Women in Coaching: Bride Saunders
June 26, 2020
A recent survey by Basketball Ireland of female coaches in Ireland found that there were many up and coming young coaches who wanted to hear more from experienced female coaches in Ireland.
As part of our ‘Dream Big’ #SheGotGame women in sport campaign, we will be featuring a host of female coaches who are currently (or have recently been) coaching here in Ireland, to learn about their background, their coaching careers and any tips and tricks they have for new coaches.
This week’s feature is with Bride Saunders.
Check out our Q&A with Bride below.
Current Coaching position?
I currently coach children from 4 years old right through primary school level. Teaching fundamentals, getting kids interested in sport, particularly basketball, has always been a passion for me. What I do now is a continuation of what we used to do with the Denny Notre Dame Schools programme, where we travelled the length of the country visiting schools, introducing kids to sport and trying to make it fun to be involved.
Can you talk us through your playing background?
I grew up in Kerry and played a little basketball in school but when I came to Dublin I kind of gave it up and only played when I went home to Kerry. I remember playing in the Castleisland Christmas Blitz one year and decided that I would set up a team when I returned to Dublin. I worked in the Civil Service and with a few friends we set up a ladies team “Delta” playing in the Dublin leagues in the early ‘80s. This led to us setting up a Men’s teams and things snowballed quickly from there.
How did you get involved in coaching?
The ladies team faded after a few years and the men’s side of things went from strength to strength. We were a senior club with no juniors and so we merged with Notre Dame, who were an underage club with no senior teams. We had a number of different coaches of the men’s senior team over the years but as they left to pursue other options, I ended up coaching the Senior team. We had a good squad of experienced players and stepping into the role came naturally to me.
What kinds of teams have you coached over the years?
I coached many teams over the years. I started with Dublin Men’s Division 1 team and we won the National Intermediate Championships twice. We then entered the National League. At that time there was only one Division and I was the first woman to coach in the men’s League. I remember our first game was away in Ballina and we were leading right to the end only to beaten by a “three” on the buzzer. Welcome to the big leagues! I think we won three games all year so the next season, when there was a Second Division, we found ourselves there. The following year we won the Division 2 and were promoted to the Superleague. I then concentrated on the administrative side of things including sponsorship which was vital and time consuming. I was also assistant coach as we won the Roy Curtis Tournament and our four National cups in a row.
Who was a role model for you as a Coach and why?
I never really had a role model. I coached with and against many different coaches over the years and I suppose I picked up things from each of them as we went along. No single philosophy stands out. I was about keeping it simple. Hard work on “D” and quick movement of the ball and man to create opportunities on offence. It is about maintaining focus and consistency of effort during a game. My philosophy is that basketball is a simple game, hard work is the key, particularly on defence. Deny the opposition’s best player and make the others step up if they are able.
What is the most important thing for you when coaching teenage boys and girls?
As with all teams you have to be consistent. If players are not putting in effort and are let get away with it, the internal morale of the team suffers very quickly and is hard to recover. Discipline, commitment and motivation are the keys. You have to lead by example, particularly with kids. I have found that no matter what the age group, explaining “why” you do something is important. “Why” gets buy-in; expecting blind obedience fails every time. Motivation is key, so important at any age but particularly for teenagers. Instilling confidence in your players is everything at every age.
Have you any tips you would like to share for girls to keep them engaged in sport particularly at the 14 to 18 age group?
Obviously we are not talking about elite players here, but rather girls who either don’t make that grade or are not interested in that level of the game so it is important to be realistic about your players’ and your team’s capabilities. Playing time for players is important. Players lose interest if they sit on the bench all game, every game. However, they also know who is better and who is weaker and have a good idea themselves of where they fit in the pecking order. It can’t be only about winning. Honesty is important. Set goals for the team and the individual. The girls need to feel involved, there are many distractions at that age and if they are not being treated fairly, they will pack it in. That is not to say they all should get equal time or whatever, but fairness and the “why” are very important. If anything, this is more important with girls because generally they are more mature at that age. Bonding as part of a team cannot be underestimated for any group but particularly this age group.
Do you have a favourite drill for younger players to keep them engaged in the training session and if so what is it?
Players love to run so for me any drill that is upbeat and has them running, thinking on their feet, adjusting to different situations works well. I used to love the 3 v 2 into 2 v 1 fast break drill, for that purpose. With my younger kids now, we run lay-up and shooting drills combined with and ‘X’s’ and ‘O’s’ to get kids thinking about strategies and teamwork as well as just the scoring element. The drills must be fun and they must be competitive. Even if they are only four years old, they still want to win!
Any tips you would like to give to young coaches starting out?
If you love the game just do it. If it is your passion don’t let anything stand in your way. Why would you? Reach for the stars, go for it. Ask for help, there is plenty of help out there. Learn, learn, learn.
