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Liz Mills' legacy continues to grow with creation of female coaching network
Mills' latest project continues to push through barriers that have long halted women in basketball coaching.
Image credit: FIBA
Australian Liz Mills is the definition of a trailblazer. Through sheer hard work and dedication to her craft, Mills has become one of the most renowned coaches in African basketball and now, she is launching the Global Women In Basketball Coaching Network.
The network aims to ‘connect female coaches from around the world on a platform where they can engage, empower and elevate each other to success’. It’s an absolute passion project for Mills, who last year became the first ever woman to coach a men’s national team at FIBA Afrobasket (the continental championships of Africa).
“I’ve been thinking about it probably since Afrobasket last year, and after the BAL (Basketball Africa League) season ended, I was like ‘I’ve got some time, I’ve got to do this now’,” Mills said.
“I’ve been the first to do a couple of things, but what is going to be my lasting legacy? It’s not enough to do just do things, how can I create more of an impact in the female community?
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It really stemmed from coaching Kenya and in the BAL - so many women have reached out asking about my journey, asking for my advice, and they speak about their own challenges.
“So as a mentor and role model, it’s all about how can I have more of impact? I’m sure there’s other women who have experienced the same issues. Something that I constantly hear from female coaches is that they never feel confident enough or in a safe enough environment to ask questions because often they’re the only woman in the room.”
With that in mind, Mills has made it her mission to bring women – from all corners of the globe – together through a network designed exclusively for female basketball coaches. Why try to fit in with the crowd of men, when there’s enough women out there who are breaking ground in their own right?
“We’re always trying to get into the boys club, and I was like ‘why are we trying to get into the boys club when there’s enough of us to create a women’s club?’
“I scratched my head thought we’re just trying to be like them, but our superpower is that we’re women.”
Mills has put together a leadership group for the network that consists of eight elite female coaches from all over the world, including another Australian in Fleur McIntyre, who became the first female assistant coach to win an NBL championship when she helped the Sydney Kings lift the trophy earlier this year.
Alongside Mills and McIntyre in the leadership is Lauriane Dolt (France), Gaelle Bouzin (Belgium), Brittni Donaldson (USA), Khady Diop (Senegal), Anna Montanana (Spain), and Mery Andrade (Cape Verde/Portugal).
“They’re all female coaches who are trailblazers,” Mills said. “It’s going to be a really open forum, so if anyone has a question, someone can answer it and that’s what we’re trying to promote; finding solutions for each other.
“A big thing about the leadership group is that not everyone is going to relate to my journey, and I know these other women in the leadership group will bring different experiences that other coaches can relate to.”
Liz founded the network with her twin sister Vic, and the pair want it to be as inclusive as possible for women all around the world. It won’t matter where you’re from, if you have access to Facebook, you’ll have the network at your fingertips.
“It’s going to be on Facebook and the reason for that is I’m thinking of people in Guatemala or Nigeria, I’m worried about data usage,” she said. “You may not be able to download an entire website or get onto a discussion board there, so with Facebook everyone has it, and we can close the group off because it will be an exclusive group.”
When asked about the importance she places on seeing other women progress by passing on her own knowledge and experiences, Mills was unwavering in her response.
“It’s pretty much more important to me than winning or losing basketball games,” she said. “Sure, I can impact the players I work with and the African eco-system, but it’s all about creating a significant impact on a global scale as I’m very passionate about gender equality and women’s rights.
“Just getting Federations and clubs to think ‘hey, maybe the best person for this job is a woman’. Also, providing those younger female coaches with role models – the more role models we have, the more people can relate.”
Another objective that is constantly on Mills’ mind is being the first female to head coach a men’s national team at an Olympics or World Cup. She has been vocal in this goal for some time now and isn’t afraid of speaking her goals into existence. Being the first female to head coach at Afrobasket was a huge step in the right direction and she’s not slowing down until she achieves that ultimate goal.
“It’s definitely my number one goal,” Mills said. “I would’ve loved to achieve it next year, but it’s been pretty difficult trying to jump onto a national team – teams are now in their second round of qualifying and they’re mostly going with coaches they’ve already got, and that’s fair enough.
“It took me 10 years to get to Afrobasket, so I think I need to calm down and know not everything is going to happen bang, bang, bang. I’ve still got a lot of room to develop as a coach, so the aim for me is probably the 2027 World Cup or 2028 Olympics. In the meantime, I’ll continue to coach in Africa in the BAL and really be part of the development on that continent.
“Once I get to that World Cup or Olympics, I’m going to be done with coaching, so I very much think the next stage is mentoring and focusing on coach development. That might be broader in Africa, because they need help regardless of gender, so building coaching development programs on the continent, but still very much pushing the female coaching angle.
“I’m hoping by the time I retire from coaching I’ll be able to – kind of like Gregg Popovich – look at this branch, look at all these women who are coaching now and this is the impact I’ve had.”
Mills’ Global Women In Basketball Coaching Network launches at 5pm (AEST) today. Women interested in joining can search ‘Global Women In Basketball Coaching Network’ on Facebook. All requests will be individually evaluated to ensure only legitimate requests are accepted into the group.