For the third and final part of Jen Heisel's three-part series focused around women and discrimination in the workplace Jen caught up with San Jose State's assistant track coach Kelley Watson.
Kelley Watson is a trailblazer. She had nearly five years of experience as an assistant men’s and women’s track and field and cross country coach at Boise State when she was tabbed to help lead San Jose State’s new women’s track program as an assistant in 2014. This year, after announcing the university was reinstating its men’s track program, San Jose State had its best performance at the outdoor conference championship, despite having to deal with not having a track on campus.
You have a unique role as a woman of color who coaches both men and women. Can you talk about discrimination you have faced as a coach?
Male strangers at track meets seem overly eager to tell me what my kids are doing wrong. I've never had a female coach do that. I've never observed a male stranger offering the same advice to a male coach the way they do with me. They’ll make comments to me at the track. For instance, at one meet, my kids were practicing block starts and someone told me, "she needs to come up higher in set," as if I'm not capable of coaching my own athletes. This particular young woman was new to track and wasn't yet strong enough to do a ‘proper start’ so we modified it for her strength levels at that time. I just hate that the assumption is that I don't know that she should be higher. It didn't bother me too much my first two years at this level but I'm now entering year 10 and these types of things are still happening.
It has happened with the male athletes I coach as well, although with the men, the male strangers are more likely to bypass me and talk directly to the athlete, which also says a lot.
It’s almost as if, as women, we are in some perpetual need of being saved, like I don't have access to the same articles and studies and mentorship that they do.
What do you do when that happens?
I usually just say thank you and relocate myself. Rarely do I explain my theories or reasoning because it's something I feel doesn't really need to be done. I love it when the particular athlete does really well in her heat; Sometimes, I'll shoot a look at the perpetrator and smile, but that's probably more for me than anyone.
Do you think that, being a Person of Color and a woman, you have different, either fewer or more, opportunities than male counterparts?
Actually, in all honesty, being a Person of Color and a woman, I feel like the opportunities are wide open. The problem for us comes in when we are promoted beyond our ability. If we fail, it is a failure for all female coaches and for all women of that particular color: in this case, black. Luckily, I had a good mentor tell me that when I started out and it really caused me to hone my craft.
That’s a lot for one person to take on. How do you counteract the pressure you must feel?
Honestly, my job is pretty much my life. Outside of soccer, which I play irresponsibly at best, I'm pretty much always at work. I read, watch video, design training, plan practice sessions and talk with successful coaches. That doesn't even get into the recruiting or clerical duties that come with my job. Yet even with all of that, and with my program not having a track of its own or having full access to transportation, I still find myself falling short of my expectations, as well as, at times, the expectations of my boss.
There are sleepless nights, and glasses of wine and cathartic sessions with my best friends and family. But in the morning, I wake up excited to do it all over again. I fully expect one day to wake up ready to move on but until that day comes, being a woman and a Person of Color in this field is a responsibility I try to carry with grace, dignity an competence.