SE: Strong Women

What does a typical day in the life of a K-State coach look like? What is the most rewarding part of the job? How in the world do coaches balance family life and a hectic schedule? 

These were just a few of the many questions four female K-State coaches had the opportunity to answer at this month’s Women of K-State Lunch and Learn meeting. Founded in 2009 by K-State’s First Lady Dr. Noel Schulz, Women of K-State provides an opportunity for women of all walks of life on the K-State campus to connect while also creating an environment for growth and advancement. 

From professors on campus to leaders in the community, every month the group hears from a new woman or group of women. This month, Women of K-State got to know K-State volleyball head coach Suzie Fritz, tennis head coach Danielle Steinberg, women’s basketball assistant coach Ebony Gilliam and women’s soccer assistant coach Jessica Smith. 

“It’s always fun. We always appreciate the opportunity to just engage with the women on campus,” said Fritz after speaking to the group. “This is something that’s dear to me. I’m at a point where I really appreciate and respect women and what women do more than I ever have. In my working with young women, I kind of see that startup and where they get to go, but this group is at that next stage of that. So I just appreciate the opportunity to be here and talk with these women.” 

Taking place at the Beach Museum of Arts, nearly 90 women from all areas around the K-State campus came out to learn and hear from these Wildcat coaches. 

Though each of the four coaches featured on the luncheon’s panel come from a very different background and each works with a different sport, they do have a few things in common. One, they’re all passionate about their jobs, and two, they’re heavily invested in helping the young women on their teams become more than just talented and successful athletes. They each invest their time in empowering their players to become strong, well-rounded people. 

“I pride myself in being a leader of young women, and I really think that it’s a responsibility that we all have,” said Smith when asked about the most rewarding aspect of her job as a coach. “There’s so much that goes into the actual coaching and the recruiting part of it, but at the end of the day, these young women are 18-22 years old, and we’re here to tell them, basically, that they’re amazing. As coaches, we have to facilitate a really challenging environment, but we’re here to help them when they fall, push them up, empower them and push them toward success. It’s a really an all-encompassing job.” 

Smith, one of K-State’s newest coaches as she’s been with the women’s soccer team for just four months, is the mother of a seven-month-old baby boy, while Gilliam has a four-month-old son. As new mothers, their family life was also among the topics discussed. 

“How do you balance all that? You travel so much; how in the world do you do it?” one woman at the luncheon asked. 

The answer: It’s tough. 

But, it’s not impossible. 

“I have a husband, I have a baby and I want to be great at my job,” explained Gilliam. “With what we do as coaches, it’s kind of like we’re always working, so I have to make a schedule and stick with it. It’s a constant struggle and something I’m still working on right now because sometimes, I just want to be home with him, but I have things I have to do to make sure I provide for him as well.” 

Though finding balance is tough, the two have a role model in Fritz, mom to two junior high aged sons, to look up to. 

Fritz is heading into her 20th year coaching with the K-State volleyball team and had both of her sons during her time working with the Wildcats. She’s been in these young coaches’ shoes and familiar with what they’re going through.

“I took (my sons) recruiting with me when they were little sometimes, I did all that, and then sometimes I left them at home. I missed them, but I think that’s part of being a working mother,” explained Fritz responding to Gilliam. “You will figure it out. If you want to have a career and you want to have a family and you want to do all that, you can do it. And there are a lot of women in this room who are doing it too.” 

The group applauded to Fritz’s comments. 

Overall, the Lunch and Learn was a hit. Those in the audience got to know the coaches on a deeper level, while the coaches had the opportunity to connect with numerous women who support their teams year round. 

“I think it was fantastic,” said Smith after the event. “It was really fun to be in front of women who I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to meet and talk to. It was nice to connect with people on campus.” 

While the Women of K-State events will slow down over the summer months, they will have plenty of events to get involved with next year. If you’re interested in learning more about Women of K-State, please click here.  

“This was one of our best events,” said Women of K-State Program Coordinator Lauren McKnight. “It was fun and relaxed. It was interesting to hear from all of these coaches and to get their takes on everything. It was a really, really successful event.” 

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Kelly McHugh-Stewart, or K-State Associate AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.