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It is no small feat to be a woman strength and conditioning coach in a totally male dominant industry so we would like to share a few women who are making waves in the world of strength and conditioning. *Some positions may have been changed since this blog was first published*
University of Kentucky - Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach, Olympic Sports
Bio: Coach Rankin is no stranger when it comes to competing at a high level. As a lifelong athlete, Jeanne earned the impressive position of goalkeeper for the University of Colorado soccer team for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. During this time, the Buffs finished 5th in the country and Big XII Champions. She then took her skills south to Oklahoma State where she finished her college career. She ended with an impressive ranking of 3rd in career saves, 4th in shutouts, and 3rd in career goals against average.
“I always knew that I wanted to work in college athletics, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year at the University of Colorado where I had a really good strength coach. I was redshirting that year so I was in the weight room a little bit more, and just working with her and seeing the passion that she had and how much she enjoyed being a strength coach let me know that I wanted to be a strength coach and not anything else within athletics.”
Coach Rankin’s achievements do not stop there. She continued on with her sports career, this time switching from athlete to strength and conditioning coach intern at Oklahoma State University, putting her MS in Health and Human Performance to work. She assisted in programming for and coaching Women’s Soccer, Softball, and Women’s Equestrian along with daily weight room responsibilities. In 2008 she moved onto the University of Arkansas as the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach. Here she worked with Women’s Tennis, Women’s Golf, and Women’s Cross Country (all of which were top-20 teams). She also lead staff education on “Non-Olympic Power Production” and “Low Back Pain in Athletes,” and assisted in coaching Women’s Soccer, Basketball, Volleyball, Softball, Swimming and Diving, Men’s Track and Field, and Baseball. Rankin has not only trained her collegiate athletes but also Olympian, Christin Wurth-Thomas who ran the 1500m in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In 2009 Rankin did a 4-year stint University of Missouri - Kansas City, working her way up from Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning, to Interim Director of Strength and Conditioning. She left in 2013 to move onto the University of Kentucky where she has been the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for over 6 years.
During her S&C career, Coach Rankin has racked up an extensive list of certifications, including her SCCC from the CSCCa, CSCS from the NSCA, AOLC (Advanced Olympic Lifting Certification) from Totten Training Systems, and CPR/AED/First Aid certifications from the American Heart Association.
Coach Jeanne Rankin says her favorite part of the job is just getting to work with her athletes. She wants to see them succeed and it’s why she is there putting in the work. When it comes to being a successful strength coach, she believes the first thing you need is the “desire to develop your athletes, that’s what you have to come into work for every single day.” Second, “Thirst for knowledge and always wanting to continue to learn,” and third “a blue-collar mentality, you can’t let the grind get to you, you have to get stronger from that.”
“The best part of my job is just having an effect on young people and building those relationships because those relationships are really why they get better and why they develop, it’s not really the program you write, obviously that’s important but if they’re bought into what they’re doing, they will run through a wall for you.”
Watch the video below to see more from Coach Jeanne Rankin in her own words.
University of Kansas, Assistant Athletics Director for Sports Performance
Bio: Ask some of the Jayhawks why they’ve been so successful and many will tell you, “Coach Hudy.” Some will even go as far as calling her their secret weapon and crediting her with the reason they became an NBA lottery pick. This type of comment isn’t rare when it comes to Hudy who has helped 50 athletes from Kansas and Connecticut make it to the NBA.
Coach Hudy has never been one to shy away when it comes to playing in a “man’s world.” She defied gender stereotypes as a child star on her Peewee football team and continued to do so in her teenage years by lifting with her brother and his friends in her homemade gym. She was a four-year letter winner in volleyball at Maryland where she went on to earn her degree in kinesiology and later her masters of art and sport biomechanics from KU. When she decided what she wanted to do for her career, this same mentality took her all the way up to the weight room at the University of Connecticut where she proved her worth time and time again as their assistant strength and conditioning coach. Over the years, she became known for her positive energy but feared and respected for her “no-nonsense” weight room mentality. Originally met with some resistance from her male athletes, they quickly realized Coach Hudy was going to be their key to success if they were lucky enough to work under her.
“I don’t yell, I motivate.”
After nine and a half years as the Assistant strength coach at Connecticut and eight national championships, she moved onto Kansas to continue her work with some of the best collegiate basketball players in the nation. Not surprisingly, Coach Hudy was awarded the 2012 Strength Coach of the Year by the NSCA and in then in 2017 with the NSCA’s Impact Award for her contributions to the advancement of the strength and conditioning industry.
When asked what her three keys to championship culture were, Hudy responded, “Consistency, competition, and perseverance.”
