November 3, 2023

Stepping Out of the Paint : Brittany Young’s Journey From Player To Head Coach

Stepping Out of the Paint : Brittany Young’s Journey From Player To Head Coach

Stepping Out of the Paint : Brittany Young’s Journey From Player To Head Coach

By Anna Kathryn Strom  |  November 2023  |  FMU Focus Magazine Fall 2023

brittany young

Brittany Young has always loved basketball.

She played the sport from an early age, excelling at Berkeley County High in Moncks Corner, and at Francis Marion University where she was an all-conference player, Academic All-American, and a two-time team MVP. But when her collegiate career ended, she wasn’t planning to make a career of it. The political science major had her sights set on law school.

She didn’t get very far on that track before the basketball coaching bug bit her instead. Now, Young (‘08) is entering her third season as head coach at Division I Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. Young’s first two teams went a combined 37-25, laying the groundwork, Young hopes, for even brighter days ahead.

Young says her career path has been rewarding, if unexpected. It began during her gap year between her undergraduate graduation and law school when she went back to Berkeley to help coach her old high school team. She was just looking to pass some time in a useful way, but wound up changing her life plan.

“The time I spent with those young ladies brought me true joy and true peace,” Young says. “When you graduate college, you’re just trying to find yourself and figure out what’s next. It’s a very uncertain time. I decided to go in the direction I felt my heart was leading me. And that was coaching.”

Into the Equipment Room

A combination of hard work, humility, and persistence propelled Young’s coaching career.

Once she decided to pursue coaching, Young enrolled in the Master of Sport and Entertainment Management program at the University of South Carolina. She approached the director of operations for the school’s powerhouse women’s basketball team, seeking a graduate assistant position. She soon learned that at places like South Carolina, GA jobs don’t come easily.

The operations director offered her another job instead: equipment manager.

Young agreed and took on the duties of the lowly post, washing team gear and schlepping equipment here and there. A year or so in, she caught USC Coach Dawn Staley’s eye. She landed the graduate assistant position.

Once on the Lady Gamecocks’ staff, Young connected with Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, Nikki McCray-Penson, a teammate of Staley’s on the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team. McCray-Penson was an assistant coach on Staley’s staff.

Young and McCray-Penson hit it off, and when McCray-Penson landed head coaching jobs at Old Dominion, and then, three years later, Mississippi State, McCray-Penson took Young with her as an assistant coach and chief recruiter.

Young’s success with McCray-Penson set her up to land the head coaching position at Austin Peay. Sadly, her mentor passed away in July 2023 at the age of 51.

Young says that when she visited Austin Peay and Clarksville, she found herself thinking back to another small-ish town with a close-knit college community. It reminded her of home and of her years in Florence at Francis Marion.

“I fell in love with the community and the people,” Young said. “It had the same southern charm I experienced in Florence and Charleston where nobody meets a stranger. When people say hello to you when you walk by, that’s home to me.”

Austin Peay has a long tradition of success in women’s basketball, although the recent past has been choppy. Young seems to be arriving at a good time. The Lady Governors just moved to a new NCAA Division I conference, the Atlantic Sun, and will move into a new arena in downtown Clarksville next year.

“Being a head coach is very different,” Young says. “You are the person who makes decisions. You always have people who agree with you and people who don’t. I learned that you have to have thick skin and trust yourself. I have also learned that there are a lot of bittersweet moments. As a head coach, those two things are intertwined. You may have some really special moments, but there is always a little bit of adversity that comes with it.”

Being a head coach has also allowed Young to craft her own formula for success.

“I’ve also learned that there are many different ways to be successful,” Young says. “You don’t have to copy anyone’s blueprint. I take bits and pieces from all the places I’ve been and all the experiences I’ve had and make it my own. As long as you stay true to yourself, special things can happen.”

Young says she is now working harder than ever to meet the needs of her team. A firm believer in consistently making forward progress, Young spends most nights watching film until she falls asleep on her couch.

“There has to be a plan every day,” Young says. “At every special program, they have some sort of system. You have to have a plan, you have to have a vision, you have to get a group of 18- to 22-year-olds to buy into that on a daily basis. It’s not a one-time thing. I never fall asleep until the job is done.”

Well Prepared at FMU

Young says her time at FMU helped prepare her, even if she thought she was preparing for a slightly different future at the time.

“My experience at FMU was invaluable,” Young says. “I came to Francis Marion not knowing what to expect. It was the only offer to play basketball that I had. As a young high school student making my decision, I had no idea how much I would grow in my years at Francis Marion.”

Young was a biology major but quickly switched to political science after an eye-opening internship at a doctor’s office. Fortuitously, that led her to Dr. David White, chair of FMU’s Department of Political Science and a proponent of Young’s success.

“Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to do or what your path is, and you just need people that continually encourage you and have people that believe that there’s a light inside of you,” Young says. “I remember Dr. White telling me that I was going to be good at whatever I decided to do. He told me, because of my work ethic and who I was as a person, everything would work out.”

Young and White stayed in touch after Young graduated. White, an avid sports fan, even made a surprise trip to one of her games this past season.

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