Coaching women

Last week when Minnesota Lynx Coach Don Zierdan resigned four days before the season opener, I ran a blurb on it in this space. “Anonymous” commented, “will other men coaches jump ship as the WNBA weakens?”

I’m not completely sure about this person’s implications, so I’m not going to try and guess. But seeing that some writers/columnists in general will, occasionally and for no apparent reason, slam women’s basketball, I thought it was time for something positive instead.

So I asked some of the most esteemed male coaches of the women’s game to explain why they enjoy coaching women, and here’s what they had to say:

Well I’ve been doin it for a long time, obviously, and just enjoy how coachable they are, wanting to get better, the ability to build team and cameraderie. I like the way they accepted coaching.

Brian Agler, Seattle Storm coach

For years I always told myself and others that I don’t coach women, I coach basketball. But after reading a book by Anson Dorrance, the women’s soccer coach at UNC, who for years coached both the men’s and women’s teams at the same time, I started to change my thinking. The difference isn’t in the X’s and O’s or game strategy or levels of competitiveness; I think those things are exactly the same regardless of gender. The difference is in the emotional makeup and personalities of the athletes and the resulting wants and needs of their experience in competitive athletics. Women want to compete and win and excel as much or who knows, maybe even more, than men. But the difference is that women are looking for MORE than that – they are also looking for a personal connection with their coaches and teammates – and for me it is that connection that has made coaching more rewarding for me than ever before. I can’t imagine anyone having more fun at their job than I have at mine!!

Sometimes I think it’s funny when I read that a certain school has hired a female coach to lead their team because she will be, among other things, a good role model for the women athletes involved. What no one ever mentions or even realizes for that matter, is that women need positive male role models in their lives too. Many of the women that I coach come from broken, dysfunctional and/or single parent homes. The males in their lives have often been abusive, irresponsible, non responsive or even non existent and that has had a profound negative impact on them.

As a coach I can be tough on them and I can make them work harder than they have ever worked before in their lives. I can let them know that it’s okay to be strong and competitive and fearless as athletes. But at the same time I can also show them that they have a personal worth as women and as human beings. I can teach and show them that one is not dependant on the other – that their worth as athletes is not dependant on them being women – and more importantly their worth as women is not dependant on their performance as athletes. I can be a living example that males can be open and honest and trustworthy and responsible. Long after the wins and losses are forgotten, that example may still have a positive impact, and the time they spent on my team may still be influencing their lives.

I like to win more now than ever before but the connections and relationships with the athletes have made winning much more enjoyable. I just don’t see the men’s coaches I know getting the same kind of satisfaction. If you’re going to dedicate your life to something you might as well have as much fun and satisfaction as you can doing it.

Dave Stricklin, longtime Umpqua Community College coach and Northwest Athetic Association of Community Colleges Coach of the Year

I have always coached female athletes my entire coaching career. I started off coaching 7th grade girls basketball at Highlands Middle School in Ft. Thomas, KY for two years, 1993 and 1994. I then coached AAU Girls basketball for two summers and since then, I have been coaching in college for the past 14 years. I enjoy working with female athletes because of the passion they show for not only succeeding on the court but in the classroom and in life. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to coach these athletes for 4 years since they can’t leave early for the WNBA and that helps us develop long lasting relationships.

Jeff Walz, University Louisville coach, National Championship runner-up team, 2009

With the guys, you have to work on getting them to class and to help them see the importance of education later in their lives, whereas with the women, you don’t. But when it comes to basketball, I don’t differentiate between one or the other. The game is still the same – you pass, you play defense. The similarities in coaching women and men vastly outweigh the differences.

Ned Mircetic, Ventura College coach for 19 years, National Junior College Coach of 2009; coached both women’s and men’s basketball teams in 2008-2009 season.

One of the best things about coaching women is their desire to have a team
feel like a true family……they don’t like players all going their
separate ways once practice or the game is over – they feel a
responsibility to each other.

Another thing that I have found is that they have a better ability to
focus for longer periods of time in practice and preparation. They are
attentive to detail as a general rule. Most don’t act as if they are beyond
needing coaching.

I don’t have a preference of coaching males or females in general, but I
have had a very positive experience coaching womens’ basketball

Mike Thibault, longtime coach of the Connecticut Sun