To learn more about Coach Hudy’s coaching philosophy, order her book, “Power Positions: Championship prescriptions for ultimate sports performance” here: http://andreahudy.com/
Arizona State University, Strength and Conditioning Coach
Bio: Arizona State University’s head Olympic sports Strength and Conditioning Coach, Liane Blyn has not been given anything in her life. Instead, she’s fought for it all. Ask anyone that has had the privilege to work with Coach Blyn and they’ll tell you she has the mentality that if you tell her she can’t, she’ll simply tell you, “Watch me."
Coach Blyn discovered weightlifting in her teenage years and through it realized her own value. She wasn’t what she saw in the magazines, and proud of it. Instead, she chose to use her body for greatness, squatting, working, and coaching her way to the top. She has been powerlifting for over 20 years and has held over 21 world records, 13 national titles, 5 master national titles, and 11 top three podium finishes at world championships with 4 of those being a Gold Medal finish. She currently holds the Master world record in the bench (191 kg), deadlift (227.5 kg), and total (663.5 kg). She also competed in Olympic weightlifting and ESPN’s 2003 World’s strongest woman.
Blyn also comes with an impressive resume filled with coaching positions at schools such as University of Nevada Reno, Boston College, and Arizona State University to name a few. She has worked with a variety of sports including basketball, ice hockey football, alpine skiing, soccer, softball, golf, and diving. No matter the terrain, Coach Blyn is who you want pushing you in the weight room. Later, Blyn opened her own private sports performance facility where she developed athletes of all ages but specializes in high school athletes and youth sports. She went on to take over the Strength and Conditioning department at Franklin High School in Massachusetts where she developed top programs to improve her high school athlete’s speed, strength, and conditioning.
Blyn is also certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, National Athletic Trainers Association, College Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, U.S.A. Powerlifting, and USA weightlifting
Whether it be youth athletics or professionals, Coach Blyn has successfully coached them all. While collegiate strength and conditioning continues to be a male-dominated field, Coaches like Liane Blyn are showing everyone that she’s anything but talk and if you doubt her, just spend a few minutes watching her warm up with your one-rep max.
To view more of Liane Blyn’s story, watch her Beyond the Chalk episode here:
University of Michigan, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach
Bio: This list would not be complete without the NSCA’s 2019 College Assistant Strength Coach of the Year, Ashley Jackson. Currently the Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Michigan, Coach Jackson is responsible for Water Polo, Women’s Lacrosse and Olympic Sports. During her time at university, Jackson served on the women’s soccer team as the goalkeeper and later completed her bachelors in exercise physiology from Texas A&M University followed by a master’s of education in athletic administration from Nova Southeastern. Jackson clearly knows what it takes to succeed and makes sure her athletes do too.
"Ashley is not only an exceptional S&C coach, invaluable team member, and an asset to the teams and student-athletes she provides service to at the University of Michigan, but also a leader within the field." -- Mike Favre- University of Michigan Director of Strength & Conditioning for Olympic Sports
She didn’t come to win NSCA’s award easily. During her career, Jackson has coached and the University of Michigan, Nova Southeastern University, University of Houston, and Xcel Sports Performance in Texas. Jackson has also racked up a long list of certifications including the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified, and USA Weightlifting Level 2 Advanced Sports Performance Coach.
Ashley is known as a vital part of the Michigan strength and conditioning program serves not only as an excellent strength coach but also an “exceptional role model to young female athletes” said Michigan Lacrosse Head Coach, Hannah Nielsen. As part of the NSCA Women’s Committee, Coach Jackson takes her role in supporting strength coaches very seriously.
In a 2018 NSCA podcast, Ashley states, “I’m not just supporting strength coaches, or just female strength coaches - I’m making sure that the best people are here and a part of our profession and being supported.”
To hear more from Coach Jackson, listen to her NSCA episode here: https://www.listennotes.com/podcasts/nscas-coaching/nscas-coaching-podcast-wYNf5GPhM-p/amp/
University of Michigan, Strength & Conditioning Coach, Olympic Sports
Bio: We can’t mention the University of Michigan without Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Katlyn Haycock. Haycock has been an athlete her entire life, competing in both tennis and rowing in her collegiate years at Syracuse University. Earning her bachelors of exercise science, she knew she wanted to be a strength and conditioning coach. When she graduated, she looked for a graduate assistant program and cold-called the director at the University of Michigan where a few weeks after accepting, she was put in charge of Men’s swimming. She now coaches Women’s soccer, field hockey and assists the director with wrestling and men’s tennis
Haycock acknowledges that it can be difficult to get into such a male-dominated field, but says she was very fortunate in her career path. She credits a few internships during her undergraduate, specifically Exos now in L.A. where she worked with an NHL group, golfers, and boxers. Here she became extremely comfortable with coaching male athletes.
The University of Michigan has quite a few female coaches which Haycock says are the best ones for the positions and are hired based on qualifications, not bias.
While she doesn’t have a personal background with swimming, she has certainly made a name for herself within the sport.
