Exclusive Interview: UC Berkeley Women's Varsity Basketball Coach LINDSAY GOTTLIEB

7 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

These days, it seems like everybody either has a coach, wants a coach, thinks they need a coach or is a coach. With philosophies and approaches that often draw from positive psychology, Dr. Phil-esquetough love, back to basics All I Really Need to Know I Learned in KindergardenOprah-endorsed The Secret and its various offshoots,and so much more, if you need a little motivation, a little inspiration, a little Jai Ho gung ho perspiration with or without open-mouthed, Twisted Sister WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFEurgency, there are plenty of resources.

For the record, yes, I wanna rock and I most certainly love and appreciate coaching! Follow the links above if you haven't already for some great content. (See, that's me coaching you. Just read the rest of the post first, please! Then go back for the links.)

On that note, I could not be happier to share my exclusive interview with an actual sports coach, my friend and total inspiration, UC Berkeley Women's Varsity Basketball Head Coach, Lindsay Gottlieb. I know Coach Gottlieb from our days together as campers, bunkmates (while fun, I'd say we bonded over being the least mischievous of a daring lot) and BFFs at Kutsher's Sports Academy in Monticello, NY. Her good nature, humor, athleticism and humility were noticeable even then, and it comes as no surprise to me that her career is soaring.

Gottlieb played basketball her whole life (she grew up in Scarsdale, NY) and earned her BA in Political Science at Brown University, where she played on the varsity team before a knee injury ended her career. Instead of walking away from the sport she loved, she became student assistant coach of the Brown team. Instead of following in the linear footsteps of her legal eagle family members, Gottlieb stayed with her passion for hoops, continued coaching, and courageously followed the windy road onto which she was led. 

Gottlieb became the assistant coach at Syracuse University, where she earned a Masters in Philosophy of Education. She then went on to assistant coach spots at University of New Hampshire, University of Virginia Richmond (under Head Coach Joanne Boyle), and UCLA Berkeley (she and Coach Boyle went there together). Next, she was tapped to become UC Santa Barbara's Head Coach, where she led her team to 2 Big West titles, 2 post season bids and an overall 56-39 (.589) record. After 3 consecutive winning seasons, Gottlieb was given the opportunity of a lifetime -- to return to Cal Berkeley, this time as Head Coach. 

Gottlieb is only 34 years old and already demonstrating such steady confidence, persistence and a creative approach to leadership, one can only imagine with excitement where she'll be in ten years time. Time will tell. In the meantime, let's keep it in this day and turn it over to the transcript of my interview with Coach Gottlieb (done over email) so you can see what she relies on to inspire her talented team, keep herself energized, get over setbacks and create a unique style of leadership all her own...

Congratulations on becoming Head Coach of the Cal Berkeley women's varsity basketball team! How does it feel to return to Cal and how are things going so far? 
Thank you! It's been amazing so far, and I've only just begun. While I was certainly content coaching at UCSB and was not actively looking to pursue other jobs, for me, Cal was not just any job, it was THE job. So, to be able to return to a place that I am so fond of and to begin this journey as Cal's head coach...I couldn't be happier. 

These first few months have been hectic, as any coaching transition is inherently crazy. That being said, however, the response I've received from the community, the athletic department and the players has been amazing. The "buy-in" has been instant, which makes things a lot easier. I think everyone is on the same page and looking forward to this season and the future of Cal Women's Basketball. 

What are some major factors contributing to the growth of Cal women's basketball program? 

I think Cal Women's Basketball is at an interesting and exciting juncture, in that we are established on the national scene, but the next leap is to become one of the truly "elite" teams. So from a basketball standpoint, I think it's getting the players to see that we need to turn our talented group into a cohesive team that performs better as a unit than we ever could as individuals. We need to be willing to do the little things, the extra things, the added attention to detail that will take us to another level.

In addition, I want to reach out to the campus and community and make sure that our program is accessible in that way. I feel strongly that as female athletes and coaches, we need to use our platform to be involved, to make an impact on the community around us, and also to help grow our fan base and our game.

How do you advise your players to successfully balance academics and athletics? 

The first thing is, they know that academics is as much of a priority to me as athletics. I vocalize it, and I think that's important. They know that showing up for a tutoring session on time is just as important as being on time for practice. The second part is helping to put them in a situation to be successful. What I mean by that is, time management and balancing everything on their plate academically and athletically is probably the hardest part of the transition to college for our student-athletes. So we help them by teaching them how to make schedules, how to use their time effectively, how to structure their days. We are very hands-on with the freshmen, and the hope is to empower them to be able to be more independent as they progress, but we certainly don't leave them to "sink or swim" on their own. We truly invest in these young women as athletes, students and young women.

The Athletic Director at Cal described you as "compassionate and passionate" which I think is an amazing combination. Very powerful. Could you possibly describe your style of leadership?

