It may have gone under the radar recently, but the landscape of local basketball has changed forever following the appointment of the first woman head coach to a men’s division one team.
In the six years that she arrived in Malta from Sicily, Silvia Gambino has gone from a basketball player to a pioneer in the sport after she was named the head coach of Mellieħa SC Libertas.
“In addition to playing, I started to coach when I was 18-years-old but it was always in the youth categories,” she told Lovin Malta.
Along with her coaching duties, Gambino was also playing for her home team Catania, that is, until she made the life-changing decision to relocate to Malta where she committed to playing for the Hibernians.
“I asked the club if I could coach too and they gave me the U-16 girls. That year I saw a bunch of girls with a lot of enthusiasm and the drive to learn,” she said.
“We arrived in the semi-finals but unfortunately we didn’t win. I then decided to stay in Malta just for them.”
Due to a change in rules and regulations from the Malta Basketball Association, Gambino was not allowed to play basketball in Malta as a foreigner. Instead, she took up coaching and even participated in rugby sevens…which she won too.
“The next year, with the same group, I won my first cup,” she continued. “I’ve kept that same group up until now and together we won two more leagues.”
Gambino also saw success on the court, winning several cups and the 2017/2018 league which also ended in her retirement as a player.
Although her playing career was over, her coaching career was just getting started and the Sicilian got her first taste of leading a men’s team in the second division of Maltese basketball.
“The following year Hibernians put me in charge of the senior women’s team so I was coaching from the U-16s to the Seniors,” she said.
“We won two cups and were ranked first, but the league stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In addition to her decorated history, Gambino was also able to add a professional touch to her coaching resume when she was given the opportunity to undertake the FIBA Europe Coaching Certificate – a coaching program led by some of Europe’s best basketball coaches.
Ultimately, her accolades and accomplishments merit the historic head coach position she landed with the Mellieħa SC Libertas and it carries more weight than the pressure to win a league.
“I feel honoured to be the first woman coach in a men’s division one team, especially since I’m a self-made coach” she said.
“But it was the president, Niccolò Petrucci, who believed in me and saw my potential, even when I didn’t think I was able to coach a bunch of men. It wasn’t an easy decision.”
Easy or not, the decision was merited on the track record of the Sicilian coach who has proven time and time again that she has what it takes to win in the domestic league.
“Basketball is a genderless sport and the ball knows no difference whether a man or woman is holding it. Anyone will respect you if you attend training prepared and know what to do.”
“Hopefully my experience will open the minds of other presidents and give more opportunities for women coaches to reach their full potential. There are a lot of women around who are too scared to try but I always say, ‘if you never try, you never know,’” she said.
As Gambino opens a new chapter in her illustrious coaching career, her winning values of hard work, perseverance and team-effort remain the same.
“The biggest challenge this year is to give an opportunity to every player to display their best performance. It’s a new team, and whether we lose or win, I always want to see them give me 200% effort on the court. I’m seeing this attitude in training right now and I love it,” she ended.
Malta’s first woman head coach in the men’s division league has her work cut out for her with the new season expected to start on 24th October, under strict medical protocols in light of the COVID-19 pandemic established by the MBA.
Photo credit: Wally Galea
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