Growing up as a little 5’1 basketball player from Pelham, NY, I was constantly faced with challenges. Over and over again, I was told I was too small to succeed in the women’s basketball world.  These comments served as incredible motivation and created what I call a healthy chip on my shoulder that stayed with me all the way to the University of Richmond where I was known as the “smallest player in the South” (or so my coach used to say).

I learned at a very young age, thanks to my family, that no matter what life throws at you, one must always be able to adapt to challenges while staying true to his or her core values.  I like to RAP, and so I created an acronym and decided that my core values would be respect, attitude and preparation.  To this day, I RAP.

Respect: Overcoming Challenges

From my professional playing career overseas in Greece to today, entering my 15th year as a Division I women’s basketball coach, I’ve had the opportunity to face brilliant coaches whose teams were extremely well prepared to compete. I’ve learned strategy, creativity and how to think quickly on my feet.

These challenges over the years have ultimately taught me how to adapt while respecting myself, others and the game of basketball.  I adapted my game thanks to my size and stature while always respecting myself. I adapted my coaching strategies when faced with a deficit, learning that we must always respect our opponents and the game itself.

Attitude:  Ivy League vs. NCAA Rules and Regulations

My collegiate coaching career began in the Ivy League at Columbia University as a director of basketball operations intern before landing my first official coaching gig as an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania.  After four years in Philadelphia, I moved south for the opportunity to join legendary Coach Wendy Larry at Old Dominion University (ODU).  It was in my three years with Coach Larry where I truly began to understand how to create a championship culture.  Following ODU, I accepted the recruiting coordinator position at American University in Washington, D.C. where I experienced my first undefeated season in conference play.

Each position served as a stepping stone along my path to Dartmouth College, where I currently serve as the women’s basketball head coach. I’ve been in Hanover for the past four years with the vision to help DWB earn our 18th conference championship. Our program has the third most conference championships in the “herstory” of DI women’s basketball.  We’re competing against Pat Summit’s Lady Vols who also have 17 conference championships, UCONN with 21 total, and finally my mentor Coach Wendy Larry with 22 overall for Old Dominion University. It is truly remarkable company to share.

Coaching in the Ivy League is an extremely unique and challenging experience. Dartmouth College currently has 35 Division I varsity sports, all of which must abide by the standard NCAA rules, as well as the treasured Ivy League manual.  And the Ivy League manual always takes precedence.

For example, the NCAA allows eight hours of spring and summer training per week for all Division I women’s basketball teams – two devoted to basketball skills, while the other six are typically spent on strength and conditioning.  The Ivy League, however, allows only six hours a week for spring training, two of which, like the NCAA rules, allow for basketball skills.

The Ivy League does not allow any summer access with our players, which to many coaches makes perfect sense as far as creating balance for our student athletes and coaches.  I am a proponent of time away in the summer months as long as our athletes are being responsible and staying committed to our program in regards to their preparation for the season ahead.

Another unique challenge that Dartmouth faces is our quarterly academic calendar. Our fall term begins in the middle of September whereas most other schools (depending on location) begin in mid to late August. This calendar creates a three to four week pre-season, while some of our opponents have six weeks to prepare for the season ahead.  Again, allowing ourselves to adapt while maintaining a positive attitude.

Preparation:  Just Play helps turn an inch into a mile

Last year Dartmouth hired David McLaughlin as the new men’s head basketball coach.  Dave is the one who introduced my staff and me to Just Play. He was raving about the technology, the app, the software and all of its unique capabilities. He kept explaining, “It’s all-in-one, and it’s all right there. Scouting reports. Video. Diagrams.”

My brain was going a mile a minute thinking about the ways in which this software could serve as a valuable tool for our coaching staff and team. Austin Barone, co-founder of Just Play, presented a demo to my director of basketball operations, Michael Motta. Once we realized that this product had the capability to create a more efficient process that would save us time and give us one place to store our entire basketball system, we decided to join.

This first year we spent some time adapting to the product and transitioning all of our terminology, videos and diagrams into the software. Once spring arrived we had the idea to upload our entire summer development program and connected with Just Play for guidance on how to best proceed.

A shout out to Danielle Gratton, a former Division 1 Assistant, who spent the time connecting with my staff, making it very easy to create personalized profiles for each of our players.  We now have individual player templates for offensive and defensive skills, nutrition goals, mental training and leadership training, as well as our motivational accountability piece.  We also have created and uploaded skill-development focus videos for ball handling, passing, shooting and defense.  Finally, each player has access to her individualized strength and conditioning program as a PDF file.  Everything in one place so that my team and I are well prepared.

Just Play is now becoming a best practice for our DWB program. It is becoming a part of our culture and our daily routine.  We appreciate you Just Play and look forward to continuing to RAP our way forward together.


Belle Koclanes is the women’s basketball head coach at Dartmouth College and is entering her fifth season. She graduated from the University of Richmond with a Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies and earned her Master of Arts in Culture and Communication at New York University. She is also a member of the Women’s Basketball Association. How do you battle and overcome challenges? Share your thoughts on our Facebook and Twitter pages.