If there is one person in Minnesota who knows about success and accomplishment, it is the head coach of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx: Cheryl Reeve. Over her head coaching career in the pros from 2010 – present, she has won the WNBA title three times (2011, 2013, 2015) and Coach of the Year twice (2011, 2016) which came after nine years of being an assistant coach at the pro level. Experience and winning are both in Reeve’s portfolio and she has been able to garner an impressive 168-70 record with the Lynx.
“In 2010 it was ‘we are going to be a playoff team’, we were going to be different,” said Reeve in recollection of her rookie season as a WNBA head coach. “Well it turns out we were no different then the teams prior to that season. So we had to figure out why, what was the reason for our perennial lottery team and how could we escape that?”
Instead of excepting the good draft picks and mediocrity, something Reeve has labeled “the easy way to be normal”, the three-time champion set out to change the culture and the way the team approached basketball.
“We really got together after the 2010 year and had to make some tough decisions,” said Reeve. “In what we wanted to do and who we wanted to be, we had some non-negotiables that we learned about ourselves and the number one thing is we want to be the hardest working team in the league. The second part of it was we wanted to have the most unselfish team in the league, where we literally put the goals of the team every single day ahead of anything individual.”
Of course changing a losing culture to a winning culture usually takes time and lots of patience, looking to the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers for an example of the slow process of change. Even the Lynx coach admitted that “sometimes in life you have to fail first before you succeed”. So how was the turnaround so quick?
“Getting lucky is sometimes really important too,” said Reeve when pairing something else with the hard work. “In November we got lucky to be in the lottery when Maya Moore was coming out of college. We weren’t the worst team in the league but we won the lottery.”
Now the team had their super star; they had the core of players that made it through the previous season. Now they needed the culture to breed success.
“The four P’s of a champion: Preparation, there is no way around being great with ought preparation, no way around it. Prepare, prepare, prepare it’s a necessary evil, do it, preparation breeds success,” said Reeve. “Passion, you know when you encounter a passionate person. When I go to a basketball game, give me a passionate player… a passionate player has a chance to be successful. Perseverance, it’s a tough world- it’s going to throw stuff at you and in our world that means overcoming tough moments in a season, tough moments in a game and that is one of the greatest reasons we have been successful in handling adversity. Then what defines our team is Principles, the code of conduct you live by, who you want to be and what you want to give off or offer. It’s a code of conduct you live by that would make your friends and family proud.”
The work put in on the team’s character and performance on and off the court has truly made a difference in the organization and in the caliber of the team as a winning squad. But this success has still received less than the average celebration because of the “lack of exposure for the league” that Reeve mentioned. This problem still plagues the WNBA despite the success of teams like the Lynx, which remains further damaged by the remarks of a former WNBA player in Candice Wiggins.
“It was her experience and not that of 99.9 percent of the league,” said Reeve of Wiggins’ comments before addressing the lack of exposure. “Media can do more for the women’s league, and should and have a responsibility to do so because the participation numbers show the interest is there and that should be the focus, it’s up to the decision makers who are often times men, so stepping outside what’s always been would be the best thing we can do for women’s sports.”
No matter what the obstacle, whether it’s getting another title or helping move the WNBA further into the public spotlight, Reeve is more than capable of leading her team and her league through the adversity.