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
Read Kelsey’s FULL INTERVIEW here
Why do you think there are so few women coaches in Track, Field and Cross-Country, particularly as you reach the more elite levels of the sport?
Often times I think people forget that Title IX wasn’t that long ago from a historical perspective. You have several women currently, and actively, involved in athletics who can remember when they were first allowed to be a part of a sports team, let alone coach one. Men have been coaching longer than any of us has been alive and that just isn’t the case for women. Gender equality in sport has come a long way since the establishment of Title IX, but there are still some areas for growth. However, I am confident that both men and woman want to see things “even out” in regards to having more women in coaching.
It is hard to put a finger on exactly why I think there are smaller numbers of female coaches in XCTF than in other sports. Everyone has their own reasons for leaving the profession. I think when some women get out of coaching, in particular XCTF, it is a result of feeling like they can’t manage it all. XCTF is one of the few NCAA sports that require team travel from September to June with three separate seasons, Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor Track.
We don’t have a non-travel season, so the expectation to recruit, practice and compete all run together. Add on top of that, childbirth/motherhood, household management, some resemblance of a social life and taking any time to foster relationships, it can be overwhelming. As a female, it can leave you feeling no one has ever carried the load you are trying to carry, which isn’t necessarily true but when there is a lack of women in coaching around you, you can feel like you are on an island.
Although I have several women who I know are coaching, I still an often one of the few, if not the only, female coaching at certain events. If you are new to the profession and haven’t established a network or circle of coaches, it can feel very lonely.
We see so many elite level coaches with successful athletes, great recruiting classes (at collegiate level), beautiful families on social media, and we have the perception that it was “easy” for them. We question if we have what it takes to get to their level, especially when the majority of those coaches are male.
On a small scale, building relationships and mentorship can begin to change this. I think as a female coach, building relationships with other coaches (male and female), and learning to have conversations with others about issues facing women in coaching will help to bring awareness and help to foster female coaching allies in the sport.
There are so many men who ask what they can do to help keep women in coaching, what they need to do or change to make it a better environment. At the start of every season I have try to reach out to any new female graduate assistants or assistant coaches who have started at schools in our athletic conference, I introduce myself, welcome them to our conference and give them my contact information.
I have done this with male coaches as well. Sometimes I never hear from them again, sometimes it is the start of a new relationship/friendship. It is as simple as introducing yourself and opening a door if they need anything. By no means do I think I have all the answers, but I know when I was new to the profession, I would have loved to have some people to bounce ideas off of or talk with.
Also, I think when people feel like they are part of a community (track coaches) they have more satisfaction in their work and have a sense of belonging. Having individual conversations that invoke a change in perspective for one person can have a huge ripple effect.
I also think making an effort to reach out to people you don’t know but admire (male or female) is great. You may hear back from them, you may not, but taking the first step to a possible mentorship will always be beneficial.
On a larger scale, I think there are some things in place to help foster the development of female coaches in XCTF. The USTFCCCA (Committee: Rhonda Riley (Duke), Angelina Ramos (UNLV) and Janine Kuesnter) started a Female Coaching Mentor Program in 2018 that pairs together female coaches in mentor and mentee relationships. I participated the first year as a mentee, and the following year as a mentor. It has opened the door to so many relationships with phenomenal women at all levels of coaching.
There is also a seminar each year at the USTFCCCA Convention dedicated to Women In Coaching, this past year it was a roundtable format with different breakout sessions. I lead one about Motherhood and Coaching.
As for what else can be done, I think the conversations to bring and keep more female coaches in our sport are definitely happening. There just has to be a continuation of the discuss that leads to actionable items or changes to help support a female coach. I genuinely believe that the majority of people in athletics want more women at the table, they just have to know how.