Teach the Reach – Coaching Basketball in the USA

In April 2013, Donna Finnie made history when she was named head coach of the HBU Huskies, Houston Baptist University’s Women’s Basketball Team – the first international ever to land a head coaching position the USA’s NCAA Division 1 basketball.

Donna Finnie

Donna Finnie

“I’ve been made so welcome here in Texas. The people are amazing and friendly, and really made me feel at home.”

Growing up in the cooler climes of Edinburgh, Donna always knew she wanted to be involved in sport. She was in the first cohort of the then new BSc Applied Sports Sciences degree. “I liked the sound of it. When you’re 18, if you’re lucky you maybe have an idea for the field you would like to work in, but you probably won’t have a specific career path planned out.  This course offered me a wider choice of opportunities in sport after graduation than just teaching PE!”

When she graduated, Donna began working for Basketball Scotland, the national governing body for basketball in Scotland. “I initially worked in the administration team, setting up camps and leagues. I knew, straight away, I wanted to stay in Basketball, and just six months into the job I was offered a Development Officer role. I stayed there for nine more years, during which time I began to help coach the national team. I was asked to become Assistant Coach, and then soon after promoted to Head Coach – and I was only 23 at the time! Although young,  I felt confident I could lead them, and you have to take these opportunities when they are given to you. ”

Donna and the Coaching Team

Donna and the Coaching Team

“Around 5 years ago I changed job and began working in sports events, which also meant I had more time for the team coaching. Ideally, I would have worked full time on coaching, but that’s not really feasible in the UK – the support and finance just isn’t in the sport. I then had another life-changing opportunity when Mary Gleason, the coach of the HBU Huskies, called me to ask if I wanted to move to Texas and work with her. I’m big on instinct, and I’d had other job offers, but this one just felt right straight away. I knew I would take it there and then!”

From there, the rest is history as Donna moved to Texas to become top assistant and recruiting coordinator of the team, before eventually taking over as Head Coach in April 2013 – but does she have any advice for those just starting out and eager to emulate her coaching career?

“My advice is simple: network, network, network. Go out of your way to meet those who you don’t think want to talk to you, like CEOs, and don’t be shy. Be positive! It also helps if you volunteer as much as you can, get some hands on experience to go with the theory you learn at uni. It was whilst I was at Heriot-Watt that I gave up my time for free, and it was through this that my coaching career got started. If you seem willing to work, you are a whole load more appealing to prospective employers.”

Donna in Action

Donna in Action

Donna’s enthusiasm is catching, and she explains why.

“Coaching gives you such a buzz. I remember one time when coaching the Scotland team, we played England on St Andrews Day and won by 35 points.  That’s a feeling that never really leaves you, but you always want to have again and again. That’s what gets me going, and that’s why I love winning!”

The Watt Club wishes Donna all the best in the upcoming season – and Go Huskies!

This entry was posted in Alumni Awards & Recognition, Alumni News, Heriot-Watt Sport and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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