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Business, Goals Edition Larissa Anderson – WNBL Head Coach – Dandenong Jayco Rangers


By: Larissa Anderson •  4 years ago •  

I started playing basketball when I was seven for the Basin Wildcats in Knox, Victoria. Like most kids I played many sports but fell in love with basketball straight away.

At 10 years old we moved to Sydney and played with Manly Warringah with my dad as my coach. Manly was quite a while away from where we lived at the time, but back then you needed to travel quite a bit to play representative. Mum and Dad would drive me all over the place so I could continue playing and receive the best possible coaching. I was doing quite well in Sydney but realised when we moved back to Melbourne in top age U/16’s that I was way behind fundamentally and got my butt kicked!

That was when I joined the Nunawading Spectres and was put straight into their Under 16s First side. I had to work really hard to try and catch up to all the other girls and found this season extremely hard because I felt like I had taken another player’s position on this team. By the end of the season I was doing well and as I went into U/18’s I was included in the Nunawading SEABL squad. I went on to play over 200 games with the Nunawading Spectres SEABL side over the years and absolutely loved this club.

In 1995, I was offered a Development position with the Dandenong Rangers WNBL side. At this time SEABL and WNBL were both played during the winter so I juggled both commitments. The WNBL team ended up having a few injuries and I ended up playing some minutes and was very excited to get my first real chance at playing at the WNBL level with and against the best players in the country.

The following season, in 1996, I was recruited by the Bulleen Boomers as part of their main squad and was looking to be a fantastic opportunity to really try and make my mark as a young player in the WNBL. We were put through an enormous pre-season, something we just do not get the chance to do these days, and was the fittest I had ever been. Just weeks from the opening WNBL round, I was in Perth for the Under 20s State Championships and went down with a knee injury. Once home we found out I had done my ACL and was going to miss that entire upcoming WNBL season, I was gutted.

I ended up staying with the Boomers, now the Melbourne Boomers for 10 years. We went through a lot in those years, going up and down a little financially, bringing in some wonderful sponsors, playing with some fabulous players, making finals, losing finals, doing my other ACL and missing anther season. I was honoured to captain this team over a couple of seasons and made many wonderful friendships that stand strong today.

Towards the end of my career I felt I needed a change and ended up going back to Dandenong for my last two seasons. I started at Dandenong and finished at Dandenong. I got to play my last two seasons with girls that are now some of my best friends.

Looking over my playing career, I have mixed emotions. I so badly wanted to try and make an Opals team and was desperate to win a Championship. Instead, in just under 300 games in the WNBL, I did two ACL’s, dislocated my left shoulder, and then the normal list of ‘regular’ basketball injuries. I never got that Championship, or made the Opal side. I was always the undersized 4 man, so would always be competing against the ‘true’ talls of the league and always feeling like I had to prove myself. In fact, my girls now often ask how I played as a 4 man given how huge the league is these days! I played for as long as I did purely because I absolutely loved playing at this level. It satisfied all the competitiveness and the drive I had to see how much I could push myself and achieve. My life has been built around the players I played with. I would never have had it any other way and I believe everything I felt as a player over the years has been the real cornerstone behind my coaching philosophies today.

Coaching, along with playing, has always been my passion. From the age of 14, coaching is what I did as my part-time job. I loved it. I would do indy’s with kids, coach at camps, then as I got older I ran my own camps and even built my own role model program that I would take out to schools.

My first senior coaching job was with the Nunawading Spectre SEABL team whilst I was still playing WNBL. It really helped me as a player over three seasons to be able to see the world through coaching eyes. I used all of it and I think my most consistent games were in those final few seasons. You develop a whole new appreciation for the coaching aspects of the game and I would recommend all players give coaching a go!

After three great years with the Nunawading Spectres we parted ways and I had a brief break from coaching seniors whilst I finished my WNBL career. In 2007 I got married to my beautiful husband James and 2 years later I played my last WNBL game and shortly after fell pregnant with our first child.

A few months after Emma was born, I was really missing my basketball and the SEABL Head Coach position became available at the Dandenong Rangers. I put my hand up for this position and was thankfully appointed.

We then went on to win the next three championships straight, 2010, 2011 and 2012. A three peat! This has never been done at SEABL level and will forever be something we will all cherish. We had an amazing group of girls and staff and it is really hard to explain the feeling of achieving something like this. What I do know is that the chemistry we had amongst this group, even though the personnel slightly changed each year, was the key ingredient to our success and something I will always place as the highest priority in any team.

