Mid-season Q&A With Coach Petersen

Todd Barin

Web Editorial Associate


While four Minnesota Lynx players are doing their best to bring home a Gold Medal from Brazil, the rest of the team is working extremely hard with assistant coach Shelley Patterson and associate head coach Jim Petersen at Mayo Clinic Square.

With Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve also being at the Summer Olympics as an assistant coach for the Women’s National team, coach Petersen has taken over the team’s reigns over the four-week break.

I had the opportunity to sit down with coach Petersen and talk with him about practice, what challenges the Olympic break brings, and the responsibilities that come with being a head coach.

TB: How has practice been going so far?

JP: On Tuesdays and Thursdays we’re doing extracurricular activities, like we just got done doing a boxing class that was very strenuous and a warrior sculpt yoga class that was very difficult, and then Monday, Wednesday, Friday we will be practicing. We’re really focusing on trying to individually improve players and the weaknesses that they have. This is something that’s very unique for us in that we never get four weeks with players to work with them during the course of a WNBA season because they’re always gone (in the offseason), and then we get them and it’s the season, so we never really have time to do individual work. This is really valuable time, especially for the seven players that are back here because with the four Olympians, they’re going to need us back here to help carry the load when they come back.

TB: Coach Reeve had said before she left, like you just said, that this break is very unique in the fact that you get to work on specific skills with players that you normally don’t have time to do. Did you devise a plan with Coach or with coach Patterson regarding what skills you want to work on with each player?

JP: With Shelley P. (Coach Patterson) and I, we obviously know these players so well and we watch so much video, so we know everybody’s strengths and weaknesses. We made lists, we went down the line in verse from Renee Montgomery to Nneka Enemkpali, our new player that we just picked up. Technique-wise within the team concept of what we don’t do well, we’re trying to clean some of that stuff up individually. There are so many little micro-games within the games, the two player game, the three player game, that you can break those down into small segments to when they happen in the game, they’ll be better at them. Things like setting a screen at the proper angle is a very important small thing, using the screen the right way, adding some offensive shots to your game, working on your runner game for instance for Jia (Perkins) and Renee; they can’t always get to the rim all of the time, so in order to get their shot off before the shot blocker comes, they’ll have that floater game. So being able to work on those things individually, it’s so much fun to be able to do that and be able to teach on that level for us as coaches.

TB: With the Olympic break being four weeks long, that’s a month that the team is not together. In your opinion, do the pros out-weigh the cons when it comes to this type of break? A pro being that you do get to work on specific skills with players not in the Olympics, a con being that the break takes away from team chemistry.

JP: We have four players that are together (in Brazil), they’re going to be a mini-team that still has cohesiveness and they’re going to be able to play together. The players that are back here for the most part are veteran players who know how to play. Rebekkah Brunson is a veteran that just knows how to play with this group and has been in our system for a long time. Renee, Jia, Janel McCarville- they’re all veterans, and Natasha Howard, how great has she been. So we have the luxury of having four Olympians playing together on a team as a nucleus and then this group back here, being a veteran group and knowing how to play with each other. One of the things we focused on, that I mentioned was that the last time we went through this in 2012, Lindsay (Whalen), Seimone (Augustus) and Maya (Moore) went to England and won a Gold Medal, we ended up coming back and I think we had some stumbles at the end of the season. Once the playoffs started, we did get to the Finals, and then I think we just ran out of gas a little bit. Some of that was we really didn’t have a very deep bench at that point. So I told the players that are back here, we have to make sure that when those Olympians come back they’re going to have gone through a lot to win a Gold Medal, they’re going to need us, so we need to be on point when they come back. We just want to make sure that we’re as prepared as possible that when the season resumes, we’re going to be on point.

TB: Is it kind of nice for you to take the reigns and act as the head coach without coach Reeve here? You obviously have a lot of responsibilities being the associate head coach while Coach is here, but is it fun for you to be able to run the show?

JP: I think it’s a different hat that you get to wear and you don’t really know what it’s going to be like until you do it. When you have to make every decision and when every decision falls on your shoulders as the head coach there’s a lot on you, you’re driving the direction. As an assistant, I can come in and suggest this, that and the other, but at the end of the day, Cheryl (Reeve) is going to decide what we’re going to do. So for me, now I’m in that situation where I can delegate a little bit, but at the end of the day, we’re going to do what I say we’re going to do. The good thing is that, when Cheryl is here, we give her a lot of good input, I’m sitting in there now at that position and I get the same great input from Wes (Bohn, video coordinator), Annie (Isler, player development associate) and Shelley P., so it’s great, we do it together.

TB: Is it hard for you to select what you want to work on specifically with all the great ideas being thrown at you?

JP: We’re not going long, so you have to really utilize the nine practices to be able to get the things done that we want to get done, so we’re prioritizing certainly. You want to do a lot more than you have time for, but the things that we’re doing, we’re doing really hard and that’s what I appreciate about our players, whatever we’re asking them to do, they’re doing it 100 percent. When you do it that way, it just makes life so much easier.

TB: You mentioned that in 2012 the team had a little bit of a stumble at the end of the season. Do you think it’s inevitable to have a step-down in play and performance after an All-Star or Olympic break?

JP: We’re sitting here 21-4 and we could’ve easily had two fewer losses, and you always say woulda, coulda, shoulda, but we feel pretty good with what we did in the first 25 games. I think one of the things that Cheryl was talking about with the players at the end was, there’s so much about being fatigued that’s mental. There are some real physical parts to it, but if you allow yourself to mentally be tired and feel like your fatigued, then that’s what’s going to happen. So that’s the beauty of having Maya, Seimone, Whalen, Syl (Fowles), is that they’re mentally tough. So, it’s going to be incumbent upon us to find places for them to be able to rest, and have our bench players, the ones that are here, to have them step up and fill the roles. We’ve won games when Whalen’s played poorly, we’ve won games when Seimone’s played poorly, we’ve won games when Maya’s played poorly, and that’s the good thing about having a talented team, you have so many people that can step up.

TB: Do you think that this is the deepest team you’ve had?

JP: I think it is, I think it’s safe to say that. We’ve never had a second unit like this, we literally have two units that can operate: Renee, Jia, Keisha (Hampton), J-Mac and Natasha. We’ve never had that depth where that team alone could win a bunch of games in this league. It’s never a guarantee, but all I know is that we have a group of people that are committed to doing this together, and that’s all you can ask for is that people are all in, people are working hard, and they understand what it takes and they go about the business of getting better everyday.