Why I Continue to Coach: A Mothers Journey Back to Track and Field Post-Partum

Shelli Sayers 2Shelli is the Associate Head Track & Field Coach at the Univeristy of Iowa, USA.  After working hard as a track athlete as a junior, she started volunteering in high school and soon went on to become a part-time coach at DIvision III level.  Now, with a coaching resume over 10 years old and many championship titles to her name, Shelli is a full time Head Coach in her beloved sport.

Shelli shares her experiences of being a Mom to two young children and why she wanted to go back to being a coach after her second child…

On May 21st, 2015 we welcomed our second daughter into our family, Virginia Anne.  She was born a week after the Missouri Valley Conference Track & Field Championship meet and the week of the NCAA DI West Preliminary Round.  I knew from the moment our midwife gave us our due date I would miss both meets and fretted all season to enjoy every meet and prepare my event group to compete at the highest level without their coach.  I wanted to be at both meets so desperately (and blamed our poor planning and ability to read a calendar).  Then my baby was born.  Then I so desperately wanted to stay home and not return to work.  I wanted to savor every moment with both of my daughters.  They were growing up so fast, even the newborn, and I was afraid I was going to miss a moment I would never get back.  Then I remembered someone telling me once that I could not be a good mother and a good coach at the same time.  So, I pondered this statement and reflected on it during my maternity leave.  I came to the conclusion that yes, I could.  Even if I missed moments in my two (out of three) greatest loves, they each made me better at both roles in unique ways.  I came to the conclusion that there were several factors in my life that support and foster my ability to be a great mom and a great coach.

My Partner:

In general, to be a successful coach you have to have a supportive partner, with or without children.  Track and field is year round, odd hours, lots of travel, constant use of a cell phone, and your/the team’s success depends on the decisions of 18-22 year old YOUNG adults.  Stressed coaches?   Maybe a little, but we love what we do and have the best job in the world.  However, if your partner does not understand track and field and the lifestyle of a coach it will not work and/or you will both be unsatisfied in the relationship.  I am one of the lucky ones.  My husband Andy loves the sport as much as me. When WE decided to chase my goal as being a full time coach, he was on board and excited as much as me.  He was dissatisfied in his job and ready to make a change.  We considered our long term goals, and as a teacher he could go back to teaching any time.  As a coach, I could strike while the irons were hot, and he could stay at home with our children when we decided to have kids.   Fast forward to the birth of our first daughter… my husband stayed home her entire first year, and now is staying home for 6 weeks with our second daughter.  Wow.  As a mom this is AMAZING!!  And as a coach, it makes it possible for me to continue to work, learn, and coach in the sport.  Now, as time continues to fly by, he is getting recertified to teach so when the girls start school he will be on their schedule.  I am so fortunate and my girls are lucky to have such an incredible father in their lives.  He is our rock and the coolest dude I know.  

Head Coach/Staff:

You have to work for a head coach and staff that support a working mom.  It sounds so simple, but it is much harder for female coaches than those outside of the sport would think.  I was able to take all of my 12 weeks for maternity leave for both of my daughter with no pressure to return from my bosses.  In fact, when my previous head coach left, he stated, “Don’t let this ruin your maternity leave.  The show goes on one way or the other.”  The pressure I felt to return was all my own.  However, I spent all 12 weeks with my beautiful girls.  I only worked from home and came into the office when it did not take away time with them.  The newborn phase disappears in a blink, and I was able to enjoy every moment with my babies.  

Nursing has been challenging, but my bosses are family men and understand the importance.  With my first daughter I had to pump while traveling.  My “favorite” story is crying about an hour into an overnight, four day trip to Alabama.  After the first hour on the road, my head coach was ready to send me home if I wanted!  We toughed it out together.  The training staff gave me ice for my cooler to store my milk and never made me feel uncomfortable.  I pumped in “private” on the bus and was open to questions from the women on the team who stated their only knowledge about pumping was from the Kardashians.  Yeah, I brought them up to speed on the realties.  Another time, I actually pumped in the backseat of a car while the head coach drove and an assistant was in the passenger seat.  No questions asked, and only light hearted jokes.  The music was unusually loud, but I appreciated it.  Now that I am pumping at work, the head coach allows me to use his office and has gone to great lengths to find me a comfortable lactation “room” that isn’t a storage space or bathroom.  He did not have to do this for me and I am much appreciative.  If more coaching moms had this support I believe they would reconsider leaving coaching or at least prolong their decision.   

I would also like to add the overall working environment on our staff is very family friendly.  When appropriate, our families join us for team get-togethers, track meets, and visit in the office.  Our families are very connected to what we do, so it is nice to have them involved as much as possible.  This also gives our children the opportunity to have some positive role models in their lives.  I will touch on this a bit more below.

Coaching makes me a better mom:

Yes, coaching has actually made me a better mom.  Leaving home has become increasingly harder.  When my oldest asks me to, “Stay a little longer, Mommy,” it can be heart wrenching.  Because of those times I have to leave, I value the times at home more than I believe I normally would.  I read an extra book; I watch them sleep a little longer.  When I am totally exhausted and it is easy to say “no, maybe later” I say yes, and enthusiastically play sidewalk chalk.  I pay more attention to the little moments that can be easily missed.  I have memorized every inch of their faces.  We make sure the time we spend together as a family is of value and memorable, even if it’s just blowing bubbles in the backyard.  We are already planning our summer vacation for 2016.  I don’t think that women that are not coaches do not feel this way about their children, I am just hyper aware of how coaching affects my relationships with my daughters and husband.

I have also learned that my language is different as a coach around my daughters.  I coach in a fitness sport from the heaviest event thrown to the fastest race on the track.  I speak very highly of our athletes and use words like strong, smart, fast, and tough to describe them.  In an age where words like skinny, fat, beautiful, ugly can define young women (and men!) in society, they have no place in my lingo as a coach and as a mother.

One thing I am working on doing a better job at is using my cell phone and IPad at home.  It can wait until they are asleep or out of sight before I answer.

Being a mother makes me a better coach:

I should just copy and paste the last paragraph.  I speak to my athletes like my daughters are there watching.  

I am very efficient and prioritize my work.  I run a very efficient and effective practice so there is no time wasted.  I am careful that most of my time devoted to becoming a better coach, planning workouts, coaching, recruiting and “other duties assigned” are planned (for the most part, because sports can be spontaneous!).  If I have work to do at home, there are no surprises – certain nights are designated for recruiting calls and other work can be done during nap time or after bed time.  It’s hard.  It can be REALLY HARD. But if I want to maximize the time I have with my family I have to run a tight ship. 

I Love My Job

Repeat: IT’s HARD.  IT’s REALLY HARD.  I cry.  I have bone crushing guilt at times.  Okay, a lot of times.  I even have it when my husband and I go on date night.  What makes it all bearable are all the people and things I discussed above.  And I love my job.  The life lessons athletes learn on the track and in the field are so valuable.  The mental toughness to go against the best athletes in the country, one on one, takes incredible mental toughness.  When my athletes graduate, I know they can take on the world because athletics taught them to do so in victory and in defeat.  My daughters get watch this, and hopefully experience it one day too.  They also get to watch their mom work in a male dominated profession and learn the value of what I do and what women before me did to get us to this point.  They will remember some of the times I am not present, but I hope the prevailing memory is one of pride and love.  Pride in their mom balancing family and work, knowing they too can be successful in all facets of life.  Love in knowing at the end of the day, they always came first and are the most important people in my life.

Visit Shelli’s blog Page: https://motherwifecoach.wordpress.com