Coaching, Podcast

Women in coaching with Cecile Reynaud, PhD | EP#347

 July 18, 2022

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Cecile Reynaud - That Triathlon Show

Cecile Reynaud, PhD, has an impressive resume coaching volleyball and in leadership roles in various organisations. She is also an author, and most recently published a book called "Winning ways of women coaches", where a large number of successful women coaches discuss various aspects of the profession. In this interview, we discuss the topic of women in coaching across any sport, spanning a range of topics from policy to personal development.  

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • The current state of women in coaching
  • What can be done to increase the number of women coaches generally, and at the highest level in both women's and men's sports?
  • What it means for women's coaching in triathlon that the sport is on its way to becoming an official NCAA sport
  • Considerations for women who want to pursue a career in coaching, or want to advance their career
  • Leadership and personal well-being in coaching 

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Cecile's background

04:17 -

  • I grew up in Missouri and played in various high school teams in the late 60s and 70s. However, these were only casual plays against other schools as we did not even have uniforms.
  • I went to college at Missouri State University, majored in Physical Education, and played on the field hockey and volleyball teams, where both coaches were women.
  • After graduation, I taught physical education in a small town. I coached four sports: softball, basketball, volleyball and track.
  • I drove a school bus, and after one year, I got a call from Florida State University asking if I was interested in being the head coach for the state volleyball team.
  • I was 22 years old, but they hired me as a graduate student. For 3000 $, I went there and worked on my Master's and began coaching.
  • In 1978, it became a full-time job, and I was the head coach for the Volleyball Florida team for 26 years.
  • While I was coaching, I earned my PhD in 1998. After I retired from coaching in 2001, I became an active member in sports management and retired from the university in 2015.
  • I still teach one class online.
  • I have served on many national boards. In 2020, I finished a term as a chair in USA Volleyball. I was also president of the American Volleyball Association.
  • I served as a founding member of the Alliance of Women Coaches (now known as WeCoach). It is an organisation to help recruit, retain and support women coaches.
  • People asked to be involved in the Volleyball Coaching Bible.
  • Human Kinetics publishes a series of publications on one topic named bibles.
  • I was co-author of that book, and we recruited 20 authors who wrote different chapters.
  • I came back and wrote the second edition of that book.
  • I wrote a book on the techniques and tactics of volleyball and other books like that.

Women in coaching

07:48 -

  • After doing these volleyball coaching books, I said to the publisher that I had read books all my life about "Men's basketball", "Men's hockey", "Men's baseball",...
  • And I also want to know what the best women coaches in the sport think about different topics.
  • They thought this was an interesting idea (in 2005), so I wrote several topics and gathered a list of coaches I thought I could get.
  • Their credentials were incredible (national champions, Olympians, high school state champions).
  • I was a good friend of Pat Summitt, the basketball head coach at Tennessee State University.
  • I called her and knew if I could get her on board, I could get anyone else. She agreed to do a chapter on staff management, and the book was "She can coach". (it has 20 women coaches in different sports)
  • The topics addressed were motivation, professionalism, managing staff, and coaching philosophy.
  • In 2020, I returned to the publisher and suggested it should be time to do that again.
  • In May, after two years of putting this together, we published "Winning ways of Women Coaches".
  • It is 20 different women with high credentials, but we added two from Canada and two from Australia.
  • Various chapters are about managing staff, holistic coaching methods, values and having fun, using athletes as an approach or developing a team culture.
  • Each author also talked about team culture; some designed a strategic plan to recruit athletes, get a job and move up, manage themselves as a coach and raise a family while coaching.
  • Another author wrote about designing goals for athletes on your team.
  • You will have a rough season if you do not work as a team. Moreover, you need to manage individual athletes and have the right culture to succeed in sports like triathlon.

Working as a team in individual sports

12:14 -

  • Most contributors to this book say that the one-on-one relationship with the athletes is crucial for success.
  • No matter the sport, it is about how they relate to each person.
  • If they do not connect with each person, the whole group will not work together.
  • Some coaches do not find time to meet with their athletes, but that is their biggest asset.
  • How could you inspire or motivate them to do well if they are not spending time getting to know them as people?

The current state of women in coaching

13:27 -

  • My expertise is in coaching volleyball, but I love coaching education. So, other people can probably dig into this more than I can.
  • My role is to expose the great women coaches to everybody and let them read what these people are doing.
  • Globally, the number of women coaching is low.
  • For example, in volleyball, we had one woman that coached internationally. (coaching a national team)
  • She came to the US and coached our national team in 2008, then returned to China to win a gold medal there.
  • In our sport, you see very few women even as assistants.
  • They might be athletic trainers or managers, but few are on the bench with these sports groups.
  • For example, Andy Murray hired a female coach in tennis, which was unusual.
  • In USA volleyball, we were at a meeting where the board told who would be the staff to go to the Olympics.
  • They named four men and a woman as a trainer. However, that is not the role I was looking for, so we have changed because we understand coaching diversity is good.
  • We have had two women in assistant roles in the past two Olympic cycles, and we won a silver and a gold medal in USA Volleyball.
  • I do not see many women coaching internationally.

Differences in different levels of coaching

16:14 -

  • If you look at all sports, the number of women coaches will be low.
  • If you look at only the women's teams, some divisions present 42 % of coaches being women. However, in the past, it used to be all women.
  • In high schools, 30 % of coaches are women.
  • If you look at women coaching men's teams, it is only 3 %.
  • Therefore, people consider women a coaching option for 50 % of the positions.
  • Now, women are starting to apply for men's teams. Some professional teams (NFL, MLB) started hiring more women, but they only represent a fraction of the total number of coaches.
  • Women are starting to question if they should apply to these positions if they know the sport.

