July 30, 2023
Christie Sides guiding the Indiana Fever in the only way she knows how
Indiana Fever head coach Christie Sides is in her first year as a coach, but she has already hit her stride with the Fever.
Indiana Fever head coach Christie Sides is a first-year head coach, but you wouldn’t know that by watching her coach or chatting with her for more than a few minutes.
Instead, she already has a personality and a style that is ingrained within the Fever. She leads with energy. During games, she paces the sidelines and moves nearly as much as the players. When she’s frustrated, she throws her glasses on the hardwood. Even as an assistant, she brought her passion with her to games and in the locker room. That transmits to her players.
“It’s not over the top. We have a young team, so we need the energy. Actually, it gets us old heads going,” Indiana wing Victoria Vivians said of Sides before laughing at calling herself an old head. Vivians played for Sides when she was an assistant with the Fever before. “Her coming in and just bringing that energy every day, it’s really what we need.”
Sides also has emotion beyond her energy. It was reflected in the passion she brought into the locker room in the past, and it’s even more obvious now that she’s in charge. When the team is having a bad practice session, she is firm and lets them know. When things are going well or there is good news, she is as peppy as they come. Either way, she is the loudest voice in the room, which is productive for the young Fever team.
That volume has led to Sides losing her voice multiple times throughout the season. “Those cough drops just aren’t working,” she joked after a post-game press conference recently. During training camp, she had to drink tea on off days to relax her voice.
Beyond the intangibles, Sides is working through what being a head coach means during games. Energy and emotion are important, but she also has to manage a rotation, make adjustments, and implement new strategies that are practiced. So far, her in-game adjustments have been successful. Indiana has a much better net rating in the second half of games (+4.9) than in the first half (-13.5), per the WNBA. They still need to start games better, but the Fever’s staff has proven to be strong at reading games, adjusting, and matching their players’ energy to encourage growth throughout the game.
All of that matters even though the wins haven’t been there for the Indiana Fever yet. It’s obvious what they want to do on both ends of the court in a way that wasn’t the case in the past. They want to be disruptive and aggressive on defense and quick decision makers that play inside out on offense. Sides cares about the details.
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Indiana is 6-18. A look at that record doesn’t suggest the team has improved and has an identity. But they have grown, meaningfully.
They’re a new, younger team. And Sides is a new, by experience, head coach. That makes for a good pairing. “It hasn’t reached that (routine) yet. It’s all really still really exciting and new. Still trying to learn every day,” Sides said earlier this season of being a head coach. “I have some people in my life that I talk to after every game. They watch the games and they tell me what their thoughts are,” she added, noting that she gets advice about substitutions and adjustments. Sometimes, she shrugs off those tips. But after watching the film later, she almost always ends up agreeing. Even as a coach, she is coachable.
“If I stop trying to learn, I’m going to get left behind,” she said. In that way, she is like a rookie player.
Everything will continue to be new to Sides as her first season progresses. She is currently learning how to manage a significant injury — the Indiana Fever have been without NaLyssa Smith for their last five games, and she will remain sidelined for the foreseeable future. Sides has yet to coach through the trade deadline of a season, and the Fever have yet to play more than two home games in a row this year. There is still a lot to come for the red and blue, and Sides will keep learning.
As will her team. The head coach has stressed often this year that she has a younger, inexperienced team with several first-year players. Earlier in the season, that several number was nine. Now, it’s seven. That’s still over half the team, and that’s why Sides has to spend so much time on details and little things like gameday habits and consistent routines.
“It’s just a different team than I’ve ever had before, even as an assistant… the dynamic of our team being so young, that’s been the challenge,” Sides said of the Fever. “We have this great talent, and they all want to be the number one, they all want to get theirs. That’s understandable, that’s what they’ve always done. So just trying to have them gel and come together and understand they’re better with each other. They take the heat off of some of the other ones.” That team dynamic can be tricky to manage since most pros were among the best players on their team, even in the NCAA ranks. But Sides has to improve the team’s chemistry by getting every talent into the right role.
“I’m adjusting to them… I’m going to be passionate, I’m going to be emotional. That’s not going to change,” she said.
During games, all of that is clear. Sides moves like she is a part of the team. She paces the baseline, and All-Star guard Kelsey Mitchell joked that there is a “1,000%” chance that Sides moves more than a mile over the course of a game. When Indiana is on defense, Sides gets in a stance sometimes. Her arms are flailing around.
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She calls out actions and plays during the game — sometimes her own team’s and sometimes her opponent’s. She tries to be a part of the action on both ends of the court. Sides stressed communication for the Indiana Fever, and she leads by example.
“She suits it. She’s communicating well. She’s giving us what we need,” Fever wing Kristy Wallace said of Sides as a head coach earlier in the season.
The Louisiana native has noticed a dip from her team on defense recently. Indiana wanted to be better on that end this year. Through 12 games, the Fever had the 10th-ranked defense — still bad, but an improvement, with a 104.0 defensive rating, per the WNBA. In the 12 games since, that number is 109.1, which ranks dead last. The team has been on the road often and has had limited time to practice, but they need to be better on the less glamorous end of the floor.
“We want to keep the ball more on the side,” Sides said. The Indiana Fever try to play a no-middle style of defense. They call the middle of the court their heart, and they get more stops when they keep the ball out of that area. When the Fever get three straight stops, they call it a kill. They emphasize defense, and they’ve had mixed results.
But Sides will keep doing everything she can to improve the team on that end. Having 12 of the next 16 games at home will help, it will lead to more practice time. Stops are a big part of what the Indiana Fever want to get every game — not only because it’s the goal of basketball, but also because it helps them play in transition, which is something they want to do. Defense is a focus, and the Fever track their own stats, such as their transition defensive effectiveness, paint points allowed, deflections, and more every game.
Those things are important to Sides, and the Fever, on their quest to grow and get better. They have numeric thresholds they have to reach for many categories, and they sat down and took a look at those numbers at the midway point of the season.
At the time, it revealed that Indiana needs to play better in transition and get to the foul line more. Sides and her staff are emphasizing those things every day. If they can get the team to grow in those areas, more wins will come.
Sides staff matches much of her spirit and are also strong communicators. They are important in getting her message out on a daily basis. “It starts with them,” wing Lexie Hull said of the Fever’s staff. She noted that they are just as energetic and Sides is at times.
That’s what the Fever need, a bunch of energy and passion. Enthusiasm is contagious, and the Fever staff relates well to their players. That helps attack weaknesses and build trust.
The Indiana Fever certainly have room to grow. They have slipped since a 5-7 start and are 1-11 in their last 12 games. But they clearly look better than they did last season. Currently, their -5.0 net rating ranks eighth in the league. Last year, that number was dead last at -12.9. They truly are much better, even if it hasn’t led to wins.
The Indiana Fever are ready for the next steps. They have hopes of being in the playoff mix as the season progresses. After trying three other coaches since 2019, the team has the right person for the job with a younger group.
“I knew what she was like as an assistant. She brings really good energy. She brings knowledge of the game. The best thing I love is that she’s a good person,” Wallace said of her head coach. Christie Sides is doing her thing for the Fever and has the franchise headed in the right direction.