[ITW] We talked to Britney Donaldson about the place of women in the NBA and analytics

Britney Donaldson he is only 28 years old, but he already has a great resume. The girl we were able to talk to was data analyst, then assistant coach to Nick Nurse with the Toronto Raptors before taking care of the Raptors 905 G-League team. This year, she is participating in the NBA Junior Coaches Program to share her experience. In the midst of International Women’s Rights Month, it was important to highlight Brittney’s worldview and beliefs as a coach, but also as a woman.

BasketSession: Britney, you were an analyst, then an assistant at the Raptors and the Raptors 905 at just 26 years old, with a 2019 title. How did you manage to achieve this and achieve so much in such a short time? ?
Britney Donaldson: It’s funny, but I never thought that I would work in the NBA franchise or even in the NBA. It wasn’t a visible option. There were no people like me in these roles. I had the opportunity to meet very open-minded people who saw something in me and gave me the opportunity to get into it. Without the help of other people, I would not have been able to realize that this is possible. I came in through the back door, through statistics, I was a data analyst, not a coach. I played at the high school level (in D1 NCAA with Northern Iowa, Ed) but I needed to gain experience where I could, to acquire the tools to be able to take advantage of these opportunities.

I am proud to have been a part of the Raptors at a time when there were 10 other women on the NBA coaching staff, and I know the number is growing. I was there in the year of the title, it’s an incredible achievement. I am very proud that I was able to do something that I never thought I could do, while remaining sincere and creating strong relationships. What was given to me at that time, I am happy to be able to give back to young people through this junior NBA program. Basketball has had such a huge impact on my life…

We need to start moving from encouraging women to be hired on staff to staying there with a real opportunity to rise through the ranks.

More and more women are on the NBA staff and franchises, but we still haven’t seen a woman head coach. Even Becky Hammon, with her resume, could not access it and left to coach in the WNBA. We also don’t hear much about interviews for women for this particular position…
Brittney Donaldson: I’m glad you told me about it. There are more and more women in the headquarters, it’s true. I was able to get an inside look at how things are in the NBA and there are women in every sector of the league, be it in the media, in fitness, nutrition, etc. The coaching staff and head coaching position are the most prominent and I think we need to start making the transition between celebrating the recruitment of women on staff and ensuring they stay there for the long haul with a real opportunity to move up the pecking order.

We have come a long way in terms of equity and inclusion, but as you said, there is still a lot of work to be done. When we talk about equality in terms of opportunity, we have to ask ourselves what it really means. Are these women really given the same chance to take positions of responsibility? And if not, how to fix it? Inclusion must be intentional, and it works not only for women, but for people of color and all marginalized groups.

Do you understand that you are probably a role model for many women who hope to achieve the same goals as you?
Britney Donaldson: I try not to think about it too much because it’s pressure, but I think it’s important that people like me be visible. That’s why I love these discussions. I want to show women that they can do it and be respected. I am aware of my luck and do not take my situation for granted. Before me, there were women who allowed me to get there, and all my gratitude to them.

As I said earlier, women are quite often present in roles that are not always visible to the general public, but which are critical to the development of the league. I wish we could shed a little more light on these women because they are few. Women should, after all, see that there are many different opportunities for them in the world of sports, and not just as athletes or coaches. American sports must find a way to make all jobs more accessible to women and marginalized groups. Variety is an advantage. Look at the franchises that are doing the best. They all have very different groups of people.

When we see other sports, we can say that basketball has done a good job and has become more progressive. In the United States, we are now seeing things move at the level of baseball and American football. For this to really work, decision makers need to be convinced they are making the right choice by hiring a woman as head coach. Without it, the paradigm will not change.

Statistics are used as cool and shiny items that we wave to those who consult them, but they are mainly intended to help us make better decisions.

You started out as a statistics analyst. How much do you think a coach should master the subject in order to practice at the highest level today?
Britney Donaldson: I think we are moving in a direction where those who understand statistics and data and their usefulness in decision making have an advantage over other coaches. In 5-10 years, absolutely all coaches will have a basic or high level of knowledge of statistical information. Often there is a dichotomy between “field people” and “extras”. I happen to be a bit of a mixture of both. I think we will see more and more people able to master both aspects. Statistics can help tactics and vice versa. There will be multifaceted coaches.

Britney Donaldson
Brittney Donaldson on Zoom during our interview.

How can we explain the interest in analytics to someone obstinate? Are there advanced stats that you especially enjoy when you follow a match?
Brittney Donaldson: The interest of the data is to understand what is happening using the appropriate statistical samples. As human beings, we all have biases and biases. What we see most often is to give the most importance to what happened most recently. For me, statistics are interesting in helping to reorient to the context, no matter what aspect of the game we are talking about.

Statistics don’t always tell you why something happened. They show you what happened, the result. This is where you need to have experience in this area to use them. Statistics are used as cool and shiny objects that we wave before the eyes of those who consult with them, but they are mainly intended to help us make better decisions.

As for the statistics that I think are the most important, they are extremely difficult to answer, because I always look at them as a whole, and it depends on the people. This is probably a bit of a boring answer for you, sorry (laughs).

What about video and its use in coaching today? Would you recommend it to young athletes?
Britney Donaldson: The best way to learn is to go out and practice. My advice to young athletes: record yourself during individual training and find a qualified person to help them analyze what they have done on a technical level. We can still do more in using and transcribing instructional videos. We are in a phase of experimentation with what works and what doesn’t work with distance coaching. I haven’t done many “virtual” sessions myself yet, but I plan to talk to people who have done more to help me see what might be helpful.

You are from Iowa born and raised, so I wanted to talk to you about a girl like you: Caitlin Clark. It’s a college phenomenon. Do you think she can increase the popularity of women’s basketball in the future?
Brittney Donaldson: Dude, Caitlin has a ball (laughs)! Unfortunately, she was out of the NCAA tournament with Iowa and I haven’t seen much of her yet, but I’ve seen enough to know she’s special. She does Stephen Curry stuff on the pitch. Things you don’t often see in women’s basketball. We see these things more and more in girls today!

The women’s sport was already popular, but the efforts being made to develop it and the emergence of players like Caitlyn will go a long way in making it even more popular. I’m very excited to see how the sequel goes for her. I have no doubt that we will see her again in the WNBA. In the meantime, she is already a role model for young girls and boys who will train to do the same movements as her. I can’t wait to see where she will be in a few years.

Who are the women who have served as role models for you, whether in basketball or elsewhere?
Britney Donaldson: I’m going to give a somewhat formulaic answer: my mother! This is reality. My mother and my grandmother, even. I grew up in a family where they did everything from housekeeping to their jobs, playing in amateur leagues… They were already breaking social norms and not accepting what society thinks. Be kind to them. At a very young age, I could believe that anything is possible for me because I saw it in my own home. Women did what men were said to do. My goal is to be in front of young girls and boys so that they understand that women have the ability and power to do what they want.

Program Jr. NBA Coaches – Online, powered by Gatorade®, is hosted on OWQLO and offers 12 live virtual sessions from February to September for app users aged 16 and over in France. The next session with former NBA assistant coach Brittney Donaldson will take place on Sunday, March 27. For more information, visit owqlo.com, gatorade.com and @NBAFRANCE on Facebook and Twitter and @NBA Europe on Instagram.

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