The first few months of Northwestern State women’s head coach Anna Nimz’ tenure have been about building a foundation. With the first official practice for the 2020-21 season on Wednesday, that foundation will serve as the cornerstone for the program’s future.
Nothing has looked like it normally does in 2020, including preparation for the upcoming basketball season. Since the start of school, the Lady Demons have been preparing under the parameters from the NCAA known as a “ramp up” period. Teams had 12 hours per week to allocate towards various team activities.
While some of that time was spent on drills, skill development and learning, the majority was spent on building the key component for Nimz and the coaching staff – trust.
“As a staff, what’s going to be our success this year, and the most important thing, is getting our young ladies to trust us,” Nimz said. “When they trust us and understand that how we coach is out of love – it’s tough but it’s out of love – then we can really start implementing the culture of the program, the expectations and the standards.
“This year it was about trying to find that balance of getting them in shape and understanding expectations and standards. Doing those two things has slowed down the implementation of our true offensive and defensive philosophy.”
One of the biggest ways that trust has been building is through “Breakfast Club,” a Saturday team workout that requires individual cooperation and challenges the players both mentally and physically. Following the workout, the morning is completed with a team breakfast, ranging from breakfast burritos to a full brunch.
“It’s about building their trust,” Nimz said. “You have to get that before they’re willing to push themselves past what may be uncomfortable. I think that’s going to be one of our biggest challenges. Getting our program to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”
Nimz and her staff are hopeful the trust they’ve built and hope to continue to foster as the season creeps closer will translate in spades on the floor. The primary focus over the past few weeks hasn’t been strictly on the Xs and Os, but the effort each player has shown and how they are buying in to a new program and new coach.
“At the end of the day we’re not getting upset when we’re not understanding the offense or defense,” Nimz said. “What we do get upset about are the things we can control – like our attitude when we walk in, our effort and how hard we work while we’re there.
“I think they’re excited to work hard. It’s fun to work hard. When you finally get to that point and you realize you’re not going to die, it’s fun to work hard. They’ve been so resilient with COVID, academics, two hurricanes and, as a staff, what’s more important to us is going to be our kids mental health, physical health and pushing through.”
If there is one thing that will test the resiliency of a team, especially under a new coach and staff, it’s a global pandemic.
After weeks of Zoom calls and virtual meetings following her hiring, the words Nimz used to describe that first face-to-face team meeting were blessed and thankful. With the official start of practice on Wednesday, those same feelings have come rushing back.
“It was exciting then just realizing that this is my team,” Nimz said. “This is the team that’s going to kickstart what we want and the program that we’re going to develop. Because of all the challenges it’s forced our staff to be better, more adaptable and to get out of our comfort zones. Day one was exciting and just a feeling of being thankful.
“Now that excitement is being able to say we’re in season. Although what we’re doing is not going to drastically change, it puts another level of excitement on it. I’m excited to go through this year with those girls and my staff.”
The Lady Demons now get the full allotment of time each week to work both on and off the court in preparation for the season to begin on Nov. 25. No longer will they have to choose and balance the physical and mental sides of the game.
“Throughout my career I’ve really tried to attack the mental side of things,” Nimz said. “When you’re so limited in your hours, you’re choosing between being on the court or being in the classroom. Now we don’t have to choose.
“I think our program will grow when we get to start practice. We’ll be on the court more but now we’re going to start reading ‘The Energy Bus’ and then we’ll have chalk talk and watch film. Instead of just going, going, going we get to bring in a little more of the mental side of it. I think for our team in particular that’s going to be very beneficial.”
The Lady Demons begin their 2020-21 campaign on Nov. 25.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services