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14 Female Strength Coaches You Should Know

Jaclyn Gochoco
Aug 7, 2019

*Updated December 2020*

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*

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#1. Coach Andrea Hudy

Head Coach, Basketball Strength & Conditioning | University of Texas

 

Andrea Hudy enters her second season as Head Coach, Basketball Strength and Conditioning at The University of Texas. In her role at Texas, Hudy oversees the strength and conditioning program for both the Men’s and Women’s Basketball programs. She serves as the primary sport performance coach for the Men’s Basketball team. Before going to Texas, Hudy served as the Assistant Athletics Director for Sport Performance at the University of Kansas and handled the strength and conditioning responsibilities for the Kansas men’s basketball team for 15 years

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. 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 for nine years.

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.” 

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/

#2. Coach Jeanne Rankin

Strength and Conditioning Coach | Eastern Connecticut State University

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 and then finishing her career at Oklahoma State. Rankin earned her B.S. Degree in University Studies at Oklahoma State in 2006 and her M.S. Degree in Health and Human Performance from Oklahoma State in 2008 where she was also a S&C intern.

“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.” 

In 2008 she moved onto the University of Arkansas as the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach where she worked top-20 teams and led staff education on “Non-Olympic Power Production” and “Low Back Pain in Athletes". Rankin has not only trained her collegiate athletes but also Olympian, Christin Wurth-Thomas who ran the 1500m in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Then in '09 spent four years at the University of Missouri - Kansas City to eventually move onto the University of Kentucky where she was 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.”

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#3. Coach Liane Blyn

Director, Sports Performance & Olympic Sports | Arizona State University

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.

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.

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#4. Coach Ashley Jackson

Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach | University of Michigan

 

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.

During her career, Jackson has coached at 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 NSCA, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, CSCCa, 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.

“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 podcast episode here.

#5. Coach Katlyn Haycock

Strength & Conditioning Coach, Olympic Sports | University of Michigan

 

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.

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 here.

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#6. Coach Rachel Balkovec

MLB Hitting Coach | New York Yankees

 

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. 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.

I have worked for 3 different professional baseball organizations in the past 7 years as a strength and conditioning coach including the Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Whitesox. I am the first woman to have worked as a full time strength and conditioning coach and also as a full time hitting coach in professional baseball.  Before baseball I worked at LSU, ASU, and EXOS.  I also had the pleasure of working with the Dutch national baseball and softball teams last year in Amsterdam while I completed my second master's degree. Most recently, I worked at Driveline baseball while completing my research in eye tracking for hitters. 

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.

To learn more about Coach Balkovec, check out her website here: www.rachelbalkovec.com

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#7. Coach Callye Williams

Director of Strength and Conditioning | University of South Alabama

 

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 where she could barely bench a 45lb barbell and finished last in 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. Her drive impressed her collegiate strength coach so much that he asked her to be his GA in strength and conditioning.

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 takes 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 here.

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#8. Coach Corliss Fingers

Director of Strength and Conditioning | Bethune-Cookman University

 

At the age of 5, Coach Corliss Fingers began competing in track and field in her home state of North Carolina and continued competing through her collegiate years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where 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 there, 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.” 

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.

Coach Fingers believes the key to success is taking negative mindsets and changing them into positive outcomes and by the looks of it, she certainly has succeeded in doing that.

Watch Corliss Fingers’ episode of Beyond the Chalk here

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#9. Coach Ursula Garza Papandrea

USAW President, IWF Women’s Commission Chair, IFW Vice President (former)

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.

Coach Jami Clinton with a student in training

#10. Coach Jami Clinton

Head Strength and Conditioning Coach | University of Texas - Dallas

 

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 where 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.

To learn more about Coach Jami Clinton’s coaching methodology, view her interview here.

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#11. Coach Maral Javadifar

Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach | Tampa Bay Buccaneers

When the Tampa Buccaneers had an opening in their strength department in 2019, they were looking for something new - a coach with a Physical Therapy background and a performance based mindset. Enter Maral Javadifar, a former collegiate basketball player at Pace University with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Coach Javadifar is now in her second season with the Tampa Buccaneers, serving as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach. Buccaneers Head coach Bruce Arians could not be happier with the addition of Javadifar, commenting, “Her qualifications were off the charts in terms of what we were looking for in our sports science program, she was a basketball player, she has a sports background, she knows what a locker room is all about.”