I love what I do, and I do hope that shows at all times. I think that being the head coach of a division 1 athletic program is much like being the CEO of a small company: there are so many aspects to manage and things to be mindful of. I always try to be me, and not do it someone else's way, which would come off as disingenuous. I care deeply about the players I coach and the people I work with, and I think that shows. So, compassionate is accurate. I think big and create the vision for the program. I've hired amazing people, so I let them carry out a lot of that vision. I am analytical and well thought out in my decision making. I consider myself progressive and forward thinking in terms of strategy, yet I also know that good relationships are critical to success. I'm upbeat and positive by nature, yet seek excellence from myself and those around me. Passionate about what I do, for sure. Does that cover it? :)

I can see you'd have made a great lawyer if you went that route! Who are some of your greatest inspirations and what specifically have they taught you which you apply today in your coaching? 

First, my parents. I think about it now, and I appreciate so much how they always encouraged me to do what I love. There was never a pressure to do what someone else wanted me to do or thought I should do. I have been able to find success and be true to myself because I followed my passion, and my mom and dad certainly fostered that.

Other than that, I draw inspiration from so many different places. I try to read a ton. Sometimes it's sports related material but a lot of times I'll read poetry or political theory. Or, it could be something totally random that I use as a thought of the day or a point of emphasis with my team. I know it sounds nerdy (I admit it) but I think inspiration comes from a lot of places, and I try to think outside of the box in my approach at times. The key is being able to use words from Aristotle or Muhammed Ali or Eleanor Roosevelt and make them accessible and relevant to our players.

How do you handle expectations? Obviously, when you have a proven track record of success as you do, there can be some pressure. Do you feel it and what do you do to stay focused? 

I have learned that when you are involved in sports, much of what you do is out there for the public to judge. That's just the nature of it. Much of my family is involved in the legal profession, and no one is blogging about the outcomes of their trials or what decisions they made. But as a coach, people are going to have an opinion about how I do things, and I have to be ok with that. There are expectations and pressure, but that means people care about Women's hoops, which is a good thing. I know it sounds cliche, but the greatest pressure comes from within. I want to be successful because I want our players to have a special experience, I want to make our administration and community proud. 

What I have learned is that I must trust my process. Meaning that although I'm in a results oriented field, I need to stay focused on the process and making sure that we are doing things the right way. Focusing on the process keeps me from going on the roller-coaster of emotions ... That's what can be detrimental to coaches, I think. I certainly look in the mirror and evaluate decisions but I try to do it in a measured and comprehensive way: Are we focusing on the right things? Are practices effective? Am I getting the most out of the players? By focusing on the process, I'm better able to deal with the pressures of the job.

Senior guard Rachelle Federico, in addition to calling you one of the most knowledgeable coaches out there, says "There's an energy about [you] that's contagious." Can you tell me a bit about how you manage your energy. Obviously, there are some long hours, plenty of travel and a lot of people relying on you being at your best. How do you do it?

The first thing is, it's easier to have energy when you are genuinely happy going to work every day. The young people I am privileged to coach keep me energetic and upbeat (even when they occasionally drive me crazy)! But I'm also very conscious of keeping myself as fresh as possible. I work out almost every day. It gives me energy and makes me feel good. I don't always get as much sleep as I'd like (especially during the season) but I try very hard to listen to my body and be in touch with what I need to do to stay healthy. Sometimes that means watching a little less film and getting a little more sleep, or making sure to eat well when the grind of the season can wear you down.

What kind of advice do you give to someone who is overcoming a physical setback, whether it's an injury or an illness, that wants to get back into shape, both mentally and physically? 

The first key is a word that you used in your question: WANT. If someone wants to get healthy or back into shape, that's a huge first step. The next piece is putting things in place to make that person successful. Do you need support? Then maybe it's best to join class or a workout group. Motivation needed? Set attainable goals. My best advice is that returning from injury or getting into shape is a process, and often a long and difficult one: you must realize that you may need help, you may have setbacks, but if you are committed to doing it, it's ALWAYS possible.

We used to have a lot of fun together in our camp days at KSA (Kutsher's Sports Academy)! How important were those formative years in contributing to who you are today? 

We had SO MUCH FUN!! And honestly, I think about my KSA days often. As a camper, I remember the relationships I made and friendships that have lasted years. In a lot of ways, our bunk was a lot like a team. We met and went through things with a group of people that became very close, whether we would have been friends in another circumstance or not. That was a cool experience, and similar to the bonds I see form amongst teammates. My years as a counselor really helped foster a love for coaching. I know it was just for fun, but in leagues I had my own team, they responded to me, I got to make decisions and call plays. It certainly was an experience that affected me very deeply.


Tell me she's not the BEST, right?!? Seriously.

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