“I think it was very beneficial to not be immersed in the sport initially,” Haycock says in a recent podcast interview with Ritter, “Not having any sort of misconception or ideas of how a program needed to be was very beneficial coming in that first year with the team.”
She learned as much as possible from her athletes and coaches and combined this with the knowledge she has of strength and conditioning to make a master program that has taken her collegiate swimmers to the next level.
Haycock has invested her time at Michigan since 2011 and is responsible for Field Hockey, Women’s Soccer, and Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving. She has been a three-time nominee for Michigan Athletics Leaders and Best Awards and the winner of the NSCA Student Assistantship. Her certifications include the CSCS certification (NSCA), RSCC within the organization, and the FRC certification.
To learn more about Coach Haycock, give her episode on “My Thoughts Monday” a watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1IL4uVq5Bg
New York Yankees Hitting Coach, Driveline Baseball Research Fellow
Bio: You may know trailblazer, Coach Rachel Balkovec, as the first female strength coach in MLB history. While this statement catches the attention of most, her excellence in her craft keeps it. In fact, take a look at her social media pages and you’ll see, “This is not about baseball” filling her bios. While her title as “First” is nothing to be ignored, she makes it clear that she is just getting started: "My eyes aren’t set on being a Major League Strength Coach any more, they are set on being a General Manager… I just want to make a bigger impact."
Balkovec’s success has not come easily.
In Rachel’s words, “I had worked for free or below the poverty line for about 5 years before being hired into a full-time position.”
At one point, she even had to change her name on her resume to “Rae” in order to appear male just to get a job to call her back. Sure enough, the name change worked and suddenly her phone was ringing with opportunities. She may have faced gender discrimination but decided to use this as fuel to propel herself forward.
Coach Balkovec has a long history with softball/baseball. In her collegiate years, she played catcher at the University of New Mexico where she earned her degree in exercise science. After her bachelors, Balkovec moved onto LSU where she earned her master’s degree in sports administration. She was the strength and conditioning coach for the Appalachian League in 2012 and the Los Tigres Del Licey team and White Sox in 2013.
While her resume checked all the boxes and then some, it was difficult for her to catch a break in MLB until she interned for the Cardinals. Later, The Astros brought her on as the Latin American Strength and Conditioning coach.
Coach Balkovec has not forgotten her difficult journey and is now helping other young women and professionals to do the same. She recently founded The Virtual Handshake Academy, a program that helps young professionals to land their dream opportunity. The Virtual Handshake Academy invests 25% of their revenue to fund a scholarship for young professionals.
With her eyes set on being a General Manager, Balkovec doing everything it takes in order to make a bigger impact in the sport, but more importantly, the local community and the world. She is currently working with the Dutch national baseball teams in Amsterdam where she is earning her masters degree before moving to Seattle to finish Master's degree in Human Movement Sciences.
To learn more about Coach Balkovec, check out her website here: www.rachelbalkovec.com
Director of Strength and Conditioning at the University of South Alabama
Bio: At the ripe age of 14, Callye Williams walked into her first strength and conditioning camp to prep for her high school volleyball and basketball tryouts. During this eight week program, she could barely bench a 45lb barbell and finished last during the 200-meter sprints. She decided then that she was going to do everything it took to become stronger both mentally and physically. This work ethic followed her throughout the rest of her life. Williams put in the extra hours during high school and later at Mississippi State University where she played collegiate softball and made three appearances at the NCAA Regionals. She also earned the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Academic All-America Team and Southeastern Conference Honor Roll for her last three years at school.
Her drive impressed her collegiate strength coach so much that he asked her to be his GA in strength and conditioning. Here she worked with football, men’s tennis, volleyball, and women’s golf. Coach Williams then moved on to James Madison University working as their associate strength and conditioning coach before joining Oklahoma State University. At OSU, she trained the baseball, softball, volleyball and tennis teams and worked with the Dukes’ men’s and women’s basketball and soccer teams.
During her many years of experience, Coach Williams has become certified by the National Strength and Conditioning, Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches, Associations and has also earned club level coaching status from USA Weightlifting.
In 2013, Williams joined South Alabama as full-time assistant S&C coach and later became the Director of Strength and Conditioning.
Williams take a more holistic training approach and believes in educating her team in not only strength training but also nutrition, recovery, regeneration, and sports psychology. Williams understands the importance of mental toughness and works with her teams to help develop their capacity for focus, desire, determination, and passion. In Coach Williams words,
“Really, we have to get our athletes to buy into our services and show them the benefits of what we do. As many times as I’ve heard it before, it's so true—no one will care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
To learn more about Coach Williams coaching philosophy, check out her interview with Elitefts: https://www.elitefts.com/education/training/comparing-notes-a-strength-and-conditioning-discussion/
Director of Strength and Conditioning, Bethune-Cookman University
Bio: At the age of 5, Coach Corliss Fingers began competing in track and field in her home state of North Carolina. She continued competing through her collegiate years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Here she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physical Education with a concentration in Wellness and Fitness.
