Women in Coaching: Suzanne Maguire
July 10, 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.
Over the coming weeks – and 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 on Fordham University Hall of Famer Suzanne Maguire.
Check out our Q&A with Suzanne below.
Can you talk us through your playing background?
I started playing basketball in my secondary school, St. Marks C.S. in Tallaght, and when I was 15/16 made the club move northside to Tolka Rovers where I played under Celine Byrne. I received a scholarship to play at Fordham University, a NCAA D1 school in NYC, which was the dream & played there for all 4 years. Upon returning to Ireland I went back playing with Tolka Rovers, before moving to Killester, DCU Mercy & finally Liffey Celtics, where I continue to play with their D1 Team. I have played on Irish International Teams from u15-u19, and on Senior Women’s Teams for most of my career. I participated in the World University Games in Korea in 2003, and more recently represented Ireland in 3x3 at the European Olympic Games in Baku in 2015.
How did you get involved in coaching?
While playing with DCU Mercy, I began coaching at their Academy and from there started to pay more attention to coaching in general. It progressed from there through various underage teams and carried forward when I made the move to Liffey Celtics. For most of my coaching career I have also been playing, which is an interesting dynamic and massive learning opportunity.
What kind of teams have you coached over the years?
Primarily girls’ teams between u15-u20 at club level. I coached the Irish u18 Women’s 3x3 in 2016 and was the assistant coach to the Irish u18 Women in 2018, who participated in Division A for the first time ever at the European Championships in Italy.
Who would you say was a role model for you as a coach and why?
Karen Robinson-Keyes joined the women’s basketball programme as an assistant coach during my junior year at Fordham University. My impression from the start was of such a big person residing in such a little person :) She was a standout player at the University of Notre Dame under Muffet McGraw & her spirit, determination, competitiveness, pride, all pointed to her being a winner! Karen challenged me from the start, unwilling to allow me to stay within the confines of the player I had become. Often times good players stop being coached. Often times when you get recognized for reaching a certain standard and for doing some things really well, the voices around you stop having the same bite, the same instruction, the same responsibility to get you to the next level as they did along the way. Karen changed that for me, and her voice became louder and more demanding than I had known and the reach of my game grew considerably under her stewardship. This wasn’t the first time I had seen great coaching, but it was the first time I understood it and the impact it can have on a player, on a person. Role Models can be truly transformational.
What is the most important thing for you when coaching younger/teenage boys and girls?
I love the response from Bride Saunders when she featured in this series, “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”. As a coach you have to not only show a player ‘how’ to do something, but you have to help them understand ‘why’ they are doing it in a particular way, at a particular time etc. This challenges you as a coach to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve, because there is thought and rationale supporting the teaching point, but it also creates broader context for the player, so they can see how to incorporate & apply the particular skill to their game. My players have carte blanche to ask ‘why’ at any time, and I genuinely encourage it.
Have you any tips you'd like to share on keeping girls engaged in sport - particularly at the 14-18 year old age group?
Firstly, you have to build the competence and the confidence of each player and understand that all players are at varying stages of those two things a lot of the time! Successful Teams need the full array of skills, not all players good at all the same things; therefore, we need to be setting different goals & targets for players and rewarding them with court time when they achieve them. You are giving girls the opportunity, challenging them against where they are at and not the ‘best’ player, it creates a sense of fairness & inclusion. Secondly, we need to create a safe, competitive, and social environment where the focus is on all the great things being part of a team gives, rather than allowing the focus be on all the things given up to play. Our young girls need to see that they can do both, play the sport they love & have time to enjoy their life outside of their sport.
Do you have a favourite drill you use for younger players to keep them engaged in the training session and if so, what is it?
I love working ‘advantage’ situations but having an equal focus on the offensive & defensive nuances of having a numerical difference. The drill is a continuous 1v1, 2v1, 3v2, 4v3, 5v4 and then finishing 5v5. Team 1 (Green) is one end of the floor, Team 2 (White) is the other end of the floor. We start with player 1 from Team Green going 1v1 full court with player 1 from Team White. If Team Green score or turnover the ball, then their player 1 is back on defense, and Team White bring on player 2 with their player 1 to go 2v1. If Team White score or turnover the ball, their players 1 & 2 are back on defense, and Team Green bring on players 2 & 3 along with their player 1 to go 3v2 and so on, until you get all the way to 5v5. It’s a full court, fast paced drill that has players constantly having to tune into the advantage or disadvantage they have, players off the court have to communicate & be ready to come in, it’s constant movement between offense & defense, with plenty of scope to layer from basic principles & skills to more advanced.
