TAMARA TATHAM TAKES ON NEW LEADERSHIP ROLE IN COACHING THE NEXT GENERATION
TORONTO, Ont. (June 12, 2020) – How did Tamara Tatham celebrate being named interim head coach of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues Women’s Basketball team? She didn’t. At least not yet.
“So far, [I haven’t celebrated], not really,” Tatham said. “I literally got right into it. It’s just been go-time.”
If she’s being honest, it’s been go-time for more than 13 years for Tatham. Since graduating from the University of Massachusetts in 2007, Tatham has been putting in the basketball work that has led to this next step. After a 10-year pro playing career overseas with stops in Finland, Germany, Slovakia, Australia, and Russia, as well as 11 years representing the Canadian Senior Women’s National Team -- including two Olympics appearances in 2012 and 2016 -- Tatham is now a head coach. Perhaps most exciting, she gets to do it at home.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” she said. “I love being at home. I lived away from home for 10 years so being back, it just kind of gives me a sense of calm, a sense of peace. Just being able to really enjoy being in one place. That’s been very enjoyable for me.”
During her playing career, Tatham wasn’t thinking ahead until things started winding down. Towards the end of her time in Russia, coaching was something that started to enter her mind as an option for what could come after she was done playing. To help prepare, she took a few coaching courses because she knew she had an interest there. After returning to Toronto, she started working with the U of T women’s program as an assistant, while also serving as an assistant coach for the NBA G League’s Raptors 905.
After playing basketball for most of her life, the transition to coaching has been a relatively smooth one for Tatham, though she’d like to apologize for those times where she may have thought her coaches were doing too much.
“Going to the sideline, it kind of gave me a new perspective on things, how much goes into it,” she said. “When you’re mad at your coaches, give them a break because they are working tireless hours [to help you succeed].”
One of the main challenges in switching from being the player on the floor to being the coach on the sideline, trying to reach the players on the floor, is the reminder that not every player can see the game as well as you. What comes naturally to a gifted pro may be something that has to be taught to another young player. “It’s different,” Tatham said. “It was hard trying to find a language to express what I was trying to do or what I was trying to teach. I think that piece was the hardest transition for me. I just know [what to do] and I do it, instead of having to teach it. That was a bigger transition for me. Once it all came together, it came together nicely.”
Tatham says she has been able to reach out to former Team Canada teammates and assistants as well as her older brother, Patrick, a head coach at McMaster University, when she wants to talk through coaching strategy or ideologies.
“There’s a few people that I go to in terms of on-court coaching decisions. Shawnee Harle, who coached me on the national team, she’s been a great resource for me, just in terms of helping me navigate the coaching world. I have spoken to Allison McNeill as well, my first national team coach. She’s someone who really taught me to be a different player right off the jump. I'm very grateful for that. Anything she can do to help, she’s always willing to do.”
Tatham says the bonds created with Team Canada teammates and coaches are as strong as ever.
“It’s a lifelong family,” she said. “I’ve had Lisa Thomaidis and Allison McNeil as head coaches and they both instilled a family aspect of coaching. I’ve actually had Lisa since I started with the national team all the way to the end, I’ve been with her for 10 years so it’s been interesting getting to, one, develop as an athlete and, two, develop as a person because both coaches have instilled so much confidence in me to be able to not only make it on the basketball court, but make it off of it as well.”
Tatham says it is impossible to pick out a singular favourite memory from her time suiting up for Canada, but sitting on the team bus after the team qualified for the London Olympics was a moment she won't ever forget. “I remember sitting on the bus being like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m an Olympian,’ like, that was crazy. When we qualified for London that was a huge moment. It was basically do or die. We were at the last chance qualifier, in the last possible game, for the last spot. Like, it was just a do or die game and we made it.”
Another big moment with Canada was when Tatham won two gold medals in 2015 at the Pan American Games and then at the FIBA Americas Women's Championship in Edmonton, home of the Senior Women’s National Team.
“When we won those two gold medals that summer, in 2015, for me, after being on the team for nine years by then, I had not played in an international tournament in Canada prior to that. It was so historic to play on home soil. That was really, really cool.”
“That family feeling really does hold true,” she continued. “Even with my teammates, I can ring anyone up, anyone I’ve played with and connect right away and they’re always going to be there for you. It’s an amazing feeling to have.”
That feeling of family is something that matters a great deal to Tatham. When she talks about the current and future athletes who she will coach, genuine excitement and care comes across in her voice. Getting the opportunity to coach and encourage young women through sport means so much to Tatham because she knows how much of an impact it has had on her life, on and off the court.
“I’ve had a lot of support growing up through family and coaches and teammates around me, but being able to really give anything I can, especially for the female athlete growing up, it’s huge for me,” Tatham said. “Growing up I had sport in my family, but we’re all doing this and trying to figure it out, right? I didn’t have an ex-athlete come back and help me out. Those little things matter. Just having that little extra bit of advice can be something that goes a long way. It means a lot. It’s a great feeling to always give back to the sport and to the community and to athletes in general.”
One thing Tatham wants current and future players to know is how much it means to her to get the opportunity to have a hand in helping them develop as players, but also as people.
“Coaching university athletes, it’s cool because you have the opportunity to kind of be almost like a last line of defence for these university athletes before they go into the next world,” Tatham said. “Not all of them will go on to play pro, but all of them will have to enter the world one day and really being able to help shape the way they are has been really, really important to me.”
To those familiar with her playing career, but curious about her coaching style, she says this:
“A big thing that I want people to know is the impact that I want to have on my athletes. Connecting on a meaningful level, not just on the court, but off the court as well, in their daily lives. I want to continue to uncover what inspires my athletes, my student-athletes, my national team athletes, and how best they can utilize their craft that they are so passionate about.”
As more and more people begin to follow women’s basketball, be it the WNBA or the Senior Women’s National Team or U SPORTS/CCAA, Tatham wants to be a face for female athletes and girls who want to get involved in sport.
“The more success that women’s basketball becomes, not only our country, but other countries around the world, the more women that are going to want to play and the more they’re going to want their voices heard,” she said. “Really just kind of taking a stand and continuing to use our voices is a big part of that. Showing the success that we continuously have, it’s going to be impossible to ignore us.”