What’s it like to be a female head coach at a university with arguably the best athletic program in the country? Nine out of UCLA’s 12 NCAA women’s sports have female head coaches and, while they may not garner the same amount of attention that the coaches of men’s basketball or football do, they have attained their own impressive success.
The secret to that success could very well lie in the fact that they are women. Just ask Valorie Kondos Field ’87, head coach of UCLA’s six-time NCAA champion women’s gymnastics team, who says, “A big part of coaching is getting to know your athletes as people. Without making a blanket statement about the differences between genders, I imagine that it is easier for a female coach to ask more personal questions of her athletes and consequently have a better idea of how best to coach them.”
With this year marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX — a law passed in June 1972 that requires gender equity for men and women in every educational program that receives federal funding — it seems an appropriate time to celebrate the current and future accomplishments of UCLA’s female head coaches. UCLA Magazine sat down recently with Cori Close (women’s basketball), Carrie Forsyth (golf), Kelly Inouye-Perez (softball) and Stella Sampras Webster (tennis) to get their thoughts on everything from win-loss records to being a working mother.
How did you get into your respective sports?
Stella Sampras Webster: Well, I guess my brother and I started together. I have two other siblings, but my dad thought tennis was a great sport for us, and he did see something special in Pete. So we would go to high school courts and start hitting off the walls and playing jungle tennis. We moved out to Los Angeles, and that’s when we joined the Jack Kramer Club. That’s where we pretty much grew up.
Kelly Inouye-Perez: I started playing softball when I was 10. My parents had me try everything and found out what I wasn’t good at: art, music, all those things. (Laughs.) But then I found softball. I followed my sister, and she played, so I played. I was fortunate to make an All-Star team and won my first championship in my first year, so I thought, well, this could be kind of fun.
Carrie Forsyth: I was the youngest in a family of 14. You can imagine the generation gap between me and my parents. They used to drop me off at my brother’s house to babysit me on Saturdays when they would go play golf. One day my mom accidentally broke a club, and my brother welded it together for me. Suddenly I had this golf club and they started to take me out to a little par-3 course when I was about 9. And that’s how I started.
Cori Close: I grew up in Northern California, and there was a group of families that all lived on the same street, and our dads were coaches in the different sports at the high school. And I was the only girl of all the kids. So if I wanted any friends, I played whatever all the boys were playing: football, basketball, soccer.
This is a milestone year for Title IX. How has Title IX affected you as a student and/or as a coach?
SSW: As a student, I remember we had separate practice courts, separate match courts. We didn’t even have a team room. The men had all of these things, and it came to a point where all of a sudden, we got them. We were able to practice and play at the same facility as the men, and then we got a team room. … When I first started coaching in 1993, there were hardly any female coaches. Now, I look around the room and there are so many more female coaches. It’s great to see more females out there being head coaches and doing well.
CF: In our sport, there’s been a shift back in the other direction recently. It was dominated by women coaches and now, suddenly, a lot of male assistants and male head coaches are being hired. It’s changing the dynamic of recruiting and things like that. Have you noticed it?
SSW: All of the assistant coaches in our program are men. The players all grew up with male coaches. That was an issue when we were recruiting — they were used to being coached by guys.
CC: That’s the other side of Title IX. Because Title IX has brought in more resources to our games, there are more men who are willing to be involved in that. … But it’s an interesting dynamic. I have this loyalty to wanting to provide opportunities for women because people did that for me; at the same time, I really like the balance of having a male on our staff. But that’s not very popular, because some people think that’s not in the spirit of Title IX.
KIP: I feel fortunate with the timing of my career, because I have been surrounded by history. … I used to carpool with [softball legends] Sharron [Backus] and Sue [Enquist] and [basketball coach] Billie Moore every day to work. So you could imagine the lessons learned. That’s a big part of my philosophy as a coach, to know the people who have walked before you. … So for my girls, I teach them the history of those who have sacrificed — people who stood their ground and created this opportunity for the younger generation.
We see the pressure that the male coaches get in football and basketball. Do you feel that same pressure to win a championship?
KIP: The pressure is just an expectation, and the expectation that we have of ourselves is greater than what anybody can put on us. … The first thing [Senior Associate Athletic Director] Petrina [Long] said to me was, “It’s going to take you five years, honey, to win a championship. It’s not that easy.” And I looked at her like, “Lady, I don’t know who you are, but we win.” (Laughter.) And that first year, I did a great job of being the first team to not even get past the first round.
In the bigger picture, our administrators are doing everything they can to push us, but also to support us, knowing that we — as females in Olympic sports that don’t get the big bucks that football and men’s basketball get — have our own expectations of what we’re trying to get done.
CC: Once a week, I go down to the Hall of Fame. Everyone else looks at the 108 [championship trophies]. I look at the empty spot in the bottom right-hand corner. And the reality is that not only have I not won a national championship, but women’s basketball has not won one since the AIAW [in 1978]. And some people look at that like, “Do you feel pressure to make that happen?” No, I’m inspired to make that happen. And there’s a really big difference.
Do you feel a certain kinship because you are female coaches? Do you socialize outside of work?
All: We should!
KIP: Every time something big happens, [Head Women’s Swim Coach] Cyndi Gallagher ’83 gets everyone together. In 2010, gymnastics won [the NCAA championship], so we went into Westwood to celebrate. And I said, “You know what? I need to create a little tradition.” So I went and bought a shot glass from the UCLA Store and said, “This is going to be the championship shot glass.” (Laughter.) Whoever wins, the coach has to take a shot. … I followed right after Miss Val and won a championship.
CF: I’m the current holder.
KIP: The point of it is, we’re together. We’ve talked a lot about being able to use the network a little bit more within ourselves. … There was a great deal of respect when [Carrie and Stella] had their kids, too. We could communicate about different things, and that doesn’t mean it’s just about kids.
CC: And someone like myself, who would love to have a family and kids, I’m watching that — OK, how do they do that? It’s amazing. And just because that’s not my journey right now, I can watch and learn.
CF: When I have a child on the phone or something comes up and I don’t know what to do as a coach, I can always go to Kelly about juggling the family thing. It’s nice to have that sense of camaraderie, even though we may not always get to spend time together outside of what we’re doing.
KIP: If I really need something, I could go ask Stella or Carrie, and now Cori, because we share one thing in common: We’re Bruins. We all understand our own world. … You’re not measured by the championships you win, but by the effort you put in making sure everyone understands how important and special it is to be a Bruin.