I’ve been asked many times over the years how someone goes about pursuing a professional basketball coaching career. Many young coaches have aspirations of a career doing something that they love but aren’t sure how to go about it.
Coaching basketball is certainly a career choice that fits the description of doing something that you love for a living however any career that is so dependent upon results is certainly going to have its ups and downs.
There are two types of coaching pathways to take in Australia. I describe them as Business – the NBL & WNBL or Government – working for a State Association or Basketball Australia. The Business route is far more results orientated and more subject to public scrutiny than the Government route.
To succeed in the NBL you need to win, your work is assessed each week of your season and your success is somewhat dependant on how many resources your club has to devote to winning. It’s no coincidence that the club that spends the most money on their roster usually is in the mix around finals time.
With the Government jobs assessment of the performance of coaches is far more difficult. The full time jobs with State associations are usually the High Performance Head Coach whereas the full time jobs with BA are limited to the Centre of Excellence (formerly known as the AIS) or the senior National teams who compete in major events every two years.
Leadership within Business world is usually from owners who have their finger on the pulse of team performance, the owners often see the team as a reflection of themselves and they can be quite ruthless if performance is not meeting expectations.
Leadership in the Government jobs is far less capable or interested in the performance of the coaches until major events and it often takes a significant underachievement before changes are even contemplated. It’s no coincidence that coaches in the Government jobs tend to stay in the roles for years whereas an NBL coach who lasts longer than two contract renewals is doing well.
Getting a Business job is far more about having a coaching resume while getting a Government job is far more about your networks and connections.
So how do you go about getting to a position where you are a professional basketball coach?
Coaches tend to come from two separate groups, the first being players who had a successful playing career who tend to be fast tracked into jobs based on their playing career and then there are people who start coaching at the junior level with domestic club teams and then progress through to representative teams. The group that most often asks for career advice are those who have not had professional playing careers, they find it hardest to get their foot in the door, ex-players tend to already have a good network of people who can help them get past first base.
Anyway here is the pathway I would suggest for anyone considering a career in coaching. Start working at the representative level, if you can have some success at that level opportunities will start to come. Coaching a State team or assistant coaching a State team would be the next step, if you can have some success at the junior National Championships then that’s a pretty good sign. This is when choices between pursing Business or Government jobs might appear.
If you are interested in the Government option, start to get involved with your States High Performance Program (this may be a pre requirement to coach a State team in some States) working with the Elite Junior players will get you in front of decision makers with regard to State Development jobs and National Junior jobs. Attending National Junior Camps at the COE, either by invitation or by volunteering, will help establish relationships with the people who make those appointments. Getting on the staff of a National Junior team will also help to add substance to your CV.
If you are interested in the Business side of things, get to some of your local NBL or WNBL team’s practise sessions and see if they would like some help, volunteering to assist with practise will get you a foot in the door. Get to know the Head Coach as well as the Clubs administration.
On both pathways work on your own development. Attend clinics and get to see the elite coaches in your area or State working with their players – the best Professional Development I have ever had is seeing great coaches working with their team. If you have the resources, get to the places where the best coaches are working, this would involve travel to the USA or Europe, both offer different styles and different approaches which can only enhance your own knowledge and again add depth to your CV.
In Australia when you look at the numbers there aren’t many full time coaching jobs, there are eight NBL teams most with a Head Coach and perhaps two assistant coaches. Experienced Head Coaches are usually paid well but the assistant jobs tend to suit younger coaches as there isn’t great financial reward. The State Performance jobs are few too, one or two full time people in each State then there are the Basketball Australia jobs. The two Senior Head Coaches are full time and paid well. The COE coaches tend to be young, inexperienced at the senior level and of course you have to be prepared to live in Canberra!
I’m probably making it sound pretty unattractive but the reality is that it difficult to be successful and have longevity coaching basketball in Australia however if you can hang in there, then it can be a wonderful job. I’ve been full time in basketball since 1984 both in Government and Business jobs, the Government jobs have helped me see the World and also learn about politics within the sport while the Business jobs have given me the chance for season long competition around Australia in a trench battle against some very good coaches. Both have given me awesome life experiences and many great friendships
Our most successful NBL/WNBL and National Coaches have come from both the Government and Business route, the cream usually makes it to the top.
I would never discourage anyone from chasing a career in coaching however there is a lot of work involved, you need to be prepared to do the work in the trenches, sometimes your next move will be decided by a grumpy owner or naive administrator but the rewards far out way the frustrations and disappointments. Do the work, hang in there and you might reap the rewards.