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In conversation with Tamara Tatham, women’s basketball head coach

On her career, leadership, and mental health
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Tatham supports her players both on and off the court. COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES ATHLETICS
Tatham supports her players both on and off the court. COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES ATHLETICS

Tamara Tatham is a firsthand witness to the rise of Canadian basketball. A two-time Olympian and Pan Am gold medalist, Tatham has seen every level of women’s basketball. 

Now the interim head coach of the U of T Varsity Blues women’s basketball team, Tatham spoke with The Varsity about her own personal journey and her plans for the future of the team. 

Tatham’s ascent to Canadian women’s basketball stardom didn’t happen overnight. Tatham recalls her first Olympic experience. “In starting with the national team, I started really going to  an open tryout, and at that time, we weren’t very good. This was… in 2007,” Tatham said. 

“I remember going to games and we’d literally get blown out. But we really worked hard after that first year because we realized we actually had a really good chance at making it to the Olympics.” The team went on to qualify and play in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic games.

Standing at 6’1, Tatham was always a gifted athlete, but her greatest contribution to her teams was her leadership. These are the qualities that would benefit a player-to-coach career, like Tatham’s.  

I was curious to know when she first considered being a coach.“When I was playing basketball overseas… I was a leader on the team. It was me and another athlete… We made sure that whatever needed to happen, we were always there to help out,” said Tatham.

“I would have a lot of conversations with her and help her see things that she may not be seeing. I remember we were at lunch one day, and she was like, ‘Gee, you would be such a good coach.’ And I was like, ‘Huh, I would be.’ ”

Though still just 35 years old, Tatham has had an extremely successful coaching career. On top of her time with the U of T women’s team, she coaches with the Toronto Raptors G-League affiliate, the Raptors 905.

Tatham’s leadership has been shown recently while captaining the ship for the Blues. While her time is usually spent training her players for the court, Tatham spoke about supporting her players off the court, specifically through the lens of mental health.

When asked to expand on what she believes her responsibilities as a coach are when pertaining to her players’ mental health, Tatham said, “I think the biggest piece is to provide resources for them if there is something that they might be struggling with… Another big piece is just to have an open-door policy, have your athletes want to come to you, make it okay for them to come to you with anything that they’re struggling with.”

“My players can text me or call me whenever they feel [like it]… Just making yourself available for anything they need is, I think, very important.”

“I think there’s a lot of pressure when it comes to playing the sport, and it comes at different levels,” said Tatham. “When you’re in school, you’re  pressured to feel like you have to do really well in school.”

Just the fact that Tatham is aware of these struggles speaks both to her sensitivity as a leader and the kind of player-friendly environment she has created at U of T. She was a great athlete and is a great coach, but her greatest skill throughout has been her mind, her strength of character, and her ability to connect with others. This will serve the Blues well as they train in lockdown and when they can get back on the court.