Javadifar cites her main motivation to dive into Physical Therapy as a torn ACL while competing in high school basketball. She felt the rehab process was slow and not tailored to her, inspiring her to work to give other athletes personalized regimens and the opportunity to excel at their sport. Coach Javadifar finds herself now not only serving professional athletes, but serving as an inspiration to women as someone breaking boundaries. In Javadifar’s own words,

“To the young women and young girls out there — I want them to know that they need to put in the work, sweat, and the grind, and sometimes the tears [and that’s okay] to pursue whatever goal and dream that they have — and even if it’s a dream one day, like it was for me, it can be a reality on another day.” 

#12. Coach Sara Mackenzie

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Director of Strength and Conditioning | Cal Poly

Next on our list is Coach Sara MacKenzie, Director of Strength and Conditioning at Cal Poly. When Coach MacKenzie earned the title of Director in 2019, she became one of only two women among NCAA Division 1 schools with a football program to serve as a Director of Strength and Conditioning. MacKenzie began at Cal Poly nearly a decade ago, joining the Mustangs in 2011 as an assistant Strength and Conditioning coach after obtaining a a Masters Degree in Higher Education and work experience with the Arizona State University Sports and Performance Department and the Arizona Cardinals. 

MacKenzie credits her success climbing through the ranks at Cal Poly with a unique approach to coaching, built on cultivating relationships. In MacKenzie’s words,

“I have a different coaching style than a lot of coaches. There’s a lot of people in this position that feel like they have to be kind of cool or standoffish and yell a lot or whatever — and while I do do a little bit of yelling, I like to develop relationships.”

This work developing relationships, not as visible as yelling and less obvious to the casual observer, has been recognized by those who matter most - the athletes. When asked about Coach MacKenzie, Cal Poly Women’s Basketball player Jonni Smith raved, “We all love Sara” … “She’s always really pushing us and always in there to get us stronger.” … “She’s a great inspiration and someone I can look up to as well.”

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#13. Coach Emily Zaler

Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach | Denver Broncos

Emily Zaler, the first female coach in Denver Broncos franchise history. Coach Zaler’s ascent to Mile High has been years in the making - she boasts 10+ years of experience in the training world, a Masters Degree in Applied Exercise science and coaching stops with the New York Knicks and the University of California San Diego. As impressive as her journey has been, it has not been short on adversity. 

Coach Zaler played D1 soccer in college, and as a freshman found herself as one of the weakest in the weight room. She resolved to change this and in the process, fell in love with strength and conditioning, Unfortunately, her ambitions on the field were halted by a career ending injury her sophomore year, but the empowerment she felt from her progression in the weightroom stuck, and a passion bloomed that would be channeled into a career. 

Her most recent encounter with adversity: getting let go from the NBA’s New York Knicks staff. Coach Zaler described her time with the New York Knicks as an amazing experience, but one that was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the middle of a game on March 11th, 2020, Zaler and colleagues learned that the NBA season was being suspended. She was later furloughed, and ultimately let go from her role. Luckily, adversity was no stranger to Coach Zaler, who says: 

“From there, I really viewed it as I had two options. I could dwell on the situation and have everything I worked for come crashing down or I could take action and try to make the best of it. Adversity has been a constant throughout my life, I’ve learned how to make the most of every situation.” 

And make the most of the situation she did. Zaler emailed every NFL team (twice), captured a fellowship coaching for the Broncos, and earned the full time position with the organization she now holds. 

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#14. Coach Andrea Hayden

Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach | Minnesota Twins

It should come as no surprise that Andrea Hayden, who bucked convention by becoming the First Female Strength and Conditioning Coach in MLB history, has taken the road less traveled to get there.  

Academics was not something Coach Hayden enjoyed early in life, so instead of going to college at 18, she jumped right into personal training. After managing some gyms around the St. Louis area, she “got burnt out of training soccer moms”, and realized a scientific background would take her training to the next level. So, at the age of 24, Hayden began her college studies, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in human performance. She put these degrees to work, gaining experience at the University of Louisville, EXOS in San Diego, and with the China National Women’s Hockey Team. 

A phone call with an old friend introduced Coach Hayden with an intriguing new opportunity - a fellowship with the Minnesota Twins. The position offered a ticket to the big leagues through an organization on a promising trajectory, but the jump would not come without its risks. To start, the Twins position was a fellowship, while Hayden’s current job was full time with benefits and close to home. After weighing her options, she decided it would be foolish not to throw her hat in the ring, and jumped on the Twins fellowship. Hayden became determined to turn it into a full time job by doing everything she could to serve the organization. The gamble paid off, with the fellowship turning into the full time job Hayden envisioned, cementing her place in history. 

"A personal motto is 'courage over comfort,' and choosing the things that maybe are unknown and scary and taking that leap," Hayden said. "It's always paid off. And I'm really fortunate that it has."

 

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