Adam Forde: On moving to the Taipans, finding balance between family and coaching

Seeking stability for his young family underpinned Forde's move to Cairns.

Everything comes back to family, and it’s no different for Adam Forde.

His career started as an unpaid video technician in 2011 with the Perth Wildcats, and a decade later, he is now onto his second head coaching job in the NBL.

Within that decade he’s worked alongside some of the NBL’s best coaches - Rob Beveridge, Trevor Gleeson and Will Weaver to name a few. His resume and experience led him into an assistant coaching position with the Wildcats, winning four championships in the process.

Eventually the Sydney Kings came calling, appointing him as head coach for the 2019-20 NBL season. Yet the Kings and Forde mutually agreed to not extend his one-year contract, and Forde eventually signed with the Cairns Taipans on a two-year deal.

The move from Sydney to Cairns, came down to just one reason: family.

While Forde wants to be a career coach, an ideal he shared over a recent chat with The Pick and Roll recently, he yearned for stability. Stability of a longer contract so he could look after his family, including his infant son, and provide continuity for them as much as himself.

“Having my family move up here will be great, it had to be a situation that fits,” said Forde. “I’ve got a one year old now and for 38 years of my life I got to do what best suited me. But now the reality is that now that I have a family to factor in, and it had to be a situation that also fit them. The position that Cairns offered suited all three of us perfectly.” 

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the world globally. For Forde and his family, they have been separated for for months because of COVID-19 state-based restrictions. He had planned to spend his first Christmas with son Carter in 2020, but those plans were abruptly cancelled when the Kings were forced to relocate to Albury to avoid a New South Wales outbreak and associated restrictions.

“Christmas was cancelled. My son’s first birthday was in February, and we had the cluster in the northern beaches so I couldn’t get into WA. At the end of the season, we had a break in the schedule for two days where I was going to fly out and spend two days in Perth. But then Perth had an outbreak and a lockdown followed.”

Forde was frustrated by what had transpired, and at season’s end, he did his sums. “I counted [the time I spent with my family]. It was a total of 56 hours, and that was purely because in the few times I did get back, I flew home and flew back out to Sydney the same day.”  

In taking the time to reassess his situation, Forde came to the conclusion that something had to change. He had reached breaking point in juggling a long-distance relationship with his son and fiancée Kylie, while coaching a professional basketball team. Family meant everything to Forde, and video time on the phone was no longer cutting it.

“Everything was FaceTime. It got to a point where that all he knew me as, was me on the phone. That’s where it hits the heartstrings, where Kylie would say Carter was tapping at the phone because he wants to call you.”

Photo: Supplied

Forde did not want to miss out on some of the most important years of his son’s life. “There’s no way I could live with myself later on knowing that I missed such crucial years. It was different when he was a baby, but know that he knows who I am it’s now different.”  

Forde was prepared to return to Perth and try to find work there, even considering giving up his coaching career if Kylie couldn’t uproot her business and move elsewhere herself. A dance teacher with her own studio, before COVID-19 struck, Kylie had an enrolment of over 300 students. Like many small businesses, she has been forced to rebuild her business and navigate the crippling restrictions and lockdowns much of Australia has experienced. Forde was content with placing his coaching dreams aside, if Kylie couldn’t remodel her business.

“It’s not like it’s a business that you can pack up and move or go online. I was never going to put [Kylie] in a situation where [I would say], ‘hey quit your dreams so you can help me pursue mine’, so during the past year it realigned my priorities. The worst case scenario would be me back in Perth trying to find work and I was more than comfortable doing that.”

Kylie has been able to successfully transform her business, allowing her to operates it remotely from Cairns, allowing Forde to continue pursuing his passion as well.

“If we couldn’t make this transition together, there was no way I could go about another season being away.”

Forde signed with the Taipans before Trevor Gleeson departed for the Toronto Raptors, an event that opened up the head coaching role with the Perth Wildcats. Did Forde rue a potential missed opportunity in Perth?

“I don’t deal in the business of what woulda, coulda, shoulda happened, but if you asked me even now what my preference would be, it would be right here [in Cairns]. The way we are building this team, the way we are building this structure, this is a massive nobrainer. That is also for where I am at this stage of my career and how I want to go about things, that’s what makes it a perfect fit.”

That perfect fit is based on what the Taipans were offering: decision making reins over the basketball side of the organisation.

“I want to have my hand in every pie. When it comes to high performance, I want to have final say, when it comes to player development I want final say - anything that is related to the team, I want complete autonomy.”

Forde acknowledges that it might sound like micromanaging, but added that was he saw Gleeson and Weaver running their coaching programs in their respective first seasons as head coaches.

Forde made clear in the interview process that he needed to have his philosophy match with what the organisation envisioned. The key wasn’t about excessive oversight, but rather accountability. “It worked in the end. Our philosophies aligned and that was more important than anything. Cairns were happy with me doing it my way, and Mark [Beecroft] and Troy [Stone] were on board [the Taipans general manger and president respectively], they said ‘yeah, do that and go make it work’. It’s results driven.”

Forde referred to the Wildcats culture as an example, highlighting that it allowed for everyone to be close friends, enjoy each other’s company and have fun. But it also forced people to hold each other accountable – getting on teammates for being late, missing rotations defensively and not putting yourself above the team.

“Perth was a team orientation system, but it was done in a way that was fun. I still hold onto all of those relationships with Greg Hire, Damian Martin, Mitch Norton, Casey Prather and even James Ennis [III] still reaches out occasionally. But there was a job to be done, there’s a bottom line. Everyone loves to be a winner, so you don’t mind conforming if the result is winning.”

In interviewing for the role, Forde shared that he had full buy-in from all his players, and that he knows each player has different motivations - whether that is making the NBA, wanting a new contract, or expand on their role. As coach, he aims to align individual motivation with the team’s motivation to succeed, with eyes on winning a championship.

“There’s going to be a hard line when it comes to the team’s accountability. It’s going to be enforced, but there’s going to be an element of fun,” Forde said jubilantly. “No matter what you do, my critiquing is always going to come from a place of love. I’m genuine with it. I’m here to make sure what I do my best to get Kouat [Noi] to the NBA for example. And if I allow him to take short cuts and want to be best friends with him, well I’m not doing him the service he deserves from a coach.”

The Taipans have gone from last on the ladder, to one game away from the NBL Finals and back to the bottom of the ladder within three seasons.

When prompted Forde explained that he plans to bring stability to the club and with the ultimate goal of winning a championship. “The expectation is to win, we are not here to sing kumbaya,” Forde joked.

Desire to win aside, he wants to also succeed as a family man. And with his role leading the Taipans, Forde believes that he is in the perfect position to achieve both goals.