals, lessons and values do you hope to pass along to your daughter?
Sports [have] really prepared me, I think, to kind of become a mom and to be a mom. In a sense, our journey started right at the beginning of my career, my daughter and [me]. So, in a sense, we’ve kind of grown up together, and through sport, it’s allowed us to see the world. I think, for me, sports [are] a way for me to show Lailaa, to show my daughter, what hard work can do. It’s an active way of her seeing me every single day go out and be passionate about something I’m doing. But then also, for her to see if you work toward something, if you work hard at something, if you put your energy and your heart into things. So, I think it, definitely, has helped my relationship with her, and to kind of show her what I want her to do.
What tips do you have for athletes in terms of how they carry themselves off the court or off the field?
I’m huge into authenticity, and I think it shines through in every single thing that you do. So, as an athlete, as long as you’re being authentic to who you are, then I don’t think you can do any wrong with sports off the court, on the court. If that’s who you are, you worked hard at something, you put your energy and effort … I know a lot of people say that energy and heart and effort, that’s not tangible. I think it is. I think you can see that, and I think that it’s the same with authenticity.
How do you motivate yourself when it comes to performing at such a high level?
I feel as though I motivate myself by putting in the time and the energy, so when you get to that moment where it’s time to do things, you realize how much work and effort and energy, and how many times you got up when you didn’t want to. I think that that kind of pushes you forward.
When I’m not able to get up for myself, I pick somebody in the morning to get up for, and usually it’s my daughter. I usually will tell her after school or something like that, “I practiced for you today,” or, “I worked hard for you today.” Just because, I think if you pick somebody that you love or that you’ll do anything for, that can serve as motivation.
You were humbled by your daughter this past WNBA draft. While the moment was funny and heartwarming, do you have any advice for athletes on toeing that line of staying humble, but also acknowledging your achievements?
This past draft, we were watching the WNBA draft and the first pick went by, we watched the first round. She looked at me and she was like, “Mommy, what round were you drafted in?” And I was like, “Baby, I was the first pick. Mommy was the first picked in the 2008 draft,” and she was like, “You were?” She was so surprised. So, I think that there’s, definitely, a line, but my family makes sure that we stay humble. So, with that, I think you can never take yourself too seriously, and the moment that you do, you will, definitely, be humbled. So, humble yourself before others do.
You have a quote, “Do as I do, not as I say,” and have stated that motherhood has made you a better teammate. Can you please expand on that?
I think the best piece of advice, especially for this generation, is we’re kind of past the, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It’s more so now that kids are doing what you do. I watched Lailaa play in a game and she’s literally talking to the refs like I talk to the refs, so she’s watching. So, now it just kind of makes me want to be a better role model for her. Sometimes I’m not the greatest at individual times, but, overall, I try to understand that she’s always watching, she’s always pulling up interviews, old YouTube clips, everything. She’s definitely watching, and it’s caught on video, so I have to try to be the best role model I can.
Who are some of the athletes that you looked up to as a kid?
I looked up to so many athletes as a kid. I was a big soccer player, so Mia Hamm was my athlete that I wanted to be just like. Honestly, until ’97 when the WNBA started, I looked up to a lot of Chicago Bulls players, so I think those are the players. But then when the WNBA started, Cynthia Cooper, the Houston Comets were my team. So that’s … Yeah, little Candace was just blown away when I got to meet any of the players that were in the WNBA. Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson, all of them. Kim Perrot, everyone.
Were you a sneakerhead growing up?
I wouldn’t say I was a sneakerhead growing up, but I did pay attention to who was wearing what, or [which] shoes came out. I probably became semi-sneakerhead-ish when I was in high school, and my team was adidas, and I remember getting Exclusive Team X[s]. And I thought I was the coolest kid ever. So, yes and no.
Excluding yourself, who is on your WNBA Mount Rushmore?
My five is, definitely, Lisa Leslie. My four is Lauren Jackson. My three would be Cynthia Cooper. My two would be Diana Taurasi. And my one … My one would have to be Ticha Penicheiro.
Which coach has been the most influential in your career?
Growing up, I played for my dad. So, he was the best coach I probably had, and for him to trust coach Summit at the next level to take me, not just as a basketball player, but as a person to the next level. I think coach Summit was extremely influential in my life. Not just as a coach, but as a teacher, as a role model, as a strong woman. To show that you can work, you can have a family, you can balance both. So, to be able to see that and to see how hard she worked on a daily basis, and then also to see that everything she expected of us, she was doing herself.
When you are not playing or practicing, what does a typical day look like for you?
When I’m not playing or practicing, I am with my daughter, usually doing, I don’t even know what. Probably playing board games. We play a lot of board games. We watch old TV shows. We love taking the dogs to the park. Yeah, reading. I love to read, I love to hike, I love to go to the beach. So that’s probably my typical … Eating, I love to eat. All of that.
How do you like to prepare for a game, both from a physical and mental standpoint?
Some of my favorite workouts probably are balanced now that I’ve gotten a little bit older. I’ll say “seasoned,” not older. Just balanced, proprioception stuff. I do yoga. I do Pilates for recovery. And then, just mentally, I like to self-talk. I think when you’ve put the time in, you truly understand that you’re meant to do what you do. So, I think that that’s the biggest way for me to get in the zone, is just to tell myself I’m prepared for this, I’m prepared for this moment, and live with the results after that. Looking to hear more from your favorite basketball pros? Discover Jordin Canada and Jewell Loyd’s tips for staying motivated and setting goals in basketball.