Take a look through basketball rosters at almost every level – house league, university, and international. They all feature someone titled “team manager” or some variety of the term.
There is no real information in those four syllables, though. Team managers are ubiquitous and necessary in basketball circles, but the job description varies from team to team. In a game where positions like centre and small forward are beginning to veer away from their traditional sense, the team manager is on the opposite end – there has never really been a tradition.
Ask Anne Marie Thuss, – team manager for Canada Basketball’s Senior Women’s National Team, starting with the national sport organization in 2000, and assistant coach with the McMaster women’s basketball program – what her job entails and she echoes the above sentiments.
“My role can best be defined by doing anything that’s required, quietly, so that the coaches and support staff can maximize their energy to do their job and athletes can minimize distractions,” said Thuss.
That is a humble description for a job that can be incredibly stressful. Thuss tells stories about taking back roads in China with a bellhop to a house in order to access the Internet and communicate with Canada Basketball officials that the team has arrived safely and everything is okay. She boasts that she can get water, ice and laundry done in five different languages. Thuss would give a kiss to a transportation officer in the Dominican Republic to ensure that her team would have priority in the organizational hell that was the D.R.’s bus terminal.
Really, as a team manager with Canada Basketball, she has to be the feet on the ground to make things happen and to solve a problem. You could not train someone to do this job in a classroom – they would have to go out and experience it.
Those hardly capture what she has done as the behind-the-scenes maestro. Colleagues at Canada Basketball always say the same things about her, unsolicited; “Anne Marie is so calm. I don’t know how she does.”
Bottom-line: Thuss gets shit done.
“As a manager, you have to be a calm in a storm. You’ve got to have enhanced emotional intelligence and problem-solving skills,” said Thuss.
She started out with Allison McNeill, who was coaching the junior women’s program. Canada Basketball wanted someone who could relate to that 16-17 year-old group, and Thuss worked in high schools. She had seven years of assistant coaching experience at York University with Bill Pangos and his women’s team, so Thuss fit the bill. Doing stats and acting as a “sounding board” as Thuss puts it, a role was carved out for her in the Canada Basketball sphere. Shortly after, McNeill was moved up to coach the senior women’s program and asked Thuss to join her on the bench for the premier Canadian women’s team.
And the experience was, in a word, awesome. Thuss speaks glowingly about working with McNeill and now McMaster alumnus Lisa Thomaidis, referring to both as world-class coaches and giving credit to them for her growth as a leader.
But Thuss goes beyond someone who is an expert problem-solver – during games she is tasked with analyzing offensive production and making recommendations in game. A Math major, Thuss says this is the biggest strength she brings to the bench, as she is able to quickly turn around a piece of work.
And do not underestimate the importance of a calming presence on the bench. With McMaster, Thuss is typically the first person a post player will come talk to after picking up a critical foul in a game. She can mellow a player out and help them make adjustments on either end through a quick chat on the bench, and this was key in Mac’s success this season.
In 2013, the Canadian Senior Women’s National Team held training camp in the Burridge Gym and Thuss brought in some of the younger Marauder players to watch the practices. She describes it as a positive experience for them, to see how Canada’s top athletes bring a certain extreme intensity to every single possession.
But you would not know any of this stuff about Anne-Marie Thuss unless you asked. Towards the end of the interview, she asked for this story to “not be a big deal.” She did not want the attention – a modest request from someone who is integral to success.