Calling All Female Coaches In Our Male Dominated Profession

Written By: Jamie Bloom


I began my coaching career in 1982 when I took a job as an Aquatics Director at James Buchanan HS in Mercersburg, PA. There I was also hired as the head swim coach of both the HS team and the USA Swimming club team as well as being assigned about a zillion other duties and responsibilities in the school district! If I back up a few years from my start in coaching to my own childhood I definitely was benefited by the passage of Title IX and its support for female athletes and I enthusiastically embarked on an education (Slippery Rock) that would lead me to a career in coaching. As I think back to my own athletic experiences I realize that I had mostly men as coaches but the few women that I was fortunate enough to call “Coach” made indelible and mostly positive impressions on me as I considered that I might like to follow in their footsteps as a career choice. Today we see that there are fewer and fewer women in coaching, most notably women coaching female athletes, especially at the collegiate level, and more women are serving as assistant coaches than as head coaches of programs in all sports. It seems that today most female coaches find

themselves in support roles without much opportunity to advance their careers.


As my coaching journey grew I found myself wanting to experience coaching at the college level. And not just any college level, I wanted to coach at a “Big Time” NCAA Division 1 program! My experience and especially my connections would lead me to an opportunity to interview for the assistant coaching position at the University of Tennessee. Head Coach Dan Colella offered me the position in September of 2000 and my dream was realized! I’m proud to say that I have coached at all levels of the sport of swimming from working with 8 and unders all the way to Olympic trials qualifiers. One thing I have learned along the way is that all swimmers really want the same things; their coach to be fair, improvement in their skills, times, and they want swimming to be fun. After 5 mostly positive years at Tennessee my career took me back to club coaching. I was hired as the head coach of the Westfield (MA) YMCA swim team and was introduced to the Y and all of its amazing values. I coached at Westfield for 10 years where we built the team from 66 swimmers to around 150. For a single branch Y this was a pretty big team and we did our best to be a program our Y could be proud of supporting as we were a big part of our entire YMCA community. The opportunity to come to YOTA was presented to me by then head coach Chad Onken. Not only would I have the opportunity to coach at one of the best YMCA programs in the country but I would also be the head coach of a brand new NCAA Division 3 men’s and women’s team at William Peace University in Raleigh NC.

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YOTA is an amazing program. I am not technically the head coach of the entire program; I am the head senior coach, sometimes referred to as the head national team coach. When Chad left YOTA we hired Jerry Foley to be our Director of Competitive Swimming. His job requires him to oversee every aspect of our team and it’s a bit like being an athletic director. Jerry is a fantastic addition to the YOTA swim team and the opportunity to be mentored by him every day is another great boost to my coaching career. We currently have 550 swimmers registered in our competitive program where we swim at 10 YMCA of the Triangle branches throughout Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. We also have pre-competitive swimmers and registered master’s swimmers that take our total numbers well over 700. We have 4 levels of age group swimming at 7 of the branches and 3 levels of senior swimming at 5 of the branches. There are 4 full-time coaches that make up the senior staff and each of us have 2-3 assistant coaches. We currently have 144 athletes in our senior program (almost the same size as my entire team at Westfield!), and as the head senior coach I oversee this entire group. During the past 9 months and through the phenomenon of a pandemic my leadership skills have been tested and expanded, sometimes on a daily basis!


As female coaches we need to, first and foremost, take care of each other and ourselves. My advice to other women is to make sure that you set up a great network and learn to communicate with each other as consistently and frequently as possible. Be open to sharing with each other and support each other to the best of your ability. An example of great support is that if you hear of job openings make sure to contact each other and if possible recommend other qualified women for jobs. Remarkably it seems that men are always considered for positions first so we need to be our own best advocates. Over the years I have seen fewer and fewer women especially as head coaches. My own journey has been mostly positive and the men that I have coached with have been supportive and involved in helping to advance my career. I also think that my own awareness and assertive personality have helped me along the way. My biggest challenge was probably when I realized, as an assistant coach at Tennessee, that I had NO voice anywhere other than within our team. Once I overcame the realization that this particular athletic department was set up so that teams were only dependent upon each other for support and the athletic director was only interested in communicating with the head coach I became the best version of my coaching self that I could be. Maybe part of the reason this was a challenge to me was because up until my time at Tennessee I had always been a head coach with only myself as support. I learned so much from Dan Colella (now the head coach at Duke); not only the “mechanics” of training, scheduling, racing, etc., but most importantly I learned leadership and advocacy and so many of the “soft” skills that I continually use as I further my coaching career.


Today, it’s really important to me that I serve as a mentor, especially to other female coaches. I’ve participated in women’s coaching summits and have taken advantage of leadership workshops and seminars specifically for female coaches. I see very few young people, and especially females, who think of coaching as a viable career, and this concerns me greatly. It’s also more than a little frustrating that I feel like we’ve been having the same conversations about this dilemma for WAY too many years! Making as much money as possible seems to be a goal of young people today and most of them know that coaching, at least when one gets started, does not make you financially rich! My wish for the generation of female coaches coming behind me is that they receive the support, opportunities and financial stability needed in order for them to grow and remain in coaching for the entirety of their professional lives. I truly believe I am lucky to be a swim coach and I love my job!


Current: Head Senior/National Team Coach YOTA Swim Team, Raleigh NC

Associate Head Coach, Director of Operations William Peace University,

Raleigh NC

2005-2015 Head Coach/Director of Aquatics, Westfield YMCA, Westfield MA

2000-2005 Assistant Women’s Swim Coach, University of Tennessee

1982-2000 Head Coach James Buchanan HS/Mercersburg Area Swim Club,

Mercersburg PA.

1980-1982 Head Coach Slippery Rock Eels Swim Team, Slippery Rock PA



Education: Slippery Rock State College 1982, BS-HPERD, Specialty in Aquatics

Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) 1986 MS Athletic

Administration


Committees, Team, Camps:

Secretary-North Carolina Swimming Board of Directors

Member- YMCA Swimming Operations Council

USA Swimming Chair- Convention Education Committee

Head Coach- National Diversity Select Camp, rescheduled for May 2021

Head Manager- National Diversity Select Camp, May 2019

Head Manager- FINA World Jr. Championships, Indianapolis August 2017

Assistant Manager- FINA World Jr Championships, Singapore August 2015

Assistant Manager- Duel in the Pool, Scotland, December 2103

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