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Brock University Head Coach Mike Rao Says The Women’s Game Is A Better Version Of Men’s Basketball

Mike Rao | Head Coach | Women's Brock University Badgers

I could tell you that I did not change anything, in terms of basketball because I was coaching women. To me, basketball is basketball regardless of gender.

Mike Rao

Head Coach

Women's Brock University Badgers

× The interview with Mike Rao was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as the Head Coach of the Women's Brock University Badgers.

It starts pretty early, I’m up between 6 and 6:30 am and I check all my messages and emails.

I write down a list of things I have to do that day. I generally watch game film or a coaching video for 45 minutes with my coffee. I also formulate team practice plan objectives and individual skills that I want to work on with my players. I get to the office around 9 am and immediately pull up a daily practice plan and start organizing that.

I then meet with our sports performance coach and go over every girls progress. He creates a plan based on what we both see in practice. This becomes the basis of our individual workouts for that day or week or month, depending on the player.

Next, I head down into the gym to begin our individual workouts. They are each 45 minutes long and generally two players at a time. We work on all individual skills, focusing on mechanics and the basics of basketball. We do this from 10 am until 1 pm every day.

After the workouts, I usually grab a quick lunch and then I sit with whichever assistant is available and we finish our practice plan. I also complete all the tasks that I have to do for the team. These tasks range from, getting tutors for a girl, arranging alternate gym times, talking to supporters, reviewing grades and many times discussing the look of our team in the future. We also have game tape up all the time either watching opponents or ourselves.

Team practice starts at 3:45 pm and ends at 6:00 pm. We try to follow our practice plan as best we can but often it doesn’t work out. That is why I have to continually revamp our practice plan, daily.

After practice, we head back to the office to discuss strengths and weaknesses. This formulates my plan for the next day and the process begins again. Every night between 7 pm and 10 pm, I scout our opponent of the week and put that together for the girls. We generally have scouting sessions every Thursday and Saturday before practice or shoot arounds. Scouting sessions last approximately 40 minutes. We view our opponents strengths and go over game planning with the team.

This process goes on from September till March, Monday to Thursday. We generally have Sundays off and Fridays and Saturday are mostly team shooting with few individual workouts.

In your very first season leading the team you guided the Badgers to their first playoff berth since 2012. Tell us about that!

It was an exhausting but probably my most rewarding year as a coach. I had coached for 38 years but this was different. I had to prove myself all over again. The girls did not know me, I was 59 years old and I knew I had to improve their mindset. I got hired August 28, 2018 so I did not recruit. I immediately made a call to Melissa Tatti and had her agree to come back to the Badgers. I also scoured the University fields and residence looking for height. I found all the girls that were at the school, but not playing anymore. I managed to assemble 17 players.

I had never coached girls basketball before and based on the advice of several coaches, I began to formulate my coaching philosophy. After about a week, I couldn’t sleep one night and things were not going all that well. So, decided that I was probably going to get fired at the end of the year anyway so I might as well do it my way.

I just started to coach the way I always had and added some of the things I learned with the men’s team. Slowly, the girls began to respond. We had a tough start, but won a game in our last pre-season tournament. Then we began the season with an 0-3 start. We produced some very good things but NO wins. I kept our practices positive and generally pretty light but always expecting more from them. Next, we won three games in a row and the girls got a taste of winning. The whole season followed that pattern.

What started to change about the team was their attitude and appreciation for each other. They started to care and began to work harder than they ever did. They became comfortable with me, my family and my approach to the game. They began to play with effort but most of all with intelligence. I loved that team, probably one of the smartest teams I ever coached. We had 5’10” girls guarding in the post, players helping all over court. They had each others back, it was great to watch.

We ended up in fourth place in our league and won a playoff game. I really did not know the signifigance of that because I really was not use to losing in High School or on the Men’s team.

One of the most courageous games I ever witnessed was our semi final game against McMaster in their gym. We stayed with them right to the end, a one point game with around 2 minutes to go and we couldn’t hit a shot at the end of the game, but a tremendous performance none the less. That team was the foundation of our future success.

