When Lynn Milligan took over the Rider University women’s basketball program in 2008, the program had on five total wins during the two season prior to her arrival. She has worked hard to rebuild the program through without compromising integrity and with HEART. This hard work has paid off as she is currently leading Rider to one of the it’s best seasons ever, as they have reached 20 wins for only the second time in program history and set the program record for conference wins in a single season. Milligan, who recently won her 100th career game, knows that despite the success so far, the season’s goal is far from accomplished.
What have been some keys in rebuilding a Rider program that did not win more than nine games during each of the seven seasons prior to you taking over?
Our approach to rebuilding the Rider program has been a process. We are proud of how we have done this because we fell we have done it the right way. We first had to establish a culture of hard work and commitment. We have built our program on our philosophy of Rider HEART. I have been fortunate to have a staff and players that have this vision and live by it every day. We are all on the same page.
We define HEART as (H) Hard Working – we want to be the hardest working team. (E) Enthusiasm – we believe you must have a love and a passion in everything you do in order to be successful. (A) Attitude – we must have the right positive attitude in everything we do every day. (R) Relentless – we must continue to pursue what we want every day, on and off the court and you must keep going no matter what. (T) Together We must do everything together to make it work.
You are in the midst of leading Rider to one of the most successful seasons in program history, what have you attributed to the success of your program so far this season?
This season has been so far one that we are very proud of. We have a long way to go in order to reach our ultimate goals though. We have a terrific group of seniors that have been with us for a long time and understand what we need to do in order to be successful. I believe if you have experienced, determined seniors mixed with a young eager group willing to do whatever it takes you can achieve great things. This season we have both. Depth is also a big key and we have been able to balance our approach this season on and off the court.
What advice do you have for an aspiring Head Coach in managing and delegating to a staff to free you up to focus on the ever-changing, massive responsibilities of being a Head Coach?
I believe you are only as good as the people you put around you. You must be able to trust your staff to do their job. That comes from you as the Head Coach being clear in your staffs roles and expectations. You need people around you that enhance your strengths and weaknesses. There are so many things that happen on a daily basis that have nothing to do with Xs and Os that you have to handle. When you have a staff you trust as hard working, loyal, and efficient, you have a good formula for success.
With your student-athletes spending so much time on the court and in the classroom, what are some team-building activities you do with your team to allow them to have some fun away from basketball and school?
I am a big believer in team building. I think you must have a balance for your student athletes. I believe we have a responsibility to teach life lessons along the way and prepare these young ladies for the their future. Everything you do you should have that in mind, whether it is going to the movies, dinner, or protects that teach lessons. We always choose a movie that I believe has a lesson, for example Hidden Figures was our last one. We do many things that must be done in groups and solve a problem. We have a season long competition “The Lady Bronc Battle” where we score things throughout the season, like making gingerbread houses, Minute to Win competitions we do on road trips, on court shooting contest, taking charges, and many other things.
Looking back on when you first took over the Rider program, what advice do you have for coaches who’d like to make the transition from Assistant Coach to leading their own Division I program?
It is hard to believe that I have been a Head Coach for 10 seasons and coaching for 25 seasons. Advice I would have is listen, continue to learn and have an open mind. Whatever you thought about being a Head Coach is nothing like what it actually is! I was very fortunate to work for head coaches that allowed me to be involved in the entire running of a program. At St. Joe’s, I worked for Cindy Griffin who showed me how to be a great Head Coach. The more responsibility you have as an Assistant Coach, the easier it is to understand the responsibility of being a Head Coach. If you have the same or limited responsibilities every year, you will not grow as a coach. You must do more than recruit, do individual workouts, and watch film to be a Head Coach.
Written originally for CollegeInsider.com on February 21, 2017.