Academy shows young women how to succeed in sports careers

Submitted photo Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes

First in a series

The MSR recently attended a four-day virtual “So You Want A Career in Athletics” (SYWACIA) sports leadership academy for girls and young women of color in sports. Afterwards, several panelists and speakers agreed to share with us, as they did with the attendees, their individual career journeys and lessons learned in their fields. Coaching, executive leadership, sports medicine and entrepreneurship will be addressed in this multi-part series.

This week: Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes

Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes proudly wears many hats: college athletic director, interim conference commissioner, entrepreneur, wife, and mother. Perhaps her most notable hat being the founder of a sports leadership academy for young Black girls and women.

The So You Want a Career in Athletics Sports Leadership Academy is an intentional program to connect participants with women leaders in sports who are working as coaches and athletic directors as well as other essential athletics careers that Blacks aren’t as attracted to, such as sports medicine and academia. The attendees also will develop such skills as career mapping, building self-awareness and self-confidence, goal setting, and leadership development.

The four-day academy (July 8-11) was held virtually. Each day featured a keynote address, breakout sessions, panels, and interactive activities.

“I felt like they [participants] definitely got what they needed,” said Barnes, the Academy’s head “cheerleader”—the “CEO”— or “chief enthusiasm officer” as one panelist crowned her. “In every role that I’ve been in, that’s what I’ve done,” explained Barnes of her ever-present positivity.

“As a basketball coach, I was the coach on the sidelines giving high fives. As athletic director, I am coaching and cheering my coaches on. I am providing them with what they need…and I provide some direction and instruction, but [with] a lot of positivity.”

It’s been well documented that athletics positions at all levels aren’t as diverse as they could and should be. A hairstylist a few years ago planted the idea of doing something to help increase those numbers of Black females, Barnes recalled. “She had been bragging to some other clients of hers about me being the only woman in my field. I’m not the only woman.”

But Barnes is among few, however—under 10 percent of college athletic directors and assistant AD positions are filled by Blacks. 

“It takes time to get to the point where you can get into the job,” stated Barnes, the Dillard University AD. “What would it look like if these young women had access to a network of women who are already doing the work? They would be more prepared and understand what kind of academic experiences as well as internships and work experiences will help them eventually work their way to [these positions]. That is really what got me started.”

Barnes then set out to start her academy, which was first held in 2018 on her campus in New Orleans with several of her colleagues speaking to local girls. A year later, on a friend’s insistence, she held a similar event in Kansas City.

The pandemic put things off for a year, but this year Barnes used her birthday to ask for support. “I was able to get 25 scholarships just off a personal appeal on my Facebook page to cover the costs for these young leaders who attended my academy.” Each attendee received a “success kit”

“They each had a project, their final presentation based on what they learned,” said Barnes. “These presentations were basically reflections of what they got from the experience. It was truly the transformational experience that I dreamed it would be for them.

“I’m now committed to helping these young leaders be a part of a network that will continue to pour into them and help them grow…not just meet up one time and we don’t hear from them again.

“I believe what I am trying to create [is] developing the next generation and connecting them to a network of people who can assist with that development,” she said. “Definitely I feel like we have the groundwork now to continue to go from here.”

Next week: More of Dr. Barnes and her journey