Tips to Integrate Family Into a Campus Athletics CareerSome mothers bring work home so that if a child wakes up sick, they can still work without being in the office.
When Title IX was enacted in 1972, 90% of women’s teams had women coaches. In 2011, women coach only 42% of women’s teams.
Men continue to dominate as athletic administrators and now have expanded their influence by coaching women’s teams. We can’t continue to lose great women in this industry, either as coaches or administrators, by forcing them to choose between leadership roles and family.
Here’s how we can resist the push to keep females out of sports and sports administration, the last bastion of male dominance on campus. Dr. M. Grace Calhoun is the assistant VP of student development and director of intercollegiate athletics at Loyola University Chicago. Delise O’Meally is the director of governance and international affairs at the National Collegiate Athletic Administration (NCAA).
They spoke about the challenges of balancing family and careers at the National Association of Collegiate Women’s Athletics Administrators (NACWAA) conference held in Pittsburgh in October 2011.
Growing up in upstate New York, Calhoun competed in gymnastics and track and field, never believing that playing sports was just for boys. Earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Brown University RI, she didn’t find her true calling to athletics until she was in grad school at the University of Florida.
“I believe in developing people in sports,” she said. “I love the field and follow the passion.”
Calhoun met her husband Jason, a PGA golf professional, while working at a private school in Pennsylvania. “I married a guy with $50,000 in student debt, and a crappy car and apartment,” said Calhoun. “He respected what I do and we are partners.”
That partnership extends to doing just about anything to keep the household running smoothly. They have moved multiple times to advance each other’s careers.
In the Calhoun household, balance is achieved in what some would call nontraditional ways. She hires babysitters from students majoring in early childhood development. “My kids are surrounded by wonderful college students who serve as wonderful mentors and play buddies,” she said, noting that the benefit was mutual. “I think it’s refreshing for students to be around young people.”
Calhoun’s three daughters have frequently accompanied their mother to games and on road trips. Driving to a speaking engagement, Calhoun’s nine-year-old listed 11 bullet points her mother needed to convey to the audience, crafting a “very competent speech.” Her parents are retired academics, often visiting to help out.
“I’m not a traditional mom, but the girls learn to adjust,” she said. “The saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ is true.”
Calhoun is definitely a glass half-full person, a trait she learned early. “My great grandmother always told me that everything in life is either a positive or a negative. It’s all in how you look at it.”
While she freely admits that her kids don’t always get gourmet lunches or wear perfect outfits, “we went to the Rose Bowl three times, the Final Four and have been to Disney World every year.” The kids “understand there were going to be sacrifices, as well as rewards” with her mother’s leadership role. “I refuse to live with any guilt.”
Balancing two careers and three children is challenging enough, but Calhoun’s fourth child was born in 2010 with a heart defect. After 13 surgeries and six months in the hospital, he died. “It was a long battle, but we juggled through it,” she said. “But so many wonderful things came out of his life. It gave a sense of purpose. The experience helped the kids to learn that things are not perfect.”
When faced with a life-altering situation, Calhoun encouraged session participants to understand what they’re capable of and to give themselves a break. “I have learned to be very non-judgmental,” she said. “I find myself doing things that before kids I would have turned my nose up at doing.”
Growing up in Jamaica, O’Meally moved to New York City after high school. After earning a bachelor’s degree, she worked for the NCAA and moved with her husband to Indianapolis and went on to law school. She became pregnant during her first year and delivered twin girls just before the first semester of her second year.
“I had decisions to make when I was pregnant,” she admitted. She considered dropping out of law school but looking down the road, she knew she’d be better off if she finished the degree, which took her four years.
“I learned I could do it despite all the challenges facing me,” she said. “I’ve realized that sometimes my best is good enough.”
Growing up in a strong culture of parenting, O’Meally was determined to be hands-on, directing her children as they grew up. When the twins were small they had a nanny, but the now 7-year-old girls rarely have a babysitter. Her parents stayed in Jamaica. “I didn’t have the opportunity to have family around me,” she said. Both of the couple’s jobs require travel, but O’Meally is fortunate that she gets to choose when and where. Sticking to a very rigid calendar allows the family to keep all the balls in the air.
Challenges of families
For both women, activities that help further a career are generally the things that fall off the table. Not being able to go for a drink after a board meeting limits access to inside information and networking opportunities.
O’Meally readily admitted that her relationships with colleagues have slipped because she doesn’t have time. Her trips give her a chance to connect with people more so than when she’s at home.
“I’ve tried to say that I can go to the more significant social events,” said Calhoun, who will schedule a babysitter for those times. She encouraged women to pick their spots, those that will be value added.
Sometimes the next steps on the career ladder aren’t the choicest ones. Moving from sports information to compliance is an unpopular transition. But the move brings you another step closer to the senior women’s administrator position, where you can control more of the work environment and the culture than can those on lower rungs.
Tips for success
If you’re looking to balance a leadership role with a successful family life, check to see if the department is “kid friendly or kid frigid” before signing on. In some, the athletics director doesn’t like having children around so coaches either hide them or quit.
Some mothers bring work home so that if a child wakes up sick, they can still work without being in the office. This sends a message to the boss that she’s a professional but the children are her priority.
How can a woman coach or athletic administrator avoid future conflict and signal her priorities when interviewing for a new job? “I’ve chosen to be very outspoken,” said Calhoun. “I tell them ‘This is how I operate. I have three kids and they come to as many events as possible. My family is a package deal.’”
She puts this information out there, knowing full well that she may lose some jobs if the interviewer doesn’t respect her priorities. “If you’re honest about it, you’ll find the right fit and be happy with it.”
Those who do integrate their children into their work need to preserve boundaries to avoid being inappropriate. There are times when the kids’ presence might be a distraction. “I always use good judgment,” said Calhoun. “There are things I don’t take them to.”
Don’t fear the struggles that you’ve heard about. The older veterans came with a set of values that are rapidly disappearing. Times are changing for the better.
Some early Baby Boomers may still have that traditional mindset, but Gen Xers have more expectations about work and family balance. They’re even better at establishing a family-friendly situation.
Calhoun noted that “it gets easier and easier.” “Women come up to me and thank me for providing a great example of being a career woman and a mom,” she said.
There is no right or wrong way to balance being a woman leader and a mother. Just find what works for you.
Calhoun: email@example.com or 773.508.2560
O’Meally: firstname.lastname@example.org or 317.917.6222
Santovec, Mary Lou. (2012, January). Tips to Integrate Family Into a Campus Athletics Career. Women in Higher Education, 21(1), p. 30-31.