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Business, Olympic Edition The Value of the Mature Age Rookie


By: Brendan Joyce •  4 years ago •  




wo of my best friends went on to become superstars in the game: Tony Shaw for Collingwood and Terry Wallace for Hawthorn, both Norm Smith medallists. Instead, I ended up playing 287 games in the NBL for 13 years and captained both the Nunawading Spectres and Westside Saints, and made 7 NBL finals including the NBL Grand Final in 1981. Joyce was also fortunate to be a 2 x NBL All-star in 1988 and 1989.

I made it to the senior Australian squad but always just missed out on making the team for a World Championships or Olympics. I was also vice captain of the U20 Australian team and then captain of the U23 team. As a point guard, you are usually an extension of the coach on the floor. However, at the time, I was a fairly intense player and just didn’t see myself as a coach. Despite that, I used to love coaching kids and juniors, even while playing at senior level. Funnily, I actually coached Andrej Lemanis [now Head coach of the Australian Men’s National Team, the Boomers] in Victoria for the U20s Keilor Saints team.

When I finished my NBL career, I decided to go on with coaching as a I still had a passion for the game. I took on a coaching role with the Ballarat Miners in the CBA (now SEABL) and Basketball Victoria league for 3 years, leading them to CBA back to back Championships. Afterwards I coached Wollongong/Illawarra Hawks for 11.5 years to 2 Grand Finals in 2001 and 2005, winning the NBL Championship in 2001, then the Gold Coast Blaze for another 2 years, making the NBL playoffs in their inaugural year of 2007.


While at the Hawks, in 2001, I also became Assistant Coach to Brian Goorjian for the Australian Boomers. With the men’s team, I went to both 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2006 World Championships in Japan and we were Gold medallist at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

In 2013, I accepted the full-time Head Coach role of the Australian National Women’s program and the Opals after doing a lot of work on player and coach development away from the NBL with Basketball Queensland and Basketball Victoria.


I’m pretty happy with the last 3 .5 years in the job, as it’s the first Olympic cycle where every team has won a World Championships medal – U17s gold 2016, U19s bronze 2015, and the Opals bronze 2014 – which has never been done before. In the U17 World Championships, Australia had never finished higher than 5th, and the USA had never been beaten in women’s tournaments. Our team beat the USA in the semi-finals and went on to win the gold medal.

We have transferred the Opals style of play to the U19s and U17s via the Centre of Excellence, where I lead the technical direction of coaching and the development program. We’ve now got the chance to put the icing on the cake at the Olympics by winning a medal.


To achieve this, you’ve got to have a vision and a plan. When I looked at the Opals 2012 London Olympic team, I realised that 10 of those girls would be 30-plus by the time we got to Rio. Immediately, Kristi Harrower announced her retirement after holding down the point guard position for 16 years, which was a huge loss for the team. Lauren Jackson and Liz Cambage were also injured and not available for the 2014 World Championships in Turkey. Missing those key names, and with only 3 players from the London team playing, winning the bronze medal by beating Turkey in their home country, it really felt like gold because it was so unexpected.

From 2013-2014, I have built a pyramid of depth – a huge development program to give everybody an opportunity to try and make the National team. We took the players we picked out through this program on tours to Europe and Asia to really expedite their development and expose them to the best players in the world. The two junior national coaches we appointed – Paul Goriss for the U19s, and Shannon Seebohm for the U17s – really contributed to our success at the World Championships.


As part of the development program, I decided to bring in six players in 2014 aged 19-26 as ‘mature age rookies’, as the AFL does. I thought some of these rookies had a chance to make the 2014 World Championship team or senior teams in the future. Through the Centre of Excellence, we controlled their daily training environment, gave them strength and conditioning program, a skills development program, psychology and nutrition, and taught them how to be professionals. 2 of those kids ended up making the World Championship team because of the unavailable and retired players and made a very important contribution to our success.

The following year 2015 we took another 4 mature age athletes into the program, over the two years 12 of which went into the U19 group leading up to their 2015 World Championships. The U19 team won bronze and comprised of 11 players who had come through the new Centre of Excellence ‘Hybrid model’ program. This year 2016 we took 12 of the best kids, 3 for the future U19 team and 9 players for the U17 program and 9 of those played in their gold medal World Champs win this year in Spain.

