Kelly McNiff is the Assistant Coach for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Women’s Basketball Team.
Kelly is in her 16th year of coaching having been an assistant in both basketball and softball at local high schools and since being head hunted for a role as assistant alongside Brad Fischer, the current Head Coach, she now works at Collegiate level athletics.
We asked Kelly about her day to day coaching, how she manages to accomplish the much needed work-life balance of a coach and how she thinks the current US Political climate is affecting women in sports.
Can you give us a brief history about your coaching career & how you became Assistant Coach at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh?
I began coaching sports at various levels in 2001. I was a student assistant basketball coach at UW-Oshkosh where I had just finished my playing career. I was an assistant basketball and softball coach at a local high school in Oshkosh as well. I moved up to Green Bay, WI in 2002 and started coaching basketball at area high schools there. In 2005, along with coaching junior varsity girls? basketball, I began a 2 year stint as an infield coach for the softball team at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. But I soon realized basketball was my true passion, so I decided to focus my coaching efforts in basketball only. My first varsity basketball head coaching experience came in 2007 at Green Bay Southwest High School. I held that position for 2 years and then moved on to De Pere High School. In my first season, we were Wisconsin Division 1 State Runners-up. 2 years later were the 2012 Wisconsin Division 1 State Champions. Combining that run and a winning streak into the next season, we won 44 games in a row, and in a total of 4 years at De Pere High School, we went 96-11. After the 2012-2013 season, I was contacted by Brad Fischer, current head coach here at UW-Oshkosh. He was in need of an assistant and asked me to join his staff. After much deliberating, I felt the timing was right to jump from the high school to college level, especially with it being an opportunity to return to my alma mater.
What does your day-to-day coaching role look like?
During the season, my day is spent mainly watching and breaking down game film. Coach Fischer and I split scouting responsibilities for every other game, so every week I have one team I dedicated my focus to. I also help with practice planning and working with our guards during guard-post breakdowns within practice. If classes are in session, I meet with half of our players individually once every other week. We meet to discuss academics: how are their classes going, do they have tests or projects coming up, where are they at grade-wise for the semester, etc. Our goal as a program is to finish the year in the Top 25 athletically & academically, so these meetings are very important! Other daily/weekly duties include planning events such as Alumni Day, Youth Day, Senior Day, and our annual Pink Game. Add on top of that doing practice laundry & planning meals for away games, my day (as any coach’s day) is quite jam packed!
With coaching requiring so much commitment (both time & energy) in a person?s life, have you managed to get a work-life balance? And if so, how do you manage that?I have found having a good work-life balance during the season has been a little difficult. I commute to/from work an hour. More recently, I have spent the majority of my week here in Oshkosh, prepping for opponents/practices/scouting reports, etc. I sometimes need a reminder that it?s okay to get out of the office, get my nose out of the playbook, and unwind a bit. But, we want to be a successful program, and being prepared is a big part of that. So, it?s a lot of time away from family and friends, but we all make it work as best as possible. When the season is over though, I plan a week-long vacation somewhere warm. Being able to get away from the gym and office to spend time in the sun & on a beach is much needed. This allows for the perfect opportunity and setting to relax & recharge for the upcoming recruiting season. I also try to get in a long weekend trip right before the season starts. Coming back from that vacation, knowing I soon get to be in the gym with my team is a great feeling!
There are some great role models in the top ranks of basketball at the moment with Becky Hammon, Nancy Lieberman, and more female head coach in the WNBA than ever before do you think having these female coaches in the pro sports are helping to bring more female coaches through into college or high school?
I hope it helps, I truly do. With women now being seen in higher profile positions in higher profile leagues (including women officiating men’s sports), I would think this can only help promote interest in the field. Personally, I got involved in coaching because of my female college coaches-they were my role models. And I am sure women absolutely look up to Coach Hammon & Coach Lieberman. However, I think, that at least here in Wisconsin, we have seen fewer and fewer female coaches. It’s not an easy profession?long hours, you always bring your work home with you, time away from family & friends, a lot of travel, low pay, success often based on the performance of teenagers/young adults, etc. is incredibly stressful. But really, no job is super easy & all have their pros & cons. But, it’s not for everyone and you have to be in it for the right reasons & truly love the sport in which you coach. Coaching may not be a glamorous job, but for me, it is a very rewarding job. Helping young women develop into well-rounded individuals is my favorite part of the job. I love strategizing & preparing for opponents, I love the X’s & O’s, but building relationships with my players that will last a lifetime is a truly wonderful experience.
How do you think the current political climate in the US is affecting the way female coaches feel about their future development and progression in sports? With so much concern for the future of women’s equality, has it been a positive experience seeing the Women’s March for example. And does the situation the US is currently experiencing actually providing women with more strength rather than taking it away?
To be honest, there has been a fight for more equal treatment with women in sports for decades. However, because of new technology, social media, and with comments made by our current president, these women’s issues are brought to the forefront now more than ever. Even when we think there has been progress, a story comes to light that makes you stop and realize we still have a long way to go. For example, the Wisconsin Boy’s State Basketball Tournament celebrated its 100th year of existence in 2015. And for the first time ever, there was a female official for one of the tournament games. It was a celebratory event, but somewhat hard to fathom at the same time. 100 years is a long time for a sport that has plenty of female officials! So even though a story like this or seeing women coaching in the NBA are positives, you still shake your head. And ultimately, regardless of the political climate, it’s on us to use our voices, actions, and strength in numbers, such as the Women’s March, to continue making equality issues important.
What lessons have you learned along the way that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Early in my coaching career, I think I put more of an emphasis on wins & losses. I was a young coach that just wanted to win, and win immediately. When I took a step back and re-evaluated what I really wanted out of coaching, I feel I started to blossom as a coach. I didn?t need to yell or scream to get a point across or teach a play or correct a mistake. I wanted to coach the kids the way I was coached, the way I learned, and it just didn?t work that way. As I looked at the big picture, as I adjusted the way I coached individuals, the wins & successes-on and off the court- started to come.
What advice would you give to other young women who want to make coaching a career?
Patience, Persistence, Positivity .three things that are really needed when coaching. It?s not easy to be in charge of a group of young women?each has their own unique skills, personalities, and needs. It takes a while to figure not only how to reach each one of those players on an individual basis, but also to figure out how to meld all of that uniqueness into one; to develop team chemistry. There will be growing pains and hard times, but if you can get through those, it?ll all be worth it. Every day is a day to make a difference in a player?s life ? and that?s a pretty rewarding feeling.