Inaugural Forum of Women’s Basketball Champions prepares coaches for the next stage
For three days in Indianapolis, three women’s basketball assistant coaches intensely prepared for a goal they all had in common: to become a head coach. They did it in a way they had never known.
Maryland associate head coach Karen Blair, Oklahoma associate head coach and scouting coordinator Amy Wright and Iowa assistant coach Raina Harmon attended the inaugural Women’s Basketball Champions Forum – a NCAA leadership development event scheduled for 2020 but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early attendees of the event left the experience with more knowledge and growth than they ever imagined. The notebooks they received when they arrived were almost full when they left.
“Those are probably three of the most important career development days I’ve done,” Blair said after the event, which was held May 1-3.
The three entrants were selected in conjunction with conference offices, industry experts and NCAA consultants who analyze Division I coaches across the country using rigorous selection criteria. During their Champions Forum experience, they spoke with industry leaders on a variety of topics that included the various components of the head coach interview process, personal messaging, and the transition to head coach. With a focus on the holistic development of student-athletes, the Champions Forum aims to engage participants in thoughtful and open dialogue about the challenges of coaching at the highest level.
“The Champion Forum thought process was unlike anything I had experienced before,” Wright said. “You go to conventions, you go to different career development events, and you try to improve yourself, but the thought process at that event was specifically for women’s basketball head coaches. I never thought about it. felt like that before leaving an event.”
“I felt completely immersed in the whole process,” Harmon added. “To be able to talk about things with the leaders who were here, I feel confident to go back.”
Part of that confidence stems from being better prepared in many ways to take the next step when the opportunity arises.
To better familiarize themselves with the hiring process, the trio participated in mock interviews and learned what to expect when a recruiting firm is involved. Additionally, the group discussed how to navigate a contract negotiation.
“They talked about how many decisions you have to make as a head coach, but just go through this contract and learn how many decisions you have to make to become a head coach, how to negotiate the things you want and what pieces of the puzzle you wanted was telling,” Harmon said. “There’s a lot of work to be done before you get named head coach.
Blair added, “It was great, though, because I’ve never had a conversation like that. You don’t get that anywhere else.”
One of the themes of the Champions Forum was to help coaches effectively communicate their vision for a program to different audiences. As assistant coaches, participants have spent their careers following the visions and helping to create cultures of other head coaches. It was their turn to begin to fully develop their vision and concisely share how they would lead others.
“In terms of the thought process throughout this experience, it was huge because now I know this vision and how to talk about it,” Wright said. “Getting feedback from other people, getting feedback from people in the industry or even feedback that I didn’t want to hear, it was great to have that.”
“We heard this all the time: to be a really good leader, you have to be an effective communicator,” Blair added. “But that next part is who I want to be as a leader. I think I walk away from that knowing now that I’m more confident in who I am and what type of leader I want to be.”
All participants in the Champions Forum were challenged to think deeply about their personal values and the importance of aligning them with their coaching missions. Memphis women’s basketball head coach Katrina Merriweather, in conversation with the three participants, emphasized the need for coaches to ensure their values align with any job they take on.
“It’s not often that we stop and think about what we want as assistant coaches,” Harmon said. “Being able to take that job back and spend some time with myself this summer, figuring out when I get a head coaching opportunity, what do I want to do, who am I and what culture am I going to create myself program is really important.”