Women in Sport

Mar 10 2022

The Big Interview Women in Sport Series - Jillian Hayes

As part of Women In Sport Week 2022, we caught up with Irish basketball legend and Waterford Wildcats assistant coach Jillian Hayes to discuss her career, from coaching national teams to coaching her daughters.

 Jillian Hayes shooting during the 1998 Four Nations International Basketball match between Ireland and England.

Q: What have been your biggest accomplishments in basketball?

I won six leagues, three cups and four top-four championships at senior level. I was four times the Irish senior player of the year, twice the junior player of the year. I also won an U19 National Cup title, a school senior A league and cup double, as well as captaining Ireland to a senior Four Nations title.


 Jillian Hayes fighting off the challenges in a 1998 Four Nations clash against England.
Q: What do you think could be done to encourage more women to get into coaching?

I would love to know the answer to this question myself. I would really love to see more women involved in coaching in Ireland, especially coaching female players in our leagues. My first coach was Evelyn Hearn and I loved being coached by her and I thank her for all of the hours she spent teaching me. We definitely need to see change, but until females start  putting themselves forward for coaching roles, this is not going to happen. 

 Q: How did you first get into coaching?

I always coached the younger kids in our club, while going to college and playing myself. I took a break after finishing playing to start a family and went back to coaching when my own  kids were in the Wildcats academy and have been coaching ever since. 

 Ireland assistant coach Jillian Hayes  before the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2023 Qualifier Group I match between Ireland and Czech Republic.
 Q: What do you enjoy most about coaching?

When coaching kids, I enjoy teaching new skills and seeing them develop. When coaching seniors, I just enjoy the competitiveness of it all. I also enjoy passing on the love of the game to the next generation. 

 Q: You’ve coached both club and Ireland International teams; could you describe the main differences in your approaches with these teams?

 It has been a pleasure being involved with senior women. Every practice, they show up to compete, the intensity and competitive nature of all these girls makes it very easy to be around. You have the best of the best in the country and you're there to just help them get better and gel together as one team. Often, you have to get them to buy into a new philosophy  or a different role than they are used to having with their own club. Spending time getting them used to playing together and accepting a lesser role has its challenges. 

 At club level, normally the bond is already there from coming through the ranks together, as with most club teams, they are well used to playing together, so the approach to training and games is different. 

 Q: What do you think are the most important traits for a good coach to have?

Patience is probably number one (which sounds rich coming from me!), but especially around younger kids. I think a good coach needs to be a good motivator and help every player achieve their goal. Most coaches can see and point out what is wrong with your game. A great trait in a coach is someone who is willing to help you and have the ability to teach you how to fix your game. 

Being a strong communicator with all of your players is also a great trait. Communicating with your number ten player can be as important as communicating with your number one. You don't need to be their best friend, but being able to build a relationship with your players is also a very important trait. Lastly, having a passion for what you do as a coach and a love of the game is a must. 

  Waterford Wildcats assistant coach Jillian Hayes, right, with her injured daughter Kate Hickey, centre, and team captain Abby Flynn after the Hula Hoops U20 Women’s National Cup Final 
Q: Does your own playing experience influence your coaching or is it a totally different affair?

I have probably been in or experienced most situations a player goes through at some stage in my own playing career, so sometimes I can draw on my own experiences to help. Coaching today is a lot different than years ago, so often something that worked years ago is not going to cut it with today's game or today's players. 

 Q: You coach your own daughters at Waterford Wildcats and recently brought them to National Cup victory at U20 level. Do you find it easy coaching your daughters? What are your hopes for them in the sport?

Coaching them this year and all three of us getting to share the court for the U20 cup win was special to me and we may never get to do that again. These opportunities don't come around too often, so it’s great when you're successful. 

 They are both great kids and yes, it is easy to coach them. I started coaching Kate at six and Sarah at four when they joined Wildcats academy and have been involved with them all the way up. They are both hard workers and love the game of basketball. We try to leave it all on the court and not bring it home with us after the game, but it’s hard sometimes, especially after a loss. 

My hope for both of them is to continue to reach their goals, year-on-year and hopefully play senior level for Ireland and enjoy every minute of their basketball careers. I hope they get as much out of the sport as I have and hope they make friends for life, like I have too. 

 Jillian Hayes, pictured after winning the InsureMyHouse.ie U20 Women's National Cup, celebrating with daughters Kate Hickey, left, and Sarah Hickey.