She’s a Successful Coach, Children’s Book Illustrator, Navy Wife & Military Mom: Q&A with Sam Houston State Head Coach Brenda Welch-Nichols

Sam Houston State Head Coach Brenda Welch-Nichols is a Navy wife, mother of three (Brady 22, Brock 14 & Brelee 10), published children’s book illustrator and the winningest coach in SHSU’s Division I history. When I talked with her this week, she was volunteering at Brelee’s school Field Day, getting ready to go to Brock’s 8th grade gala that night, and was happy to report that Brady and his platoon had called from overseas the day before to sing her ‘Happy Birthday.’ The Nichols family is always going, always doing something. “I wouldn’t have it any other way!” Brenda says.

When did you know you wanted to be a college basketball coach? How have your career path and your family’s journey been intertwined?

Brenda: I’ve been married to Barry for 26 years. We met at Sam Houston State University. I was a basketball player and he was a trainer. I came to Sam Houston to be a commercial artist, but art classes and basketball practice didn’t mix so I went the basketball/coaching route. I graduated from SHSU with a major in Physical Education and a minor in Art. I told Barry before we started dating that I would be a college coach. That was Plan A. Plan B was to coach something and Plan C was to do art. I have managed to stick to my plans.

Barry and I got married December 20, 1988. He joined the United States Navy and I finished college. We were stationed in San Diego, Norfolk VA and Pensacola FL. While in Pensacola, I started coaching at Pensacola Junior College (now Pensacola State). Brady was born in 1993. When I went into labor, I was showing a recruit around campus (Tammy Hill). Brady’s delivery was not easy. He was born with aspiration pneumonia and he spent a week in the neonatal unit. This was tough on me as a young, inexperienced mom. I remember trying to keep my mind off of Brady, who was taken to another hospital while I had to stay at a different one—I made recruiting calls. By the way, I got that recruit!

After Brady was born, Barry left the Navy and my career started full swing. I was asked to be the head coach at Western Texas College, the junior college where I played, then head coach at Okaloosa-Walton Community College, then assistant coach at University of Memphis. Brock was born in Memphis in 2001. I went on to be the recruiting coordinator at South Alabama, then head coach at Mercer (Brelee was born there in 2005), and now I’m going on 10 years at Sam Houston State.

The Nichols Family, including Kate, Brady's fiancee

The Nichols Family, including Kate, Brady’s fiancee

 

How have you been able to devote so much time to motherhood while simultaneously advancing a successful coaching career?

Brenda: I am not a person who sits still long. I chase a lot of rabbits and always have a lot of irons in the fire, from volunteering at PTO to helping with Girl Scouts and community events. Over the years, I’ve had to learn to balance my job with my kids’ schedule, being a mom, wife and coach. I can promise I’m not perfect and I made mistakes along the way. I missed games, school functions and holidays…at times you feel guilty for missing out on so much of your kids’ lives. What I learned early is that when I was home, I made it quality time, not quantity. If I missed Thanksgiving, I came home and had it a week later. I celebrated Easter with my family on another day. It didn’t matter if I missed a day, I made it up. My kids still dye eggs every year, we dress up for Halloween, we decorate Christmas cookies, we do art projects. Even with the coaching schedule, I find a way to create the family fun atmosphere.

 

Give me the “scouting report” on your two younger children.

Brenda: Brock just turned 14. For a middle child, he is very confident and secure with himself… He is a younger brother but plays a huge roll as a big brother to Brelee. He is driven in what he wants. He will tell you that real men wear pink, he watches Dance Moms (for the drama), has a comical side to him but is serious at times. Brock plays any and all sports we will let him play—baseball, football, basketball and track. He’s already set to be an Eagle Scout. He wants to go to college to play baseball and be a US Marine. He has wanted to join the military since he was four years old.

Our daughter Brelee, on the other hand, is nine going on 15 and it’s all about her! She is very headstrong with a leader’s mentality, but has a heart of gold. She’s extremely talented in art and sports. She competes in art contests regularly, and plays softball and basketball. Brelee is full of life and energy. Rumor has it she’s a mini-me.

 

Let’s talk about Brady. Did it come as a surprise to you and Barry that he chose to be a soldier, or was that a natural path for the son of a Navy veteran?

Brenda: Brady graduated high school in 2012 and went to Angelina College to play basketball as a walk-on. He had a great, fun year at Angelina. At the end of that first year, Barry and I were not happy with Brady’s fun year academically. We enrolled him at Sam Houston State and directed him into Army ROTC because he had always liked the military. Brady also served as my basketball manager. This was a good start at a new school.

