Nov 10, 2021Women in the Weight Room
Progress is a continual onward movement, unconcerned with what’s around it or what’s being said — only with advancing forward. And though progress is a never-ending process, it is important to look at what’s been accomplished in order to keep moving forward.
Every year, Training & Conditioning Magazine highlights industry pioneers — those who blazed trails, broken barriers, or sparked change in their profession. And 2021 is no different. The year saw Super Bowl LV champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers employ two women coaches — assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar being one of them.
But the opportunities for women to be the first at something in traditionally male-dominated athletic settings are evaporating. And that’s a good thing. Entering the 2021 NFL season, 12 female coaches will be staffed by an organization, up from eight a year ago. And through the 2021 Careers for Women in Football Forum, 174 opportunities, and 21 hirings have resulted in the NFL.
Soon, if not already, those phrases — the ‘blazing trails’, or ‘breaking down barriers’, ‘sparking change’ — won’t be used to refer to women leading a weight room at the highest of levels and it’ll be commonplace.
“I do look forward to the day that it’s no longer newsworthy to be a woman working in the pros or making the Super Bowl for that matter,” Javadifar said in a rare interview prior to Super Bowl LV. She declined to be interviewed for this story. “And, you know, I hope we get to a point where all people are afforded equal opportunities to work in professional sports because there are a lot of great qualified coaches out there.”
If progress continues onward, it also flows up. While the attention of the preeminent sports organization in the country opening its doors to women is worthy, women in the weight room are a common sight at the high school and collegiate ranks.
Below are the stories of three women who’ve never backed down from working in a “man’s world.”
Andrea Hudy, UConn Director of Sports Performance/Women’s Basketball
Her defiance against social stereotypes reportedly began on the Pop Warner football fields of Huntington, PA, where she was a standout player on her team before falling in love with the weight room with her brother in their homemade gym.
That led to her being a four-year letter winner in volleyball at the University of Maryland, where she earned her degree in kinesiology with the hope of impacting the lives of young athletes in a positive way.
Skipping through her 27 seasons of collegiate strength and conditioning coaching, Hudy has trained 51 former student-athletes who have gone on to play in the NBA and 21 who have gone on to play in the WNBA. With stints at the University of Texas and Kansas University before returning to UConn and has been a part of nine NCAA Championships.
“To get those [championship] results there has to be constant feedback and correction in the weight room, but the feedback and correction have to be positive. It being positive helps the athlete receive and be open to the feedback and information you’re giving them,” Hudy said.
In 2017, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) honored Hudy with the Impact Award, given to the individual whose career has greatly contributed to the advancement of the national or international strength and conditioning industry, as well as earning the 2013 National College Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year award from the NSCA.
She added, “Working in college athletics is unique because of the opportunity to make a difference in student-athletes’ lives.”
Now back at UConn, Hudy is eager to instill student-athletes at an establishment that instilled so much in her.
“Returning to the University of Connecticut is a full-circle moment,” said Hudy, who earned her master’s in sports biomechanics from UConn in 1999. “Having started my career here over 26 years ago created a solid foundation for me in sports performance, and to be a part of UConn again is a great opportunity. It will be a great experience to see such a familiar place with new perspectives.
Michelle Hart-Miller, Londonderry (NH) High School, ATC, NHLAT, CSCS
Though both state mainstays, unlike New Hampshire’s ‘Man in the Mountain’, Londonderry (NH) High School’s woman in the weight room hasn’t cracked over time. A graduate of the high school in 1986, Hart-Miller has been the school’s certified athletic trainer for 26 years.
Her path to the weight room began after hearing Mike Boyle, then the head strength coach with Boston University, speak about the induction of hurdles and mini bands. Then she took part in Vern Gambetta’s two-day class on rebuilding the athlete blueprint.
“That really piqued my interest and I remember writing the names down of kids who would find this interesting,” Hart-Miller said.
After becoming certified by the NSCA, she started a strength and conditioning program within the athletics department which blossomed in 300 student-athletes from the middle and high school levels this summer while earning the NHSSCA’s New Hampshire Strength Coach of the Year award.
Aside from taking pride in watching the Lancer student-athletes excel in their sport or recover from an injury, Hart-Miller also takes pride in building a positive atmosphere in the weight room and creating an environment where the lessons learned can go beyond the barbell.
“Michelle is definitely one of the most inspirational people I’ve met in my time as a Lancer,” one former student told the Lancer Spirit, the high school’s newspaper. “She pushes me to never give up on what I want to accomplish.”
“I’ve learned many lessons from her that I use outside of the weight room,” another student added. “One lesson that sticks out is that consistency is the most important thing when trying to achieve any given goal.”
It’s lessons like those that she hopes to pass on to the next generation of strength coaches — male or female.
“The more Andrea Hudy and those other names are out there, and kids are starting to see it’s a normal thing to have a female strength and conditioning coach, the more interested they will be in the field,” Hart-Miller said. “Pushing my kids into athletic training and to learn more about strength and conditioning and to combine the two, there’s so much value in that.”
Jami Clinton, University of Texas at Dallas Head Strength & Conditioning Coach
Since 1999, Clinton has been molding the athletes of major NCAA Division I programs.
“As a strength and conditioning coach, I have been fortunate to get to work with great athletes and amazing young people. All I ask is that they show up every day with a good attitude ready to give great effort,” Clinton said. “If they do this, success will soon follow.”
During her 16 year tenure in the profession, Clinton has trained and developed multiple SEC championship and NCAA tournament teams including 2 Women’s College World Series teams and several Men’s and Women’s Tennis Sweet Sixteen appearances. With previous stops at the University of Memphis, Ole Miss, University of Alabama, and TCU, she became the first-ever full-time strength and conditioning coach at UT-Dallas in 2015 — overseeing 13 varsity sports while managing the Comets’ athletic training center.
With the Comets, Clinton has been able to put her experiences in the profession to work as she was a big part of the overhaul of the university’s strength and conditioning program. Prior to her arrival, student-athletes had no dedicated strength and conditioning program. Instead, athletes did “their own thing” according to Clinton, usually going to the on-campus fitness center at the end of their day.
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A year after implementing her program, the results spoke for themselves with the Comets winning three of five conference championships in the fall of 2016 — the first athletic season after Clinton was hired.
“The athletes have to buy into what we’re doing, which they obviously did a wonderful job at doing,” she told the UTD Mercury.
The immediate dividends paved a pathway for Clinton to expand her program, adding two full-time athletic trainers.
“Winning is contagious,” Clinton said.