I was fortunate enough to track down Emily Lines recently and got to talk with her new job as the head girls basketball coach for the First Baptist Academy in Naples, Florida. Not coincidentally the same school where Emily starred in basketball and shot put before playing at UNM from 2015 through 2019.
Joe: Good evening Emily. Thank you for taking the time to do this. You have been busy the last year plus–what was the road like from leaving UNM, going to Wake Forest, and then decide you wanted to get into coaching?
Emily: I wanted to get into grad school because I really wasn’t ready to get a real job yet and I wanted to experience college without basketball. So I applied to a few schools and at Wake Forest I had a great eight months. That’s when Covid hit. It was Spring Break of my first year of grad school and all my classes went online so I came home. So, my second year, fall of 2020 I went back to school and my classes were still online but I was up at North Carolina. Everything was still shut down and I was cold–I wanted to come back to Florida. I came home permanently in November of 2020.
At that time, they were looking for a middle school basketball coach at the school that I went to. I thought that would be fun, I had never coached before. My classes were online, and I had nothing else to do because of Covid. I fell in love with it. I loved the girls, I loved being able to teach them the game and see their improvement. That’s when I realized that coaching was something that I wanted to do.
Joe: You had gotten a taste of coaching from your trips to China, I presume, so it was not the completely new.
Emily: Oh, yeah, that’s true. In my trips to China I worked at kids’ camps–and also camps in New Mexico. I had worked in high school with some children’s camps. But when I coached the middle school kids was the first time I was really in charge of teaching these girls how to run an offense and drawing up plays in live game situations. That was pretty cool.
Camp is mostly working on skill work, and I loved that, but this is the first time I’m trying to coach strategy. During camps there isn’t time for all that.
Joe: As you walk back into middle school, which is probably quite different from when you were going through it, what was the biggest adjustment for you from being in the middle of the bench to being at the head of the bench?
Emily: The hardest thing for me was that I kept using terminology they had no idea what I was talking about. I had to remember that many of these girls hadn’t been playing very long. I had to remember that when I was in middle school, I had already been playing basketball for about eight years but a lot of these girls are brand new. So, I would be saying things like, “cut to the wing,” or “flash to the elbow.” They would be like, “What are you talking about? The elbow? What does that mean?” I had to slow myself down and break things down for the girls. One practice we just spent the time drawing a court on a whiteboard and we just diagramed what things were called: the paint, the sidelines, the key. Things that to me are second nature but to them were new. At first that was hard for me.
The other thing I’m struggling with is how to explain in words things that I just do naturally. That’s something I’m still working on. It’s tough because a lot of girls just don’t have as much playing experience as I did at that age. I’m adjusting.
Joe: Whether it’s sports or other things that’s the recurring comment from a lot of people that did an activity at a very high level for a long time. Then get into training or coaching or management and they need to tell themselves, “Way wait a minute what is intuitive to me, I have to now explain. And it’s hard!”
Emily: Yeah. I had never thought about that before. I think in the last year or so I have improved in that aspect, just like having to realize that they don’t know what to do in this situation. They don’t know how to adjust to the time left on the clock, they don’t know to pull the ball back. So when I’m teaching them now I teach them the why. I’m telling them to do something, and I’ll explain why we do what we do in a certain situation. I think that has helped them to understand a little bit better.
Joe: Sure, because otherwise, it’s magic formula basketball.
Emily: Right. Exactly. Coach Mike was always really, really good about that with us. He would always explain why you are guarding a certain girl a certain way. Or why we were running this play against a certain defense. That is something I learned from him so I’m trying to translate that into my coaching by explaining why we do things the way that we do.
Joe: Following on from that, you’ve had a number of different coaches, Mike was one, your Mom certainly was your coach for a while. How have you put that into your philosophy of coaching? How have you taken pieces from your coaches and started developing your approach to coaching?
Emily: It’s been really cool. I feel that I’ve been blessed with a lot of different coaches. My Mom, my travel coach growing up, Coach Sanchez for a year, coach Mike for three, Bill, Coach Erin, Coach Grant, Coach Val. All these amazing basketball minds. They are all really different. So I’m trying to pick a little piece of all of them. I love how my Mom would relate to the girls; how she built connections and how she really taught girls about life through the game of basketball. Coach Mike has a great basketball mind, and his basketball IQ is so high and taught us how to be high IQ basketball players. Bill, he just has such a passion for the game and his leadership. I’m certainly not going to be the same as all these coaches, but I’ll try to take little pieces from all of them.
