Grow The Game® Coach's Corner 002: Deb Huband

Long time UBC Women's Basketball Coach Deb Huband sits down with Vancouver Basketball. You don't want to miss this one!
December 22, 2020

Vancouver, BC

Each week we will profile those at the forefront of the growth of the game here in our province and country. This week is the bench boss for the UBC Women’s Basketball squad, Coach Deb Huband is the longest serving and most successful coach in school history. She is the only Thunderbirds head coach, male or female, to win three USports (formerly CIS) championships. This is the 24th campaign for Coach Huband, albeit a little different than the past. 

Get your notebooks out - a lot to learn is this week's edition of Coach’s Corner.

Photo: Rich Lam, UBC Athletics

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VB: Tell us a little about your story to this point? How did you get to UBC?

DH: I was a youngster who loved all sports but when the time arrived, I chose basketball. I lived in Quebec, Ontario and New Jersey as a kid and moved every 3-4 years so sports became a way to meet people and integrate into new communities. I went to CEGEP in Quebec, attended Concordia for a year, and then graduated in honours psychology from Bishop’s University. During that time, I had a successful basketball career that led me to the National team (1978-1988).  I moved to Vancouver to pursue my M.Sc. at UBC. I became a speech and language pathologist and worked for the Chilliwack/Hope/Agassiz School District and later the Richmond and North Vancouver School Boards. During this time, I continued to play for Canada and was training as a national team athlete.  I accepted the assistant coach position at UBC when my good friend Bev Smith took the job in 1988 after we retired from the National team. We stayed for a year but in 1995, when the head coach position opened, I was head-hunted for the position and have been there ever since. When I took the job, I continued to work as a speech and language pathologist but after a few years, I moved into the coaching position full time.

My father always advised me to follow my interests, and that led me back to sport, to basketball and to a career in professional coaching.

VB: Who Was Your Hero Growing Up?

DH: My Dad. He was a sportsman and always encouraged me to follow my dreams and be the best that I could be.

I met Abby Hoffman when I was young . She was a female Canadian National team track athlete who made an impression on me. It was my first exposure to high level sport beyond the NHL which we followed religiously with all of the amazing Montreal Canadians (Guy Lafleur, Beliveau, the Richards, etc) 

I watched our Canadian National women’s team play in the ’76 Montreal Olympics. That was when I realized that you could strive to play at that level, and I was inspired to dream. A seed was planted and less than two decades later, I represented Canada at the Olympics as a starting point guard and captain.

VB: You have been at this awhile and are one of the most respected coaches in our country; what is it about your job that specifically lights your soul on fire to this day?

DH: I love sport. I love basketball. I respect all that you can learn from a team sport environment and the gifts that it provides for you in your life.

I love to compete and put your preparation, skills set, mental capacity on the line against others doing the same.

I love getting lost in the moment, in focusing on the task at hand, and putting your whole self into the process.

I’m inspired by the daily challenge of building champions on the court, in the classroom and in the community. Witnessing the growth of the adolescent into confidence, capable, young women is a privilege.

It is a joy to be met by another who accepts the full challenge of coming into their own. The person you coach who accepts the challenges and works with individual responsibility to learn.

VB: How and where do you think the women’s game has grown in the past ten years both on and off the court? 

DH: I recently watched a throwback rivalry match-up between U Winnipeg and U Manitoba from the 90’s. Winnipeg was on their record setting North American winning streak (88 games), and were upset by cross town rivals, the Manitoba Bisons. The level of play and intensity was outstanding and it reminded me of the quality of players and teams in U Sports back then.

I would say some of the biggest differences over the past decade would include the pace of the game, the use of ball screens and the love of the 3. (thanks splash brothers….everyone’s a shooter). Most players from 1 – 5 have strong ball skills and can dribble, pass and shoot. With increased access to viewing high level basketball for women (National team, Olympics, WNBA, college game), girls have more access to role models and seeing what is possible. It is motivating to see Kia Nurse play and to try one of her moves.

Kids now benefit from the growth of club programs, strength and conditioning training programs and availability of coaching all year round. Back in the day, players needed to be resourceful and find solutions to their training needs and oftentimes, be their own player development coach.

VB: What has training looked like for the team with the Covid-19 restrictions?

DH: We progressed through the protocols from April until the present. In the spring/summer, I could meet players at outdoor courts for individual sessions and coach them from afar. Our team reported to camp Sept 8th and we built back up to 5 v 5 in practices. In recent weeks we were halted and then back to individual workouts with one player- one coach.

We have training on court 5 days per week for most weeks with 2-3 strength and conditioning sessions per week.We hope to progress back to 5 v 5 in the new year and play some games against other Canada West schools in our competitive cohort.

