NBL Coach Spotlight - Cardiff Met Archers' Lacey Mackenzie and Azeb Smalley

To kick off International Women's Day, we have a coach spotlight on not one but two great young female coaches working in the Jnr. NBL, Lacey Mackenzie and Azeb Smalley. With the footprint of the NBL covering more and more of the UK, it is great to be able to take the opportunity to speak to coaches from further afield! 

What brought you into coaching?
AS: When I first came to Cardiff Met to study Sport Management I became involved with Archers Basketball and began volunteering during the sessions for kids with learning disabilities.

LM: My love of basketball I think. I enjoy working with young people who are passionate about sport and an opportunity came from being here at the university and playing for the Archers to begin coaching. I Love how coaching has improved my own basketball and I enjoy seeing how I can help and improve others too.

What were your original thoughts when you moved into coaching?
AS: Having now moved into working with our Under 16 Girls Jnr. NBL squad as assistant coach I found it very exciting to be on the other side, rather than being just a player. I thought what a great opportunity to really challenge my understanding of the sport.

LM: I’m always excited to get stuck in, learn new ways to achieve goals and targets, and really enjoy being exposed to new drills and ways to run training sessions from other coaches.

What did you find most interesting to learn as a coach?
AS: The impact you have on each player. I am sure most people involved in sport all have a coach they remember, who they might continue to mirror some of their coaching style. Sport, especially basketball, has such a strong hold with young people and I remember how much it played a part of my childhood. It is a sport where you not only learn the technical and tactical skills needed to perform, but the life skills such as team work, leadership and confidence that each individual can transfer to other aspects of their lives.

LM: Like Azeb, I think its people management. Though basketball is a team sport, the team is made up of individuals. I’ve found it both interesting and of significant importance to learn about the individual members that create a team.

Azeb Smalley

What was the most rewarding part of your coaching journey so far?
AS: The Under 16 age group is such a crucial time to try and correct and teach skills. Repetition and not allowing bad habits to continue has been such a big focus of mine this season. When things finally click, whether shooting technique or people’s understanding of offence it is such an exciting and rewarding feeling.

LM: On a personal level, being asked to work as an Assistant Coach for the Wales Under 16 girls National Team was huge. Taking the squad to the 2017 FIBA Division C Championships in Gibraltar and getting to the quarter finals was great. I’m already looking forward to this year’s trip to Moldova in July!

Which parts of coaching do you like the most?
LM: Firstly, getting to know the kids I’m working with and those building relationships for learning. On a basketball specific level, Individual skills, working on technical and tactical aspects of the game are all great. I’m also keen to improve shooting mechanics and each player’s ability 1v1 game to get to the basket.

AS: I like how the game always challenges my understanding of basketball as a coach but also a player. I coach an incredible group of girls who have made my first year coaching at a national league level so much more enjoyable.

How did coaching qualifications slot in with your current life?
AS: Working in a school has allowed me to be able to coach all three sessions during the week. I play WNBL D2 for the Archers, which sometimes conflicts with games, but for the most part I am able to make all fixtures.

LM: My life has always been surrounded by sport and specifically basketball. I’m training to be a PE teacher right now, increasing my knowledge of sport in general and specifically basketball has made me more adaptable in a sporting context plus the field I hope to have a career in.

Where are you now? How are you using your coaching skills?
AS: I am still in Cardiff, having received my Level 2 Coaching Qualification in 2012 and graduating last summer from MSc Sport Coaching and Pedagogy I am heavily involved with the Archers Basketball Club from a coaching standpoint as well as admin roles.

LM: I currently the head coach of the Archers South Wales Basketball League Under 16 boys side, I perform an assistant coach role with the Archers Jnr. NBL Under 16 boys team as well as the Wales Under 16 girls national team plus I’m the Head Coach at St Teilo’s High School Cardiff, who are at the key stage 3/sixth form level.

What is your coaching niche and why did you choose it?
LM: High energy and motivation – I feel those being coached feed off how you present yourself as a coach. Individual feedback is important, I’ve felt I’ve progressed most from having individual feedback as a player so put this into my coaching and think it’s important to take this time with players as individuals in a team sport. It gives players value and focus.

AS: I’d agree, individual feedback has been my main focus starting out this year with the Under 16 girls. As a player I know how important and how valuable it is for your coach to give you feedback. It helps get rid of bad habits that players might have picked up, but it also reassures them that you are interested and invested in their progression and experience.

Lacey Mackenzie

What is your coaching vision for the next 2 years?
AS: I would love to continue with this group of girls and look at progressing to a Head Coach position. If there is an opportunity in a year for this to enter the Jnr. NBL as an Under 18s team I would love to continue with them.

LM: I want to continue working with the age groups I work with currently. I have great Head Coaches around me and I hope to continue learning from them. I enjoy the Under 16 age group because for me, it is when things start to click with players and the more technical and tactical side of the game can be introduced.

What is your favourite coaching question from athletes?
AS: I don’t have a particular question, but I love when my athletes ask me interesting questions that show they are engaged in their learning and understanding.

LM: Simply “Why?” I think it’s great when players ask why we are running a certain drill or doing a certain move to the basket. It shows a player’s interest in what I’m running and that they want to engage and learn.

What do you enjoy most about being a coach?
LM: Building relationships with young athletes and watching them grow and progress not only as basketball players but as people. Sport builds a confidence in young people and to be a positive influence on these young people is a perk of the job.

AS: I enjoy seeing athletes being competitive not only in games but in training. Challenging one another to be better, challenging each other’s understanding whilst enjoying the whole process.

What advice would you give to people who are looking to move into coaching?
AS: Be prepared for things to not always work. Back yourself and be confident in your delivery. If you are someone who can pick up things quite easily be patient with those who don’t. Everyone has different learning methods and backgrounds in sport.

LM: Be proactive, confident and find out what you can bring to the table. Surround yourself in a coaching environment where you have good influences to learn from and progress but work to find you own niche. Use your own characteristics and qualities to make yourself the best possible coach for your athletes.

What advice do you have for those coaches currently in training?
AS: If you have access to observe other coaches at different levels, take it. It is a great tool for learning!

LM: Think big picture and progression, have reasons as to why you are coaching a skill or a drill. Think of sessions as building blocks that all piece together to create well rounded players with good fundamentals and knowledge of the game.

What legacy would you like to leave behind you?
LM: I still think of myself as a very young coach and one who has a lot to learn but also a lot to give in the coaching world. So, I feel my legacy is something I’m still working out myself. As it stands I aim to go into every coaching session and game no matter the level with energy, resilience, passion and drive to improve athletes and create an environment that they can enjoy and prosper.

AS: I want to be the coach that these great individuals remember. That if they look at pursuing player at higher levels or get into coaching, I am that coach they remember.