A personal reflection on motherhood & women leaders in sports - by Brianna Welch
To the readers,
You may have noticed there wasn’t a March newsletter for Coaching the Whole Athlete — it wasn’t because of lack of content, interesting stories, or tools to share, but rather, it’s because I became a new mom in early February.
A few months ago I was interviewed by Tracksmith to weigh in on why there are less women in sports (coaching), what my thoughts were, and what needs to change. I believe I provided thoughtful and insightful responses, but I also now know that it is very difficult to weigh in if you have never been through it. Not to say my opinion wasn’t useful and important BUT when you have really lived it, that is when your voice becomes even more valuable.
It has been exactly two months to the day since I gave birth to baby Quinn. I sit here in a dark office with Quinn in the bassinet beside me on his belly (so he can feel like he’s on my chest), occasionally tapping his butt to keep him calm and asleep (because no one tells you about all of the challenges of contact napping and getting your newborn to sleep independently when they are going through a growth spurt). My husband is finally taking me up on the offer to fit a nap in, since we both happened to go back to work when Quinn was 6 weeks.
I could not be more in love with Quinn, forever grateful for this gift, and not sure how I ever lived without him. Yet I still sometimes feel bad that I have this mixed thought in my head of “I can’t wait for him to wake up and we can continue to work on his cooing and have him smile at me” AND “oh shit I think my typing is waking him up and I really need another hour so I can fit in a little more work.” This doesn’t even come close to scraping the surface of the motherhood balancing act, challenges, guilt, giving yourself grace, mental well-being, workplace expectations – the list goes on –that working mothers and working moms in athletics deal with on a daily basis. Quinn at 4.5 months old serving as my assistant at our NYU in-person retreat.
I love my work.
I love supporting coaches and athletic leaders in their personal and professional growth so that they can can feel better prepared to assist their athletes in having a positive and empowering sport experience. So that these student-athletes will come out of their time in athletics with a much healthier sense of self, improved relationship with their coach and hopefully, on an even more positive trajectory in their sport, and in life, then when they first started working with their coach.
I am excited for our current programs, growth opportunities and potential to impact many more.
This week we made the selection for our spring and summer ACC cohorts (cohort 5 and 6 with the conference), leaving a waitlist of 12 coaches who will not be able to take part in the program this time around. I know that a sustained partnership is right around the corner, ensuring that select ACC coaches and athletic leaders will continue to have access to this invaluable opportunity and I am so proud of what we have already accomplished with our collaboration.
*One of our facilitators, Cam Kiosoglous (USCCE President & former U.S. Rowing Coach), at our in-person retreat with NYU going over reflective practices.
Our NYU program is the first of its kind, introducing Coaching the Whole Athlete to a new set of athletic leaders (including athletic directors, athletic trainers and other department staff) not only giving them an insider perspective of the coach-athlete relationship [challenges, tools, leadership strategies, motivation tactics etc.], but incorporating an additional lens of how to be a change maker in the athletic space; applying interpersonal skills and leadership concepts to their own relationships with their staff, coaches and athletes.
AND we are bringing Coaching the Whole Athlete in-person for the first time!
I love my son and being his mom.
I have seen all of his biggest milestones (as many as you can have for 2 months old) and want to be present for as many more as I can.
I started work 6 weeks postpartum because I have programs that were already established and partnerships, colleagues, coaches, administrators, and athletes that I care about and that count on me.
I am emotional, sleep deprived, recovering from a strained groin from labor, continuing to figure out how to balance work, Quinn and self-care, working to give myself grace on the shitty days, and be proud on the days when we are able to seamlessly fit everything in.
I feel guilty when I jump on a call and miss a full wake window, when he has to take the bottle because his feeding has lined up with a workshop, when I hear him playing with his dad in the other room and I can’t join because I have to finalize a session. But I also feel guilty when I am unable to facilitate every workshop of our upcoming program because I am making the decision to prioritize my son. I feel bad I won’t be putting out a newsletter every month for the coming months because it is just too much to take on and I am working on prioritizing my personal well-being and self-care.
It saddens me that I can’t just lay in bed until 11am with Quinn and give him my full attention, that I wasn’t able to plan a little better and give myself more time before starting back up work.
But I am also lucky in one very big way, a privilege that female coaches do not have, for the most part, I am able to work remote.
My challenges are valid and they are difficult, but they are just that, my own. When you consider adding a job that puts you on the road 100 nights a year, the challenges are only compounded. An article from USA Today does a great job of highlighting this balancing act, specifically sharing experiences from a number of top female basketball coaches and how they have been able to make it work with having kids and continuing in a career they love. Coach + Mom is likely one of the most difficult jobs in the world and it offers insight into the ups and downs, the joys and struggles, and the gaps that still remain in supporting working mom’s and specifically female coaches.
The last thing I will highlight, which I don’t think is spoken about enough, is the care and support that moms, and specifically new mom’s, need and deserve once their baby is born. Especially when you are in this niche group that is jumping right back into work and travel because your team needs you. These mom’s did the work for 10 months and often are just expected to be superwoman, hold everything together (mentally, emotionally, physically) and get right back to it. As Stephanie Norman, Louisville Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach (and an alumni of our first ever ACC cohort) explains:
“I feel like I deal with reverse guilt — I try to be the first one in the office and the last one to leave because I don’t want anybody to think that having a kid is going to change my work ethic,” Norman says. “No one in my office has ever made me feel that way. But working moms, we feel like we have to continue to prove our worth. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I still battle that.” [excerpt from USA Today article]
No new mom, no coach mom, should have to carry the weight of all of these “shoulds” on their backs. Whether placed on them by others, or themselves (having internalized the messages society has communicated about having it all). Every mom deserves the opportunity to make their own choices and not feel pushed or pulled in a certain direction [whether pushed back into work or pulled towards their little one]. I have always believed and pushed for “having it all” and I still believe you can… but not all at once.
So we need to do what we can to support these mom’s as they take on the impossible:
Respecting their choices no matter which area (coach or mom) they want to prioritize in specific moments, days, weeks etc.
Validating their emotions and the challenges that they are working through
Making space for a lot of flexibility within the first 6-12 months and then CONTINUING to be understanding of the balancing act of motherhood
Reminding them to give themselves grace because they are taking on the most difficult job in the world.
Encouraging them to seek out support/help and proactively offering it to them so they don’t feel as if they need to, or are, working in isolation
Help them to prioritize themselves. A deck of new mom affirmation cards that I received from a former Duke teammate read “I deserve to feel well emotionally, mentally and physically. I cannot be the best mom I can be if I am depleted I tune into my body’s messages, and I seek help when something doesn’t feel right.”
Systems-level changes: This can be an entirely separate article in and of itself but there is much more change needed on the institutional level, whether it be easily accessible childcare within your institution, more accommodating leave policies or mentor programs and other support groups that offer new mom's other's to connect with, learn from and build community.
**I want to note that this article was specifically directed at working moms/female coaches and that this doesn’t negate the challenges that new dad’s or single parents in sport (and out of sport) face. However, this select group will always be in a unique situation and are going through an experience unlike any other.
I know each day, week, and month will bring new challenges and joys, moments of guilt and moments of delight and all I, and we can do, is stay present in each moment, soak it all up and know that we are doing our best.
See you in a few months!
**Photo credit from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaw/2018/03/19/tips-working-moms-moms-college-basketball-coaching/433014002/ -- "Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier celebrates the 2018 WCC Conference Tournament title with her husband Craig and children (left to right) Calvin, Marcus and Quincy."