That was my favourite year of my 40 plus years of coaching. I loved that team because they had to change the way they played and more importantly the way they THOUGHT about basketball. We never got outworked by another team, even in losing, they never gave up. An amazing group of young ladies.

Before coaching at Brock, your previous experience was in boys high school basketball. What are some challenges you faced taking on this role at the university level? What adjustments did you have to make to your coaching style?

That’s a great question. I had two years as an Assistant with Charles Kissi on the men’s side. I grew into some of the changes I needed to make for the next level.

First of all, I could tell you that I did not change anything, in terms of basketball because I was coaching women. To me, basketball is basketball regardless of gender.

In University, I could now focus my entire day on basketball. I knew that to play at the next level, most players had a deeper drive. I knew I had to tap into that drive. I had to create a more competitive atmosphere in practice. I made all of our drills competitive. Practices were highly organized and time sensitive. I learned not to get to caught up in a bad drill, bad session or bad practice. It was part of the learning curve.

Once I tapped into that hidden drive, practices and individual sessions got a lot easier. I gave up a lot of learning to the player. I taught skills and mechanics, a loose framework in which to use them, and then I gave them freedom. I learned to give up a lot of the decision making to the player. I was not as strict as I use to be in terms of doing it my way, all the time. The players with deep desire and drive began to shine. I had to learn to get out of their way.

Once I put two or three players together in a set, they fed off of each other. My job was to get our players to trust each other but more importantly to trust me. We had created a team focused on scoring and defending. They had no problem sharing the ball and helping each other. This is why I loved my first University team.

Simply, I really got to know who my players were and secondly I had them compete all the time. This is how I figured out who I could trust. I empowered them to make decisions and I learned to let the game flow. My job was to constantly put the right players in the game, at the right time. I learned that player rotation and player interaction was essential.

During the 2017-18 season the men’s team made it to the U SPORTS National Championships for the first time in 10 years. What was it like to be apart of the Badgers organization at that time?

Being an assistant coach with the Men’s Brock Basketball team was a dream job for me. My responsibilities were limited and I was doing what I liked to do. The head coach has way more responsibility and ultimately has to defend the win-loss record.

I thouroughly enjoyed the moments at Nationals. I got to enjoy the atmosphere and the people. I watched other games and enjoyed being a fan. When you coach, you don’t get to do all that. Coach Kissi made us part of the decision making but the final say was always his. I loved working with the men’s team because of Coach Kissi and the relationships I was able to make with the players.

As an assistant, I had more time to relate and talk with our team. I enjoyed making frienships with those guys and that is why the Halifax experience was so great.

The WNBA has been getting a lot more attention lately including pay increases thanks to the late Kobe Bryant. How has this affected female athletes at the university level now in terms of motivation?

I know that many more young girls are playing basketball now. The level of play has increased dramatically. And, the exposure of women’s basketball has finally hit the mainstream sports fans. I believe the women’s game is a better version of basketball than the men’s game. I feel that they play a better brand of team basketball and really play harder than a lot of men’s teams.

I think this style of play is very attractive to the average basketball fan. The fact that they get paid less and have less exposure makes them hungrier. The reason for most women playing basketball is intrinsic, meaning their motivation comes from within. Our Canadian university teams are benefactors to the way women basketball players are playing today.

I do believe that Women’s Canadian University teams are getting better and we do provide in some cases a better brand of basketball than our counter parts down south. I hope that more women players start considering and thinking of Canadian Universities as a destination to play the game.

Stacey Leawood Stacey's Final Thoughts

Mike Rao is a very dedicated and passionate basketball coach. He is also a huge spokesperson for the women’s game. Mike made some very enlightening points about the different motivation that women have in comparison to men in chasing their dreams to reach the pro level and their more attractive style of play to sports enthusiasts. Mike Rao made it very clear that he loves coaching women after having a very long career coaching boys beforehand and that their comradery and trust in each other and in him is what he appreciates most as a coach.

Connect With Mike Rao