By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
- Becky Hammon is now the top assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, making her the highest-ranking female on any NBA coaching staff.
- Hammon’s rise took grit: She began her basketball career in South Dakota and faced rejection before becoming a six-time WNBA All-Star.
- As female professional sports coaches are rare, Hammon’s rise offers three tips for smashing barriers in your own industry.
Hammon, a former WNBA all-star, has broken new ground before: She was the first female, full-time, salaried NBA assistant coach back in 2014. Now, she’ll replace James Borrego, who is moving on to become head coach of the Charlotte Hornets.
Hammon’s rise to the top was no accident.
In sitting front-row with Popovich this season, Hammon is now the highest-ranking female on any coaching staff in the NBA.
Hammon has lived a life focused around basketball. She started playing as a child in her home state of South Dakota and stood out in high school, where she was voted South Dakota Player of the Year. Hammon then became a college standout with the Colorado State Rams, receiving an All-American distinction three times. After college, she played nine seasons in the WNBA.
Hammon then turned to coaching, starting her career with the Spurs. Popovich outwardly respected her contributions since day one.
“I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff,” he said in a team statement released this week. “…I'm confident her basketball IQ, work ethic, and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.”
Hammon’s new position has renewed discussion about her potential to become the NBA’s first female coach.
She’s one of very few female coaches in professional sports.
While sports stars such as LeBron James have voiced support of female head coaches, there is not a single one in any of the four major sports leagues: the NFL (football), the NBA (basketball), the NHL (hockey), or the MLB (baseball) organization.
However, Hammon’s quick rise represents a coming change in the coaching-gender paradigm for professional sports.
If anyone can drive forward the ideological shift, it’s her. At 5’ 6”, Hammon was a scrappy player who went undrafted during her rookie season. She went on to become a six-time WNBA All-Star and only the seventh player in league history to score 5,000 points.
Hammon credits her determination for her success, as much as her natural abilities.
"Nothing in my life has really ever been easy," she told ESPN in 2014. "I've always been someone who did it uphill. I'm up for challenges."
3 takeaways from Hammon’s rapid rise
To grow something great -- a career, an idea, or a business -- you need a mastery of the necessary skills and the determination to persevere, especially when odds are stacked against you.
These three lessons from Hammon’s career are key for smashing barriers in your own field:
1. “Skipping the line” is a good thing.
Some have accused Hammon of “skipping the line,” or receiving unfair promotion without first proving her chops. But the false promise of meritocracy often comes into play with women, and with minorities in general. So if you have the skills, as in Hammon’s case, don’t ever think twice about “skipping the line.” Accept any opportunity to flex your skills, within ethics and reason.
2. Be a “hustler.”
…no, not in the unethical, con-man way. Hustle like Hammon -- like a 5’6” underdog with unmatched determination and focus on your goal. Use your resources wisely, and outwork the competition. Results will follow.
3. Find your mentor.
As a professional baller, Hammon knew the game before arriving as a coach. But she fast-tracked her coaching career by studying under Popovich, who is arguably the best basketball coach of all time. To be the best, you need to learn from the best. Find a worthy mentor, and your career will soar.
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