One of the latest strategies by the Texas High School Coaches Association is a push to be more inclusive to its female members, to give them a voice, and to make sure female coaches throughout the state know they are valued.

That’s why the “Seat at the Table” initiative was born last year and came to Abilene ISD this year. The tagline the THSCA is using for the plan is, “Conversations for female coaches who inspire and aspire,” as it works to increase support for female coaches throughout the state. The Seat at the Table strategy was introduced to AISD last semester when THSCA Executive Director Joe Martin and Texas High School Coaches Education Foundation COO Libby Pacheco came to Abilene and met with a large group of the district’s female coaches to lay the groundwork.

The program’s main point is to ensure female coaches have a system to share thoughts on numerous topics, find community in the coaching profession, and ensure coaches stay in the profession. A quick look at the THSCA website reveals that only 4,211 of the organization’s 25,845 members (16 percent) are women, highlighting the need for such a program as Seat at the Table.

After the initial meeting with THSCA leadership, a large group of female coaches and administrators from both sides of town met together in January to discuss, among other topics, finding a balance between work, home, and being a wife and mother. 

“That’s a crucial part of this,” Abilene ISD Executive Director of Athletics James Garfield said. “Finding a balance between work and home life is important for every coach, but this program targets female coaches and allows them to share life experience on this and other topics.”

The initial group that included coaches from both AHS and Cooper and their feeder middle schools met last semester with THSCA leadership and talked through several topics, including handling multiple-sport athletes, creating positive chemistry on a coaching staff, and developing a program-wide culture. It took a bit for the conversation to start, but once it did, AHS assistant coach Jodi Paige Williams said it flowed freely.

“By the end of the night, everyone was talking,” said Williams, who is in her second year as an assistant volleyball and softball coach. “We shared our successes and failures and grew together as female coaches in AISD.”

The second meeting was separated by high school and feeder middle schools, and those two meetings were on January 24. Those meetings focused on finding life/work balance during the season and offseason, and the best way to utilize a conference period.

“We had a great conversation about how to support a family while pouring into a program,” said Michelle Velez, in her fifth year as an assistant volleyball and track and field coach at Cooper. “We talked a lot about the sacrifices that must be made to ensure family life and coaching responsibilities are fulfilled, how to deal with time when you’re short-handed or with teacher responsibilities and overloaded schedules. 

“Coaches at every level are facing these same issues, so to be able to share thoughts on the best way to troubleshoot those problems or give advice is invaluable,” Velez said. “Knowing that other coaches are facing the same issues you are and that you’re not alone has been helpful.”

The coaches will meet collectively on March 27 to discuss how to be a good assistant coach, work with the administration and athletics director, and how middle school coaches can feel supported by high school coaches. Having spent time as a middle school campus athletics coordinator at Craig Middle School, Velez is looking forward to discussing best practices for ensuring those middle school coaches feel supported.

“Developing the sports programs vertically (from the middle schools up) is something every coach is intentional about in AISD,” she said. “The head coaches work with the middle school coaches to ensure coaches develop expectations, drills, and procedures that follow a student-athlete and help them succeed at the high school level. The communication from the middle school helps the head coaches at the high school level begin to play two or three seasons ahead. Constant communication can help us avoid issues and correct before an athlete steps on a high school campus.”

Williams said the biggest takeaway is the importance of communication on campus, through to the middle school level, and across the district.

“Communication is the key, and it always has been and always will be,” she said. “It’s important that our middle school coaches feel supported by the high school coaches. We want them to feel heard and be vulnerable with us. They’re the foundation of all our programs, and we need them. We want to get every coach to feel supported by one another. There is no separation. We are all in this together; we want the best for each program. As Coach Garfield says, ‘One Town, One Family.’ “

This program – even in its infancy across the state and in Abilene – is something Garfield believes in, and one he said will be part of AISD as long as he’s in his current position.

“I’m excited to see our female coaches grow at the high school level, and I’m anticipating there will be a lot more involvement between the high school and middle school coaches in terms of helping those younger coaches grow,” Garfield said. “I’m excited about this program because we’re doing something for a group of individuals to assist them in becoming better at what they do.”