Any tips you would like to give to young coaches who are starting out?
Back yourself! There are many aspects that go into being a great coach, but very often we focus initially on what we don’t have, putting ourselves into a position of doubt before we even start. Look around and see if there is a coach whose style you like and reach out; I have found that coaches love to talk basketball and are very generous with their time, especially with those starting off. But like most things, the secret sauce is practice-practice-practice. Get into gyms, get involved with teams, ask to lead drills / sessions, get involved with club camps, Academies, anything that exposes you to the game and puts you into a situation to learn.
When you first stepped up to National League/International level, were you nervous about the step up and how did you deal with that if so?
It’s like a rollercoaster! There is huge excitement/nerves with the thought of coaching at a high level, nothing but adrenaline when the whistle blows. Coaching the Irish u18 Women was amazing! I learned so much about coaching at that level, about myself, and the journey you go on with the players for the time you are with them is quite extraordinary. When you do move up, surround yourself with great people- that can be people you have on staff with you, or just people you trust to talk to & bounce ideas off. There will be nerves, but like being on that rollercoaster, the exhilaration when you get going is incredible.
What would you say to other female coaches who are considering moving up a level in their coaching careers?
There are many things that need to be considered for any coach to move to the next level of their coaching journey; but if time can be allocated, work commitments maintained and families bought in then I would say “most of the old moles I know wish they had listened less to their fears and more to their dreams” (Charlie Mackesy). Imagine the possibilities for all of us if we dialed down the self-doubt & uncertainty but turned up the pursuit of our dreams & commitment of the things we truly believe in.
How do you measure the success of a training session?
Success is achieving the objective of the session in terms of both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Like most other coaches, I will always prepare a practice plan that outlines what I want to cover with the team. As well as executing the ‘what’ of that plan, I also look at the process and ‘how’ each player & the team navigated through the session. You will have drills & small sided games that may be skill based but they are also challenging such things as adversity, fatigue, decision making and seeing players succeed in both the skill & the process is, for me, a true measure of success.
How important do you think it is for coaches to keep learning and developing regardless of level of experience?
I can’t stress enough the importance of constantly adding to your coaching toolbelt. As we want & expect our players to commit to their development away from organized sessions, players can reasonably expect that their coach is also putting in the work away from the court. With so many access points to resources, there is no excuse for coaches at any level to stand still. So, keep moving.
What changes would you like to see in basketball coaching in Ireland in the future?
We need to have a coordinated effort to develop & raise the level of coaching in Ireland. There is a noticeable absence of Level 2 coaching courses required for high level coaching in this country. We haven’t had a national coaching conference in over 5 years. There is a real appetite for more coaching clinics, seminars, events that will bring coaches together to learn & share, but with nobody or group responsible for making this happen. In the same way we talk about the player path, we need to create a similar path for coaches, so they can map out their journey, providing them the resources & support to help them achieve their goals & aspirations. This for me is entering a crisis point.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned as a player?
Before I headed off to Fordham University, I was given the advice to always do more than everyone else if I wanted to succeed. If it was staying in the gym to get more shots up, or extra cardio/sprints on the football field, no matter how much or how little, it just needed to be more, and consistently more. The lesson was simple- there is no substitute to time spent & hard work. Coach-Player contact time in Ireland is precious, but it cannot be the only time you are working on your game. You must commit to your development on your time, and that involves sacrifice. There is no a success story without hard work and commitment.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned as a coach?
Consistency- as a coach I believe it is vital that your expectations, your language, your approach are consistent and not subject to constant change. I think this helps with establishing ground rules, facilitating players to settle into an environment, to understand where there is space to explore & grow, and where the boundaries lie. This is not about limiting you as a coach or advocating a zero-change policy, it’s more about fairness and creating bonds of trust between coach & player that will motivate both to be better.