Black female strength coach a true rarity

Conclusion of a two-part column


AnotherViewsquareIf it’s hard being a Black female coach in any sport, it’s more than likely harder still for a Black female strength coach.

Mia Erickson of the Mayo Clinic Performance Center in Rochester, Minn. was the only Black among the four-person sport science panel at the U of M Tucker Center Women Coaches Symposium in February. “That’s just the way it is on seeing [strength] coaches that look like me,” she admits.

“First of all, I’m in a male-dominated field, so there are not going to be a lot of female coaches. Then there are not a lot of people of color, either.” According to the Institute for Diversity in Ethics in Sport, Black females account for barely one percent of all Division I strength coaches.

Says Erickson, a former national weightlifting champion and 2010 U.S. Olympic bobsled team member, “What got me into the field is the influence that the coaches I had had on me, good and bad. I had great examples of what a [strength] coach should be, and had examples of what a coach should not be. That helped me model my coaching philosophy in the way I interact with athletes.

“Right now I have 800 [athletes]” in all sports at two Rochester high schools, Century and Mayo, notes Erickson, a former U of M assistant strength coach. During her 20 minutes, she told a room of mostly White coaches, “My job is [to] maximize athletic potential, whether it’s a 13-year-old girl or a 28-year-old man. I work with athletes from the youth range all the way up to the international level.

Tucker Center Associate Director Nicole LaVoi (l) and Sport Performance Coach Mia Erickson Photo by Charles Hallman
Tucker Center Associate Director Nicole LaVoi (l) and Sport Performance Coach Mia Erickson
Photo by Charles Hallman

“When I train athletes, the first order of business for me is to do a needs analysis of the actual sport [and] the demands he [or she] needs to know that’s necessary for them to be successful,” she points out. “I’m not going to train a 10K athlete the same way I am going to train a golf athlete. A cookie-cutter program isn’t going to work for everybody.”

Despite her decade of experience, Erickson admits there still exists that rock-headed thinking that a female can’t coach males, especially in weight training. “That’s another battle we have to fight as a female strength coach.

“To [some] male athletes, it didn’t matter if the woman was qualified or not, they prefer having a male coach.” And it’s a double fight if the male coach’s attitudes on female coaches unfairly influence the athletes as well, she adds.

Her third constant fight involves getting more females in the weight room. “Wherever you go into a high school weight room, it’s full of [males]. They are in there all day.” However, there are still females who see an invisible force field at the weight room door, fearing that entering will make them “look like bodybuilders.”

“As a strength coach, we have to create that atmosphere to where girls say, ‘I want to work out. I want to come in, and I am not afraid to come in there,” states Erickson.

Finally, as a Black female strength coach, like any other coach of color, it is still hard out there being fully accepted. “Strength and conditioning is not so black and white. It’s being able to connect with whatever race, color or creed that you’re coaching and still be able to maintain your own identity,” concludes Erickson.


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