By January, Brady was signing up for the Texas Army National Guard reserve. Then he attended boot camp at Fort Benning and graduated as a Calvary Scout. As a mother and the wife of a veteran, all I wanted was for my son to grow and mature. The structure was good for Brady. This was just reserve, until last December when he came to me and said, ‘Mom, school is not for me.’ Well, this didn’t sit with me at all. I was a kid labeled with learning disabilities…had to work hard for my education. So to have a kid say I am not going back to school, after I took loans out, wow—mom was mad. Later that year, we found out that the deployment would come because Brady wasn’t in school. I was not happy. On one hand, I want my sons to serve, but at the end of the day, I am Mom and he is my baby boy always.

Even though you know he’s going, where, and how long, it’s still hard. Brady left in February and will be gone anywhere from nine months to a year.  My team had just lost a game when I got a call from him at 10:20pm. He said, ‘Mom, we are leaving for Germany in 30 minutes.’ I told him, ‘Don’t be a hero, you already are. Keep your head down and don’t kill a camel. I love you.’ I cried all the way home.

 

Are you able to stay in contact with Brady overseas?

Brenda: Technology has improved from years ago and it helps with him being gone. It’s gotten easier as the days go by. Brady is an amazing son, big brother and friend to all. He is a gentle giant (6’9”) with a huge heart. For Mother’s Day, he spent over an hour talking with me and the kids. He is so patient with Brelee. She will Skype him all hours of the day and he will just let her talk to him. Yesterday was my birthday and Brady had some of his platoon sing to me! That melted my heart. He also let me know that, in a couple weeks, he may be unreachable for a month or so. His unit is in Egypt right now and they are being moved to a different, more dangerous part of the country. I told him to tell them his mama said he can’t go!

I miss him dearly. Memorial Day is special for our family. So many family members have served in all the wars. Brady is just one of many carrying on the military tradition. My nephew Jacob Henry, who is Brady’s age, is serving in the Navy right now. We are a blessed and proud family to have our sons fight for our freedom.

 

I believe you may be the only college basketball coach in history who is also a children’s book illustrator! How do you make time to do your art?

Midnight-3am is when I usually work on my drawings. I have three books out right now: Beauregard Le’Moose: Is Loose in New Orleans, Wooly Willie’s New Day, and Wooly Willie’s Christmas Gift. I’ve illustrated a chapter book series that will be published within the next month. The book series is called Miss Priss, and its main character is based on my daughter Brelee. She’s a ballet-dancing girly girl who dreams of breaking out of her shell and doing something different. In most book series, the characters stay the same age in all the books, but this one will be unique because the books will age with Miss Priss.

Read more information about Brenda’s new book here.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Left to right, top to bottom: 1. Kendra Faustin, Niagara  2. Brenda Frese, Maryland  3. Beth Jillson, Texas Women's  4. Candi Whitaker, Texas Tech  5. Joanne Boyle, Virginia  6. Jackie Carson, Furman  7. DoBee Plaisance, Nicholls State  8. Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, Albany  9. Lindsay Edmonds, NC State

Left to right, top to bottom: 1. Kendra Faustin, Niagara 2. Brenda Frese, Maryland 3. Beth Jillson, Texas Women’s 4. Candi Whitaker, Texas Tech 5. Joanne Boyle, Virginia 6. Jackie Carson, Furman 7. DoBee Plaisance, Nicholls State 8. Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, Albany 9. Lindsay Edmonds, NC State

 

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Gonzaga Head Coach Lisa Fortier On Her Assistant-to-Head Coach Transition

One year ago, Lisa Fortier became a first year head coach for Gonzaga University Women’s Basketball. Three months later, she gave birth to her third child. Baby Quincy was just three months old when Fortier and her staff, which includes her husband Craig, began Gonzaga’s journey to its 11th straight West Coast Conference regular season title. The #11 Zags made an impressive run to the Sweet Sixteen before falling to #2 Tennessee in the NCAA tournament. They finished the ‘14-’15 season ranked 19th in the USA Today/Coaches poll. In her head coaching debut, Fortier was named WCC Co-Coach of the Year and received the Spalding Maggie Dixon DI Rookie Coach of the Year Award.

As you can imagine, the success of this past season came with its fair share of stress for the new head coach and mother of three. But Fortier’s biggest challenge might surprise you. “Throwing out the first pitch at the Mariners’ game (on April 20th) was the most stressful thing I’ve had to do in the last 12 months,” Fortier admits with a laugh. “It didn’t go as well as I wanted it to. The pitch was forgettable–not the worst, not the best… But we brought the family with us to Seattle and it was like a mini vacation, so that was fun.”

Craig and Lisa Fortier at the 4/20/15 Seattle Mariners game with their children. Left to Right: Marcus, Quincy & Calvin.

Craig and Lisa Fortier at the 4/20/15 Seattle Mariners game with their children. Left to Right: Marcus, Quincy & Calvin.

Before she was hired last spring, Fortier had known for a while that she wanted to be a head coach. She and her husband Craig, then the Associate Head Men’s Basketball Coach at nearby Eastern Washington University, were working through different scenarios trying to figure out what would be best for their family. Fortier had recently interviewed for a different head coaching job when her former boss at GU, Kelly Graves, was hired to take over the program at Oregon. Would she follow Graves there? Would the pending job be offered to her? Should she go after the vacancy at Gonzaga? Ultimately, the best case scenario played out for all involved. A week after the 2014 Final Four, the Zags got Fortier, whose investment in the program was unparalleled since she had spent nine previous years as an assistant there. The Fortier family got to stay home and take on a new adventure. And Gonzaga’s players were excited that their new leader was a trusted mentor. “The high point for the entire season was the way the players reacted when they found out I’d be their head coach,” Fortier says. “We stuck together pretty closely this year.”

The first few weeks on the job were hectic, to say the least. “I was running from one office to the next checking everyone’s email, trying to keep camp running, trying to keep recruiting going, trying to be seven months pregnant.” The highest priority for Fortier was putting together the very best coaching staff possible. “After I hired Jordan [Green], I knew I needed a really good woman coach that our players could trust, so I hired Stacy [Clinesmith]. It was a process to hire Craig because of nepotism laws. Technically, he didn’t start on our staff until June.” Interestingly enough, Lisa and Craig are the third husband/wife coaching combo in the West Coast Conference.

Fortier transitioned from assistant to head coach in a familiar place. Even so, there was plenty of newness involved. “I knew I would be making a lot of decisions and I was pretty prepared for the day-to-day stuff. But on the court, it was a little bit different. Before our first game, I was joking with our radio guy about where I was supposed to stand and how to talk to the refs. [As an assistant,] I used to call the defense, so I had that experience. But I’m interested to see how the second year goes because it felt like I was doing everything for the first time.” Having been a Gonzaga assistant, Fortier easily overcame the biggest hurdle for any new head coach: earning the players’ trust. “They knew I’d walk through a wall for them. Towards the end of the season, they were playing for each other and playing for me–we had the history.”  But even with the familiarity, Fortier was intentional about making things new and fresh. “During the hiring process for my staff, I tried to get people with a lot of experience. Initially, I just listened to them and did not interject too much. I wanted the players to experience something a little different… Fortunately, I didn’t have to rebuild from the ground up here. I had the advantage of knowing where some changes would help us and what should really stay the same. We tried to pick our spots.”

Fortier’s first July as a head coach proved to be a challenging time. On the 5th, her father-in-law, with whom she and her family were very close, passed away unexpectedly. On the 10th, her male assistant and his wife had a baby. On the 18th, Quincy was born. For the first few days of July, Fortier went out recruiting within a reasonable distance approved by her doctor. Then once the new Zag babies arrived, she had her Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator approved to recruit the rest of the month. “It was sort of hodge podge. We had utilized [our non-coaching staff] for recruiting previously when my two boys [Marcus, 5 and Calvin, 3] were born.” Handing over recruiting responsibilities didn’t exactly free Fortier up for a restful maternity leave. “Quincy was in the NICU for eight days. We had a player coming in for an official visit on August 3rd. So it was probably 12 days that I wasn’t at the office. That was all the time I had to recover from a C-section… After that, Quincy came to work with me until she was about three months old. I had her boppy, her play things, her everything in the universe was here. Then Quincy went to my mother-in-law’s house. She is literally a godsend. It’s hard enough for me to leave my babies when they’re going to their Nana. I can’t imagine dropping them off at daycare.”

Lisa and Craig had grown accustomed to working around two coaching schedules. Now that they’re on the same sideline, managing the family calendar is still very much a juggling act, but it looks different. “There are definitely some advantages. With Quincy at the office as a newborn, Craig could take her when I had a meeting or an individual workout. The day-to-day practice schedule is amazing because we only plan around one team…One tough thing [about being on staff together] is that, while the highs are a lot higher, the lows are a lot lower. When we lose a recruit or lose a game, we’re experiencing lows at the same time. And the kids see that… We’re also at a disadvantage with travel. Before, the kids usually had one parent home with them. Now if I’m gone, he’s gone, whether during September home visits, recruiting weekends or for team trips.”

Last season, the Fortiers utilized more babysitters than ever before. “Our kids travel a lot with us, and we bring babysitters on the road. Quincy traveled with the team all season. As far as babysitters, we don’t just give our kids to anyone, but we sort of give our kids to anyone,” Fortier jokes. “At an away game, I knew the wife of the assistant coach on the opposing team, so she held Quincy during the game. On the road in Chicago, I knew a Gonzaga alum would be at the game, so she kept Quincy. I’ve heard the saying, ‘It takes a village…’ Well we have a big village. Like 30 people. It’s a puzzle only a mom could figure out.”

Speaking of mothers’ unique abilities, Fortier believes Coach Moms bring a lot of good to their programs. “I think a majority of our team wants to work outside their home and be moms. We’re good examples of that… We teach them to multitask. They’re in it with us and they understand it’s not always pretty.” Three members of this year’s GU team hail from Washington state, but other players are from as far away as Germany and Australia. “Their families are not necessarily close by, so it’s nice for them to have someone else who can show some tough love. Our players have very different personalities. Part of my job is to take care of them individually and, not cater to them, but reach them in different ways. I do that every day at home,” Fortier points out. “I’m pretty good at meeting them where they are. I don’t know if I’m bringing the things I learn from home to work or vice versa. But it all runs together raising young kids and older kids.”

The Fortier children love growing up around Gonzaga Women’s Basketball. “My boys run around the house imitating the players, the announcers, the cheerleaders… My players love having them around.” With little ones in tow, bloopers are bound to happen. “Every one of our children has had a major blowout [diaper] during dinner on an official visit… And maybe it’s just me who does things like pumping at my desk without attaching bottles to the bottom of the pump, therefore soaking my pants? The kicker is that I didn’t realize it until five minutes in since I had layers on.” One of the biggest changes for assistant-turned-head coaches is the amount of public speaking required. Fortier was put to the test at the team’s postseason banquet when she spoke to 300 people in the crowd. “My two year old insisted on coming up on stage with me. Of course, I couldn’t tell him ‘No’ or we would have had a meltdown right then and there… My kids are always around, so funny stuff happens.”

For all the Coach Moms making the transition from assistant to head coach, or just changing coaching jobs this time around, Fortier has a few pieces of advice:

  • Find a way to keep your family involved with your job. “Not everyone can travel their family. But try to keep them involved, however that may be. Make sure your boss is willing to have your kids around. We can do that and still be professional. The environment shouldn’t be so serious. We coach basketball. It’s fun.”
  • Take the time you need. “Find a way to do that every day. Everyone’s different. For me, it’s working out, and it’s putting my phone away until after my kids go to bed. It’s been my experience that recruits and boosters will wait to talk with you if you tell them you need to read books to your kids.”
  • Have confidence in yourself, whatever stage you’re in professionally. “I didn’t get this job because it was a default. I got it because I was the best person for the job.”

WATCH THIS VIDEO about Lisa’s daily life as a Coach Mom. You’ll be glad you did.

Erika Lambert

 

 

 

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Coach of the Year Moms

As we head into championship weekend, I wanted to take a moment to recognize several women who deserve major props. These ladies won the Coach of the Year award in their respective conferences and held down the fort at home all season. Congratulations on a job well done and thanks for making moms look so good!

2014-2015 Season

 (Left to Right)

Colonial States Athletic Conference: Kate Pearson, Cabrini

Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference: Suzy Delaney, Franciscan University

Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: Amanda Bailey, Luther College

Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference: Andrea Bertini, Westfield State University

New England Small Conference Athletic Conference: Carla Berube,* Tufts University

Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference: Kerri Brinkoeter, Southwestern University

 

2014-2015 Season

2014-2015 Season

(Left to Right)

Great Lakes Valley Conference: Lisa Carlsen,* Lewis University

California Collegiate Athletic Association: Joddie Gleason, Humboldt State

Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: Serena King-Coleman, Kentucky State University

Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association: Jessica Kern, Lincoln University

 

2014-2015 Season

2014-2015 Season

(Left to Right)

Big Ten: Brenda Frese,* Maryland

Big 12: Kim Mulkey,* Baylor

West Coast Conference: Lisa Fortier, Gonzaga

The Summit League: Amy Williams, South Dakota

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference: Tricia Fabbri, Quinnipiac

Southland Conference: DoBee Plaisance, Nicholls State

Southwestern Athletic Conference: Johnetta Hayes-Perry, Texas Southern

*These coaches are also finalists for the WBCA’s National Coach of the Year Award. One winner for each division will be announced Monday, April 6.

Erika Lambert

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Final Four Meeting of the Moms

Will you be in Tampa this weekend? Unfortunately, I can’t make it to this year’s Final Four. But I’m thrilled to let you know that there will be a session just for you at the WBCA Convention! “Moms in Coaching” will be led by Brooke Wyckoff, assistant coach at Florida State and mother of 16-month old daughter, Avery. I hope you’ll plan to attend!

Saturday, April 4 2015

Noon – 1 p.m. Moms in Coaching led by Brooke Wyckoff, Florida State

Tampa Marriott Waterside, Level 2 Meeting Room 7

Erika Lambert

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When Everything Gets Reduced to Essentials: Mom Hacks For Coaches


These are my daughters. They’re eating popcorn. On the kitchen floor. Wearing superhero costumes. Cute, right?

The thing is, this was dinner one night this week. I’m not proud of it, but it was just one of those days. We had somewhere to be. Hubby was still at work. Time ran out. And something had to give.

Meryl Streep said, “Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials.” Moms everywhere nod their heads in agreement. For Coach Moms, this couldn’t be more true. Our unconventional schedule leaves us feeling maxed out at certain times of the year. When our boss and our players need us to be 100% at the same time that recruits and media outlets and community groups need our full attention, things at home may get reduced to essentials. It’s not that the non-essentials don’t matter. We just learn that prioritizing is the key to flourishing both at home and at the office. While we may value the same things as 9-to-5 moms or stay-at-home moms, we often have to do things a different way.

• Which parts of the calendar year make you feel like you’re maxed out at work?
• When something’s got to give at home, what is it? Do you feel different from other mothers because of these choices?
• What are the “essentials” at home that you will never compromise?
 
 
“All of conference play is the busiest time of year—January and February. January is especially stressful coming off the holidays, with personal concerns about spending and whether or not I got the gifts for everyone that I wanted to. That’s just the kind of person I am. Some years, April can also be very busy for me with recruiting and traveling to the Final Four. And of course there’s July recruiting, too. There’s a quality two weeks in May when I feel like I can rest a little and shift to a family focus. At that time, our players are gone and as a staff we’ve set up for everything that’s to come. So I can work from home for a few days. And since my kids are still in school, I’m able to veg out completely for a couple days. Then I wait 365 days until I can do it again!

The main things I have to sacrifice because of my job are vacations and special outings. In 12 years of marriage, my husband and I have never taken a vacation alone together. It does make me feel different because each of my brothers take trips with their wives. I’m so jealous! Even when my family is on vacation in August, it still feels a little like work because I have to make plans for the kids and figure out meals for everybody. Also, during basketball season, family outings like going to the movies or going bowling just don’t exist… Another thing that has to give when work gets busy is meal planning. We’ve never eaten out as much as we do now. But when I get off work at 6 and need to help with homework in the evenings, the last thing I have time for is being in the kitchen preparing a big meal. I used to have all these quick meals in my head, but during those heavy times at work, that just gets kicked to the side. I feel bad for my husband! But it actually motivated him to cook more because he saw that I could not physically do it… When I had kids, the first thing I gave up was putting lotion on my whole body, haha. Now I just put it on where you can see! It’s funny how many things I used to do consistently that are hit or miss now with children…. When I was the head coach at Radford, I got a housekeeper to come twice a month. I never thought I would do that! But it gave me time to take my kids to the park.

I will never compromise on things like my kids’ birthdays. I always try to do something great for their birthday. And outside of basketball season, we make sure to plan special family activities and stick to them, like once a month movie night… I have to be in a clean house. That rarely gets compromised. I just can’t function in a messy house so I make sure it’s always clean. The kitchen cannot have dirty dishes in it… The last thing I won’t ‘give’ on is my kids’ academics. They have to be good students. I’m usually the one to stay on top of the kids’ homework and I always thought I would be personally invested in their studies. But sometimes I have to give up that personal responsibility and get a tutor to step in during my busiest times at work.”

 

“One piece of advice for [Coach Moms] is this: don’t allow guilt to ever get the best of you. Especially in the profession we are in, I learned early on unfortunately, the choices I must make on a day to day basis are frowned upon in certain parenting circles. I just do the best I can every single day and keep a bit of tunnel vision. As long as I can live with myself and my husband and I make decisions that work for the two of us, I don’t worry about anyone else’s opinions on the subject of my children. I’ve also come to realize that time is your most valuable commodity and the one in the shortest supply. So a year or two ago we bit the bullet and hired a housekeeper to come in twice a month to save our sanity. I am an old fashioned Iowa girl so the thought of spending $200 a month on something we could and should do ourselves was out of my comfort zone. But we were killing ourselves trying to do it all and still find time for each other and our family. So now I gladly fork over the money and while my kids are young it’s one less chore we have to do every free weekend. We “buy” a little more family time in the process. What you discover with young kids is that things are always changing and evolving. You just get through one year at a time because every single year is different as they grow up. But it is a gift and I am extremely blessed to not only have a career I live and breathe, but also a family that is always by my side.”
 
 
“I have two players who have come to my house to help my daughters get ready for winter formal and prom—Renata Marquez and Whitney West have been my girls’ hair and makeup team. Renata was a senior last year but is still in nursing school at ACU. I was on a team road trip during winter formal this year so Renata got Macy ready while I was gone. I’m so thankful for her help!”

 

 
 

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As I hastily frosted the last cupcake I needed to bring to a gathering this week, I was calculating just how little time I had to change out of my sweatpants and get us out the door. But when I looked down and saw my loves eating their “dinner” like little puppies on the kitchen floor, I just had to take a moment to laugh at myself and at this whole motherhood gig. Times like that call for a picture, no matter how late you are! Be encouraged, Coach Mom. Popcorn for dinner is just fine (once in a while).  Getting a housekeeper does not mean you’re a slacker. And if you can’t be there before every school dance, it’s okay! Find a cool stand-in. We can do everything “normal” moms can do, but we may need to do it a different way.

Erika Lambert

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March Madness Motivation II

Well, here we are. It’s March. And the Madness never disappoints!

Your team could be awaiting a Selection Monday bid to a postseason tourney today. Or maybe your squad is done and you’ve already begun planning your postseason. Either way, today calls for some inspirational quotes. Here are some I’ve been thinking about lately:

Good luck to the Coach Moms representing our group in the DII and DIII NCAA Tournaments! Head Coach Danelle Bishop (Cal Poly Pomona) and Assistant Coach Julia Smith (Cal Baptist) face off in the DII Elite Eight tonight. Head Coach Carla Berube is the last mom standing in the DIII Final Four. Her Tufts Jumbos take on #1 Thomas More this Friday.

Erika Lambert

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A Redemption Story For Cal Poly Pomona Head Coach Danelle Bishop

Head Women’s Basketball Coach Danelle Bishop is in her fifth season at DII Cal Poly Pomona. During her time at the helm, she has led the Broncos to a 100-39 record, two West Region titles, one Elite Eight, and last year’s Final Four. Bishop was named the 2013-2014 California Collegiate Athletic Association Coach of the Year, and was a finalist for the National Division II Coach of the Year award. It’s hard to believe that just five years ago, she considered leaving the coaching profession. “I was fired from my job at California Baptist. I almost got out of coaching… losing my job was hard, financially. It was hard on my marriage… My husband encouraged me to stay in it. I applied at Cal Poly. There were other candidates who were offered the job before me, but a month later I was hired for the interim job. We ended up going to the Elite Eight that season. It was really a story of redemption. I had never seen my husband cry before, but he cried when we cut down the nets.”

Bishop’s husband, Walter, works as an engineer for the Department of Defense. Although his work requires a lot of travel, he has the flexibility to make a lot of trips outside of basketball season. “Sometimes he’ll have local business travel that only lasts three days or so, but most of his trips are one or two weeks long. He’s gone at least once a month when I’m not in season,” notes Bishop. During Walter’s college days, he was involved in athletics as a Sports Information intern and a Women’s Basketball graduate assistant at Alabama A&M. So he understands the unconventional schedule that coaches keep. “He gets it,” Bishop says. “I’ve got six seniors this year so we’re out recruiting more often than usual. This year’s been kind of crazy. But Walter gets all that. He’s very supportive…my biggest fan. And he’s a great dad.”

“I got married at age 30, and became a mom at 33,” says Bishop, mother of two. Her daughter Marissa is 5 and son Walter IV is 2. “It’s kind of weird that I have former players who were pregnant before me, and have kids the same age as mine. It’s a blessing in disguise though,” she laughs. “When we get to visit with former players, our kids can play together.” Both Bishop children participate in gymnastics, for now. “We joke that they need to do it now, while they can. They’ll probably be too big in the future!” Mom and Dad stand at 5’11” and 6’5”, respectively. Together, the couple coached Marissa’s 4, 5, and 6-year old community league basketball team last summer. “My husband was the head coach and I was the assistant. The first practices for that team were actually some of the hardest practices I’ve ever had to plan. We had to figure out what exactly we wanted them to learn, set goals for the 10-week program and try to accomplish those goals all while keeping their attention.” Bishop’s daughter was the only girl on the team, and young Walter watched from the sideline. “[Marissa] cried when she got bumped the first four weeks. But after that she got more and more aggressive. I was worried about my two year old interfering with practice, but he actually loved being on the sideline.”