Similar to AFL, when you draft kids at 17 or 18, they may not be ready physically or mentally. With only 8 teams in the WNBL, there are a lot of really good players who are forgotten about or not seen. They have a good understanding the game, hardened physically and mentally mature and ready because they play in second tier leagues against senior women. However there are not enough spots due imports playing in the leagues as well. So we look at all under pinning leagues as well evaluating at all levels for development and this is also why the AFL teams now look at the second tier leagues – VFL, WAFL, the South Australian league.


We now share information with coaches in other Olympic sports, such as Greg McFadden with the Women’s Water Polo Team. I also get quite a few calls from AFL teams because AFL is getting a lot like basketball strategically. I’ve spent a day at the Sydney Swans in 2012, been at Collingwood, and Essendon. Kevin Sheedy got me down back when I was coaching the Wollongong Hawks in 2001, asking about ‘flooding’, which we call defensive transition.


Time spent with the AFL coaches is really beneficial; while you’re sharing information, you’re also getting ideas. It’s not just about strategy, it’s about people management as well. We all have the same challenges. It’s not just about basketball. Our athletes are similar too, with more skill, jumping, running, agility and similar body types. Now that the Women’s AFL League has been announced, it’s a good thing we have won all these medals so they don’t pinch our girls as well!


As a player, I was brought up on many continuity offensive structures due to a longer shot clock for basketball and some of those old style structures are still around. However, I wanted to develop a style that was very aggressive defensively but also with a very attacking style offensively. Strategically, we’re doing some things with the Opals that a lot of people said I wouldn’t be able to do. I look at the girls as elite athletes. Because they’re women, doesn’t mean they can’t do the same things as men, and that’s how I’ve approached it and it’s worked.

If you develop this style of play of what l call “Conceptual motion”, it requires players to have a good skill package and intellect on how to play and attack within today’s 24-second shot clock. Sometimes I think it scares coaches because we actually allow a lot of players to make more decisions than what they would under continuity play, but this does allow more freedom to play to the strengths of the players rather than centred around 2 or 3 players for success. This also makes you versatile and less predictable.



We’re just about to select the team, but I know from my Olympic experiences that there’s many distractions at the Olympic Games, so I’ve brought in a sports psychologist to talk to the team about developing resilience. We even discuss topics such as how to deal with negative social media. We’re all doing things behind the scenes to develop our leadership, and learning how to deal with failure and success. I have worked to strengthen values and team culture.

When we brought up resilience, the players wanted to talk about selection and the pressure and stress of it. You can never prepare for being told that you haven’t made the team. While it’s always disappointing, the team respect and appreciate the one-on-one conversations I have with them. I think it’s highly respectful to talk to each player individually, then if they’ve got questions, they can ask them. As a player who also got cut on occasions, I understand some of the emotions they’re going to go through, but it’s still the worst part of my job. In the end, you’re trying to put the best team together with the right balance of talent in positions and personalities and team spirit. It’s not all about our Excel sheets and measurements. There’s a lot of intangibles that come into play.


There’s going to be quite a few players at their first Olympics, but they’ve had a lot of international experience the last 3 years including our World Championship Bronze Medal in Turkey 2014 leading up to Rio. While I think a medal of any colour would be the icing on the cake, I’ve been coaching a long time and really it’s all about the development and process, which gives us every chance of being successful.

There are over 220+ countries that play basketball. In Europe, it’s the No.1 sport for some countries, so the competition is unbelievable. The USA is one of the tough teams, no doubt, and France is also very good. Serbia is No.1 in Europe, and Japan are coming on, as well as Spain, Canada and China. At Rio, we will play Brazil first up, and then Turkey. After that will be France, Japan and Belarus. We’ll then cross over and play either Serbia, Canada or Spain.

Turkey and Russia supports women’s sport incredibly, as does France. We don’t have the same financial support here, but the commitment from the women and our development programs are right up there with the rest of the world. Our media coverage must get behind our women’s sport – we’re one of the best in the world and hopefully more corporate partners will support Women’s Basketball here in Australia.


  1. Have an open mind. If you’re willing to listen and learn, you can always get better no matter your age.
  2. Be resilient, because once you step into the coaching world, criticism of you is incredible.
  3. Stay focused on the process of what you believe in, and have the courage of your convictions because it’s very hard. There’s always some sort of politics or challenge, and you have to try to convince people to stay with the plan.
  4. When success comes, enjoy the moment, because your new challenge begins the next day.

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