It was quite the apprenticeship Craig Allen put together before his first head coaching job in the SBL, but that meant he was more than ready to take on the job at the Perth Redbacks in 2019 and now can’t wait for the West Coast Classic to get underway in 2020.
Allen’s first SBL involvement was as a player at the Geraldton Buccaneers back in 1989. That was the first ever SBL season which had grown from the district competition to include the regional teams and it just happened to coincide with Allen’s first job at the Geraldton Regional Hospital.
It’s been quite the journey ever since as well starting as a physiotherapist before Allen graduated into coaching and he has built up quite the impressive resume from the teams he has coached in the WABL, the state teams he’s been part of and as a long-time Women’s SBL coach at the Willetton Tigers.
A role as a head coach was something Allen was clearly deserving of and it was something he was hoping would eventuate, but at the same time he was never going to let it define him because ultimately all he could do was continue to put his hand up and hope a chance would come.
That came at the Perth Redbacks in 2019 with Allen not only appointed head coach of the Women’s SBL team but also the director of coaching at the club, and despite narrowly missing the finals, there was plenty to like about his first season in charge.
Now COVID-19 robbed Allen of the chance of showing what he could get out of the Redbacks of 2020 in the SBL season, but as of this Friday night the West Coast Classic will provide the opportunity that he can’t wait for in his second year at the helm.
But when Allen thinks about his 30-plus year involvement in basketball, it’s nothing on court that stands out – it’s the relationships he has built with people that mean the most to him.
“I think with anything it comes down to the people. It’s just the involvement with people that is the most important aspect of any part of life, but especially in terms of sport it comes down to the people and your association with them and relationships you build over years,” Allen said on SBL Shootaround podcast.
“That’s the most important thing but it’s been really interesting to see the change in basketball over the years. We are in exciting times now with where we are going and what opportunities it can create in the next little while as well.
“It really is probably at its highest point of popularity at the moment as far as participation goes, as far as interest goes and with the Australian players at the pinnacle of the sport. It has improved significantly in that regard but most importantly it’s the popularity of basketball that is awesome with the number of kids playing.”
While life working full-time still at Allen Physiotherapy in Murdoch, all of his coaching commitments and being a husband and father of five means that Allen doesn’t have much of a chance to sit back and reflect, he certainly has enjoyed his ride in basketball.
“I’ve enjoyed every bit of my involvement in basketball both from a physio/support sort of role which was my initial SBL component and then moving into the coaching side,” he said.
“It has been a long apprenticeship, but it’s been fun and you do it because you enjoy it. It has been an exciting transition to the head coaching role and the opportunity presented itself, and it’s awesome. It’s also extra good to have the role while being given the support that the Redbacks continue to give me.”
Allen had plenty of time to prepare himself for life as a head coach at SBL level and to think about what it would be like, but nothing quite prepares you for finding out what the reality of it is actually likes.
He wouldn’t change it for the world though.
“It’s every bit and more than what I was expecting. It is amazing how much time and discussion goes on outside of the training component,” Allen said.
“It’s not just the preparation to get on the court to train and play, but there’s the player management side of it and just general discussion with the club and the direction we are going as a whole club.
“There’s a big wide of focus beyond just the running up and down the sidelines of the court. It’s definitely much more time-consuming than you could imagine, but you have to embrace that as part of the role.”
Working as a physio is something that does give Allen a bit of a different perspective when coaching too and there are no doubt benefits to it, but ultimately to have been able to be involved in the sports he grew up dreaming about has been everything he hoped it would be.
“Sometimes it’s a bit of an interesting juggle as to which hat you put on with the physio or coaching one, but sport has been my vice and specialty as far as a physio goes having worked primarily in basketball and footy,” he said.
“They are the two sports I’ve spent a long time involved in so working as a physio has worked quite nicely alongside coaching, and created opportunities really. They were the sports I grew up loving mainly as a kid and to be the sports I continue to be involved in as an adult is awesome.”
Allen always hoped he would be involved in football and basketball when growing up in some capacity, but once he finished university and life took him to Geraldton, that’s when the basketball dream really became a reality.
“It was an awesome time. That was my first job out of uni to work at the Geraldton Regional Hospital, and it happened to coincide with the very first SBL season with the country teams involved,” he said.
“It was just an awesome time to be involved and to get the chance to play with some incredible players for me who were legends of the State Basketball League. They were some great times, it’s a long time to remember ago though.”
To think that Allen has virtually two full-time jobs as a physio and coach, it’s remarkable to think that he’s been able to make a success of being a husband and father of five, but there’s every indication he has pulled it off.
“We’ve got the five kids with two daughters and three sons, and it has been a juggle so it’s a busy life but it has been a fun life as well,” Allen said.
“Having all the kids be involved in sport as well, that’s just part of managing your time and the importance of what different aspects mean to you. There are never enough hours in the game and you just have to make the most of as many of them as you can.
“That’s been the beauty of coaching in an environment that my kids have enjoyed and they are all still involved in basketball at some level. Having that link with the kids has been really valuable as far as the family goes, but it’s always a juggle and about trying to find time to fit everything in. But you do that and you do it because it’s important.”