Bobbie Kelsey – Interview

Bobbie Kelsey is the Head Coach to the University of Wisconsin (USA) Women’s Basketball Team. After playing basketball under legendary college coach Tara VanDeveer, Bobbie went on to be Tara’s assistant coach at the University of Stanford for 14 years. Bobbie is now one of the NCAA top women basketball coaches.

In January 2016, Bobbie gained some internet fame as part of a press conference she delivered after her teams loss to Nebraska, went viral. Bobbie addressed the women’s basketball community telling them to work harder and “get their butt in the gym.”
Bobbie’s passion for the game and for coaching shines through in everything she says, so we were very excited to contact Bobbie and speak to her about her coaching career, what coaching advice she had for others and about that infamous press conference…

The problem with the media is that they did not show the whole press conference interview. I spoke for a couple of minutes before the actual comments that were shown on Twitter came out. What you all saw was not the whole thing, so I had to explain it to my players. Sometimes your comments are not used [by the media] how you actually say them, so I wanted my players to know that I was not throwing them under the bus so to speak. My comments were directed towards all women basketball players and not just my players. Most of them took it very positively and didn’t have a problem with it, but some of them just didn’t understand. They felt like maybe I was talking about them, but all I was trying to do was address women?s basketball in general. My players are women basketball players, so obviously they are included in that group about needing to get more time in the gym and improve on their game.

Press conferences are a double-edged sword. I could do without them personally, but they are a part of your coaching duties. Obviously the media has a job to do as well and we want them to report on women basketball, because without that coverage, the game would get little to no coverage thus no one would follow it. So the media is important. It is just that having to do them is a bit of a pain, especially after you lose. You do not want to talk to the media because emotions are flying high sometimes causing you say something you should not say, however they are part of the job. I do not really deliver messages to my players in them though as I would rather talk to players in private away from the cameras.? As far as the fans go, I just thank them in the press conference for coming and supporting our team whether we win or lose.? We have some great fans here at Wisconsin and they really support us and understand what we are trying to do with this programme which is to build it into one that will be nationally recognised for women basketball.

Do you get any training in media relations or are you just throwing in at the deep end?

I was an assistant coach for 14 years and at times I had to do interviews in place of the head coach. Sometimes assistants get interviewed but you are not thrown into the deep end necessarily but being a Head Coach is different. You are always being asked about your team or the other team or the game etc. therefore you have to be careful to not say anything that will cause harm to yourself or the program. What helped me was watching other coaches at their press conferences, before I got this job. I wanted to make sure I was not going to say anything crazy that would get me in trouble. When you say something you have to follow through on it, so you do not want to make these grand declarations on what you are going to do – especially when you do not even know what kind of team you have got yet after taking a new job. Some coaches have been caught up with being centre of attention in a press conference and that is when you say things that you should not, so you have to be careful.

I worked and played for her, so it was a unique relationship. I have known her since I was 16 or 17 and I?m 43 now – so going from a teenager playing for her to an adult and working with her was great. We were like minded in a lot of ways, like being tough and knowing you will not be babied and coddled – you have to work hard. She was and is a great coach. Obviously as a player we won a lot including a national championship and we went to two more Final Fours so the tradition was set there and I was glad to be a part of that. Coming back in 2007 – 20 years later I was different it was like a kid coming home and the younger kids are getting away with things that you could never get away with and your like what is going on here! But I know Tara appreciated that she had a former player there to remind the current team of what it takes to be a champion.

Working alongside her is like getting a PhD in coaching because she is so knowledgable and accomplished – she has been an Olympic coach and won national championships all while building Stanford from nothing to what it is today.  To learn from her was a great opportunity for me. Some of the biggest lessons or best advice from her was to hire great staff and recruit, recruit, recruit you must have people around you that can help, coaches and player. Also, you have to ask for help sometimes which is hard when you think you have great ideas but not all the ideas.

Coaches also need to model their own behaviour. A lot of coaches do not model what they want their players to do. They tell their players one thing and then they go and do something totally different – which is not good a lot of time. Players go through ups and downs, they get injuries, sometimes they are playing great, sometimes they are struggling and they have to know you love them beyond being a basketball player, helping them reach their maximum potential both on and off the court.

Women basketball players have to get their degrees because they most likely will not go on to make the millions of dollars like the guys do – and even fewer of those guys do!? So we have to invest in our players and make sure we are picking the ones that we feel are going to work the hardest to maximise their talents and potential. Sometimes in recruiting we make mistakes because not every kid wants to work as hard as you want them to work. We have to do our homework as coaches, so once players get their opportunity to come to university and have a kind of free education (not totally free as a lot of work is required), it is a vehicle for them to make better in the world without having students loans and all the debt others have to deal with.