When you first stepped up to National League/National level were you nervous and if so how did you deal with it?
It was the culmination of years of hard work and we had finally reached the goal so it was exciting and I was so happy to have achieved it. I was already coaching the team at this point so it was a natural progression together. At the same time nerves are part of doing anything you care about. If you are not nervous and excited then give it up! You have put in the work. This is where you want to be, this is what you want to do, this is what you have worked for! The excitement is what it is all about. I was always nervous and keyed up before games, but as soon as that whistle blows the game takes over, you forget everything and are in the zone and nothing else matters.
What would you say to other female coaches who are considering moving up a level in their careers?
There are no limits except the ones you create for yourself. It is so much easier now. Do any course you can, go to games and watch. There is always something to be learned from watching other coaches. Watch as many games as you can, I believe that what can be learned from watching games, by players and coaches, is so underestimated.
How do you measure the success of a training session?
Each session has to have an objective. You have got to be working towards something. Being an athlete at any level is difficult. It is very hard to stay motivated to put in the effort required unless there is a tangible goal. Try and always work in the basics, that every player hates to work on, into every session i.e. ball handling drills, footwork, speed and proper passing. Ultimately, achieving the objective you had in mind beforehand, for me defines a successful session.
How do you measure success in broader terms?
Success has many forms. It is something for each club, team and person to define for themselves depending on their own philosophy, goals and the level they are coaching or playing at. When I was coaching at national league level, I was driven. I always wanted my team to be the best. I was never just going along for the ride. It was win or go home. Al Pacino in “Any given Sunday”. Competitive to the last. If you’re not first, you’re last! At that level is has to be. No excuses no regrets. For me now, success is seeing a four-year-old dribble equally well with their left and right hand and seeing the smile on their face when they score their first basket. It’s seeing them be happy at their shot even when they still haven’t actually scored but they know they have reached up and followed through and when they turn laughing and saying “good shot I’m nearly there”! It’s instilling confidence in them now so that they go forward with that confidence (and they do) and making sure that they know that it is okay to make mistakes, just pick up that ball and carry on.
How important do you think it is for coaches to keep learning regardless of their level of experience?
Vital. Every day’s a school day. You can learn from anyone and everyone. You have to be humble enough to recognise that there is always something to learn. There is no standing still. If you are not moving forward, you’re falling behind.
Have you noticed many changes in coaching in Ireland over the years and if, what?
I am not involved at National level in any capacity now but my perception is that sometimes people make what is a simple game very complicated. However, I like that there seems to be more game preparation and scouting the opposition. Coaches generally have their work done beforehand and expect their players to execute the game plan on court. I have been very impressed with the level of knowledge displayed by some of the younger coaches on the podcasts I have listened to recently. They seem hungry and eager to learn while being able to speak eloquently and knowledgeably about the game. The future looks bright.
What changes would you like to see in basketball coaching in Ireland in the future?
Coaching is key for the development of the game. We need to do all we can to help our coaches develop.
Also learning the correct fundamentals at an early age makes a huge difference. Instilling confidence at an early age and the belief that there is nothing you cannot achieve if you want to, through hard work and practice. I see a lot of underage games where it seems to be about winning rather than the development of proper techniques, fundamentals and teamwork. I think this needs to be addressed.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned as a player?
Practice, practice, practice. Confidence comes from practice.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned as a coach?
Fitness is so important, a lot of team’s tire in the third/fourth quarters when it’s time to close it out.
I think that stats are an underrated. I always had our stats and opposition stats done for every game. That knowledge re opposition fouls, who is scoring what, is a vital tool to have in a game. Percentages are big for me, no point scoring twenty points but taking forty shots to do so. I love stats and statistical analysis. I also think that scouting is very important, preparation is everything. Loyalty is so important. I don’t like seeing coaches openly criticise their players. Right or wrong you have to have your players’ backs in public. Any issues that need to be addressed should be done in the locker room. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, but come game time we are a team, game faces on and ready to go to work. If you have that loyalty, that togetherness, the players will die for you on the court and when the game is on the line that is the difference. I’m all about confidence and motivation, instilling in your players and getting the best from them. Your team is made up of players but players are individuals and each and every one is different regardless of skill level. They all have different personalities and confidence levels and you absolutely need to be able to read the individual. Each one will need a different approach to motivate them and I feel this is a key component of coaching. Not all of them will be star players but, not only is that okay, it is necessary, and each needs to know that their role is important and a key element in the make-up of the team as a whole. Even at the top levels of the game not all players are equal. If you cannot read your players then how can you mould a team of individuals into a unit? How can you make them confident in themselves and as a team?
Is there anything else you would like to add?
What a game, just holding that ball, the feel of the leather, the squeak of the sneakers, the swish of the net, even the sight of a lonely ball just sitting on the floor. Basketball is the greatest game in the world.