Joe: What do you think you are going to be like this coming season as your first?
Emily: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I certainly won’t be as intense as Coach Mike. I know that for sure. My main goal for these girls is to teach them a love for the game. I’m competitive; I like to win. I hate losing as much as anyone else, but more teaching the girls how basketball can be beneficial to them. The skills that they are learning in basketball can help them be better prepared for life: how to be a better daughter, a better friend, sister, a wife someday. The life lessons, teamwork, and hard work that you learn from the game of basketball can be applied to the rest of their lives. Most of the girls aren’t going to play college sports but you can learn so many lessons from the game of basketball that apply to life. I hope that’s the main message I can get across to them.
Joe: Looking at your age vs their ages, the difference is not really that huge.
Emily: I’m twenty-five and some of them are eighteen. Six or seven years really isn’t that big.
I think our closeness in age helps me connect with them. This year it was my role as the Assistant Coach and I was the only female on the coaching staff, I could relate to them since we had two male coaches. Being more of a friend even though I was a coach. This year it’s going to be a little bit more of a challenge. Not that we can’t be friends, but I’ll be more of the authority. I love the fact that I can relate to the girls. I went to the same school as them, so we connect on a lot of those types of things. I think overall, it has helped me to be close in age to them.
Joe: That transition from Assistant Coach to Head Coach, a number of coaches have said, that transition to get across to them that the role is different, that they haven’t changed, they are still players, but you have changed because you moved to a different role. A lot of them have said that is difficult.
Emily: I’m sure it will be. I think naturally that might happen because I’m the one who will be putting in plays, teaching them drills, doing the talking in practice. I’m the one who is going to be making them run sprints. So, I think that naturally we’ll be less of the friend that I was last year, but I still want to be able to connect with them.
Joe: How did the team do last year?
Emily: We did well. I think we ended up 12 and 10. We started a little slow, then we picked up some momentum towards the last third of the season and we made it to playoffs. We lost in our district tournament. They take the top eight seeds from different districts then you get to be in the regional tournament. We made it to the regional tournament, but lost in the regional semifinal. It was overall successful.
We had four seniors only two of them decided to play basketball this year, so they didn’t contribute on the actual court. One senior is a four-year Varsity player, and one is a six year player. They were big time and really, really important to the program. We also have three freshman that played a whole lot of minutes and really contributed. We are losing some girls, but I am confident of some who are coming up. We have some young talent and I’m excited to get to work with them.
Joe: What do you do over the summer in terms of planning?
Emily: I’m working on a summer schedule. We are going to try to go to team camp. I just want to get the girls in the gym. Since I was around them last year I see areas where we can really improve. I think summer we’re going to spend doing a lot of skill work in the month of June. They will be able to play in Team Camp at the end of June. Developing skills, I want to put in a little bit of offence and defense during the summer, but mostly skills.
We start the season, I think, in mid-October. Our first games will be the second week of November probably. A little bit behind colleges. I think the first week of real season is the week before Thanksgiving.
Joe: I have to assume that some of players last year noticed a great resemblance between their coach and these posters up on the walls in the halls of former school basketball stars.
Emily: Yeah, there are a few up in the gym. Actually, they only make fun of me for them so it’s okay. I would rather not have the attention on me, but they’re very funny about it.
Joe: That’s probably the best kind of reaction you can get on that.
Emily: I agree. I think it helps give me a little bit of credibility at least when I tell them to do something. They go, “Oh, yeah, maybe she knows what she’s taking about.” I certainly don’t always know, but I‘d say overall it’s a good response.
Joe: Anything else you want to tell us?
Emily: Oh, I’m just so thankful to get to talk to you. I really do miss my time in New Mexico. I loved it. I think back on all the memories with the team it’s all positive, I don’t even remember all the negative things now. When I think back, they are happy memories. I miss all the people out there, miss the team, miss the city. I’m just really thankful.
I really miss the Balloon Fiesta. Maybe I’ll come out this year.