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Young Crawford providing cool head for Flames
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Young Crawford providing cool head for Flames

IF you hear a coach is 23 years of age it’s easy to think he’s too young, but when you already have the credentials of Keegan Crawford that’s a non-issue and as a Rockingham local, he is looking forward to still trying to get the best out of this 2019 Flames group.

Crawford might be remarkably young to be a head coach in the SBL at 23, but he’s already been an assistant coach under Ryan Petrik with the Flames Women for much of the past six years while also furthering his coaching credentials at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada.

He returned from Canada for the start of this season to be an assistant coach again for the Lady Flames under new coach Craig Reynolds. But suddenly he was thrust into the head coaching role when Reynolds and the club parted ways after going 6-6 over the opening 12 games.

Crawford was happy to take on the role while acknowledging he did enjoy his time working with Reynolds over the previous four months.

Crawford’s tenure got off to a perfect start with an 68-54 home win over the Mandurah Magic. The next night they lost to the Eastern Suns before big wins in Rockingham against the Slammers and Wolves.

But since the Flames have lost to the Redbacks and Magic to slip to a 9-9 record now with three weeks and four games remaining this regular season against the Eagles, Suns, Senators and Lightning.

Crawford remains confident the Flames can be a genuine threat come playoff time, but he sees the biggest problem so far in them being 9-9 overall and 3-3 with him as head coach is a lack of continuity with the playing group.

While Darcee Garbin will miss the last couple of weeks due to the Australian Opals camp in Phoenix, Crawford hopes to be able to settle the rest of the group down now ahead of the finals beginning.

“We have to figure out who our best eight or nine players are come playoff time. One the blessings in disguise of being so deep is that you can cover girls when they have national commitments, with weddings or injuries so the girls get opportunities through the season,” Crawford said.

“One of our mottos has been to make the most of your opportunity whether it’s a five-minute patch or you are starting, nothing is guaranteed and you have to prove that you can play in our rotation come playoff time.”

While Crawford isn’t sure if he’ll put up his hand to be head coach in 2020 for the Flames or not, what he does know is that he’ll give everything now for the rest of this season to get the most out of this group he has at his disposal.

“We really have all the pieces to be successful this year when you look at us on paper. We are going giving this season a red hot crack and I have every confidence we can go well come finals time. But I have no long-term plans and I don’t know what next year holds,” he said.

“I’m a Rocko born and bred guy, though, so if I’m coaching next year we’ll have a conversation about it and I’d love to, but I honestly am not thinking that far ahead. But in the bigger picture, I want to be a coach and I knew from when I was a teenager this was the industry I wanted to be in.

“I’m super passionate about my coaching and whether it’s head coaching roles or player development stuff I do with BWA or film work I do overseas. A lot of it is being accepted into a program and there’s no better place to start than at Rockingham.”

When Crawford was initially asked to come back to be an assistant coach for the Flames Women in 2019 under Reynolds he was working in Canada at the University of Lethbridge.

But he was more than happy to come back to work with a playing group he knew so well under a new head coach in Reynolds. Never did he imagine ending up being head coach himself, but he has no doubt the people who have helped him prepare him for this moment is why he’s handling it so well.

Then to have Petrik take time out of preparing for his Men’s game to sit on the bench with him during games is something Crawford can’t be more thankful to his mentor for.

“I was in Canada coaching college basketball as an assistant when I first got the call about helping out with the team again this year,” Crawford said.

“I got calls from Warren, Craig and a bunch of people to help out Craig as an assistant coach so that was initially what I came back to do to slide straight back into the role I’ve always had. Obviously a coaching change mid-season is never ideal for any parties, but credit to the girls who are trying to adjust on the fly as much as they can.

“I’ve also been really privileged to learn from and be mentored by a ton of great coaches in this league around the world. Obviously coming from Ryan Petrik, Andrew Cooper and Fleur McIntyre here has been huge in my development but then coaches overseas and people like Adam Forde who I have been able to pick some things up from.

“When we found out about the coaching change and I was trying to piece together my coaching staff, Ryan said he would help out in any capacity he could seeing as I sat on his bench for six years.

“He has clearly stayed away as much as he can because his main focus is, and should be, the men’s program, but I’m pretty grateful to have him on board offering little pieces when he can. It’s nice to have that reassuring face there.”

Crawford also has no doubt that a big reason why at 23 years of age he has been so able to take over and be a head coach is because of the time and years spent with the players in the Flames team to build up that rapport.

And no matter his age, he has no doubt that the lack of disruption that comes from having a familiar face take over as coach once the club decided to make the change was crucial to things not starting to head in a negative direction if the disruption was more significant.

“I don’t look at it in terms of if I’m ready or not or if I have enough experience, I am confident in my own abilities but more importantly I’m confident in the program that we’ve had down here in Rockingham,” Crawford said.

“It’s a credit to the girls for accepting me into the role but being part of the program for six years and having some of the backing that I’ve had means that this is a role I’m comfortable I’m stepping into, and one that the team can flourish with.

“Without a doubt it helps that the girls know me and I know them so well. I think it would be more of an awkward transition if I was a first-year coach in the program but coming into being involved for a sixth year definitely helps.

“Obviously anyone coming in after Ryan Petrik is going to coach a different style, but it’s credit to the playing group and the coaches that I have on staff right now to rally around the program and with what we are trying to achieve.”

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