From 1994 to 1996, Fingers served as assistant strength and conditioning coach at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she worked with the Women’s Basketball program, training them to the national championships her first year. From 1996 to 2011, she served as the University of Maryland strength coach for 15 years before accepting her first head S&C coaching position at Southern University and earning the title of first female head strength coach in an NCAA Division 1 football program. In 2015, she moved on to become the Director of Strength and Conditioning for 17-sport Division 1 program at Bethune-Cookman University, where she is today.
“I treat my players exactly the way I would want someone to treat my child. I don’t want their friendship. I want their championships. I don’t care if they like me.” Coach Fingers told Ron McKeefery in a 2017 episode of “Beyond the Chalk.”
Fingers is used to working with whatever she has and has passed this attitude onto her athletes. When you’re in Coach Fingers weight room, you know to leave all your excuses at home -- Her teams don’t complain when they don’t have food, recovery shakes, or the other extras that many programs do. Corliss believes that if they have a passion for doing the work, then that’s the main thing you need.
As a mother, wife, and director, Fingers is working three full-time jobs and gives them everything she has. You won’t find Coach Fingers leaving her house at 5 am without first making sure her family is taken care of and then heads to her weight room where she puts the same love into training her team.
Coach Fingers believes the key to success is taking negative mindsets and changing them into positive outcomes. By the looks of it, she certainly has succeeded in doing that.
Watch Corliss Fingers’ episode of Beyond the Chalk here: https://watch.plae.pro/beyond-the-chalk/season:1/videos/coriless-fingers
IFW Vice President, USAW President, IWF Women’s Commission Chair
Bio: Often referred to as the “Queen of Weightlifting,” Coach Ursula Garza Papandrea is the first female to hold the position of IWF Vice President and first-ever female Executive Board Member.
It was a long road to these positions, one that began at 14 years of age in a YMCA. Here she began weight training with her older brother and was later introduced to Olympic weightlifting during her collegiate years at the University of Texas in 1987. She went on to win the National championships in 1992 and 1998 and competed in four world championships from 1992-1996. Her list of weightlifting accomplishments is so long, we can’t include it all here, but let’s just say, there’s a reason she has been dubbed the “Queen.”
Her coaching years began back in 1992 and continue today at the Texas Barbell Club, one of the best weightlifting gyms in the United States. Ursula has coached dozens of senior national athletes and has had athletes competing at the national level every year since 1993. She has taken lifters from empty barbells to Pan Am competitors and even the Olympics.
Coach Papandrea is one of the few coaches in the United States to hold the rank of USAW Senior International Coach, the fifth and highest level offered by USAW. As the first female to earn this title, she faced pushback from the IWF board who accused her of lying about her qualifications. In order to receive the title she earned, she had to bring in a “tow of athletes” to vouch for her coaching abilities and accomplishments. She walked away with both the title and some fire underneath her to prove that she deserved it.
Today, she sits on that board. After 25 years of competing and top-level coaching in Olympic weightlifting, Coach Papandrea has certainly nothing left to prove.
To learn more about Coach Ursula Garza Papandrea, watch FloElite’s mini-documentary here: https://www.floelite.com/articles/5066207-ursula-garza-papandrea-is-the-first-female-iwf-vice-president
Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, University of Texas - Dallas
Bio: Coach Clinton knows what it takes to succeed at the collegiate level and competed at Dallas Baptist University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology. Clinton then earned her Master’s degree in Human Performance from the University of Alabama.
Coach Jami Clinton has been in the strength and conditioning world since 1999. Since then, she has coached at Texas Christian University, University of Alabama, Ole Miss, University of Memphis, and currently serves as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Over the past 20 years, Clinton has trained SEC championship and NCAA tournament teams, 2 Women’s College World Series teams, and Men’s and Women’s Tennis Sweet Sixteen appearances. While her list of accomplishments is extremely impressive, Clinton believes that the most important part of her job is mentoring her athletes to be better people, not just athletes.
In Clinton’s words, “As a Strength and Conditioning Coach, I have been fortunate to get to work with great athletes and amazing young people. All I ask is that they show up every day with a good attitude ready to give great effort. If they do this, success will soon follow.”
As UT Dallas’ first full-time strength and conditioning coach, Clinton has a lot to prove. Clinton took this challenge head-on, leading the program to win over fifteen conference championships and some of the best seasons to date. Her superiors now praise her as a game changer and vital to their program’s success.
“I tell them all the time, 'You’re not training to be on a beach or look in the mirror. You’re training to win conference championships,' ” Clinton said in a recent interview with UT Dallas magazine.
To learn more about Coach Jami Clinton’s coaching methodology, view her interview here:
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