Longevity now the focus for women's NBL coaching trailblazers

Fleur McIntyre is the queen amongst the kingdom.

The Sydney Kings assistant coach is the fifth woman to be part of an NBL coaching panel following in the trailblazing footsteps of Michele Timms, Lori Chizik, Chanel Pompallier and Tracy York.

And the WA product continues to create her own history.

In 2022, she was the first female coach to win a championship ring then last September the first to coach an NBL game when she took the reins of the Kings in the preseason Blitz competition.

Now, she is currently immersed in a best-of-five Grand Final series where the Kings are aiming to win back-to-back championships.

On International Women's Day, McIntyre wants to steer a conversation around longevity when it comes to elite coaching roles for women.

"What we need to make sure we do at the elite level, but really at every level, is ensure there is longevity there, we want females in the league for a long time," she tells ESPN.

"Are there support structures and resources in place that encourage women to come into these roles? And how do we keep them in these roles, make sure there's not obstacles there and we're improving the environment and structure around them?

"I think half the time as females we're really reluctant to step into those roles when opportunities present themselves and particularly when it's a male dominated environment and it's like 'oh I don't know if I feel comfortable stepping into this space.'

"The added element for women is motherhood, family commitments and all those things as well. We need to make sure in these elite sporting environments that we're ensuring women are there but they are also there for the long haul because women have so much to give.

"I feel so comfortable and welcomed at the Kings. My voice is always welcome, what I think is always welcomed so it's a really comfortable role but I know a lot of women don't feel that in a lot of professional sporting environments because there are a lot of males and you tend to doubt yourself a lot of the time."

In the WNBL, former league champions Kristen Veal and Nat Hurst began their coaching journeys at the UC Capitals and Adelaide Lightning respectively this season.

Veteran coach Cheryl Chambers, who first coached in the league in 2002, proudly sports an all-female coaching panel at the Southside Flyers.

"Obviously, I'd love to see more women enter into the WNBL," McIntyre says.

"I know Vealy well and had the opportunity to go and coach with her at Australian junior camp and I think she's absolutely amazing. I watched Nat Hurst coach recently when Adelaide played in Sydney.

"Particularly for the new coaches venturing into the WNBL, it's really exciting we've got these young upcoming coaches who were former players who were known for their unbelievable smarts and leadership skills. I think it's such a natural, nice transition for them but also then their connection because they know what it's like to be an elite, female athlete playing in the WNBL and some of the issues and trials that can be part of that.

"Cheryl's longevity is unbelievable, knowing how tough coaching is and the commitment at all levels. I'm just in awe of her longevity coaching in the WNBL and Australian basketball.

"I think for Cheryl to offer those opportunities and train and mentor other Victorian female coaches is so incredible and having a woman reach out to you and say 'let's go', empowering each other and presenting those opportunities is absolutely such a great way to have more females involved in the sport bringing more women through into those elite positions."

A trailblazer here in Australia, McIntyre has drawn confidence and inspiration from Becky Hammond, a six-time WNBA All-Star and Olympic medallist as a player, who broke the NBA's glass ceiling when as San Antonio Spurs assistant coach in 2020 stepped in for ejected head coach Gregg Popovich.

She'd move to the WNBA and have immediate success with the Las Vegas Aces last year.

"Obviously being in the NBA which is the pinnacle of men's sport, Becky Hammond went for some jobs, she didn't get them and then was offered, and paid well as she should be, in elite women's sport in America," McIntyre says.

"I was like - 'I love this'. She's gone and backed herself as a head coach, been paid her worth and brought the Aces their first championship, I mean what a story that is.

"I was so invested in the Aces championship, it was so cool. Watching Becky over the course of the year - the way she was with her players, the accountability but also the genuine care.

"And there was nothing better than when Coach Pop turned up to one of their finals and how proud he was of her."

Whether it's McIntyre in Sydney, Hammond in Vegas, the WNBL's trio of female coaches right through to state league, grassroots and junior competition, women leading from the sideline is just part of the game.

"I want young girls to think it's normal, they can be a coach in the NBL if they want to be, they can coach in the WNBL if they want to," McIntyre says.

"There aren't the barriers. Women coaching, women on TV, women on sideline - this is just normal for them and they know if that's what they want to do they can go and do it."