Coaches Academy Builds Skills

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.9, October 2004,

LaTaya Hilliard-Gray had been thinking about going back to school for a graduate degree. Lately, though, she’s decided to stick with coaching. For one thing, she’s been having some success—in 2004, she led the Winston-Salem State University Rams to their conference’s western division title in just her second year at the helm, then was named league coach of the year.

And she attended the second annual Women’s Coaches Academy.

"If you ever have a chance to attend this coaches’ academy, do it," Hilliard-Gray says. "It changes your whole view of things. When anyone asks me what I got out of it, I tell them it inspired me and gave me more motivation. An adviser, a mentor—you can get it all there at the academy."

The Women Coaches Academy is the work of the National Association for Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators (NACWAA) with a grant from the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics. Twenty-four coaches took part June 3-7 at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and 19 were at the University of Denver June 19-23. The first Academy was in 2003 at Bryn Mawr College.

The Academy’s ultimate mission is to raise the number of women coaches. "Our goal is to motivate, and there are three things we try to do," says Celia Slater, Executive Director of the Academy and Special Projects Coordinator at NACWAA. "The first thing is to provide women with the skill base that will help them in their day-to-day challenges, from teaching methods to communicating with their AD, student-athletes, and staff. We’re trying to give them a relevant skill base that goes beyond X’s and O’s.

"Number two is to provide them with an opportunity to create a network with other women in athletics they can call on for support," Slater continues. "Many women feel isolated in their athletic department. Often, they’re the only woman in the department. We want to build a network of women who’ve been to the academy, and tie them to the women who’ve been pioneers in the field. That’s the third thing—to inspire them and help them see their value in the world of women’s athletics."

Attendees come from all NCAA divisions, sports, and career stages, from two years in the field to 22. The academy addresses some of the most common reasons some women don’t enter the profession and others choose to leave. Those reasons, Slater says, include the increase in other career options, the 24-7 time commitment of the profession, and, for some women, the feeling that their view of athletics isn’t valued in their setting.

Among the provocative class titles at this year’s academy in Wilmington were "Change is Good—You Go First, Mary," "How to Coach Yourself in a Losing Season, "Networking and Internal Politics," and "Title IX: Facts and Friction about Gender Equity." Other topics included public speaking skills, communication strategies, diversity, ethics, and motivational strategies.

Learning better ways to communicate with her supervisor, staff, and student-athletes was the greatest lesson for Hilliard-Gray. "Today’s student-athletes are different from when I was playing," she says. "I have to let them know that I’m here for them no matter what, as a friend, as a coach, as a mentor."

It was also great, Hilliard-Gray says, to meet women whose books she had read in college, such as Christine Grant, University of Iowa Athletics Director Emerita and Title IX pioneer, and Title IX researcher Linda Carpenter. After returning from the academy, she kept in touch with coaches, talking about common concerns, both in their sports—Hilliard-Gray also coaches volleyball—and out. They’ve also pledged to raise money to help pay for at least one other coach to attend next year’s academy.

Plans for 2005 are in flux, largely because NACWAA isn’t sure how large the NCAA grant and other funding sources will be, Slater says. Many attendees receive financial support from their institutions, and some Division III schools use NCAA coaches’ scholarship funds as well. This year’s costs were $1,400 per coach, but that’s subject to change, and the entire program could look quite different next year. Administrators are exploring an advanced session for academy graduates and a formal way of applying attendance toward continuing education credits and graduate study. NACWAA is talking to other organizations about creating a similar program for high school coaches, Slater says.

Details and applications are expected to be available in the fall on the academy’s Web site,