How stepping on her teammate’s foot led to an unexpected opportunity
Stepping on someone’s foot should not lead to surgery. Stepping on someone’s foot should not lead to a three to four-month recovery time.
However, that freak incident in practice in late June that led to Layshia Clarendon’s ankle surgery also led to her opportunity to coach from the sideline.
“I mean, once we knew I had to have surgery, [I was] definitely a little heartbroken. Like, ‘Oh, no’, it was such a freak accident.,” said Clarendon. “So just, I mean, sad, I was kind of shocked because you think it’s just like an ankle sprain. And next thing you know you’re having surgery. Next thing you know you’re missing the entire season.”
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The thought of coaching though was not far behind.
“Early on, it’s like, ‘oh, in what way can I stay involved and help with the team.’ And as the point guard, you’re always the coach on the floor anyway. So in that way, it’s really natural for me to just walk into that role, but actually being in the coaches meetings, you’re kind of learning what really goes into all the scouting and the film and all the time it takes to put a game plan together that I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to see had I not got hurt, so it’s been the blessing in disguise.”
Clarendon’s presence is missed by her teammates on the court. After the Sun’s July 6 loss to the Minnesota Lynx Jasmine Thomas said, “Her voice is still there, of course, you know, it’s nice having her around, having her be able to be like an extra coach for us. She was strong with the ball, she was great for us. Defensively, offensively, leadership, just everything that she brings to the table, we absolutely miss.
Since the beginning of July Clarendon has been providing encouragement and other coaching from her scooter.
She’s also been in coaches meetings, something that head coach Curt Miller described as “eye-opening” for her.
“So we typically as a coaching staff gather two hours prior to every practice,” said Miller. “Prior to any activity with our team, we’re typically together normally two hours in advance, having Layshia in those meetings has been very beneficial to us, because she has a perspective from a player’s standpoint. And when we’re discussing things, we ask her opinion, a lot of what would you think, from schemes to how much we should practice, how little we should practice, at what, at what kind of intensity. And so having her in the room is invaluable.”
Clarendon is still tired after practice but from a different source. “I’m noticing an emotional difference because you’re talking in the coaches meeting, like what we’re going to do, our game plan, you’re thinking then you go out and practice, cheering for your teammates, you’re talking to them so there’s much less of a physical exertion as it is like the emotional and the mental exertion,” she said.
“And that can be exhausting in and of itself so I’m more, like mentally fatigued lately than I am physically. And I miss being physically being fatigued being able to work my body but now it’s like my mind and my spirit. I’m just like, so tired. I need to go home and like decompress. So that’s really different.”
“You still walk a line of, you know, the role as a player and connection with my teammates, and to be privy to be in the coaches’ meeting. So I feel like I have the unique position to kind of flow through both … So player-coach I guess you could say,” she said with a smile.
When she’s in coach mode she focuses her attention on the second unit, including rookie Natisha Hiedeman, newcomer Bria Holmes who is in her first year playing for the Sun and veteran Rachel Banham. However, she’s made it a point to talk to all of her teammates.
One lesson she’s learned is the different strategies to motivate her teammates, an important aspect of coaching.
“Courtney wants you to basically like talk crap to her,” Clarendon said. “That’s what motivates her like, She doesn’t want you to be like ‘Good job Courtney keep doing what you’re doing’, She’s better if you’re like, ‘hey, like you gonna play defense today?’”
In addition to meetings and coaching during practice, Clarendon is learning to edit film as well.
“Peter [Feeney], one of our video coordinators, he’s been helping me so after practice some days. We just have like little tutorials and I’m asking him questions and I’m like ‘oh this is how coaches put the film edit together.’ It’s like pretty wild, you know, they have to pull the clips together, create a scout and so all that, that you just don’t think about as the player because we just get the scout we read it and like we move on and we focus on playing.”
Clarendon’s unique position not only benefits her as she gets to learn the ins and outs of coaching and can continue to stay involved with the team, but it also benefits the coaches and the rest of the team as well.
“She doesn’t probably realize how much it’s helping us to have a coach’s voice in there and a perspective of what she feels is happening with the team behind the scenes, what she feels could we address could we talk about,” said Miller. “So, in the long run, I think it’s really going to help us not only on the court but even more importantly, I think her presence on a daily basis with us coaches is going to really impact us off the court.
The desire to go into coaching has been a more recent realization for Clarendon.
“In the beginning of this year, even before I got injured, I was talking to my wife about it, because I was being able to talk to my teammates more and coach them,” she said.
“And I think, entering your seventh year like being a veteran like I have enough experience that I’m secure enough in my game now that I feel like I can really look outside of myself like, of course, you’re worried about how you’re playing but like when you’re a younger player for me it was always, so like, ‘How am I doing’ and making sure I’m okay and like, you know, your confidence being up and down and all over the place. But as like coming in this year, I felt, especially coming off that World Championship win, experience with the USA team. I just felt so confident and secure in who I am as a player so I could start to like look outward even more. I was always talking to my teammates and helping them but even more, I felt like I could do that.”
Clarendon already has a passion for coaching and a desire to help others improve.
“I feel like I have a knack for it,” she said. “And I like connecting with people and I like seeing people grow and help them get better at their game and like executing things. I like all aspects of coaching and I’ve had some really cool coaches like Stephanie White, and Lin Dunn my rookie year, and the relationships I had with them and like so much of what they taught me; how to be good in this league and how to grow and adapt so I really love that part of the game. And I love X’s and O’s and the chess match of it. I think it would be fun, yeah.”
Clarendon has a unique opportunity, something she acknowledges and is grateful for.
“I’m the coach that’s a player. The opportunity that this is, I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. What’s really cool about it is like, being able to walk in their shoes, while I’m still playing and so many people don’t get to do this until they’re done playing.”
Her gratitude has been noticed by Miller who said, “She’s been very open to being around as much as possible. I think she’s really excited to be involved and appreciative. Her gratitude is, you know, she’s always thanking us. And again, I don’t think she realizes how much we enjoy having her around.”
There’s always a lesson that can be taken from a situation, including injuries.
“I mean, there’s always a silver lining,” Clarendon said. “I mean, there’s always something that can come from anything tragic or good or bad. So that’s the coaching opportunity that I’ve got the experience to have, that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. So it’s kind of like hey, you never know how much of a better player leader this is going to make you in the future.”
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