Feeding Your Why
URI women’s basketball coach Tammi Reiss on the mentor who made the difference, what turns individuals into teammates, and why she came to URI.
Last year, Tammi Reiss led URI women’s basketball to its first conference title.
As her fifth season at URI gets underway, the two-time Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year reflects on the mentor who changed her life and how she defines success.
On Giving 110 Percent
When I was in the fifth grade, a teacher, Paul Tylawsky—we called him Mr. T—saw me playing basketball at recess, and he started teaching me things. He’s 6-foot-7 and played semi-pro ball for the Boston Celtics. I loved it. So, I get to sixth grade, and he’s my teacher. That first day I’ve got my ball with me; I’m ready to go to recess, and I say, “OK, Mr. T, let’s go train.” He says, “I’ll train you, and you’ll make a pact with me. You’re a B student, and that’s not good enough. You get straight-A’s and I’ll train you every day.”
Then he takes my ball, throws it in the closet, locks it. That first marking period,
I get straight-A-pluses down the board. He opens up that closet, pulls the ball out, and from that day on, he trains me. I graduated valedictorian of my high school. He trained me my whole career through high school, college, and when I was in the WNBA. Mr. T taught me that with everything you do, you give 110 percent.
What Goes Into Coaching at URI
This isn’t a uniform, cookie-cutter kind of university and neither is the team that we’ve assembled here. We have a diverse culture here, kids from different countries, religions, sexualities, political groups: It’s all embraced in an environment that supports individuality. I believe in that. You do, however, have to balance your individual beliefs with respect for the person next to you. So, how do we form a bond in an environment where a lot of us think and act differently? That’s where coaching comes in. You have to have communication and understanding. To have a conversation and not a fight: That’s how you build a team and get them very tight before you go to battle. My biggest challenge is to bond us together because if you’re not bonded, then as soon as adversity hits, you splinter and break. I need to get us to a place where we’ll go to war for each other. That’s what true teams do. They form bonds.
Feeding Your Why
For me, success is the accomplishment of an aim, of purpose. I came to URI because I wanted to be in a place where I could feed my why; that is, to mentor these young women to help them reach their dreams. Every day I am teaching my student-athletes how to become champions—in their behavior. My staff and I want to build that culture, to make them believe they are champions before they become champions.