Finland: Rajaniemi - I Hate to Lose

14 July 2004
By Ross McCullough PA International

Anu Rajaniemi is a woman in a man's world. Rajaniemi, who will coach the Finnish under-20 women's team in the European Championships in France after the Athens Olympics, will join leading men's team Porvoon Tarmo as assistant coach next season.

A past winner of two Finnish Championships in 1985 and 1986 with Sampo Basket, she will move from Helsinki to Porvoo to team up with American Carl Woodward.

Juha Vettanen, an agent for players in Finland, says she is about to create a milestone with her new job.

"She is the first woman on the coaching staff of a men's first division basketball side to my knowledge," Vettanen said to PA International.

The 44-year-old Woodward has coached all over Europe and was last season in charge of Austria.

Rajaniemi is looking forward to helping him, and to the level of play she will encounter with the elite club and she is confident that the players will respond to her direction.

"My coaching style gives players opportunities to make their own decisions depending on the game situation," she said.

"I want to give the team I coach the basic tactics and the players have the freedom to be creative."

Rajaniemi may not be able to reach her expectations with the club in the first season which gets underway around October.

Porvoon Tarmo are in a re-building phase after their previous coach suddenly walked out on the club a month ago. Vettanen said a number of import players tried last season did not work out as well as was expected.

"I would be surprised if they have a successful year," Vettanen said.

However, he was complimentary of what Rajaniemi had done for the junior women's game, calling her "a leader who gets the girls to play the way she wants".

This is not always easy when her side is hampered by a lack of height, but she coaches accordingly with the resources she has to call on.

"She knows how to make them play systematically both in defence and offence," added Vettanen.

The 37-year-old Rajaniemi became interested in coaching as the game was close to her heart and she was keen to develop in the role and work with and teach up-and-coming talent.

She is eager to develop as a top coach but knows that a fifth to eighth place finish at the European Championships beginning on July 23 may be the best she can hope for.

The core of her squad of 14, which boasts five players to have already experienced national honours, were at the Under-18 European Championships in Slovenia.

While centre Juta Jahilo, Niina Laaksonen (the rebound queen in qualifying), Heta Korpivaara, captain Eva Makela and Laura Sario will start, Rajaniemi says some depth has been added by players who gained experience in last season's Finnish League.

"This is our best opportunity. I think we could surprise a couple of teams," she said.

For Rajaniemi, teaming up with Woodward at Porvoon Tarmo will be a change from coaching junior women which she has done since 1998.

In Finland, junior national teams begin with the under-14 age group and are often run by people with little coaching experience.

This is due to a shortage of professional coaches in a country where basketball takes second place behind ice hockey and other winter sports, she says.

So what of the future in coaching for the woman from Lahti near Helsinki?

She said:"I would like to coach in some of the European or US top teams. Winning is always my goal - I hate to lose."

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