Before They Made It: Sue Bird
A winner of 10 gold medals with USA Basketball – including three Olympics and two FIBA World Championships – Sue Bird is among the most successful women’s basketball players ever. Now in her 13th season with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, Bird will be part of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team that will compete at the2014 FIBA World Championship in Turkey, beginning Sept. 27.
Bird has enjoyed success at every level of play, from youth to high school to college to the pros. USA Basketball recently talked to Nancy Bird, Sue’s mom, about how she got this far:
USA Basketball: What was Sue like as a child?
She loved to follow her big sister who was five years older than her. She just wanted to do whatever Jennifer did, whether it was playing in the snow making snowmen, and certainly sports. We had a park at the end of our block and she loved to go to the park and play on the swings. She was extremely active.
When Jennifer ran track, Sue would be climbing up and down the bleachers -- she was two-and-a-half, 3 at the time – and everybody would be, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” She was just very active. She loved to run. When Jen played CYO basketball, she would go to the games, and she would take the basketball at halftime and try to make the shots. And there was some kind of a ladder in that one specific gym, and she would always be at the top, and people were aghast, because she was so little. And I would just say, “Don’t worry, she’s used to it.” She likes monkey bars, just very, very active. One time I looked out my kitchen window when Sue was playing in the backyard, and I looked out and she’s up in a tree. And I have a split level, so she was high up. I was at eye contact with her!
USA Basketball: How did she become active in the sport and develop her skills?
Well, she just played. She would go to the park at the end of the block and play pickup with the boys. And they loved her because she could play. When she was about 5 or 6, she joined CYO basketball, she ran track, she took tennis lessons. She just was into all of those things. After CYO, she did travel basketball, and she played in school.
She went to all the practices, played in high school, on the travel team, and then she ended up at Christ the King because of the level of opportunity. And then she went to UConn, and every time you go to a different level, there’s more to discover. She worked very hard at every level to improve. She will say, and I agree: Yeah, you have talent. Everyone has talent. But you have to practice and condition and train in order to be able to go longer than anyone else. Practice shooting, practice dribbling. Her coach would say, “Everybody knows how to pass, but do you know when to pass?
USA Basketball: When did you realize Sue had what it takes to play at a high level?
Every time she made it to the next level, I knew it. I knew it in high school. I knew it in CYO, I knew it in college. People would just say things like, “Oh my God!” She just had the skills, you could see it. She was just that good. But I guess what I should say is that when she moved to Christ the King, with better competition, that’s when she really took it seriously. It’s not that she didn’t take it seriously prior to that, because she did. But she also played soccer and ran track, and took tennis lessons. But once she got to Christ the King, when she was 15 or so, that’s when she started to really buckle down in basketball. That was the turning point. That when she really started concentrating on basketball and really putting her all into that sport.
USA Basketball: What challenges did she have to overcome as a child?
Sue didn’t really face any tough challenges as a child. Not physically, no, or mentally, either. It wasn’t until college, when she had to deal with an injury.
In her freshman year at UConn, she played eight games, tore her ACL. She had played too many games to redshirt, so she had to sit on the bench. And she was truly devastated. She couldn’t play, however we all supported her. The whole team supported her, and told her you just sit there and learn, and be the best cheerleader you can be. That was her first big injury, and she dealt with it beautifully.
USA Basketball: What advice do you have for the parents of young basketball players?
Let them enjoy it. I never coached her. I never said you have to do this, or go there. She had the love of the sport. I just drove her (to practices and games). Otherwise, just keep out of it. I remember even at a very young level, I said something about a coach, and Sue said, “Mom, coach is coach!” And I backed off. Don’t push them. I can’t tell you how many times, working at the high school, mothers will come in and say you have to practice and do this and do that. Yes, if they do certain things, they’ll get better. But to hit them over the head with a hammer to get better…
So you can’t push your kid, You have to let them love it. They have to follow the rules, they have to practice, they have to do what’s required. But you can’t bang ‘em over the head. You’re not the coach.