EARLIER in his coaching career Craig Mansfield might have been focused on success to try and further his own status but now he feels at a point where he gets greater satisfaction from helping his players reach their potential and in turn it has him at the top of his coaching game.
Mansfield no longer feels desperate for that elusive Women’s SBL championship and no longer feels like he is determined and aspiring to go to the next level in his coaching career now in his second season in charge at the Lakeside Lightning.
He had a tremendous run previously with the Kalamunda Eastern Suns highlighted by the 2013 grand final appearance and during that time he was working in the WNBL with the West Coast Waves, coaching WABL and state teams, and his life was dedicated to basketball.
That meant he was determined to get a championship and to try and receive opportunities at the next level. But having got to a point where he needed a refresher of a year in 2015 and now having re-evaluated his long-term goals, Mansfield is much more at peace with his place.
That’s why he has been able to do such an impressive job in two years at Lakeside firstly taking a team that had won one-game in 2015 to then make the playoffs in 2016 and now end the 2017 regular season in third spot and then beat the Joondalup Wolves in two games in the quarter finals.
The Lightning still have a big task to make their first grand final since 2014 needing to beat the Mandurah Magic at home on Friday night and in Mandurah on Saturday night. No matter what happens you can’t deny the outstanding job Mansfield has done in two years.
Mansfield was happy to back in the majority of the core group at Lakeside when he arrived, has continued to develop young players and then the addition of imports Ali Schwagmeyer and Sydnee Fipps, and return of Sam Roscoe has turned them into genuine contenders in 2017.
While Mansfield would be as happy as anyone if he was to become a championship coach, that’s no longer his main goal in life and he feels that has helped him become a better coach and get the best out of Lakeside players.
Because he has focused on helping his players become the best they can be on and off the court whether that ultimately ends up helping Lakeside winning a championship or sees them go elsewhere and thrive in their career, it is seeing them reach their potential that is his goal.
Obviously winning remains a focus of his too but by taking the pressure off himself somewhat by thinking that his coaching journey isn’t purely judged on the number of championships he ends up with is why he feels he is enjoying what he has helped build at Lakeside the past two years.
“I definitely get far more enjoyment out of seeing the girls go somewhere in life both in basketball but even as people away from the court as well. I really like basketball but my passion is for coaching as well as the game itself,” Mansfield said.
“I would love to win a grand final obviously, but when I sat down with Lakeside and had a discussion with some other clubs, I outlined what my goals were and winning the grand final was fourth or fifth on that list.
“That would be a great box to tick but there are a whole bunch of other things around what you can do to help a team, your club and semi-professional athletes in an environment like this that are more important.
“I would love to win it but that approach of an all-round focus is shown in the way I build my teams. There’s generally not a lot of changeover in the group and I don’t go out buying four or five new players every year. I kind of feel like if I ever do win a championship, I will feel like we’ve built our way there and that would mean a lot.”
As he reflects back to his time coaching at Kalamunda, Mansfield lived and breathed basketball and put a lot of pressure on himself to succeed.
He always held himself to a higher standard than anyone else could and in the end that pressure and the fact that he was taking on so many different roles, that he needed to have a year off in 2015 and think about what he wanted to get out of his coaching journey.
The Lakeside job became available and felt like a perfect fit for him and two years later, it’s certainly turned out that way.
“During my time at Suns, for four of those years I was also a women’s NBL assistant before the structure of the WNBL changed and then I did state coaching along with SBL for a couple of years,” he said.
“I just felt like it was a little bit of fatigue creeping in for me and I probably didn’t get everything right in the end at Suns. The club was fantastic to me and everything from that end was great, but it was just time for me to take a year off and take stock.
“That enabled to think personally of what I wanted to do and watch a lot of basketball while not coaching and look at how I would like to coach, and make myself better personally and as a coach. I then lucked into the job at Lakeside and I’ve been really happy since then.”
Winning a championship will always mean a lot for any club and for the Lightning women to earn their second title and first since 2006 would be special for everyone involved, including Mansfield.
But the overall picture is that win or lose, Lakeside provides a tremendous environment and culture for its players and that’s why Mansfield has enjoyed the chance to develop the playing group to its potential without that ultimate pressure of having to win even though that’s obviously the goal.
“It always means a lot to a club if you win a championship but Lakeside is an interesting environment being connected to the church. They have the ethos of it being more than a game and there are lot of people there that live that,” Mansfield said.
“A lot of volunteers and people that help out at the club with set up or pack up don’t have a kid who plays basketball and aren’t basketball people. They don’t really care if we win the grand final or not, they will still give the same amount of themselves either way.
“It would certainly mean a lot and would be a great reward to the girls, but it’s not the be all and end all. I’m not saying that to lower expectations because I want to get the job done against Mandurah and hopefully we are still playing on grand final night, but you also need perspective.
“The other good thing for me is that I’m not looking at this as a stepping stone. I’m not chasing a coaching career anymore and I’m not hoping to win a championship to help me get something, I just like what I do and enjoy coaching.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia