The Chicago Marathon, some advice for your season & why you should get a room.

Let me be clear: I did not run the Chicago Marathon.

But my best friend Lauren did.  And she totally crushed it with a PR time of 2:56.  That’s an average mile time of 6:45.  For twenty. six. miles. (and then some).

While Lauren was doing all that hard work, I had the pleasure of spectating with her parents in the Windy City.  It was the first time I’d ever seen a big race and it was incredible.  The elite men looked to me like they were running at an 800 pace.  And I seriously cried when Rita Jeptoo, the first female, crossed the finish line because it was just so beautiful.  Don’t even get me started on the handicapped competitors; extraordinary is an understatement.

Rita Jeptoo (Kenya) won the 2014 Chicago Marathon for the second year in a row.

Rita Jeptoo (Kenya) won the 2014 Chicago Marathon for the second year in a row.

Besides painting a poster and cheering my head off for my BFF (cowbell anyone?!), I was thinking of my Coach Mom friends.  A marathon is such a long race and it reminded me of the basketball journeys you have all now begun with your teams.  Here are three pieces of Chicago Marathon advice you can apply to your ’14-’15 season:

Count on things getting hard.  Have a plan in place for when that happens.

After the race, I heard my friend recount her thought process during the most grueling part of the course.  “I thought about Coach Bassett at mile #20.  At mile #21, I thought about Cassie because she’s one.  At mile #22, I thought of Jackson since he’s two…” and so on.  Coach Bassett was our high school basketball coach at South Jefferson, under whom we won a New York State Title together when Lauren, our PG, wore jersey #20.  Cassie and Jackson are Lauren’s super cute niece and nephew.

Every team will experience hard things this season.  Dominant programs may deal with cockiness while young teams might struggle with insecurity.  We all know what injuries can do to kill momentum.  And hopefully you aren’t hampered by any team drama, but let’s face it, it happens.  Fatigue… academic eligibility… 3-point shooting… Whatever the case may be with your group, anticipate potential challenges and have a plan in mind to get through it.

When you experience success, clearly identify the factors that worked in your favor.

When we made it back to the hotel after Lauren’s best run ever, I noticed her taking notes.  She was remembering exactly what she consumed during the race.  How many gels did she take and when did she take them?  Did she drink more carbs earlier in the race this time?  How could she replicate this nutrition pattern next time?

Coaches are very critical after a loss.  We spend a lot of time evaluating what went wrong.  But when you win, too, the evaluation is important.  Be intentional about analyzing the causes for your success.

Be equipped by your preparation.

“I kept waiting for the wheels to come off and they just didn’t,” said my smiling friend after the race.  This was Lauren’s 10th marathon, and she has mastered the training.

Continually remind your players that the way they practice in the early days of this season may well be the reason they are confident and equipped for the Championship game down the road.  Even though the postseason seems far off, every drill matters now.  When those crucial games come down to the wire, and it feels like the wheels might come off, your team will remain confident and rely on the skills they have rehearsed since Day 1.

Last but not least, I just want to mention how fabulous it was to spend a night in a hotel room all by myself, watching HGTV instead of Dora and spreading out across the whole bed.  (I’m not sure why my husband and I still have a queen-size bed at 6’4″ and 5’11”, but I think a king will be our first purchase as soon as he finishes Residency).  I took the short flight from Minneapolis to Chicago solo, thanks to my gracious husband and Father-of-the-Year candidate.  My days are currently filled by mothering 1- and 3-year old girls, along with some basketball coaching on the side.  Yours are spent coaching and caring for 15+ student-athletes as well as your kids at home.  In any case, moms need to recharge once in a while.  When the adrenaline of the new season wears off and you feel the first signs of weariness, do something that makes you feel renewed.  One Coach Mom told me, “I have found I need a personal vacation about every 6 weeks…this is usually a night away from the kids & team.  It has helped me to stay focused and not feel overwhelmed throughout the year.”

It’s not likely you’ll have the opportunity for a vacation night this time of year, but don’t underestimate the importance of carving out pockets of personal time.  Afterall, you need all the energy you can get to complete this marathon-like journey we call basketball season!

(Did I mention that my friend finished 91st?)

(That’s 91st out of 18,390 female runners.)

Erika Lambert


Maternity Leave for Coach Moms

When I attended the Coach Mom learning lab at the 2010 Final Four, a common theme was communicated by both the panel and attendees: Coaches often regret not taking more time off for maternity leave.  I heard it said that, “I should have taken more time to slow down and be with my baby” and “If I could go back, I’d do it differently,” as Coach Moms around the room nodded in agreement.

Maternity leave is a tricky arrangement for working mothers in many professions, but coaches’ job descriptions, work load and athletic calendar make it especially hard to take a leave of absence.  Is your due date in-season?  Will you be ready to leave your newborn if an important recruiting period occurs?  What is your university’s parental leave policy and does it even apply to you in the Athletic Department?  Are you a head or assistant coach?  Can your players operate (successfully) without you?  Do you have a full staff that can pick up the slack while you’re out of the office?  Will you really rest and bond with your baby or will you just be taking your work home with you?  These are some of the many concerns for expecting mothers in coaching.  Maternity leave looks different for every Coach Mom but one commonality is that we all try to make it work in a way that affects our basketball programs the least.  And we will probably still feel guilty about it.

Curious about how your colleagues arranged their maternity leave?  I sat down with Jenny Huth (UCLA), Kerri Brinkoeter (Southwestern University) and Kendra Faustin (Niagara University) to discuss.

“When Tanner was born, I planned to drop everything, take three straight weeks and do nothing.  We anticipated him coming at the end of February, and I had planned out with my staff exactly which road trips I would miss.  But he came three weeks early!…  I had him on a day off–Saturday.  We had USC that Tuesday but I didn’t go.  Then we had our last two home games and I wanted to be there for the seniors.  I was on the bench but had no coaching responsibilities and did not coach the rest of the season.  I did not go to the PAC12 tournament… The most difficult part was watching my team on TV!”

“Being home with my son was excellent.  It was nice to have that time.  There’s nothing more important than that… I am in charge of our team’s skill development, so I worked myself back into things [during postseason].  I tried to do all my workout planning on Sundays and then only went to campus for those workouts [over the course of several weeks]… I didn’t go recruiting during the Spring Evaluation period.  Our DOBO went in my place, and also went for the first part of July.  We did some good maneuvering!… I work on a great staff and I give our other two assistants a lot of credit for picking up the slack.”

“We (coaches) are under different contracts than other university employees, but we’re still under state law [concerning maternity leave].  I felt totally supported in that.  It’s really in my head coach’s hands and we collaborated.  I work for a great boss (Cori Close) and I know you can’t always control that…  If I had to do it over again, I would do it the same way, except I’d pick the timing of birth differently!”

“We work in a profession dominated by males and single people.  Women coaches have the fear factor that they can’t move up or will be looked down upon for having kids… If I could go back, I may have had kids sooner in my career when I had a higher energy level.  It’s super hard!… I relish the opportunity for my players to see my family side.  I don’t have to be an all or nothing coach, or appear to have it all together.  [Since Tanner was born] I’ve needed help.  Our players have seen me being a parent, my more vulnerable side.  It’s important for young people to see that… My best advice [for Coach Moms] is to be ambitious and pursue your career goals, but know that there’s nothing like having your own child.  Your career has pulls on you but it’s not the same priority level.  Don’t feel guilty about keeping your child first.”

“When Makenzie was born (October), my husband had a job where he worked from home.  So he was able to take care of her and I could bring her to the office as needed.  I didn’t really take any time off.  In 2 weeks, I was back for practice, in and out of the office, that kind of thing.  There was no real time away from the job and frankly, that was my choice.  At the time I thought, ‘I can be flexible.  It’ll be fine.’  And it was… [Makenzie] traveled with me on as many [team] trips as possible.  I asked my Mom to come with me and help… It was fine mentally and physically, and it probably would have been a great thing had I not gotten pregnant 5 months later!.. When Logan was born (January), I missed two weekends of games and then I was back on the court coaching full time the rest of the season… Getting pregnant so soon after [my first baby], my thought process switched to resignation.  I thought, ‘There’s no way I can do this with two kids.'”

“Looking back, I probably should have just taken some time off after season and taken a breath.  But I resigned and stepped away from college coaching for five years.  It wasn’t because of my school.  My school was fantastic–incredibly supportive of me being a parent.  My athletic director, who was my college coach when I played at Southwestern, actually stepped in and helped coach my team when my son was born…I left on a really good note.  When I resigned, I didn’t think I was going to go back to college coaching.  I thought I was closing the door.  But the job (at Southwestern) came back open in 2010.  My kids were going into kindergarten and 1st grade, so it was good timing.  This is my fifth year back.”

“During that five-year period away, we stayed in Georgetown (TX).  I stayed in coaching.  I was happy to do it and it kept me sane.  I coached our Fury Select (AAU) team and I was the Athletic Director at Grace Academy… I was a full-time mom but I never completely got out of coaching.  I don’t know if I’d ever be able to do that… I watched games at Southwestern and it was strange to not coach the girls I had recruited.  But my time was filled with other things… When I came back I wondered, ‘Am I ready? Is my basketball mind ready?’  Coaching an AAU team is very different than coaching a college team full time.  I had to study up on technical things.  Our Men’s Basketball coach was the same as when I was here the first time.  He’s phenomenal and when I came back I spent time in his office talking and studying [Xs and Os].  There are so many great resources.  It did all come back really fast.  When [basketball] is in your blood, it never goes away.”

“[Coaching full time] does get harder as your kids get older.  You miss out on more things.  I remember one time we were all standing in the kitchen and I asked my kids, ‘How would you like a mom who could come to all your games, eat lunch with you at school, be president of the PTA…?’ And my daughter said, ‘Mom don’t you do that now?’  That’s what I needed to hear.  My kids love that I’m a basketball coach.”

“At the DIII level, it is exponentially hard (to take a maternity leave) because you have to have someone else coach your team.  I had an assistant coach and an administrator who stepped in to help… We feel like we have to get back to our job.  We feel a sense of loyalty to those young women (players).  That’s why we do what we do.  But babies do change everything!.. I had the same Athletic Director the first time I coached at Southwestern and when I got hired back.  She’s still here… I’m incredibly blessed.  They call me ‘Boomerang.’  My story is probably one-of-a-kind.”


“My oldest son was born in October.  I worked for a great boss (Athletic Director) at the time who was incredibly supportive.  He has three children and he told me to do whatever I needed to do (for maternity leave).  He said if I needed to take 12 weeks off, I should do it.  But that’s not what I wanted to do.  I was at practice yelling at players on October 3rd, then went in for a C-section the morning of October 4th.  I knew I wanted to take two weeks off and not hear anything about basketball.  It worked because I had a great staff and we had been preparing for that all summer.  My 1st Assistant Corrine Jones led the team… I tried to do too much to come back to work and got an infection in my incision.  It prolonged my recovery and I ended up being out for six weeks.  When I did come back, I was on campus for practice and that was it.  I dropped Cal off at the babysitter’s for 2-4 hours a day.  And anytime someone needed me they could get me on my cell… My husband had just finished his MBA and wasn’t starting his new job for a few months, so he was home with us.  I was really fortunate that my assistant coach’s wife was able to help watch the baby at the office and on road trips.  My mom also traveled with us.  Cal went everywhere with us (the team) that year.”

“We had some trouble getting pregnant and were told we would need assistance from the doctor to try for a second.  That was not the case and my second pregnancy came as a surprise–the best surprise (Blake was born just 16 months after big brother).  Maternity leave was a little different the second time around.  We had an Athletic Director change and while he was still supportive, we had to do things by the book.  He wanted to make sure I was legally protected and that the university was protected.  Human Resources was involved… I remember being really frustrated that the rules of maternity leave and disability insurance did not fit with what I wanted to do.  It made it really hard to come back early but still have the flexibility to be a Mom and do what I needed to do.  It got complicated because of policy and the policy doesn’t take into account the nontraditional schedule that we have as coaches.  I felt support from the university and administration, but the legalities were frustrating.”

“Overall, [maternity leave and work/family balance] is something I’m really passionate about.  The book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg talks about how the workplace has not evolved to allow women to be in positions of leadership and have a family.  That goes for men, too.  The US is the only developed country that doesn’t require paid family leave.  I can look out my office window and see Canada, where the official length of maternity leave is an entire year!.. Corinne, my recruiting coordinator, had a baby this past March (6 mo. old Barrett).  Corrine is incredibly dedicated to our program.  I told her, ‘You tell me what you need and we’ll make it work.’  She said she wanted to take 6 weeks off.  I told her that full maternity leave is 8-12 weeks and she should consider taking it.  But she said, ‘Well, you didn’t take it.’  And my response was that there are benefits to being a head coach and there are benefits to being an assistant.  She took the full 12 weeks.”

“My advice to expecting Coach Moms is to be really clear with your administration on what you need for maternity leave.  Most administrations will [be accommodating].  If they cant give you what you want, just do your job to the best of your ability and you’ll make it work.  Do everything you can beforehand, so you set your players up for success… I did an interview with ESPNW when I was pregnant with Blake.  When I read that article now, I’m angry at myself for thinking and saying I could do it all.  If I had to do it again, I would take my full maternity leave.  I got it wrong twice so I don’t know if I’m the best one to give this advice.  But I really think you should take your maternity leave.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy.  It’s so hard, especially with your first baby because you don’t know what you’re doing!  But you never get that time back with your kids and it doesn’t slow down after that.  At least I got something right the second time around and did not go to the [Conference] Tournament (10 days after C-section).  I decided to do what was most healthy for everyone.”


Photo Source: Buffalo News

The Faustin Family, October 2013. Kendra with her husband R.J., and sons Cal & Blake. Photo Source: Buffalo News


Erika Lambert





Team Bonding Instagram Scavenger Hunt {Free Downloads}

I love a good scavenger hunt.

When you’re a little kid, it’s like pretending to be a pirate looking for treasure.  For grownups, the stakes are higher, a la The Amazing Race.  And when college teams do scavenger hunts, it’s just plain fun.  If you’re still thinking of some team bonding time for your kids this Fall, try an Instagram Scavenger Hunt!

Divide your team into three groups that will compete to earn points doing silly (& somewhat challenging) tasks, all the while posting pictures to Instagram.  Coaches can monitor and score teams’ progress in real time, using a designated hashtag.  See more detailed instructions in the downloadable files below.  There are three templates you can use to do scavenger hunts on your campus, in a shopping mall, or in a downtown area.  The social media piece of this means your players’ and team’s “Followers” can join in on the fun and get to know your group better.  Plus, if your players dress in team gear and carry schedule cards, you have a promotional opportunity as well.

As a player at the College of Charleston, my team did a downtown scavenger hunt one year and it was so much fun.  As badly as my group wanted to win, I blame our last place finish on the fact that my injured teammate was slowing us down in a wheelchair.  Have you ever seen Charleston’s uneven sidewalks and cobblestone streets?


Download (PDF, 116KB)

Download (PDF, 190KB)

Download (PDF, 191KB)

Erika Lambert


Fact: There are too many turnovers in Women’s Basketball

There are too many turnovers in women’s basketball, and it kills our credibility.

I loved sitting in on the marketing symposium at this year’s WBCA convention.  “It’s Our Game!” was all about creative ways to promote women’s basketball.  Giving away free bacon, coaches dribbling through city streets, and hosting Halloween carnivals (think players in the dunk tank) were some of the ideas shared.  But as I listened, I just kept thinking our game would have more appeal if women would quit turning the ball over so much.

There are some great things that distinguish women’s college basketball from the men’s game–purity of play, fundamentals, family atmostphere, 4-year players, etc.  Unfortunately, turnovers are another strong distinction.


Turnover Trends in NCAA Women’s Basketball

2005-2006 Statistics are earliest available online record for DI-DIII.  2013-2014 Statistics are from the most recent season.  Note: Reclassifying teams were not included in analysis.

2005-2006 Statistics are earliest available online record for DI-DIII. 2013-2014 Statistics are from the most recent season. Note: Reclassifying teams were not included in analysis.


To be clear, I’m not trying to make this all about girls vs. boys.  But the men’s statistics are the best available standard of comparison.  As you can see in the stats above, both women and men have decreased turnovers in the last nine seasons.  However, the women’s national averages are still not stellar at 15.9 (DI), 16.8 (DII), and a whopping 18.0 (DIII) TOs per game.  In my humble coaching opinion, this is a glaring statistic that everyone working to grow the women’s game should give more attention to.  It’s only one column on a box score but TOs impact our overall credibility.  In everyday life, we use the expression, “dropped the ball,” to describe someone who made a careless error.  And if that happens too often, it’s hard to take that person seriously.  For women’s basketball, the parallel is literal.  We need to hang on to the ball in order to improve both the fan and participant experience.  It’s no fun to watch or play sloppy games.  How exciting is a game that almost guarantees over 30 turnovers per contest?

The obvious question here is, “Why do women turn the ball over more?”  If someone asks why women don’t play above the rim as much as men do, the answer is simple: we’re not as tall.  But when you ask why women turn the ball over more than men, the answer is…  I’m not sure.  We could attribute it to the idea that young girls don’t grow up developing basic passing and catching skills.  For instance, when a group of girls gets together to play, they generally don’t go out and throw a football as often as boys do.   Along the same lines, young female basketball players don’t opt to play as much competitive 1-on-1, thus they don’t develop a consistent comfort level with possession of the ball.  Do women’s turnovers have anything to do with style of play?  Up-tempo, running teams can be successful while getting away with more TOs, but I don’t believe this factors into the men vs. women debate.  Can women’s TOs be blamed on great defense?  Honest, hard-working, fundamental defense is a strength of the women’s game, after all.  Officiating is certainly a factor.  If defenders are allowed to clobber the ball handler, it’s no wonder why they come up with a steal.  Doug Bruno’s call for “ONE CHANGE” addresses this issue, and NCAA officiating rules have been adapted to protect the ball handler, shooter and offensive post player.  This led to a general increase in foul calls last season, and only time will tell if it decreases our game’s turnover totals.

Unfortunately, I can’t offer you a magic formula to clean up your team’s TOs.  There are any number of ways you can emphasize regard for the basketball and the value of a possession.  But the most important thing is simply that you do emphasize it.  Find a way to fight the unforced error epidemic in our game.  Andy Landers says players will do what you tolerate.  So when your team hits the floor for practice, outlaw turnovers with no defense.  Even though it requires more effort, work turnovers into your charting records in practice, all the time.  Passing drills are good, but they don’t always create the pressure of a game situation.  Analyze the errors that occur within your competitive drills.  Take the time, especially early in the year, to listen to your players and make sure everyone understands why TOs happen, which TOs are acceptable and which are not.  While you want your kids to treat the basketball like it’s precious, you don’t want them to be so afraid to turn it over that they hold back.  Add game-like defenders in every drill you can.  How beneficial is dummy defense, really?  Make your girls play 1-on-1 regularly (especially high school and youth coaches), because otherwise they probably won’t.  When it comes to postgame review, don’t assume that your players are paying attention to turnovers on the stat sheet, or that they understand how that stat fits into the big picture.  Make time to discuss it.  Analyze team TOs in your film sessions.  And lastly, let each individual player know your turnover expectations according to their position and playing time.  Your point guards probably understand this already and your experienced players may pay attention to it, but you might be surprised how many players are clueless in this area.  Let’s say your freshman forward is the second one off the bench and she feels pretty good about the 9 points and 7 rebounds she gave you one night.  But she may not understand how much impact her 3 turnovers had (or the fact that she is not “allowed” to commit 3 TOs in a game).

Val Ackerman’s White Paper (2013) united the Women’s Basketball community’s discussion of how to improve our game.  Debbie Antonelli’s 100-shots-a-day challenge reinforces the Paper’s emphasis on the need for more scoring and higher shooting percentages.  I agree with Ackerman and Antonelli that putting more points on the board will lead to a better overall product on the floor.  But players can’t put the ball in the basket if they throw it away first.  Clean up the turnovers!

Listen, I’d be the first in line for free bacon, but I just think the beauty of women’s basketball is in the game itself, not the gimmicks.

Erika Lambert


Former Michigan State DOBO Julie Dombroski takes a spin on coaching carousel, gets off at stop of her choice: Oakland University

Julie Dombroski’s coaching career path has not taken the traditional route.  Dombroski (formerly Pagel) played at Michigan State (’00-’04) and was hired in the Division I ranks right out of college.  After working at University of Detroit Mercy for three seasons and garnering the coveted “Recruiting Coordinator” title, you might expect her resume to reflect an aggressive climb to the top of the coaching world.  Instead, Dombroski has been very selective about where she works.  And her career choices have always been motivated by her #1 priority: family.

Prior to beginning her job as an assistant coach at Oakland University this summer, Dombroski spent seven seasons as Michigan State’s Director of Basketball Operations and Technology.  Why so long in a non-coaching role?  It wasn’t for lack of coaching opportunities or qualifications.  Her position at MSU was simply the best thing for her family at the time.  “[They’re] everything to me.  I call them ‘my Village.’”  And her village is anchored by a supportive partner.  Dombroski and husband, Jason, met through mutual friends in college.  “It was love at first sight and we got married four years later.  When we talked about where my career would take us, we didn’t want to put our lives on hold because of it.  Every day, you hear about these relationships that don’t work out.  But when it’s all said and done, this (coaching) career does not define our relationships.  My family will trump every job offer.”  When those job offers come, Dombroski says, “You can’t just assume your spouse is on board.  You have to have the discussion.  It’s a process.”

Left: Julie and Jason Dombroski wed in 2007.  Right: Julie calls her family her "Village."  She grew up in a family of 7.

Left: Julie and Jason Dombroski wed in 2007. Right: Julie calls her family her “Village.” She grew up in a family of 7.

When Dombroski was pregnant for her son Gibson, now 5, the first coaching offer came.  It was a great opportunity from a head coach Dombroski really respected.  On the outside, it looked like a no-brainer to take the job.  But on the inside, she knew something just didn’t feel right about it.  She would have had to move and start the new job three weeks after giving birth.  And she knew it was not the right time to move away from her Village.  Julie and Jason both grew up in Michigan and their families still live there.  So, she turned down the offer and decided to stay put.  When similar job opportunities presented themselves in the years that followed, Dombroski’s decision remained the same.  “It wasn’t the best career move,” she admits.  But remaining in her non-coaching role gave her the best of both worlds.  “If you can’t do both [career and family], then what’s the point?”

“I was able to have a family life at Michigan State.  I was thankful to work at a place that kept making it hard for me to leave.  I got to be on staff at my alma mater, the salary and benefits were good, the Spartan family is close… I wanted to be the best DOBO [head coach] Suzy Merchant needed me to be.”  Even though Dombroski wasn’t permitted to coach on the floor, she embraced the ‘bloom where you’re planted’ or ‘grass is greener where you water’ mentality.  She made the DOBO position at MSU her own.  While completing all the standard, behind the scenes tasks expected of her, Dombroski took community outreach and ran with it.  “I made my position community-based.  I would go to community events in the coaches’ place.  Some coaches try to keep their family life separate, but I enjoyed bringing my family with me to things.  I say work/life balance doesn’t exist because my work doesn’t feel like work.”

The Dombroski family in 2012

The Dombroski family in 2012

Oakland was always an attractive job to Dombroski because she’s from Utica, MI, just 15 minutes from the campus.  Her parents still live in her childhood home, where she grew up with four siblings.  The Dombroskis will live with Julie’s parents for the time being, while they rent out their former house in Lansing.  “My parents are very supportive… It’s really special that Gibson will be surrounded by his family.”  Even so, moving is difficult, especially for a five year old.  During Dombroski’s job transition this summer, Gibson was alternating one week with her in Utica and one week with Jason, who had not yet wrapped up his job in Lansing.  “It was like a divorced couple’s arrangement,” jokes Dombroski.  Fortunately, Jason was able to get a job transfer near Oakland.  The family was reunited and completed their move last weekend.  “Gibson is not exactly excited that he won’t live in his [same] house anymore.  We had to pack up his spaceship room… he wanted the glow-in-the-dark stars to stay on the walls for the next little boy who lives in his room.”  The changes in Gibson’s routine have not been easy, but he’s taken them in stride.  While he is going to miss the things he’s come to love about Lansing, he’s excited about Dombroski’s new basketball team, living closer to family, and starting kindergarten.

After seven seasons in an administrative position, “I feel like I got the basketball part of my life back,” Dombroski says.  “It’s all the same thing in college athletics.  Everyone is working to win a championship, but they are two different jobs.  As an operations person, I had a clear set of tasks to accomplish each month and I could cross them off my list.  As a coach, you have to do two things: make your kids better and recruit better kids.  There’s no real ‘end’ goal because the process never ends.”  So Dombroski is working to settle into that process at Oakland.  “I am going to be whatever [head coach] Jeff Tungate and whatever our players need me to be.”

When changing coaching jobs, there is no real transition time.  Dombroski went from running summer camp at Michigan State to beginning her job at Oakland in the same day.  And she admits it was tough to be on the road for July recruiting after a seven year hiatus.  “I flew back from Iowa and I had eight hours of free time, so I drove up to Lansing to see my family (1.5 hour drive).  I had to be at work at 8am the next morning for practice and flew out again for recruiting that night.  Sure I was tired, but everything I do has my family as my main focus.”

Dombroski was given a piece of coaching advice that has proven to be valuable.  “If you’re a parent, don’t work for someone who isn’t a parent or doesn’t want you to be a parent.  Be open and honest with your boss about what your life consists of.  I’m lucky to have worked for a Mom (Suzy Merchant, MSU) and now a Dad (Jeff Tungate, Oakland University).  They get it.  I met my boss’s son at the Final Four so that was a good sign during the job interview.”  Interestingly enough, every coach on the Oakland staff is a parent.  Dombroski fits right in.  “It doesn’t mean I can just blow off a recruiting trip because my kid is sick or take the day off because of a recital.  But I have the flexibility and freedom to talk about those conflicts with my staff.  It is always the head coach’s decision.  And I always want to be here when the program needs me.”

“This will be my 11th season in Division I women’s basketball.  I realize that prioritizing my family will hurt my career in the long run.  I have peers who are head coaches already.  But this is my path.  I can’t compare myself to other people.  I’m still a work in progress.  I want to be one of those coaches who’s in it for a long time, but it’s going to be on my terms.  The choices I make are in collaboration with my husband and my family.  As long as my Village is in the forefront then I’m good.  I hope to positively impact young people and win games in the process.  I’m gonna work hard and I’m gonna work late and there will be days I don’t see my son.  But there is no greater young person I will influence than the one in my own house.”

Julie's son celebrated his 5th birthday yesterday.  Happy Birthday, Gibson!

Julie’s son celebrated his 5th birthday yesterday. Happy Birthday, Gibson!


Erika Lambert


Snaptotes: Keep Your Kids Close On the Recruiting Trail

Just a quick post today because I came across something too sweet not to share…

Look at those cuties!!  1 1/2 year old twins Gabrielle and Cayden are the children of Assistant Coaches Kim and Cory McNeill, both on staff at the University of Virginia.  Bonus points to Cory for giving his Coach Mom wife a custom handbag that helps keep their babies close, even when they’re far away.

Husband and wife Assistant Coaches Kim & Cory McNeill are both recruiting for UVA this July.

Snaptotes takes your photo and turns it into any style handbag you can think of, at any price point ($35-$140).  In addition to the photo, there are further customization options available (i.e. upgrade to leather trim, select the inside lining color).

What a sweet way to “bring your kids” on the road with you!

Erika Lambert


Breastfeeding & July Recruiting

You break the ice with your brand new boss really well when you have to pump breast milk in your shared hotel room during the July recruiting period.  Nothing like making a good first impression.

(Yep, we’re talking about boobs today so if breastfeeding is gross to you, sit this one out and come on back later this week for a different topic!)

Fortunately, the new boss I mentioned was a Coach Mom.  She laughed off the awkward situation and made the astute observation that my breast pump sounded like a life support machine.  I can’t argue with that.  And she didn’t seem to mind that our mini-freezer was stocked with milk bags while all the pump’s freshly washed parts dried on the bathroom counter.  Thank goodness.

Breastfeeding is tricky for every mom, but especially for Coach Moms, specifically on recruiting trips.  Just so you know where I’m coming from, I am by no means a poster mom for the La Leche League, and both of my kids were supplemented with formula.  But during each pregnancy, I resolved to breastfeed for six months, and stubbornly did so despite the logistical challenges that came along with being a coach.  I was first made aware of the logistics of breastfeeding on the road thanks to Zenarae Antoine‘s Coach Mom workshop at the WBCA Convention.  I attended that session at the Final Four in San Antonio before I was a mother and at the time, the panel totally lost me when they started talking about breast milk and TSA regulations and dry ice, etc.  But it wasn’t too long before that foreign information applied to me.

My daughter Ava, now 3, was born in April.  I worked on a very accommodating staff and we had a limited recruiting budget, so my July travel was not as extensive as some recruiting Coach Moms’ can be.  But whatever your travel plans are (in July, October or whenever) if you plan to breastfeed on the road, be prepared and plan ahead. Here’s a quick rundown of things to think about:

You’re not alone.  Even though it feels that way.  While other coaches check their watches to keep track of when the next game starts, or when the hospitality room opens, you have to figure out if you have time for a pumping session in the parking lot.  It has nothing to do with evaluating players or talking shop on the sidelines.  And it seems so weird.  But I promise you’re not the only nursing Coach Mom on the recruiting trail.

What’s your goal?  If you want your baby to have breast milk exclusively (and you don’t have a massive supply in your home freezer), or if you cannot fathom the idea of pumping & dumping (liquid gold), you’ll want to utilize the FedEx or UPS shipping options for temperature-sensitive packages (keep reading).  And you’ll need a plan for keeping milk frozen during travel.  If your goal is simply to keep your supply up so you can nurse your baby normally when you get home, you need not worry so much about safe milk storage and transport.

Reserve a room with a freezer.  Whether you make your own hotel reservations, or another staff member makes them for you, call ahead and be sure your room has a mini-fridge with a freezer compartment.  If it doesn’t: get a different hotel.  Don’t be afraid to ask the hotel how old the mini-fridge is or how well it works.  Keep your breast milk frozen for the duration of your recruiting trip.  If the milk thaws, don’t try to refreeze it.  It’s no longer safe for your baby. (Read the CDC’s guidelines for storing breast milk here.)

Pumping ain’t pretty.  The breast pump I have used and highly recommend is the “Pump In Style” Advanced by Medela.  I have to laugh at the ironic name because there is absolutely no way to pump in style.  But this line of breast pumps seems to be very popular, and they do come cleverly disguised.  I have the “On-the-Go Tote” version ($270), but it also comes as a backpack or “The Metro Bag,” ($300) if you’re feeling fancy.  There’s a more expensive hands-free model ($380) but I can’t vouch for how well it actually frees you up to multitask.

As for my breastfeeding in July experience, I pumped in the parking lot more than I care to remember.  And I know many other Coach Moms who’ve had the displeasure.  Park in the most discreet space possible, in the shade.  Remember to bring a nursing cover, and use the battery pack or car adapter for your electric breast pump.  Be sure to wash your hands ahead of time and have a plan for cleaning and drying your pump parts afterward.  This part gets tricky… I found it essential to buy multiple sets of pump parts, use a fresh set each time I went to the car, and wash it all thoroughly at the end of the day.  By the time I finished pumping and safely storing the milk, I was usually rushing to get to a court, so washing the pump parts inside the fieldhouse wasn’t practical.

In an effort to avoid the parking lot pump, you could ask a tournament staff member for access to a classroom, staff locker room or other private space throughout the day. Because when you have a full day of games on your schedule, you won’t have time to go back to your hotel. No matter where you pump, keeping your milk frozen is a necessity.  And when you’re recruiting in July, that equates to you bringing your breast milk into the gym with you (how’s that for swag?)  Along with my coaching bag, I carried a small, insulated cooler with me on the sidelines.  It was odd, but it’s not like anybody knew what was inside.  During the midday break, I made a quick hotel run to get the breast milk into a real freezer.

It’s possible to ship breast milk in the mail.  But it can be a little complicated and a lot expensive. If it’s important to you that your baby be fed only breast milk while you’re away, the shipping hassle may be worth the trouble. Via UPS, you can send frozen milk in a styrofoam cooler kept cold by dry ice (use this website to find dry ice retailers).  The dry ice requires special handling and classifies the package as a “hazardous, dangerous good” which likely requires an extra fee.  It’s best to do some leg work ahead of time and call the UPS office you’ll be using, so you can iron out the details.  The cost will vary, based on the weight of the package and where it’s going.  FedEx does the same dry ice shipping, but it also offers a more convenient Cold Shipping Package.  An order for your controlled temperature packaging system must be placed online, ahead of time.  The box comes with a special cooling device that keeps its contents frozen for up to 96 hours. It eliminates the dry ice hassle and the special handling, but it’s very expensive.  The smallest box costs $45, before the actual shipping expense.

You can check or carry-on breast milk for air travel. It is not subject to the TSA’s 3.4 ounces of liquid rule.  If you’re carrying on a cooler of breast milk, let the TSA officer know before you go through the security screening.  And leave yourself extra time, because they’ll have to inspect your package carefully.

Keep plenty of gel packs and ice in your car, even if obtaining the ice is awkward.   If you’re traveling by car and want to keep baby’s food frozen, take extra precautions to keep your cooler as cold as possible.  Before starting the 6 hour drive home from a recruiting event, I asked a tournament athletic trainer for several bags of ice to take with me.  The kid looked to be fresh out of school, and he asked me what injury I needed the ice for.  I explained that there wasn’t an injury, but that I needed to keep my cooler cold on the road.  He insisted that I be more specific because he needed to keep his ice distribution business on record.  When I told him I needed to keep my breast milk frozen, he looked at me like he had just seen a ghost and practically threw the ice bags at me.  Thanks, buddy.

Wean when you want to.  It may seem nearly impossible to breastfeed during a busy recruiting season, and if that makes you want to stop, go ahead and get the weaning process going before you head out.  But if your desire is to breastfeed your baby through July recruiting or through basketball season or whenever your own terms are not defined by your job, I encourage you to do it.  Because even though it’s difficult, it’s possible.  When I nursed my first daughter, I knew I was done at the six month mark.  I started to feel like all the pumping time was wearing on me and I knew her teeth were coming in.  Then, one day, I stepped into a rebounding drill and got a hard arm bar to the chest on a player’s box out.  That pretty much sealed the deal!


You may be a Mom whose experience with all this was long ago.  You might be a new or expecting mother curious about how this works.  Or you could be someone who chooses to formula feed and wonders why women trouble themselves with this mess in the first place (Side note: Formula feeding is just fine.  Seriously.  Your kids will still turn out great.)  But somewhere in the gyms, I know there are nursing Coach Moms with itty bitty babies at home (or on the road with them!), and I want this post to be helpful and encouraging.

Happy July Recruiting!  I hope you’re watching some exciting games and fantastic future players.  Even if you have to step out to pump once in a while.

Erika Lambert





Other Mothers of College Sports, part 3: Academic Support Mom

This is the third of a three part series highlighting the “other mothers” working in college athletics.  Coach Moms are not the only women in the Athletic Department managing the challenges of work/family balance. 

Read Joan’s bio

Fast Facts: I have been in my current position at UMass since 2006.  I oversee the academic progress of UMass’ 500-plus student-athletes, as well as six full-time staff members.  Prior to UMass, I spent 20 years as the Coordinator of Student-Athlete Academic Success at Eastern Kentucky University.  But I actually got my start in college athletics as a student-athlete and a coach.  I swam at Penn State and then coached varsity swimming at Lehigh and Northern Michigan.  I have two daughters, Karen Hopkins and Kristin Rusboldt, a son-in-law, Sean Rusboldt, and a new granddaughter, Sloan Elizabeth Rusboldt.

The most challenging part about being an Academic Support Mom has been… balance.

I was a college swimming coach for nine years and my daughter (Kristin) was born in my last year of coaching.  She became the team mascot, because sometimes she would be with me on the pool deck in her car carrier (totally sleeping through all the noise) and then I would jump into the pool with her after practice and play.   She loved the water from an early age and became a college competitive swimmer like her mom.

I was very lucky to have worked at a university for 20 years where my children could attend a school that was right on campus.  When my girls were old enough, they could come to my office after school, but most of the time they were in after-school activities.  They really got to see what mom did for a living.  Of course, I was and am a big fan of all the sports teams. In academics, you know all of the student-athletes and I love watching them compete because I know them personally.  That has been so much fun over the years.  (And my Facebook is filled with former athletes from my coaching career and from my academic career!)  So if mom went to the athletic events, so did my kids!  We started out with Kristin in her huge snowsuit as a 1 year old at Northern Michigan University football games and she would again sleep right through the noise!   At EKU, our family events centered around football and basketball games, which my girls always attended with me as well.  An interesting story is that one of the graduate students who was with me for two years at EKU just recently hired my daughter in an Academic Advisor position at the College of Charleston.  She was 11 years old when he was working for me. I kid him constantly about it.  At that point, could he ever have imagined my 11 year old would be working for him?  :)

The best part about working in college athletics is… It is fun and it is never the same – This is my 38th year in college athletics and I still love it as much as I did the first year.  I love the student-athletes and the coaches and the athletic staff members and the golf outings!

My kids think my job is… My oldest, Kristin, has been always been more interested and excited about my job than my youngest, Karen.  Kristin became a swimmer and loved it, Karen did it because mom wanted her to.  She was good at it as well, but did not love it.  Karen became a dancer and excelled at that.  Kristin loved going to the college athletic events with me, Karen never did.  But I think they both are really proud of their mom and what she does for a living, so I am very happy about that.  Kristin decided she was going to get her Master’s Degree in history, but after doing so, she took a good long look at what she enjoyed and it was tutoring the student-athletes as an undergraduate and graduate student – and joined my profession a couple of years ago!  She was the head of the Student Development program at the University of Memphis and now is an Academic Counselor/Student Development Coordinator at the College of Charleston.  Just 4 months ago she and her husband had a beautiful baby girl!   We just got back from our national convention (N4A) and we were the only mother/daughter team in our business attending the conventions.   My other daughter, Karen is the Casting Producer/Development Assistant at a television production company in NYC – Departure Films.    I am very proud of both of my daughters!  They survived growing up with a set of divorced parents, who both worked full time and they became wonderful young women!

When my family and I have free time, we like to… Vacation together!  We are big Disney fans and NYC/Broadway fans.  It’s the best when I am near either of them geographically  for college tournaments!  I can see them and watch our teams compete – best of both worlds.

What advice would you give to Coach Moms, Academic Support Moms or other moms in college athletics? Take care of yourself first –physically and mentally.  Your kids need you and your job needs you and you must understand that you are best for all when you are your healthiest.  College athletics working hours can be crazy- we all know that.  But you are the main one who has control over your balance in that area.  Make time for family.  Find a mentor in your department.  Someone who you trust and admire and learn from them.  He/she will be your sounding board some days and your best friend on others.  I have been so lucky to have had three wonderful women mentors in my career!

Like mother, like daughter… Joan’s daughter Kristin (left) is following in her footsteps as an Academic Support Mom at The College of Charleston.


Other Mothers of College Sports, part 2: Athletic Trainer Mom






Other Mothers of College Sports, part 1: Sports Information Director Mom







Erika Lambert


Other Mothers of College Sports, part 2: Athletic Trainer Mom

 This is the second of a three part series highlighting the “other mothers” working in college athletics.  Coach Moms are not the only women in the Athletic Department managing the challenges of work/family balance. 

Read Donna’s bio

Fast Facts: I’ve been at Clemson University for 26 years. I came to Clemson in 1988 as a graduate assistant. I’ve been a full time assistant Athletic Trainer for 23 years. I have covered women’s basketball all 26 years. I am a single mom of 3 boys – twins Michael and Clay (18) and Dillon (14).  Both Michael and Clay will start their college careers in the fall –  Michael is going to Clemson and Clay is going to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.  Dillon will be in 9th grade at Daniel High School.

The most challenging part about being an Athletic Trainer Mom is…  making all of my kids’ events – whether athletic or school related.

The best part about working in college athletics is… keeping young at heart.

My kids think my job is…  just a long, time consuming job with game time benefits: good parking (probably because I’m there so early), tickets, & free drinks during the game – for them and all their buddies.

When my family and I have free time, we like to… go to the beach, visit family, watch each other compete in sporting events, and just hang out together.

Many mothers in college sports feel they cannot remain in the profession once they start having kids and things get a lot busier at home.  What made you stay in the business all these years?  What advice would you give to Coach Moms, Athletic Trainer Moms or other moms in college athletics?  Any female in this profession can have a family. It takes a good support system.  The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is very true in my case. I have been a single mom for 13 years so depending on babysitters and carpools was/is important. A person can’t be afraid or too proud to ask for a little help – you can return the favor in the down time ….whenever that is…. It takes a lot of juggling but aren’t we, as athletic trainers, used to that in our daily lives?  I’ve stayed in this business because it’s what I love to do. I tell young women all the time it’s a job that can be done when you decide to have children. Priorities may change and you may have to “let go” of some things.

Enjoy both your home and work life. A lot of moms in other professions have to travel  for their jobs, too. Enjoy the time away to “catch your breath” so you can spend quality time with your kids when you get home.

Donna Bullock & her three sons

Donna Bullock & her three sons



Other Mothers of College Sports, part 1: Sports Information Director Mom







Erika Lambert


Other Mothers of College Sports, part 1: Sports Information Director Mom

This is the first of a three part series highlighting the “other mothers” working in college athletics.  Coach Moms are not the only women in the Athletic Department managing the challenges of work/family balance. 
Fast Facts: Married mother of four grown daughters–Jennifer, Heather, Erin and Megan.  Husband, Bruce, is a retired Air Force Lt. Col.  The couple has 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.  Julie Bennett is in her 20th year with Baylor Athletic Media Relations and has worked in athletic communications for 29 years.  For the Bears, she is primarily responsible for covering Women’s Basketball and Acrobatics & Tumbling.  Julie is the 2014 Arch Ward award recipient, given by CoSIDA to a member who has made outstanding contributions to college athletic communications.


The most challenging part about being an SID Mom is… Finding a balance between home life and work life.       

The best part about working in college athletics is… Being around the student-athletes and seeing them grow both personally and athletically.       

My kids think my job is… The coolest job ever (even my grandkids think what their “Grammy” does is cool)    

When my family and I have free time, we like to… Attend sporting events.  My girls grew up keeping statistics and they are all still interested in athletics to this day.  They have passed that trait down to their children as well.       

What advice would you give to Coach Moms, SID Moms or other moms in college athletics?  My husband was career military and we moved around every three years or so.  Early in his career I adopted this saying and it can be applied to many areas of life.  “It doesn’t matter where you live, it’s what you make of where you live.”  Also, I made it a point to involve my children and my husband in my work.  They all grew up keeping statistics, etc.  In fact, my husband still keeps stats for Baylor athletics, football and men’s and women’s basketball.

The Bennett Family

The Bennett Family


Julie & Bruce Bennett

Julie & Bruce Bennett

Erika Lambert