WNBPA.com recently sat down with professional basketball player Lindsey Harding, a pioneer who’s making basketball history by breaking into NBA coaching. Find out more about her recent coaching experience, her coaching mentors, the impact she’s had thus far and what’s ahead for the eight-year WNBA vet:
Q: The NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, where you served as a Guest Assistant Coach for the Toronto Raptors, recently wrapped up. Talk about the role you played…
A: Coach Casey, the Raptors head coach, talked to me about how defense was going to be their main focus at summer league (and definitely will be this upcoming season as well). He really wanted me to focus on that and learn their terminology so I could reiterate everything they wanted to do. A lot of the guys are so young – rookies, first-year, maybe second-year – so he wanted me to be able to help teach them the defense.
But I wasn’t restricted just to that, especially during practices. Any time I saw something, I had the freedom to actually stop a practice and speak up, which was great. I also participated in a lot of the drills. We did a lot of shell drills and transition drills, and they weren’t shy about asking me to get in there and play with those guys a little bit. It was a lot of fun!
Q: As the first female to serve on the Raptors coaching staff, what type of reception did you get from the players and even the other coaches?
A: It was awesome from the start. On the very, very first day when all of us coaches met each other, and then the players came in, we went around the room and introduced ourselves. When it got to me, I told them that while I’m looking to the future, I’m currently still playing overseas and that I played in the WNBA for eight years. And it was really cool because after I spoke, Coach Casey said, “Guys, I want you to understand that she’s here for a reason. There’s a lot that she can teach you, and she wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that we could benefit from this.” It was great to hear that before anything started. The respect was there from the head coach all the way down to every assistant and all the players. There was no hesitation whatsoever. Anything I had to say or thought or contribute was definitely taken equally.
Q: What did you find to be the biggest challenge?
A: At the beginning, it was the uncertainty of everything. I’m wondering how people are going to take this. Is it going to be different? Will they be respectful? It wasn’t just me coming into a new situation. These guys had never been coached by a woman before. But after that first day, I was really comfortable. I know the game, I understand it…and I knew I belonged there.
There are a few differences from what I’m used to, like how they play above the rim, which is new to me. And then there are things like letting them change before I go in to the locker room! The coaches are in there, they’re writing on the board, guys are changing. And when the guys are finished changing, it’s kind of like, “Hey Lindsey, we’re ready!” Other than that, basketball is basketball.
Q: How would you describe your coaching style?
A: I’m a motivator. It’s not just a coaching style, but how I know the game and how I play the game. In my position as a point guard, I always try to motivate my teammates. And I was trying to do the same with these guys. There are some players who came out there and played right away the majority of the game. And then you have players out of college who are used to playing all the time and might not even get enough reps in practice. As a coach, how do I keep these guys motivated and focused on their goals in such a short time? It’s still new for me and I’m still trying to find my place, see what fits and what doesn’t fit. But I am a positive person, and it’s fun to help them find that fire and motivation.
Q: Who are some of your coaching mentors?
A: I don’t have one specific coaching mentor. But last year I went to a coaching convention in Chicago and that’s where this all really got started. I got in contact with Rick Carlisle (who was kind of running it and hosting it) through Warren LeGarie. He encouraged me to come to the conference. I went and had great conversations with Rick and met so many coaches. I saw Jason Kidd, who has always been someone I can contact with anything. He’s another one who was very open to this and told me if I had any questions that he’d be there to help me. And same with Nick Nurse, who’s an assistant with the Raptors. There have been several coaches that have been very welcoming and open to the idea of giving women an opportunity.
Q: Do you feel that women pursuing coaching positions will always have something more to prove? What does the future look like?
A: We’re women in this society and that’s kind of how it works, especially when you’re trying to break into a little bit of a boy’s club, if you will. We have female NBA refs, like Violet Palmer and Lauren Holtkamp, and they have to be completely on top of their game all the time because they are under a magnifying glass.
Becky Hammon had a magnifying glass on her and she performed beautifully and handled herself extremely well. You talk about a coach I look up to, that’s one right there. I look up to her as a player and I definitely look up to her as a coach. It’s her demeanor and the way she handles herself. I keep using the word demeanor, but you have to have a certain kind of demeanor to get these guys’ trust. If they don’t trust you, then you’re not going to get any respect.
I definitely think the opportunity is there for women, and hopefully coaching continues to be part of my future.
Q: What does it feel like to be making basketball history?
A: I was at one of many functions during the NBA Summer League, and a front-office executive from an NBA team came up to me and said, “I just want to say thank you to you. I have daughters and I want my daughters to be able to do what their daddy does. They can look at you now and see that a woman is doing something in a ‘man’s profession.’” That kind of stuck with me because I’m doing something that I enjoy and can continue to learn and believe I can be pretty good at. And to hear something like that, to see the kind of effect that I’ve had in a short time…it’s just great.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Well, I actually just got back from speaking at Camp Olympia, a youth sports camp in Toronto. A lot of NBA and WNBA players have gone up there to speak to the kids. And now I’m in Los Angeles to help work out the Raptors players out here. I’m continuing to do different things to get my feet wet and gain experience. Plus, this is what I would be doing if I were coaching.
As for the future, I’m heading back overseas in September to play. But I plan to use my breaks and offseason time to gain some more coaching experience, learn and grow, make new contacts, stay relevant. I still love the game of basketball and I’m still playing. I was told once by a great man to “get all the music out before you step on the other side.” I’m still a player as of now, but I want to be ready for coaching whenever I do finish playing this game.