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Q&A: With Nicole Van Dyke

Feb 3, 2014

STANFORD, Calif. – Nicole Van Dyke earned her first collegiate head soccer coaching job at 23 years old because someone believed in her. Now, Van Dyke, an assistant with the Stanford women’s team, would like to be that person for others.

Earlier this month in Philadelphia, Van Dyke was a member of the first women’s coaching panel at the NSCAA Convention – the largest annual soccer coaching convention in the country – alongside some of the most successful in women’s collegiate soccer.

Recently, Van Dyke sat down with and talked about her role in advocating for and encouraging young women to consider coaching.

Q: What is the significance of being a member of the first NSCAA women’s panel?A:  It was an honor to sit on the panel. Being surrounded by so many successful women, who all brought different experiences and perspectives, was exciting. The significance of the panel in general shows the interest of the NCAA and the NSCAA to promote women coaches that are making an impact on the game.

Q: What are the main issues?A:  The main issue is lack of women coaches.  Last spring I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the Women’s Coaching Academy and it was eye-opening for me. I had always placed an emphasis on my own coaching pyramid; encouraging soccer players who might make good coaches to get into club, get into graduate assistant positions, etc.  But I came out of it understanding that it’s bigger than just soccer. It’s really about getting more women in the profession in all sports. It’s no different than the pursuit of more women in the math and sciences.

Q: Did these groups give you a greater sense of connection?A: It gives you comfort to know you’re gaining a support system from being around other women coaches. It kind of inspires you, especially those who have done it for many years. There are numerous reasons that women get out of coaching -- you have the timing of children and family, and the hours aren’t consistent. We tend to feel guilty about sharing our time.

Q: What can change that?A: We need to help each other out. The problem is not men coaching women -- there are many extraordinary males that are coaching women.  We need to encourage coaches to be mentors to young coaches, who maybe struggle asking questions or even asking for help, we also need to identify those women that demonstrate the characteristics of a quality coach. For example, if you have a male club director who has a job opening, he’s going to recommend five guys that he knows. It’s not that he doesn’t want to hire women. He simply may not know any women.

Q: Very rarely do we see women coaching men. Is that something that should be on people’s radar?A: Those are issues that we speak about. I think there have been a few. I’ve coached boys at the youth level. It’s whatever gets people into the game. Look at (Stanford women’s assistant) Jay Cooney. His mom was really into women’s soccer. That’s what got Jay into the women’s side. It’s really how you develop to get into the sport. If you develop coaching men, and that’s what you enjoy doing, then, obviously, there should be no limits to that.

Q: Is the bigger issue getting women involved if they show an interest or talent?A: Definitely. I never had a female coach growing up. I even encourage those who played only in high school to get into coaching, get them involved at the youth level. Maybe some of the better coaches aspire to the top, but it’s important to recognize that it can be a very fulfilling, regardless of the level.

Q: Is there anybody at Stanford you think would be a great head coach?A: I think (current pro) Rachel Quon is going to make a great coach. I’ve pushed her a little bit to get into coaching. That’s something I’ve done at every university I’ve been (Van Dyke was head coach at Cal State Bakersfield and, before that, at Cal State Stanislaus). Sometimes you simply plant the seed by recognizing their strengths.  I’ve also had a few players out to my youth sessions or encouraged others to work summer camps.

Q: Do they always see their potential as a coach before you talk to them?A: I don’t think they know or understand the opportunities that are out there. When a kid is graduating, they just assume ‘I’m not playing again,’ unless they’re one of the few that’s going into the pro game. But if they want to go to graduate school, they can become a graduate assistant and see what it’s like on a daily basis to be a college coach. They can work camps. If you can provide them with those windows to get into it and if they run with it, then they’ll know whether this is what they want to do.

Q: What do you enjoy most about coaching?A: I love the opportunity as a college coach to better the student-athlete. You have four years to make them better people and better athletes. I want to prepare them for the future. It’s about that relationship and knowing that you developed them. You don’t get that opportunity at the youth level when you get them two nights a week. I really enjoy challenging players to be the best they can be and love when they accomplish something they’ve worked really hard for. When they move on and are successful, whatever that success is, I’m excited and happy for them. And when they’re giving back to the community and they’re speaking highly of their experience in college and the journey they went through, I think that’s the most important thing.  

Q: Should women’s teams have a female presence?A: I think it’s important to have females on staff. I think females relate to the players well and can also be good role models.  Men and women have different perspectives and having the female perspective is important. It’s something that a staff should consist of at any level.   

Q: You were 23 years old when you became a head coach. How did you know you were ready and was there a mentor who helped you realize you could do it?A: Simon Tobin, who is now the San Jose State men’s coach, coached the Bakersfield men’s and women’s teams when I was there. He always has been a big advocate for women’s coaches. Essentially, he saved a spot for me for a year to become an assistant coach. Simon was a great mentor because he allowed me to do so much as an assistant coach and that made me a little bit more prepared than most to be hired as a 23-year-old head coach. I lied to the players for a few years. I said I was 25. Obviously, as you develop those relationships with players they recognize that age doesn’t matter. You can only have so many birthdays where you’re 25.

Q: One of the reasons head coach Paul Ratcliffe hired you at Stanford was having that Division I head coaching experience. What’s the adjustment been like for you between schools, jobs, and experiences?A: That’s the beauty of my career, just being around three different types of universities. I’ve gained a lot from coming here and being at the highest level, working with the elite athletes every day, where their goals are above and beyond winning a national championship. It’s definitely created a wide spectrum of experiences, and that’s what’s going to help me be a good head coach at some point again. I’m able to fine-tune some of the small details with the players. I can spend a little bit more time with them in areas that need extra attention.  

Q: Is there anything you want to say to those considering coaching?A: First, ask for help or advice. Working at the collegiate level, I regularly get requests by teams that are looking for coaches. By expressing interest with a local university, they may be able to connect you to club directors, local teams or graduate assistant positions that are open.

Q: What would you like to see in the future, for yourself and the coaching profession?A: Personally, I want to be known as a good coach, not, just a good female coach. In the future, I would like to see more women in the profession. Ultimately, I want to encourage coaches to mentor and support young aspiring women coaches.