Kelsey Riggins – Interview

Kelsey Riggins is the Assistant Track & Field Coach (Jumps and Multi Events) at Murray State University, Kentucky, USA. 2019 marks her fourth year with Murray State Cross Country and Track & Field teams. With a number of accolades and achievements to her name, Kelsey’s ultimate aim is to make an impact on her athletes in the way way her father did over his 25 year coaching career.

Below, Kelsey has shared her own coaching story, and her aims for her coaching career and the challenges she faces

Follow Kelsey on Twitter: @coachkelsrig

Tell us about your role as Assistant Track & Field/Cross Country Coach…

Fall of 2020 will be the start of my 5th year at Murray State University. I am primarily responsible for the recruiting and coaching of the jumping events (High Jump, Long Jump, Triple Jump and Pole Vault) and multi events (Heptathlon and Pentathlon). I am responsible for managing team travel and community service as well.

A typical day for me involves some practice sessions in the AM for any student-athlete who may have a class conflict with the afternoon practice times, followed by time spent in the office, attending staff meetings, planning practices, team travel, upcoming events. Event group practices usally begin around 1:00pm and go til 5:15pm, I have to leave no later than 5:19pm to get to my daughter’s daycare by 5:30pm. My significant other drops her off in the AM and I am on pick up duty.

My significant other is the Director of XCTF at Murray State, Adam Kiesler. We have been together for 5 years and have a daughter, Albany Kiesler who is 3 years old. Some people think we are crazy for working together on the same staff, raising a small child and keeping our relationship strong, and some days I think they are right. But it is our life and we love it, we often talk about how we have 1 kid at home and 53 at work. 

Life as a coach is ever-changing, the only really consist to my day is the schedule practiced times. You can have things we need to get taken care of throughout the day administratively, but when you are coaching 18-22 year olds you never know what issues may come up (good and bad) that need to be addressed. 

They want to talk with you about switching majors, a fight with a friend, a question about training, etc. It is something I love about my job, that although there is some consistency, you never know what is next. As a college coach, you serve as an “stand-in” parent for your athletes, for some of our athletes they are plane rides or time zones away from their close families.

When they have an issue that they need an “adult” for, we often get the “are you in your office?” text. I got into coaching because of the relationships you build with your athletes. Those last much longer than their athletic careers, so being someone they feel like they can bounce ideas off of or call when they need something is truly a privilege.

I tell parents in the recruiting process, I do not take it lightly that they feel comfortable enough to send their daughters to Murray State and I want to make sure they are well cared for not only as an athlete but as a person. I truly cherish relationships I have built with my athletes, I still have athletes from my first year of coaching at Park Center High School in Minneapolis (2007) reach out and update me on their lives. I love it!

My first year at Murray State there were 4 ladies in the Jumps and Multi Group. This past season we were up to 14 women, and in May 2019 at our Outdoor Conference Championships the jumps group scored 63 of the teams 137 points when we captured the OVC Championship for the first time in 27 years. February 2020 at our Indoor Conference Championships, we had our first High Jump Champion in 30 years, Ashlyn Oren, and multiple athletes with top 8 finishes.

Since I have been at Murray State, my athletes have broken the school records in the Heptathlon and Indoor and Outdoor Pole Vault. 

Can you tell us about the Women’s Empower Education program you have for your female athletes and why it’s so important that we support women athletes in particular?

Murray State Athletics has an initiative put in place by our Athletic Director, Kevin Saal called “Racer Road” that centers around the total development of our student-athletes over the course of their four years at Murray State, helping to prepare the student-athletes for life after college.

The W.E.E. (Women’s Empowerment and Education) Program is a part of the Racer Road. I was inspired for the program seeing other female leadership programs and really thought it was some thing our athletes could benefit from. I went to Velvet Milkman, Senior Women’s Advisor and Women’s Golf Coach, here and she helped me to formulate the idea into something that would work at Murray State incorporating our Racer Road, focusing on empowerment through education of our female athletes.

I want the program to not only empower them as strong female athletes, but as future female leaders. Right now the program is running one time a semester; we bring all of the female student-athletes together in one room and have different themes for each presentation. Our two topics we covered in the 2019-20 school year were Self Care (female focused nutrition, stress management, meditation) and Interview Preparation (resume, interview process, dress, how to shake hands).

All of the topics are tailored to issues or topics women face in these areas. Whether that be knowing the different styles of dress, having confidence to apply for jobs (women tend to wait to meet 100% of criteria on a posting, while men will apply when they meet 60%), knowing what foods are best for the female body.

I believe the through education comes empowerment and that is what I would like to instill in the female athletes through the WEE Program. Another component for me is representation, often times I don’t think that women see other women who look like them, whether than be just a female or someone of their same race, in a position of power or leadership. So far we have worked to bring in female leaders from our community to talk with the women, we have had a CFO, Small Business Owner, Department Heads, etc. 

Seeing someone who looks like you leading or doing what you want to do with your life, can be instrumental to having the confidence in yourself to reach for your own goals.

I think a place where women can feel comfortable to share their experience, ask questions and build relationships is great for the athletes. At each event, they are surrounded by 130 other female athletes who may be experiencing some of the same ups and downs they are. It forces them to look around, see all of the other phenomenal young women around them who may not be on their team or in their dorm.

If the WEE Program can help to empower even one young lady to apply for a job or reach out to a new mentor, it would have served it’s purpose in my eyes.

What is the biggest challenge to you as a coach?  

I think the biggest challenge as a coach is to remain true to yourself. In today’s society, there are so many outside influences and pressures to be the perfect coach, mom, friends, daughter, etc. Being told to coach one way or another, to do this with your athletes, do that. Trying to navigate your authentic self through all of that and taking ownership in who you are and what makes you great can be tough. I did a presentation on being your authentic self at a track clinic earlier this year and it was a great opportunity for me to really dive into who I am and why I do what I do. I have found that when I final decided to really embrace who I was a much happier person and a better coach. 

What is your ultimate ambition as a coach?  

Ultimately, I want to make a positive impact on the lives of as many athletes as I can. I grew up a coach’s daughter, my dad, Stephen Riggins was a Cross Country and Track Coach for 25 plus years. I watched him positively impact athletes and our community through coaching for years. He was killed in a car accident in January of this year, and the amount of people we had reach out to our family to tell us the impact he had on their life as a coach and educator was unbelievable. So many men and women saying they are where they are today because of the impact my dad had on their life. It is often underestimated the impact a coach can have on the life of their athlete, I just hope that when my time in athletics either as a coach or administrator is over, I will have impacted even a fraction of the number my father was able to.

I also want to continue to be a champion for female athletes and women in sports, we can bring so much to the table and I want to do my part to get as many of us to that table as I can.