Just a few weeks ago, Naomi Kolodny was named interim head coach for Maccabi Ashdod of the Men’s Leumit League, after the team went 2-8 in their first ten games. Kolodny used to play in the Israeli National Women’s League and has won multiple championships. She has played for Maccabi Ashdod, Ramat Hasharon along with Hapoel Tel Aviv and was previously Ofer Rahimi’s assistant coach who was dismissed from his head coaching responsibilities earlier last month.
As the New Year begins, Kolodny took time out of her busy schedule to talk to Sarah Rabin of The Sports Rabbi to find out what it means to be the first woman on the sidelines as a head coach of a men’s team which took place on December 26th when she coached her first game as Maccabi Ashdod went up against Hod Hasharon and won.
Despite this historic achievement, Kolodny commented saying, “To be honest, I haven’t had the time to sit and think about it. So it didn’t even sink in. Obviously there is a lot of buzz and hype about it, but I didn’t even have the time to sit in a quiet and peaceful moment and think about it. But I hope later on I will have time to think and reflect on it.”
In her first game as head coach, the team beat Hod Hasharon 91-81. Hod Hasharon is in last place in the Leumit League, and is the only team with a worse record than Maccabi Ashdod, which sits in second to last place. However, the win against them was nevertheless impressive and important for the team. Regarding her first win as head coach, Kolodny said, “Obviously I was very happy, for the guys, for the club, it was a little bit bittersweet because of the situation, and everything that happened with the team, but we needed that win.”
Maccabi Ashdod’s second game under the command of Kolodny ended in a close 78-72 loss to the top seed Ironi Nahariya. With a good portion of the season yet to be played, Kolodny and the team have time to improve. When asked if she felt pressure to prove herself, Kolodny answered, “Always.” She then elaborated by saying, “It’s exactly how it was when I was a player, I always put pressure on myself to perform and to be the best I can, regardless of what is going on around me, there is this pressure that I put on myself.” However, she noted that following Rahimi’s departure, the pressure isn’t just on herself and that “we are all going to be next if we don’t improve.”
The team not only needs to improve physically, but also mentally, Kolodny said. “Because everything we just went through, we are really just focusing on gaining confidence back and playing together, that’s right now everything we can really focus on.” She continued saying, “ I just take it day by day, we have to get better. We have to play harder and smarter and more together, that’s the goal.”
Being a former player and athlete impacts how Kolodny coaches. She described her coaching style saying, “I think I am trying to be the coach that I always wanted to play for. On one hand, I want to be a coach that knows the game. I still study the game. That’s obviously something I will always do, no matter if I’m coaching in my second year or in my 20th. I always want to develop and get better. I want to be a coach that when a player asks something, I have the answers. I am tough on them, but on the other hand, I want to be a coach, you know, like ‘a player coach.’ It’s about balance, you need to be tough with them, you need to be also sometimes a little bit soft. I want to be a coach, as I said before, that I was always looking to play for.”
In regards to former coach Ofer Rahimi, Kolodny noted that she is very much loyal to him. “It’s important for me to say that [my position is] for now, and that I am the interim head coach. I really hope that they will find a new head coach, not because I do not believe in my abilities to coach that level, but because I want to get the job in a totally different way.”
Kolodny said that being in a predominantly male industry hasn’t been too challenging. However, she noted that “we do not have enough women’s coaches, so it has always been dominated by men, most of the chairmans, and the managers and head coach, and the trainers, and so I am used to it. I never pay attention to it, I am going to be me regardless of where I am. I am going to say what I think and it has nothing to do with if there are men around me or women, I will be the same.”
Hopefully, Naomi Kolodny and the Maccabi Ashdod team will find success in their coming games, while we continue to celebrate the history that Kolodny has already made.