Improving this transition process

18:07 -

  • First, employers need to look out and see the young women with the personality, knowledge and work ethic for coaching.
  • Coaching is an exciting career where you can travel worldwide, work with young people and help them improve daily.
  • We could have more women working directly with teams if we start that process.
  • We need to give women opportunities to graduate and let them work in a program where they get the experience to succeed.
  • Of course, we have to ensure they are educated and know the sport, science, and techniques. But more importantly, they have to relate to people.
  • People should contact these women and show them the opportunities they might have if they put the effort to apply.
  • Moreover, we need to make things welcoming for women. Sometimes, the environment is only men, which can be an unpleasant experience for women.
  • Therefore, a diverse staff where men welcome women's input.
  • Women at the lower levels are essential coaches because athletes will stay in the sport if they have a good time at the lower level.
  • The higher the level, the more technical the aspects of coaching.

Having many obstacles to having a sports career

21:47 -

  • At around 14 years old, kids decide if they will stay in the sport or go into another hobby.
  • So, I think those lower-level coaches must keep the athletes interested in having fun and making it worthwhile.
  • Athletes want to be challenged, but they also want to be entertained.
  • "Do not the child's last coach".

Triathlon earning NCAA status

23:12 -

  • The last sport added was beach volleyball, the 55th sport the NCAA posted in, so they put sports into emerging categories.
  • For example, women's acrobatics is another emerging sport for NCAA, and the exciting part is that these sports do not need much equipment or facilities. For the triathlon, you need a bike, a pool, and a place to run, but universities should be less demanding sport to add by universities because it will not have a high cost.
  • I love cycling and understand the differences in equipment choices and the costs associated with entering cycling or triathlon at a competitive level.

Future of women coaches in triathlon

25:04 -

  • I do not know how many women coaches are in the different clubs and programs, but I would encourage women coaches to be knowledgeable in the sport and have mentors to help them with a long-term plan to present to the administration.
  • In that way, everyone understands the demands of achieving that strategic plan.
  • Women coaches should know some staff members they want to hire and ensure they surround themselves with good people.

Additional comments on women that want or follow a career in coaching

26:30 -

  • You have to continue educating yourself and put yourself out there.
  • When I was younger, I applied to different positions within our national governing body, which gave me exposure to what was happening at the highest level and gave me some exposure.
  • If you want to get hired, it is not who you know but who knows you.
  • Therefore, network with various people; if you work with several athletes and they are successful, people will notice that.

Marketing advice for coaches

27:46 -

  • It seems the younger generation knows how to market themselves pretty well.
  • People will notice if I take care of the athletes I am training.
  • People will look for those that are working with the most successful teams.
  • Women have difficulty promoting themselves, so let people speak on your behalf if you are interested in a position.

Leadership in women's coaching

29:08 -

  • When we do the volleyball clinics, I ask people what they coach. They say volleyball, and I give them a ball and tell them to coach that.
  • The reality is that you coach people because you cannot make a volleyball or a bike to do anything. It has to be the athlete.
  • If you want some resources, pick leadership because it is unlimited.
  • Great leaders can make people follow them, so you need to understand what your followers need and provide inspiration and motivation.
  • People think leadership is making everyone on board and putting those that do not have those ideas off the group. However, you need to reach out to each individual and evaluate what each needs to be successful.
  • Leadership is not different for men and women. It is about managing people, creating a plan and having confidence. To have confidence, you need to understand your field.

Conciliating family with coaching

30:51 -

  • Coaching is intense, demanding and time-consuming.
  • We always talk about work/life balance or even equilibrium.
  • Therefore, you must take care of yourself before caring for others.
  • Take time to re-energise, have a healthy life and relax, and then you will take care of others. Coaches also need support because they will be travelling all the time.
  • So, they need support from their family and organisation daily. (paying for a babysitter or helping with the expenses for travelling with the family)
  • A rowing coach wrote this chapter in the book, and she said rowing is not a good sport to bring the family because they are on the water and away from everyone.
  • However, there are many sports where kids can be with athletes. Moreover, regularly these kids are more developed than others because they have to learn to do things and help their parents.
  • We have a coach here in the USA, Volleyball with three young children, and her husband is an international Volleyball player.
  • We have a high-performance championship in volleyball, where women would not apply because they did not want to be two weeks away from family.
  • Therefore, I asked the governing body if they could give them single rooms so they could bring their families.
  • Women are doing that championship because the governing body has made it more accessible.

Additional comments on the book

34:16 -

  • Women are fascinating, so finding who you are and why you coach.
  • We have an excellent chapter on this topic from the "coach of the decade" awarded by USA Gymnastics.
  • Rachel Balkovec was the first woman to manage a team in MLB. She wrote a chapter about young "Latin" baseball players she worked with and learnt Spanish to speak with the players better.
  • She learnt physiology to return to athletes and be an expert, dividing the leadership into different groups.
  • Each coach gives a unique view on how they adapt to different cultures and tries to maximise the team's performance. 
  • They are not trying to imitate other systems but learn about each individual where they would have a meeting without a plan.
  • They are always concerned about each athlete.
  • Some coaches do not treat athletes well, and that is something these coaches do not do, and that is the reason these coaches are so successful.

Rapid-fire questions

37:25 -

What is your favourite book, blog or resource?

Coaching Better Every Season: A year-round system for athlete development and program success by Wade Gilbert

What is an important habit that benefited athletically, professionally or personally?

I still exercise every day, even though an artificial hip and an artificial knee, because I used to run and lift weights many times. I walk or ride my bike.

Who is someone you have looked up to or who has inspired you?

Pat Summitt was a good friend. She was my mentor for years.


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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