In the final year (2012) I was pregnant with my second child and we were renovating, so I made the difficult decision to take the 2013 season off to spend with family. In 2014 I was fortunate enough to be able to return and keep the core group together from 2012. Again, we had a great season but just did not get it done at the business end, but probably learnt more in that season than ever before! When we returned again in 2015, we felt stronger than ever as a group and went on to win our 4th championship together.

It has always been my dream, my goal, to coach in the WNBL. When I was appointed the Head Coach of the Dandenong Jayco Rangers for this 2015/2016 season I could not believe it, it felt quite surreal at the time but nor did I have time to really think for too long. We were just starting the SEABL season and there was an enormous amount to be done for both seasons. I decided to stay on board with SEABL for that last 2015 season and just made sure I had some trainings off here and there so I was not burnt out before the WNBL season. I was soon to learn that I would be the first female to coach the Dandenong Jayco Rangers, exactly 20 years since my first WNBL game with them, which felt quite sentimental.

I have always looked at what a Hawthorn Football Club has done with putting together a young, talented list and working with them over a few years as the way to go. That is the overall direction we have taken with the WNBL side and I am really excited with the squad we have assembled and looking forward to seeing what progress we make this season and beyond.

A lot of the work as a WNBL coach hasn’t been that different to the SEABL teams. There is still a lot of preparation and scouting, it’s just taken up to a whole new level along with the expectations.

The biggest change from SEABL, the biggest challenge, has been with scheduling and going straight from one season into the next. I don’t remember having to do road trips like this when I was playing. We have also had a great deal of injuries this season which has made it really tough to gain some momentum. We have had many different players out at different times which definitely mucks around with on court chemistry at times, but the girls have done a wonderful job to stay focused and get some really big wins

I believe whatever level you are coaching; all philosophies should remain the same. Making a group of athletes all come together to achieve the common goal is a wonderful challenge to work towards each season. Everyone needs to buy into the team culture and put others before themselves. This is probably something that becomes more of a challenge at senior level because a whole lot more seems to be on the line. Players trying to make National teams, get more court time, earn better contracts. Whatever the goal, whatever place that player has on your team, everyone is equally as important.

“Every man (or woman!) can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team.”

Coaching is definitely an emotional roller coaster – one moment you can feel on top of the world, the next you are wondering why you are putting yourself through all this. Even through the best wins, you can still feel flat because you wished you could have played different players more. I will always be a coach that feels my players frustration and pain as I have been in their place, but you must always try to keep your mind on the job and do what is best for the team, not an individual. Every player is your responsibility and the best thing you can do is communicate with every player as much as possible. I try to always follow gut feelings as they are rarely wrong.

“The worst day coaching is better than the best day doing anything else.”

I have been influenced by every one of my past coaches one way or another, but also by all my teammates, my parents and my husband. I have some past coaches and teammates as some of my closest friends and mentors now. They will always be the first to message or call me through the good times and the bad. I have a great support network that will always tell me what I need to hear, not what I necessarily want to hear which is so important.

My husband has been one of my assistant coaches since 2010 and is also assisting now in my first WNBL season. Whilst it makes for some very interesting conversations at home at times (she laughs), it has been an amazing journey to take with your life partner and I think we are extremely lucky to be able to do this together. He has been an amazing support through my playing and now coaching career.

I have absolutely loved my first year as a WNBL coach. We have a wonderful group of girls, staff and club, and everyone has really come together well. We can be very exciting to watch when we get it going and have also shown at times we are a young and new group. It has been a funny season with a lot of results going back and forth for teams, it has been one of the more even seasons I have ever been involved with. Right up until the last round, 6 teams have been battling for the final 4 and final places will not be known until after the last round this weekend, which is pretty exciting. At times I get frustrated because we may have dropped a couple of games we probably shouldn’t have, but then if anyone was to tell me at the start of the season that not only would we be playing finals but had the chance to finish top two in our first season together, you would take it every time!

My advice to young beginning coaches is, if you can, get out and learn from as many other coaches as you possibly can. Our great country offers so many wonderful opportunities to attend National camps, tours, tournaments etc. Speak to as many National and Senior coaches as you can and ask questions. Put your hand up to assist and get involved wherever possible and take notice of how different coaches and players deal with different scenarios and situations. Every coach has something to offer and whilst not everything would work for you, it is embracing those other perspectives that allows you to grow as a coach and a person. Communication is the biggest key, learn to open the door to all players and listen to what they have to say. I also feel it is so important to support your fellow coaches as it can be a very lonely job at times so the last thing you need is to cop it from your peers also. It has been fantastic for me as the Rookie coach in the WNBL to be able to reach and chat with other coaches during the season.

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