"Whatever level you want to get to, set that goal and go for it," says the player/coach for the Rhondda Rebels.
Raise Your Game: Why basketball?
Andrea Congreaves: There weren't many sports that girls were allowed to do at my school. I was losing my passion for athletics and netball so I wanted to do something different.
Paul Stimpson, who was the most capped England player at the time, was going around schools trying to introduce kids to basketball. He came to mine and asked us if we wanted to go to his basketball school in Crystal Palace. I started going on Mondays and Thursdays and was absolutely hooked after that.
There was just so much passion and movement. It was quick and exciting to play. I'd seen the Harlem Globe Trotters and never put it together that they were playing basketball. It seemed to be more of a show. When I watched a proper game there was so much energy. I wanted to be part of it and that's how I got started.
RYG: What's the difference between a good and a great basketball player?
AC: Passion, determination, your heart and your pride. You can be a good player but how much do you want to work at it? How much effort do you want to put in? Good coaches can help you, but it's down to your pride and how much you want to get from the game.
RYG: What have you learnt from basketball?
AC: How much time have you got? (laughs). I've learnt so much. I wasn't a very confident person when I was at school. It's helped me with that more than anything else. I learnt how to approach and talk to people from different cultures. It helps you understand that you can work together with others and achieve your goals. You're not just on your own, you can rely on people.
I learnt how to be strong, self-disciplined, and to work hard. I've learnt that it doesn't matter if you fall, you've got to pick yourself up and keep going. With the injuries I've sustained, if I hadn't been a strong person, I would have quit years ago. It's helped me achieve the goals I wanted to achieve.
RYG: What sort of sacrifices have you had to make to get you where you are today?
3 June 1970
193cm / 6'4"
- Named WNBA Player of the Year (1991-1993)
- Named as an All-American (1993)
- Bronze medal: Melbourne Commonwealth Games (2006)
- England Basketball Senior Player of the Year (2006)
AC: Throughout my career I've lived away from my family and friends. I played in Europe for 13 years and was away from home for at least eight months out of the year. That was a lot to sacrifice, not only for me but for them as well.
I was fortunate to have a very supportive family. They've always been there for me and continue to support me to this day. I have friends that understand I have a job to do. When I do have an opportunity to get back home we meet up and have a good time. They're dear to my heart because they've been there through thick and thin.
You're contracted to a team for eight months and then you're moving again, so you don't really have a home you can relax in. You come home for a couple of months to take a break and then you're off again. Sometimes you wish you had a bit of stability. I've gained countless experiences which have more than made up for it, but those are the sacrifices I've had to make.
RYG: What have been the highlights of your career so far?
AC: When I went to college in the States I was named as an 'All-American'. It's an annual accolade given to student athletes in America for their standard of play. Ten players are selected out of the whole of the US. To this day I'm the only female British player to have achieved that.
My parents watching me play in the WNBA probably tops everything. To have them there, watching me play in the best basketball league in the world, was an incredible feeling. There are no words for it. I think that's probably the highlight.
In 2006 we won a Commonwealth bronze medal. I don't think many people thought we'd come back with anything, considering the strength of some of the teams out there. To go out there and achieve something like that was a great, great feeling.
As a coach I'd say just making it through the year (laughs). You get a few bumps along the way. We lost a few players, gained a few players and had to change the system around. It's been a very steep learning curve. When you're a player you criticise the coach every now and again. To be on that side of things is exciting, but it's tough.
RYG: And the lowlights?
AC: Probably when I ruptured my right knee. I tore the ligaments and everything else in one go. That was the lowest point in my career. The doctors said my career was over when it had just started. I was in America at the time so it was hard to talk to my parents as often as I wanted. Phone calls were costly and the internet didn't exist back then.
I was fortunate that I had good team mates that were always there. They were shipping me food, along with bringing ice and medication for my injury. They went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable.
I had great coaches that made sure I got all my school work done on time. That's really what got me through. If it wasn't for my team mates I probably would've gone back to England, sat in a room and sulked. I was fortunate that I had my family and my team mates to get me through it.
You either accept it and say 'okay, fair enough, time to move on' or you do something about it. My father asked 'Are you going to give up that quick... Just let it go?' I said 'No' and he said 'Well, you've got to do something about it'. I picked myself up from that point.
Not winning anything this year (laughs). That's the other lowest point. In between those I think I've been very fortunate in my career. There haven't really been that many low points.
RYG: Not everyone can play basketball at an international level, but why should more people get involved in the sport?
AC: It doesn't matter what level you play at, it's a fun way to get in shape. It's quick and you've got team mates to back you up.
It's a good way for the community to come together and support you. Whatever level you're playing at you can have your family and friends come out and watch you. It's not as high impact as sports like rugby and football. You're not going to get knocked around as much. It's a fun sport that anybody can play.
RYG: What advice would you give to someone wanting to make an impact in basketball?
AC: First of all, be true to yourself. I wish somebody had told me that when I was younger. I found it out later on in life. If you really love the game, go out there and work hard.
Listen to your coaches and work with your team mates. Have fun out there and enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it then there's no point in playing. Don't cut corners and love it for what it is. It's a passionate and fun sport. Whatever level you want to get to, set that goal and go for it.
I think some people worry about missing out on other things because they have to go training. If you've got true friends they'll see that you're going for your goals and they'll understand. You've got to be a strong enough character to go for it.
There were players that I thought were much better than me that could have gone much further. They dropped out because they had a boyfriend who didn't want them playing sport. They had friends that were going out partying and they didn't want to miss out. They started cutting out on their training and practise. One day they decided that they weren't going to do it anymore. It's a shame because they could've gone a long way, but they chose a different path. I've seen some of them since and they wish they'd kept going.
RYG: As a coach, how do you prepare the team for a big game?
AC: In the lead up to a game it's important for them to know what we're aiming for, whether it's a European Cup place, the league or playoffs. Come game day it's just a matter of 'Great, let's get your confidence going. You know you're a good squad. You're a good team. You're good players. Let's go out there and do this together'.
There's no way, in any team sport, you can have one individual win a game for you. It doesn't happen. We try to instil the understanding that it's a team sport, it's a team concept - we do this together or we don't do it at all. That's what we try to take into every game that we're playing. If we're united, if we're strong as a team, if we stick by each other then we're going to get games won. For the most part that's what we did.
RYG: How do you deal with the pressure of a big game?
AC: I don't get nervous anymore. When I was younger I tried to listen to music or I'd play video games and beat up a few people (laughs). That would take care of the nerves. Over the years I've learnt to deal with the pressure.
I try to stay calm, not just for myself, but for the players as well. If they see a nervous coach then they're going to get nervous. That's not a good feeling for them to have as they're going out onto the court. I visualise everything that I want to say and do. When it comes to walking into the gym, or walking into the changing room with the players, I'm not nervous. I try to give them the best build up they can get before they go into battle.
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