Absolutely! When their parents drop them off [at University], they have to leave them and go home. They cannot go to school with them as much as parents want to do that, they cannot! The kids ask the parents what they think of this school and that school, and the parents are charged to give them good advice and ask tough questions of the adults [staff at the university] that they are going to drop their children off with. These kids are still young adults, they are not grown ups yet – even though they think they are grown! We get them at 17 / 18 and they leave at about 22 so it is important to be a role model. These kids will either carry on what their parents have taught them or sometimes we as coaches have to reconstruct what they have been taught because they come in without the attributes they need to go out into the world and make it. They need to learn to not keep questioning people in authority – but asking questions – asking questions is fine, but questioning – these are two different things.  For me, many people do not respect authority anymore, they want to tell people that have already been there and know what to do when they do not have any experience in what they are talking about!! But that is the nature of young, vibrant, confident people.  They get caught up in the I know instead of I want to ask.

Very much, it was very helpful. I wanted to keep my education to something sports related. My masters was in leadership and professional development – I wanted to learn that side of coaching and not just the x’s and o’s. I am big on communication. I like to think I am good at it, sometimes I am not good at it, but there is always room to learn and grow.? When you try to learn that through an academic realm, it gives you a different way of looking at communication.

Any opportunity I had to learn how to communicate better whether that be in an academic realm or just talking to mentors or people that have done it already, I would do it. Sometimes you have to reach out and get it that way.

I have been at this almost 20 years, so I have seen a lot of them come and a lot of them go. It is hard because they have to go, they cannot stay for 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years like the professional athletes. Being a collegiate athlete is over a short time period of 4 or 5 years therefore there is always new players joining the program.

Saying good-bye to players is sometimes hard and sometimes it is not hard to be honest!! haha!? Working with somebody for 4 years – you want to make sure they go out better than they came in and I don’t just mean athletically, but growing up and maturing – that is the sweet part of it. Those that do not grow and mature, it?s sweet when they leave too.? However, you cannot always get through to everybody!! You would like to think you can, but that is not always the case. Some years it is really tough, because you might miss the leadership and the other stuff that does notshow up on the stat sheets. There are some players that I have missed that did not score all the points, but they were just solid individuals that you could just rely on to do the right thing off the court and on the court. They were easy to coach and were some of the ones you miss the most. The knuckle heads and the ones you have to fight with the whole 4 years – you are not too sad to see them go! haha!

When the freshman come in, you have an opportunity to train them to be more like leaders etc early in their careers. When you take over a job, there are players that are already in the program and you do not really have a chance to train them or mold them. That is the hard part when you take over a programme – because you get some players that maybe you would not have picked to be honest but whoever you have you must to embrace those kids. You have to remember that they did not ask for the coaching change nor did they give their opinion on who they wanted, so you cannot make them feel like they are second class citizens?you just love them as though they are your own.

I think it is very important! People that do the hiring tend to be men and most of them are not minority men. We do not have many female athletic directors or minority athletic directors who get to pick the coaches. I was born in 1972, so when I first started coaching, I would go to a tournament and it would be all women coaching, but today, there are no women! There are not even many women coaching the high schoolers which is really sad! The kids are used to it now because they do not know anything different other than having predominately male coaches.

It is extremely important for women to coach women’s teams because women are not afforded the opportunity to go on the mens side and coach, but the men can come on the womens side now this profession is more lucrative. Once upon a time there were no salary coaching women’s teams as many female coaches were volunteers but now that has all changed. When women started coaching before Title IX, they did not get paid – but now women can make upwards of a million dollars – some coaches get paid $1 million and rightfully so?but now the men are starting to see how lucrative coaching women’s sports are so they are competing for these jobs when maybe they would not want these jobs without the benefit of getting paid the big bucks – thats just my opinion! There have been some men coaching on the women’s side from day one and I think they should also get the opportunity to coach women, but I do think women should be coaching women.

A men?s college or professional team is not going to hire a woman to coach their team, I do not care what they say they are not going to do it, so the opportunities for women are going down as the men are now coming over to the women’s game. I think it is important for women to see other women in charge in leadership roles because otherwise they think well I can’t do that because I don’t see any other women doing that. It is the same for minorities in that if you do not see many minorities in leadership roles, how would another minority coach think or believe you can do it if they have never seen someone who looks like them doing it?!

No, not that I am aware of however, discrimination nowadays is very subtle. You are just not sure but I know when I see it. I cannot say I have seen it personally for my gender or my race in coaching but I cannot speak for others.

What advice would you give to other coaches who desperately need their team to improve?

It’s simple. So coaches that need their teams to improve; you have to hold your players accountable. In my programme, we always ask our kids about their own personal goals, ask them to write them down and then talk about what can do to help them accomplish them. After that, we hold them accountable. Once they write their goals down it is out there and it stays there.