Walter IV, Danelle, Walter & Marissa Bishop

Walter IV, Danelle, Walter & Marissa Bishop

Although most of the Bishops’ extended family is in Texas and Alabama, they cherish their close community in Southern California. “When we first moved here, we got connected with people through church and our small group [bible study]. We’ve made some amazing friends who we call family now,” says Bishop. Her coaching staff at CPP is a tight-knit group as well. Third-year assistant Reyana Colson was a senior and an All-American on Bishop’s first Broncos team. Assistant Coach Kevin Adams began working on Bishop’s staff at Cal Baptist, and came with her to CPP. Adams’ wife, Nicole, played for Bishop at Cal Baptist, and the couple has two children. “They are like family too. Nicole watched each of my kids before they started going to daycare. Their daughter is 4 and their son is 7 months old. Their kids are like sister and brother to mine.”

So, how does a busy wife and mother of two manage a successful college basketball program that repeatedly contends for titles at the national level? With a focus on servant leadership and relationship-building. “First and foremost, my staff and I want to be servant leaders…because that’s what Jesus did… We are intentional about being involved in our players’ lives. We love on them. We discipline them. Sometimes, they can’t stand you. Other times, they’re crying in your arms… We want our players to leave here as better people, friends, daughters, wives. If we’re not seeing that, we’re not doing our jobs.” Bishop points out that many people believe basketball teammates don’t need to be friends off the court. “I disagree with that. Maybe you don’t need to be best friends, but on the women’s side, you really need to get along. We try to foster that family environment.”

Bishop says her Mom role often comes into play at work. “I would love to write a book on college women and confidence, because that’s the issue they struggle with most… Every year I see some of our girls get down emotionally because they are trying to find their self-worth in others.” In response, Coach Bishop does what any good Mama Bear would do. She gives extra hugs, reminds her players they are beautiful inside and out, and texts them inspirational quotes from time to time. “We have phenomenal young women in our program. It hurts me when I see them let somebody steal their joy. I remind them that they’re the only one who can give someone that authority… several of our players are Division I transfers who were unhappy initially. When I see them smiling it makes my day. I’m thankful that they’re having a great experience now and enjoying themselves playing basketball.”

Last season, Cal Poly Pomona made it all the way to the Final Four where they lost to eventual National Champion, Bentley. CPP’s team included five DI transfers, most of whom had not had good experiences at their previous school. “These were juniors who had the ability to be impact players right away,” notes Bishop. “But we knew that if we were going to be successful, we would have to build relationships fast.” The coaching staff took special care to build their new players’ trust. In the busiest part of the season, they took advantage of team time on road trips to build that connectedness. “It’s the idea that ‘people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ Some players struggled with trials that came with them from their previous experience. But once they understood that we’re here for them and they trusted us, they flourished… February hit and we started clicking. We were tough.”

The Bishop family celebrates after Cal Poly Pomona wins the 2014 NCAA Division II West Region Championship

The Bishop family celebrates after Cal Poly Pomona wins the 2014 NCAA Division II West Region Championship

This year’s team is battling with a taste of success in its mouth and a championship experience in mind, despite facing many setbacks. The Broncos are 13-5 overall, 11-3 in conference play. But they’ve gone about a month and a half with only six players who could practice at full go. Keeping players healthy has been tough. Bishop’s assistant coaches often participate in practice, and she’s now got help from some male practice players. The Broncos have a Leadership Committee, rather than captains, and Bishop recently called that group in for a heart-to-heart. “I told them that if we don’t start pulling it together, there are no guarantees that we’ll make it to the regional tournament. I explained that we really need to start taking care of business and fight to get in.” The team’s response was a 30-point victory over then #25 ranked Humboldt State. “I felt like it was the 1st or 2nd glimpse this season of what we’re really capable of.” The Broncos have eight regular season games left to build on that.

