In this episode of the Her Sport Show, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Erin Bracken, a true powerhouse in the world of basketball. Erin, a remarkable player and coach, shared with us her incredible journey through the game, from coaching men's teams to reigniting her love for playing.
Erin's journey began when she was just nine years old. Erin's mother, who introduced her to basketball at the age of nine, has been coaching for over two decades and serves as one of Erin's first female role models. Erin shared a photo of herself and her mother at the National Basketball Arena in May where Erin, who works as a Women in Sport Lead for Basketball Ireland, organized an all-female coaching conference. This event aimed to create a comfortable environment for female coaches of all levels to connect, learn, and ultimately bridge the gender gap in basketball coaching. Erin explained, "I had my mom there, and it was special because she's one of my first female role models."
Erin Bracken, Women in Sport Lead, Basketball Ireland & KBC coaches Colma Nic Lughadha, AnneMarie O'Connor, Becky Dingreville, Berenika Tieku at the Women In Sport Coaching Conference 2023 at the National Basketball Arena today #WomenInSport 🏀 pic.twitter.com/k5wi0JRcqc
— Killester Basketball Club (@KillesterBball) May 27, 2023
Erin's coaching journey began when she was just 15, starting as a volunteer to help develop younger players. She and her friend Arnie O'Connor coached an under-10s team, nurturing them through to under-18 level. Their bond with these players made coaching about more than just basketball; it became a journey of personal growth and lifelong connections. She also noted the importance of keeping the game fun for young athletes. That team's journey together was unforgettable, marking the start of Erin's coaching career. After a brief stint as a player in Super League basketball, she transitioned from player to coach, even studying for her master's in sports coaching and performance in Belfast.
Erin shared her experience coaching a men's university team in Belfast where she was asked to be an assistant coach. As the only female coach in the men's league at that time, Erin faced unique challenges and opportunities. She reflected on the intense scrutiny and questions surrounding her role and explained the differences in coaching men compared to women. Erin emphasized the importance of adaptability, understanding, and creating a safe space for every athlete, regardless of gender.
Erin emphasized the importance of coaching the person, not just the sport. She shared how coaching involves a deep understanding of each player's unique needs and motivations. Erin also spoke about the emotional toll of coaching, the balance between empathy and maintaining healthy boundaries, and how this aspect of her journey has influenced her coaching philosophy. Erin emphasized that coaching is not just about the sport; it's about coaching the individual. Her approach focuses on understanding her players, their motivations, and ensuring they enjoy their basketball journey. While the game is essential, it's the personal growth and memories that matter most.
Erin's return to playing for Liffey Celtics after a hiatus of a couple of years is highlighted as a pivotal moment in her basketball journey. This return marked a special year for her, characterized not only by the team's incredible success, winning five trophies in various competitions, but also by the personal connections and joy she found in the game. Erin explained that this return allowed her to rediscover her love for playing, which had waned in the preceding years. It was a transformational experience for her, reigniting her passion for the sport. She credited the team's coach, Suzanne McGuire, a Hall of Famer from Fordham University, for creating an exceptional dynamic within the team. What stood out about this season for Erin was not just the victories but the camaraderie and social aspects of the game. She emphasized that, as a competitor, "winning is fun but it's the social side of things and it wasn't a chore to turn up to training."
This return to playing also tied into the key lessons Erin shared about coaching, where she emphasized the importance of "coaching the person, not just the sport." Her experience as a coach had exposed her to the challenges of being a mentor and guide to her players, often extending beyond the court, and noted the delicate balance required between being approachable, empathetic, and setting clear boundaries. Erin opened up about the emotional toll of coaching, sharing how she struggled to maintain a work-life balance, particularly during a challenging season. The weight of her players' issues and struggles sometimes took an emotional toll on her. This experience made her realize the importance of self-care and maintaining her own mental well-being as a coach.
✨Women in Coaching✨
Assistant Coach for Men’s Super League Team, Abbey Seals Dublin Lions, Erin Bracken strives to relate to the players on an individual and personal level and develop a positive coach-athlete relationship. https://t.co/Em3fPajIsO#WomeninSportIRE pic.twitter.com/Nsf8zom98w
— Sport Ireland (@sportireland) June 7, 2020
When asked about her "why" for playing basketball, Erin's response was rooted in her desire to be a role model, particularly for young girls. As one of the first women involved in coaching men's teams in her twenties, Erin aspires to demonstrate that women can excel in high-level sports roles. Her love for the sport is tied to family as well, as both of her sisters are active basketball players. Erin's decision to return to playing Super League basketball, alongside her two sisters, gave her the chance to compete with them at the highest level. She shared her excitement of playing with her sisters, one of whom represented the senior international team, and the prospect of seeing how they would perform together on the court.
Erin encouraged other women and young girls to get involved in sports, highlighting the physical health benefits and the importance of being part of a community. Sports offer not only fitness but also social connections and valuable life skills, which can be applied in various aspects of life. Erin mentioned her involvement in Sport Ireland's "Her Moves" initiative, aimed at providing girls with opportunities to be active and social. She emphasized that sports can be a gateway to making friends and building a supportive community. She pointed out the positive impact of Basketball Ireland's initiatives, the growth in the number of Irish players competing abroad, and the increased visibility of women's basketball. Erin also sheds light on the recent rule clarification allowing female players to wear dark-colored shorts with their light-colored kits. This change promotes inclusivity in sports, ensuring that athletes feel comfortable and confident on the court, even during challenging times, like menstruation.
Erin's multifaceted involvement in basketball, her dedication to promoting gender equality in sports, and her insights into the emotional aspects of coaching and playing serve as inspiration for both athletes and coaches in the basketball community and beyond.
Watch the interview here: