The Blog

Ep. 3: Katie Smith, former WNBA Great, on Best Effort as Player & Coach

Katie Smith is one of the most powerful players I ever defended in my basketball career. She’s a fierce competitor and knows what it means to bring her best to every appearance on the court. That’s one of the reasons she was able to make it in the WNBA. If you’re not familiar with the WNBA, here’s some history: It was as recent as 1996 that the WNBA, the Women’s National Basketball Association was formed, and the first season began in June 1997. Since then, the WNBA has been the home for the best women’s basketball talent in the world. One of the brightest spots in that short history has been Katie Smith, the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history, Olympic athlete, and now coach. I’m also happy to say that she’s someone I consider to be a friend.

About people’s response to her accomplishments: It’s a little surreal. When you’re in something and you’re doing something you don’t think how big it is because you’re just doing your job. So sometimes, you’re like, ‘Oh, I did that.”… Honestly, it’s just more of a, ‘Wow!’ You know, going down the road from where I came from and here I am and did all these fun things. It was pretty amazing.

In this conversation I chat with Katie about her growing up years, how she got interested in athletics, about her college and pro careers, and what she’s learning as she transitions into her new role as an assistant and soon-to-be head coach.  You will love what Katie has to say about doing her time as  humble apprentice who is eager to learn the art of coaching, instead of just assuming she can make the player-to-coach transition.

Katie was always the type who wanted to study, get things right and give best effort whether it was basketball, school or dance.

As Katie Smith grew up her parents allowed her to be involved in all kinds of activities, from basketball to dance class. In all those experiences there was very little expected of her except that she give it her all in every setting. That mindset served her well as she began to excel in basketball and move from high school to college. Katie and I chat about those formative years, the role her parents and brothers played in her development as an athlete, and the way she learned to use her natural and learned skills as a player to dominate on the court.

The mental game in basketball is important, but it can also be an exercise in overthinking.

As we chatted about her career I was very interested to hear how Katie Smith dealt with the mental aspects of the game. I was surprised to learn that she felt that while it was important to think things through – watching film, learning about opponents, improving her knowledge of the things she’d face on the court – she also said that she had a tendency to overthink it at times instead of letting her instinct and natural abilities do their thing. You can hear Katie’s approach to the game (and life) from a mental standpoint in this great conversation.

Moving from all-star player to coach – a natural transition.

Katie Smith was a natural on the court, playing at a top competitive level for her entire career. It turns out she’s also making the transition from player to coach in a pretty natural way as well. While there are definitely challenges, she’s finding that the role fits her well and that her desire to motivate and inspire players comes to her comfortably. Here’s a bit of what she had to say about the transition:

When it comes to basketball, of course, there are lots of things I have to learn on the coaching side, and you are always questioning yourself, whether you’re doing enough, or was it the wrong play call, or are you doing this – but it’s something that I DO know and it’s a little easier to grasp…. But I enjoy life.  Like, why not? I’ve been playing basketball forever, I’ve met great people, I’ve traveled the world, I have a great family – and honestly I want to keep growing and hopefully find a way to give back and kind of find that niche, you know because I’ve had so many people give to me and that the game has given to me and it’s like, how do I, now that I’m kind of done with the playing part, how do I use it? It’s fun but it’s also nerve-wracking.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:23] Maureen’s introduction of Katie Smith, her guest this week.
  • [2:04] How Katie feels when people cite her accomplishments.
  • [3:00] When Katie realized that athletics was something she would pursue and the family support she received.
  • [7:40] The expectations Katie’s parents had of her in anything she did.
  • [9:20] The point when Katie started specializing in basketball and how her normal day went throughout high school.
  • [12:02] Facing the more challenging competition of college level players.
  • [15:20] The game within the game.
  • [18:10] The Big 10 years and what Katie loved about it.
  • [22:06] The mental training Katie did in her playing career.
  • [24:10] The challenges of playing as she got older and had to deal with injuries.
  • [28:20] The transition from player to coach.
  • [33:10] The issue of the double-standard in the basketball culture.
  • [38:04] Things Katie wishes she had done differently.

(Thank you to Freddie Astaire for his awesome intro music.)

What was also notable to me was how Katie handled the pressure. Maybe she was lying through her perfect teeth when she said, “I was just playing basketball and loving every minute of the game. I was happy out there.”

When asked about how different her life would be if she was a male player with her accomplishments, Katie said sure, she’d love to have more money in her bank account, but she wasn’t sold on the fame. She said she wouldn’t be able to go anywhere without people wanting her or asking her for something.

Listen to an honest, fun and inspirational podcast interview with one of the greats, Katie Smith.  Katie will tell her about her parents and their parenting style through what it was like to endure two ACL tears and what she felt differentiated herself from other players during her path to excellence.  In having spoken to Katie and after watching her on the sidelines at the Liberty games, I do think that she will be a truly outstanding head coach at the pro and/or college level in the near future.

Transcript is posted below the gallery.

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