A typical day in the Bishop household starts when the kids wake up between 6:30 and 7am. Some days, Walter has to leave the house as early as 6:30 to get to the office, but other days he helps get the kids’ clothes and lunches ready. Bishop gets her kids dressed, which is no easy task with a 5 year old daughter. “She’s not a morning person. It can be a 10 or 15 minute ordeal getting her clothes on, so that’s fun on game day,” Bishop says sarcastically. After breakfast, she drops the kids off at their daycare/preschool located along her drive to campus. Once Bishop arrives at the office, she hits the ground running. After a day full of meetings, film breakdown, weight lifting and team practice, Bishop and her staff have been out recruiting 3-4 nights a week. “Most of our recruiting is fairly local, with the farthest drive being about two hours. The other night I had a game to watch about 15 minutes from my house, so I picked up the kids, took them home, got dinner going and then handed them off to my husband. When I got home from recruiting I had to do my daughter’s hair. It’s about a 20-30 minute process that I do at night. My husband has gotten better at it, but his hands are just too big,” Bishop jokes. On game days, Bishops’ kids love going to cheer on Mom’s team. “They get so excited for it. They know their friends will be there and they love Billy the Bronco.”

Finding work-life balance happened the hard way for Bishop. “I had my first head coaching experience at age 27. I was young, eager, and I ran myself ragged. I was sick all the time. It took me a good three years to figure it out. If you’re run down, you won’t be able to do your job well.” Cal Poly Pomona plays its conference games every Friday and Saturday. As they get into their season, Bishop gives her team both Sundays and Mondays off. That includes her assistant coaches. “After weekends on the road, we may not get home until Sunday afternoon. So I tell my coaches not to go into the office on Mondays. We might go recruiting that night if there’s a really good game, but otherwise we’re off. My husband and I always have lunch together on Mondays. On occasion, he’ll take off from work and we’ll go see a movie or something like that. I don’t know if that’s good because we could probably go pick our kids up early from school! But I think it’s really important to invest in our marriage and keep that relationship strong.”

Bishop is proof that being an ultra-competitive coach does not have to come at the expense of family. “Trust me, I’m passionate about my job. But it is my job. At the end of the day, I’m a wife and a mom. Those things are more important than anything.” It is with those priorities straight that Bishop is able to lead her team well. Before she and the Broncos start a 4-game road swing this week, she’s soaking up sweet moments at home. “I was on the floor playing games with my kids last night for what seemed like forever and I was so tired. But I just kept thinking, there may come a day when they don’t want their mom to play with them. I wouldn’t miss this opportunity.”

Erika Lambert

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’14-’15 What Coaches Wore: 10 Quick Takes on Sideline Fashion

I have heard many basketball coaches lament the fact that we don’t coach in athletic clothing like most other sports. I think secretly, though, we love to don our Gameday Best. Many of this season’s stylish coaches are the same who were highlighted in last year’s WCW, but some new ladies have broken into the mix, too.

 

1. Nikki Caldwell & Tasha Butts, LSU

The ever fashion forward coaching duo is back at it this season with high style to match some high quality wins over ranked opponents. (Stylist: Shyra Ely-Gash at Styles By Ms. Ely)

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 2. Jackie Carson, Furman

Her SoCon style is in a league of its own.

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 3. Muffet McGraw & Niele Ivey, Notre Dame

Coach McGraw and her staff always look like champions.

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 4. Candi Whitaker, Texas Tech

Nobody wears the LBD better on the sideline.

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5. Kim Mulkey, Baylor

As always, Coach Mulkey’s loud style matches her passion.

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6. Cori Close & Staff, UCLA

Senior Rhema Gardner medically retired from basketball last spring, but she is still contributing to the team. Among other things, she serves as stylist to her head coach. Cori Close’s personal style is starting to reflect her unique program philosophy.

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7. Suzy Merchant, Michigan State

While black still dominates women’s business fashion, Coach Merchant is doing her own thing in white-on-white. Source // Source

8. Christy Winters Scott, Big Ten Network

Okay, so Christy’s not currently a college coach. But when this color analyst is calling the game, her vibrant fashions definitely step up the sideline style for Women’s Basketball.

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9. Passion Fashion

I just love these shots of head coaches Kerri Brinkoeter, Southwestern (DIII) and Ali Jaques, Siena getting after it in their ruffles and skirt!

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10. #tallgirlproblems

You know when you’re clothes shopping and you see something really cute so you take it off the rack only to realize you’ve wandered into the Petites section? Story of my life. Or when those designer flash sales come to your inbox but they only include Regular and Petite sizes? Good for point guards. Bad for six footers. If any of you tall ladies have a go-to shopping spot you love, please email me and share it with our group! Check out my friend Kelli’s website called Tall Girl’s Closet where you can browse long-length styles from several different stores, all in one place. And ride the ankle-length pants trend as long as you can…

#tallgirlproblems

#tallgirlproblems

Good luck to your teams this weekend! Work that sideline, Mama!

Erika Lambert

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