Auburn University Wheelchair Basketball
On a recent trip to Auburn, Alabama, we had the chance to speak with Robb Taylor, Head Coach of the Auburn University Wheelchair Basketball Team. The team recently began using Planet Fundraiser to raise funds to cover a number of team needs including travel, equipment, and other expenses that can add up throughout the season.
Robb has worked as Head Coach at Auburn for the past two years and has also served as part of the coaching staff on the US Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball Team. In addition to the interview you’ll read below, you can also watch our interview with Robb, shot right in the heart of campus: https://vimeo.com/273919742
What’s the story of Robb Taylor in a couple sentences?
Robb: I’ve coached wheelchair basketball for most of my life. I’ve worked with the Auburn Wheelchair Basketball Team for the last 2 years and I’ve worked as part of the coaching staff for the US Paralympic Team for 10 out of the last 12 years.
How did you first get involved with Wheelchair Basketball?
Robb: For me, wheelchair basketball is kind of a family thing. My uncle was born with polio and he played wheelchair basketball, so growing up I was always around it. I would go to his practices, help out, shag balls, and hand out water bottles when needed and just fell in love with the sport.
When I was in college, I went to the University of Illinois and learned the sport there from the teams that we had at Illinois, and slowly kind of grew within the sport. I was introduced to the head coach of US team and worked with a couple different Paralympic teams, and that’s kind of what led to my position here at Auburn.
What are some of your favorite experiences in working with student-athletes and the Paralympic team?
Robb: Well, since I never really played, for me, I enjoy watching the student-athletes develop as the year goes on. They come in a little bit rough, not knowing what to expect, and then just being able to see them grow both as individuals on the court and off the court.
In coaching the US team, some of the highlights have been winning the gold medal in Beijing with the US women’s’ team in 2008, and then turning around and winning it with the US men’s team in 2016 in Rio.
Did you have a moment when you knew that you wanted to coach?
Robb: You know, I think it’s just one of those things, as a student at the University of Illinois you’re seeing all these athletes putting in hard work and you’re seeing it pay off for them. I had the chance to work with a couple of top-level coaches, and seeing what they’ve been able to accomplish in the field really made me want to try to get to that same level.
My mentors were just recently inducted into the National Wheelchair Basketball Hall of Fame and that something I think would be great one day to join them. The hard work that they put in really motivated me to want to be a coach just like them.
Could you talk more about your first coaching job and how you came to take the Auburn job?
Robb: The first head coaching that I had was with the women’s team in Phoenix, Arizona. I coached the Phoenix Mercury, and coming from a college program to a community program was a bit of an adjustment. I was used to college, where everyone showed up for practice, and had a great practice plan and was ready to go, and I showed up to the first day of practice with the Phoenix Mercury and there were three girls there.
I had to throw away that practice plan and run on the fly with what I was going to do. I think that really helped me out to get this job here at Auburn. I was able to bring the structure that I understood from the college world, but also kind of the easy, laid-back feeling that rec sports had.
So, I’m able to connect with my student-athletes that way. I still run a hard practice and expect a lot out of my student-athletes, but I’m also able to connect with them off the court from a recreational standpoint.
What are some challenges that you’ve had to overcome throughout your career?
Robb: I think one of the biggest one is there aren’t a whole lot of wheelchair basketball programs across the country, so if you really do want to be a head coach of a collegiate team, right now there are only nine universities in the country that offer wheelchair basketball.
It was just about being persistent. When a job opened up, I worked to put myself in the best position possible to obtain that job. When I got denied for a job early on in my career, I had to understand what my shortcomings were and progress. In that case, it was not having a master’s degree.
For me, going back to school and getting a masters degree and better positioning myself when another opportunity did open up made sense, and when Auburn opened up, we felt it was a good fit. Everything lined up and now I’m happy to call Auburn home.
For someone who might not have watched wheelchair basketball before or attended a game, could you say what makes the sport so special?
Robb: You know, it’s one of those sports that’s definitely unique. If you’re familiar with able-bodied basketball, or stand-up basketball, wheelchair basketball is completely different. It’s more of a team game and you don’t really have individuals that play 1-on-1 and can really tear up the court, so you’ve got to play more of a team game.
It’s a lot more physical than people really think it is. Guys are getting hit, they’re getting knocked over, they’re popping themselves right back up, and they’re getting right back into play. It’s a very fast, action-packed game.
How do you balance your commitments to the USA Paralympic team and the Auburn team?
Robb: I think that’s one of the great things about Auburn – they’re supportive of what I do with the US National team. Our seasons run on opposite schedules, so Auburn’s in season October to March, and the US program, we’re part of the Summer Olympics, so our training happens in the summertime.
We go from May till August or September. They don’t really conflict with each other a whole lot, but Auburn has been great and really pushed me out there to continue to work with the US team because they’ve seen the benefits here on campus.
What makes the program here at Auburn unique?
Robb: I think Auburn, in general, is unique. I think once you step foot on the campus here you kind of see how beautiful it is, and then the family feeling that you get is not just on campus but around town and it really sells itself. For me, that’s kind of the differentiator between Auburn and a lot of the other programs out there is you’ll go to the university and you’ll be part of their university, but here you’re really part of the Auburn family and you really feel it when you come to campus.
So, your team has recently started using Planet Fundraiser to raise funds for the team. Could you tell me how you’re planning to use the funds you raise, and if there’s a particular goal you’re working towards as a team?
Robb: Our partnership with Planet Fundraiser is really going to help our team purchase equipment to help our athletes compete at the top level that they need to. Wheelchair basketball is an expensive sport; each chair is specially made for each individual, and those chairs can run upwards of 5 to 6 thousand dollars, so money that we raise from Planet Fundraiser is going to go help buy us chairs for our student-athletes and other equipment, adapted equipment, to make us bigger, faster, and stronger, on and off the court.
Last question – How has Planet Fundraiser helped the team meet its goals? How have you encouraged your students, coaches, and supporters to use the app?
Robb: That’s one of the best things about Planet Fundraiser is that our student-athletes use it, our staff uses it, and then other people around the campus that supports Auburn Wheelchair Basketball, they use it and it’s a simple app to use.
They go to the places that they already eat and shop at, and they’re able to upload their receipts and that really benefits our program, even a couple cents here and there really adds up, and it helps us get the word out about our program but also helps us get the equipment that we need.