Coaches Corner: Hilda Hankerson
The girls basketball head coach at Georgia’s Westlake High School, Hilda Hankerson also served as a court coach at the 2019 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team trials.
Hankerson recently completed her 25th season as head coach at Westlake H.S. (1995-96 to present). In 2019-20, she led Westlake to a third-consecutive 7A state title and was named the 2020 USA Today Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
In 2018-19, she recorded her 600th win and finished with a perfect 30-0 record, culminating with a second-straight Georgia 7A state title. Overall, she has led Westlake to five final fours, five elite eights, four sweet 16s, eight state playoffs and nine regional championships.
USA Basketball spoke with Hankerson to gain some insight into coaching.
During this time, what type of coaching duties are you doing daily?
Well, right now, most of the things that I am doing are things that I'm doing to prepare for next season. I have talked with my team members individually and put something out there for them to work on. The AAU teams have been allowed to get together, and so I do know that my kids are all working out.
And then, I’m looking at what type of offenses or defenses we will be able to run. We just graduated our tall girl, and that means we will have to make an adjustment on how we play. We're going to be twice as fast but, we lost that shot blocker in that lane and we lost that go-to basket at any given time. And so, that's going to be a major adjustment.
You come to the conclusions of what you want to do and maybe even what the X's and O's are going to look like. The majority of the planning is my thoughts, but I do have my assistant coaches, and I'll call them up and ask them what their thoughts are.
What do you wish you knew about coaching when you first started out?
The only thing I think I wish I knew was how much time this sport would really take as a head coach. The time commitment was the most difficult thing to grasp. It is like when you come out of high school, when you go to play college ball, you don't know how much time is going to take. I try to prepare my girls before they go to college, your time is not your own. And, that time aspect continues to increase as you move on.
Especially with a family. I raised three boys, had a marriage. Those were difficult to juggle. Everything else I believe I was prepared for, because I was trained. All the other little things as far as the Xs and the O's, I had some good mentors. I had great mentors in that aspect. But the time, nobody can prepare you for the time that you will have to give at each level. Each level was a challenge to get adjusted.
What is the most rewarding aspect of coaching for you?
The most rewarding aspect of coaching is watching the athletes have that ‘aha’ moment when they had gotten the idea. I enjoy teaching, and I love it when the child or the athlete all of a sudden gets it. I love it when that light goes off in their brain, and all of a sudden it changes.
I also like to see a plan come together. There are some teams that shouldn't have been as good as they were. But when you put a game plan on the floor for those girls to follow, and when they follow it to the letter, and it causes them to win, it's an outstanding accomplishment. But, they don't always have to win. We played a quadruple overtime game, and we lost, but It was one of the best games in my career, besides the state championship.
Are there general principles you rely on in terms of how to deal with parents and guardians?
We have meetings to introduce the program to the parents, and one thing I try to keep in front of me that I've learned in these latter years, especially, is that as the parent, allow your child to hear one voice when they are playing. I pass a letter out to all the parents. Your child cannot respond with many voices coming at them, because only one voice is what they can actually obey while they are on the court. I ask the parents to do that. That doesn't always work, but at least they know.
And, we'll try and get the parents to understand that all kids are not created equal. No child learns how to walk at the same pace or starts walking at the same time. Every child advances at a different pace, and they will learn this game at different paces. Some kids will become more superior in various skills than others, but we're going to celebrate your child in what they can do. I think that's one of the hardest things for parents to understand is, ‘Why not my child?’ So, when we have private conversations, I don't compare. You can only discuss your child's skill, and they'll never be any comparison in the room. We try to get the parents to stay focused on their child's skills, and we leave everybody else out. Celebrate where your child is and leave the rest of it alone. That's what I try to keep in front of their faces so that they’ll understand that it's not all about how many minutes your child plays. Leave that alone.