This is a year for the individual to make individual gains. It has required going through a grieving process of what we have lost, followed by a refocusing and a different mindset. There is a lot to gain in mindset, individual strength and resolve and finding ways to work towards your goals.

VB: How has Covid positively affected your life? How have you grown as a person / coach / professional development?

DH: I am an advocate for perpetual learning and have always had the belief and we never stop and can always improve. That has certainly been the case during covid. Learning how to run a team and a program within the new parameters has required a lot of personal growth and learning.

There is tremendous access to resources available now. Endless clinics, talks, resources to take advantage of. I have also had the opportunity to connect with colleagues, alumni, donors, friends and family from afar because of the technology that is available.

Covid has forced us all to pause and re-evaluated how we spend our time and what we value. That is a good exercise to undertake at any time but one that covid has forced upon us.

I have now fully discovered Netflix and can attest that there is a lot of fabulous context to enrich your daily life!

VB: What are the Non X and O non-negotiables when you are evaluating student - athletes?

DH: We look for good people. Those that will fit within our team culture which is value based  (team first, work ethic, individual responsibility, respect, coachable spirit, championship habits). We don’t necessarily look for the “best” player, but look for the player that will be a good fit for our program.


VB: Which coaches have you pulled inspiration / learnings from over the course of your coaching career?

DH: Started with Coach Don McCrae who coached me on the National team for 7 years. He was the ultimate professional who paid great attention to the details. I learned the value of the detail and the complexity of the game. I had been a great athlete who excelled in my younger years based on my athleticism. Through Don, I learned about game strategy, tactics, technical aspects and leadership. My basketball IQ and awareness of team play grew because of his influence.

Kathy Shields. She was a former National teamer and was an assistant coach when I played for Canada. She was similar to Coach McCrae and was a strong female role model who excelled as a player, coach and leader. I enjoyed our coaching battles when I was a young coach starting at UBC and she was a seasoned and successful veteran coach at UVic and in U Sports.

Bev Smith. A former National team teammate and lifelong friend, I coached with her at UBC for one year and then with the Senior National team leading up to and including the Sydney Olympics. She was a value based coach with tremendous passion, who always made decisions for the right reasons.  I have followed strong coaches throughout the years and as a perpetual learner, I have been influenced by many (Pat Summit, Muffet McGraw, Dawn Staley, Steve Kerr).


VB: What is your advice for young athletes trying to play college basketball?

DH: Follow your interests. I like to say “get in the driver’s seat of your future”. Get informed and then get to work.

Seek out strong coaches. Take advantage of opportunities offered in your communities. Find out what it takes athletically and academically and this early on  when you start high school. Look at options- universities and basketball programs are not the same. Find out what your options are.


VB: You are someone who walks the walk and practices what you preach, what do you to for yourself to maintain a healthy mind, body and soul through the rigorous lifestyle that coaches live?

DH: Physical activity has always brought me joy but also is important for mental and physical health. It is always tricky as a coach to find a lifestyle balance but this area is so important!! Work-outs on road trips or scheduled during the work day. Thankfully UBC supports their coaches and we have access to fitness centers and pools on campus! No excuse and yes, I do believe in leading by example.

Healthy lifestyle with nutrition, rest, physical activity, and human connection. All vital to longevity!

I love nature. A hike, walk in the woods, swim in a river….these things balance and revitalize me. I rely on discussion and debate from family and a few good friends. Although introverted and private, sharing thoughts and ideas with trusted confidantes helps with processing.

Try to maintain a balanced perspective! There is a thrill of victory and the agony of defeat but it is more about relationships and health. These are the real priorities in life.


VB: Any words of wisdom you have for upcoming coaches in our country?

DH: Stay open to learning, you can learn a lot through observation and understanding that there is more than one way. Find mentors. You may have different mentors for different reasons. Take advantage of all of the resources available to you.  Relationships are the most important. Be respectful of your athletes. Help them learn to be capable, confident, skilled and independent people.  Understand the player’s goals and assist them in reaching them.


VB : You get 5 minutes with your 18 year old self - what do you tell yourself?

DH: Don’t stress the small stuff. Control what you can and leave the rest alone.  Enjoy the process.  No need to rush and be in a hurry.  Embrace the process of learning through mistakes. Life is one big teachable moment and a growth mindset (not perfectionism) will allow you to get back up time and time again.  Love what you do and do what you love!!!!

Photo: BCWomenInSport

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We would like to collectively thank Coach Huband for taking the time to chat with us and share all of the great insights and anecdotes. Soak it up!