The NBL Weekend Takeover for 8/9 December will see Essex Leopards take the reins of the NBL Instagram story.
We caught up with Leopards' Coach Thomas Baker ahead of their takeover weekend, in our latest Coach Spotlight feature.
Name: Thomas Baker
Team: Essex Leopards - NBL Division One
What brought you into coaching?
After studying at the University of Hertfordshire, I took up a keen interest in coaching thanks to my lecturer at the time David Turner. His ideologies and theories around coaching philosophy really intrigued me to find out more about coaching, which has led me to consider doing doctoral research into coaching expertise in the future.
What were your original thoughts when you moved into coaching?
I was really interested in how coaches and athletes interacted and how a coach can impact a players life both on and off the court. A lot of my early coaching was within an academy setting at Oaklands College, so I was interested in how student-athletes dealt with sport and their studies as I chose a similar route when I went to East Durham College and played under Lee Davie.
What did you find most interesting to learn as a coach?
I find that, as coaches, we all have our own ways of doing things - be it tactical work or how we teach technical skills; but it is the mental side of the game that intrigues me the most. I am really interested to find out how to improve the mind the of an athlete and how I can help them to be resilient as well as self-motivated to ensure that they can regulate their own emotions and decisions they make on the court.
What was the most rewarding part of your coaching journey so far?
The most rewarding part of my coaching journey so far was being able to represent my country. It was an honour that I never got to do as a player so being part of the National Team as a coach was a real highlight for me and something I would like to get back into one day.
Which parts of coaching do you like the most?
I love the interactions you can have with players, the relationships you can build with other coaches and players, as well as officials. I pride myself on being professional with everything I do and I would never ask anyone to do something that I am not willing to do. I love that I can use coaching to educate others on the choices they can make and seeing the belief and confidence unfold in front of me.
Where are you now? How are you using your coaching skills?
Right now I am working with Essex Leopards Senior Men in NBL Division One. This is now my third season with the team and it is something I am enjoying; especially the challenges which are presenting me with opportunities to learn all the time. Behaviours that we exhibit both on and off the court are really key for me because tactically the game changes so much - so we have to be ready for whatever the game throws at us and we have to be resilient to believe we will come good in the end.
What is your coaching niche and why did you choose it?
As I have mentioned, I take a keen interest in the mental aspect of the game, because I feel if I can get inside the mind of an athlete and help them become objective, resilient and self-directed then they will be able to perform in the most pressurised situations in the game - irrespective on what tactical elements are throw at them.
What is your coaching vision for the next 2 years?
I have hope that I can get back involved in the National Teams, having gotten involved in the regional pathway this year with the Aspire Programme, I hope to work some of the best players in my region. Above all, I want my Leopards team to be competing for silverware in Division One.
What is your favourite coaching question from athletes?
"Why?" - If a player asks me 'why', I feel that this will create discussions that can only help everyone involved get better. As a society we are really comfortable with talking about the 'what' and the 'how', however sometimes we shy away from the 'why' through fear of judgement or fear of failure; but it is in the 'why' where the detail that helps us get better stems from.
What advice do you have for those coaches currently in training?
Be open to the challenges that greet you, put yourself around people who will challenge your thoughts and stretch you be better everyday. Have a destination you want to get to but most importantly enjoy the journey along the way and be prepared for detours.
What legacy would you like to leave behind you?
I want everyone that I am involved with to appreciate that we can be the best we want to be - but we must be willing to ask ourselves tough questions and willing to be better each and every day. It is tough, and often we want to sit back, but we must seek out chaos and challenges because those of us that do will achieve our ambitions.
You can follow Coach Baker's progress this weekend when Essex Leopards takeover the NBL Instagram story!