Phoenix Mercury’s globe-trotting coach is mom first

Photo by Rick D'Elia.
Olaf Lange and Sandy Brondello with their children, Brody and Jayda, are setting down roots in Phoenix. Photo by Rick D’Elia.

Juggling kids and career is always tough. Add international travel and pro sports into the mix, and you know a little more about Sandy Brondello.

Brondello is head coach of the Phoenix Mercury, one of the original WNBA teams celebrating its 20th season this year. In the off-season, Brondello and her husband, Olaf Lange, coach the professional women’s UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team in Russia— which just won a Euroleague championship.

If that’s not enough international travel, Brondello is Australian, Lange is German and they’re parents to 9-year-old Brody and 6-year-old Jayda—both of whom have well-worn American passports.

Just before the Mercury took to the court this season, we caught up with this busy family at their new central Phoenix home, hoping to learn how they juggle jet-setting and school schedules. We weren’t expecting a house we could relate to, filled with laughter, homework and even a bit of fun chaos.

For two parents who are pro-level coaches, Brondello and Lange are not pushing their young kids into intensely competitive sports or demanding quiet compliance. Both kids’ big personalities shine through. So does Brondello’s first priority.

“I’m a mother, No. 1,” she says. “I take them to dance and gymnastics. After they go to sleep, I do my work. … I love being a mom.”

Last summer, the family bought a new-construction home and added a pool to the backyard. This is their refuge. The kids attend Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School nearby, and neighbor kids often ring the doorbell to see if Brody and Jayda can play.

“It’s just nice to have a place to call home,” Brondello says. “We finally put roots down.

“We love being here in Phoenix,” she adds. “I have an opportunity to coach a great team. …We’ll be in Phoenix for as long as the team wants me. It works well for us.”

As a coach, Brondello is known for intense preparation and isn’t one to sit calmly on the sidelines. She’s off the bench and on her feet most of the game, is known for her fashion sense (a former player is her stylist) and won the 2014 WNBA Coach of the Year title the same year her team won its third national championship.

“She is amazing,” says Penny Taylor, the Mercury’s shooting guard and a fellow Australian who has known Brondello for years. “I really respect her. She treats you like a professional. She expects a lot from you, and she really knows how to use each and every player to the best of her ability.”

Brody and Jayda are no strangers to the arena, the players or the game — which makes it easier to juggle work and family, Brondello says. Julie Hairgrove, her assistant coach, agrees.

“It’s very much a family atmosphere here with the Phoenix Mercury,” says Hairgrove, who has three young daughters. The two families often enjoy time together away from Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Brondello at a home game against San Antonio. Photo by Barry Gossage.
Brondello at a home game against San Antonio. Photo by Barry Gossage.

As for traveling between Russia and Phoenix (and around Europe), Brondello says they’ve had a great nanny since day one. When the nanny is gone for the summer, Lange steps up as full-time dad and chauffeur for the kids’ many camps and activities. He’s also the family cook. Parenting in this house is definitely a team sport.

“We are very dual roles. We just support each other in that regard,” Brondello says. “We both help with homework as much as we can.”

The two actually met when Lange was coaching the German team Brondello played for. One of Australia’s best shooting guards and an Olympic medalist, Brondello says she always knew she wanted to be a mom. Her 2005 wedding to Lange was a small affair at the Miami home of NBA coaching legend Pat Riley.

“When love hits, it hits, we like to say. We’ve been together 20 years, married 11.”

Brondello admits her reputation for intense preparation comes into play as a mom when she’s picking summer camps and orchestrating family schedules. But after that, she says, her parenting style is more relaxed. “I probably go with the flow as a parent.”

The family enjoys spending time together in the backyard pool, jumping at Flip Dunk trampoline park just chilling out on the very comfy living-room couch. Brondello understands the pressure—especially in the U.S.—to get young athletes on a scholarship track early, but she insists she wants her kids to have fun childhoods, and dreams, just like she did growing up on a sugar-cane farm in Queensland, Australia.

Brody—whose room is decorated in an NBA Golden State Warriors theme—loves basketball, other sports and school. Jayda’s room is all pink; she’s an aspiring rock-star/performer with little interest in playing hoops.

Because her children have traveled around the globe, “they’re not antisocial,” Brondello says. She laughs, adding that neither of her kids is shy, like she was at an early age. They’re comfortable talking to almost anyone and have learned a lot about different cultures.

The one sore spot with the kids is that they can’t yet get a dog. Brondello and Lange committed to coaching one more season in Russia, so adding a family pet will have to wait.

Brondello hates losing games, so it can’t have been easy when the team’s 2016 season started off with some disappointing losses. She lets herself process a loss for one day, then she immediately gets on with the job of improving. Being a parent helps, she says: “It puts a little bit of perspective and balance in your life.”

RELATED: Phoenix Mercury kicks off 20th season, works to draw young fans.

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 27: Minnesota Lynx vs Phoenix Mercury during the WNBA Playoffs West Conference Finals Game 2 on September 27, 2015 at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Fans high-five the Phoenix Mercury as they take the court for the WNBA Playoffs West Conference Finals Game 2 on Sept. 27, 2015 at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images.