In the days after Brooke Wyckoff learned she was pregnant, the Florida State assistant coach began asking herself just how she would juggle her new life. How could she be a mom and work the demanding hours within college basketball?
Wyckoff could partially envision the balancing act that was ahead of her, months in the future. She was excited for the arrival of a daughter, Avery, and the season ahead. Wyckoff recalled the support from coach Sue Semrau but also realized she didn’t know many women in college basketball who had a child and intended to coach so soon after childbirth.
“Coach Sue was incredibly supportive,” Wyckoff said of Semrau, whom she played for at FSU from 1997-2001 and had coached alongside since 2011. “She just said, ‘We’re here for you, whatever you need.’ And she was a little bit worried about how I was going to be after I had the baby. I was very naive, ‘It’s all fine. I’ll be back. Don’t you worry.’ She was a little less optimistic. And it ended up being somewhere in the middle of that.”
Wyckoff gave birth to Avery as the 2013-14 basketball season was beginning. (Semrau is Avery’s godmother.) She immediately felt the pull — to spend time with Avery and the desire to be a coach and a big sister for the team.
“I made the decision that I wouldn’t travel at least for a month after having her,” Wyckoff said. “So obviously no recruiting and not going to any road games a month out. I took two weeks at home and then started coming back to games and slowly coming back to practices. And then work my way up. By six weeks after she was born, I was recruiting, I was traveling. Honestly, that sounds long. I’ve heard so many stories of women coming back within days, especially head coaches. I was fortunate to be able to take the time I did.”
Wyckoff was fortunate. Her story is one where she was able to pursue her professional goals as a coach and not put off being a mother. It’s a story that has played out differently for decades, as young women left the profession to have a family — many around the country have told Wyckoff they didn’t have the support of either their coaching staff or administrators.
Wyckoff had the support from Semrau and her family, too. While she was a single mom, her parents were able to spend time in Tallahassee in November and December to help with Avery while she returned to the court. Wyckoff also needed to find a long-term solution and found two women who could alternate schedules to keep Avery.
“With an infant, I decided not to put her in daycare just because of the flexible hours that I needed,” Wyckoff said. “I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get there to pick her up by the end of the daycare day and things like that. I had two women that basically helped cover around the clock anytime that I wasn’t home. I found them on the Internet. It was something very scary and I couldn’t believe that I was actually doing this but had no choice and thankful that it worked out as well as it did.”
When Wyckoff had Avery, she was surprised there was not a group of moms in coaching with which they could share stories, laugh and commiserate. Wyckoff soon found a common bond in another young mom, Erika Lambert, who went from being a Division I assistant to a stay-at-home mom but worked remotely as a volunteer assistant at a Division III school before returning to coaching. With the desire to create a support group and also advocate for moms, they became the co-founders of Moms in Coaching.
“My path is a little bit unconventional, having stepped away from coaching and back in,” said Lambert, now an assistant coach at Abilene Christian. “But it was really important to me to prioritize my family during those two years. And I think there’s a lot of women who wonder, ‘Do I need to put off having kids, if I start out in coaching or vice versa? Do I have to do one or the other?’ And I think you can make both work.”
In the two years when Lambert stayed home with her two daughters, Ava and Mya, she and her husband, Paul, a dentist, moved a few times for his residency. Lambert had just gotten into coaching but opted to take the step back, stay home but also had the itch to break down video and compile scouting reports. She also started a blog, connected with Wyckoff and they eventually planned a meeting for moms at the 2014 Final Four and booked a room as part of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association convention.
They didn’t book a room big enough.
“It was just a small hotel ballroom, and it turned into standing-room only,” said Wyckoff, who is FSU’s interim head coach this season. “And it was so therapeutic. They want to talk and connect and share and then hear and listen and understand. ‘Oh, yeah, so many women are going through the same thing.’ So right then and there, it was confirmed. ‘Ok, this has got to be a thing. We’ve got to find a way to stay connected, to help serve these mothers to help connect these mothers.’ ”
Lambert recalled one woman standing up and telling her story, which eventually led to her departure from coaching.
“It was really interesting once we went public to hear from women who just wanted to say, ‘Hey, I was a coach. And then when I wanted to have kids, my head coach said I couldn’t. So I got out. And I just want you guys to know, it’s so important what you’re doing,’ ” Lambert recalled. “I just hated that. I hated that women felt like they couldn’t raise a family and work in college athletics. It really is a unique job.”
Wyckoff and Lambert began to grow Moms in Coaching. They have previously done e-mail newsletters but also have started a podcast. The group’s Twitter and Instagram posts highlight accomplishments of coaches across the country.
Moms in Coaching is a support group but also an advocate to make sure young women had the chance to stay in the profession. Wyckoff feels there is an understanding among college administrators of the need to help moms who coach but there is no uniformity across conferences or at the NCAA level.
“We talk about that so much of when you’re looking for a job, or when you are deciding if a situation is right for you, you have to find people, administrators, bosses, head coaches, other assistant coaches that are on the staff that have the same values that you do when it comes to family,” Wyckoff said. “Because if not, it doesn’t matter how much it pays, it doesn’t matter how prestigious the program is, it’s not going to work. But I do see that it’s evolving. I feel like our society is evolving in general.”
Beyond helping and advocating for moms who are coaches now, Wyckoff and Lambert are looking to the future. They coach women who are 18-23 years old, some of whom will go on to play professional basketball or will use their degrees and start a career. And, yes, many who are playing at the college level will seek a career in coaching.
“Our mission is to be examples to players and younger coaches that you can do both,” Wyckoff said. “You don’t have to choose if you don’t want to, you don’t have to not have kids to stay in this business and be a good coach. And you don’t have to get out of the business to have family.”