Female college coaches find creative ways to balance motherhood, job

Coaching while family-raising presents challenges, but also heart-warming rewards.        …

Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico needed to recruit one summer day while she was still head coach at St. John’s, but she also happened to have a baby, her youngest of three.

Barnes Arico walked into the gym, pushing her daughter, Cecelia, in the stroller.

“So many people were staring at me like, ‘Why is she bringing this child in the month of July recruiting?’” Barnes Arico said. “I was nursing. I didn’t have an option.”

Earlier this month, Arizona coach Adia Barnes, the mother of two, coached in the NCAA women’s basketball national championship game. She has a 6-month-old daughter, and Barnes, during halftime of the most important game she has coached, had to feed her baby. 

Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico and star forward Naz Hillmon (00).

Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico and star forward Naz Hillmon (00).
Carlos Osorio, Associated Press

“I represent moms,” Barnes told reporters. “You can be a coach, you can do it at an elite level. You just have to have a village like I do.”

In women’s college sports at the Division I level, 41% of athletes are coached by women. At the Division II level it’s 36.4% and in Division III it’s 44.5%, according to the 2019-2020 “Racial and Gender Report Card” study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics and Sports (TIDES). Muffet McGraw, the retired Notre Dame basketball coach now a member of the Women’s Sports Foundation board, said there are a number of factors for the low percentage, including women believing they can’t juggle coaching and raising a family.

“Women always have to be the ones to make the choice — ‘Do I have a family or do I have a career?’” McGraw said. “Men don’t have to make that decision, so we’re still in that same place we’ve been since like the ’50s where it still seems like the burden of the responsibility for the child care falls on the women. I’m not sure if it’s stopping them from entering the profession, but it’s definitely one of the big reasons why they leave.”

Muffet McGraw, retired Notre Dame basketball coach and now a member of the Women’s Sports Foundation board
Women always have to be the ones to make the choice — ‘Do I have a family or do I have a career?’ Men don’t have to make that decision, so we’re still in that same place we’ve been since like the ’50s.

Barnes Arico has advised women who considered leaving the profession that being a mom and coach can work with a strong family and support group.

“I tell them, ‘You can do it. Please don’t leave the business,’ because the female athletes need to see they can do all of these things, that they can be successful, that they can have a career and be wonderful mothers at the same time,” Barnes Arico said.

Along the way the coaches have seen their children become independent and their sons advocates for women in leadership roles. Barnes Arico said her son, Trevor, has told her when he wins an Oscar, his acceptance speech will center on the need for more equality for women.

When Michigan State basketball coach Suzy Merchant’s 14-year-old son Tyler was in preschool, she and her husband were called in for a parent-teacher conference. The teacher, a 25-year veteran, explained a class exercise in which the children gathered in a circle and job titles were pulled from a hat for each one.

Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant

Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant
Al Goldis, Associated Press

“(The teacher) said, ‘I called Annie’s name, and your son stood up and clapped and cheered for her and then (he did the same for) the next kid. I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime,’” Merchant recalled. “I think it’s because he grew up not only cheering for other people, but my sons grew up cheering for women. That to me is a very powerful opportunity to change the future.”

Kelly Kovach Schoenly, Ohio State’s softball coach, who played for Carol Hutchins at Michigan in the early 1990s, has raised one child while being an assistant and then head coach.

“If I do anything in my life, I want my daughter to know she can accomplish something … being involved with (what) she loves,” Schoenly said. “I want her to see me doing this so she knows whatever she pursues and loves with a passion, she can go do it and know you can be the boss and you can be in charge.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis

Published
3:50 am UTC Apr. 19, 2021

Updated
3:55 am UTC Apr. 19, 2021

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