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Making Champions: UCLA Women's Head Coaches on the Secrets of Their Success

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Published Jul 1, 2012 8:00 AM


Female teams have won 14 of UCLA's last 18 NCAA titles. Four of their coaches discuss the pressures and rewards of what they do.

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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.

UCLA Magazine: 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.

UCLA Magazine: This is a milestone year for Title IX. How has Title IX affected you as a student and/or as a coach?

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Women's basketball coach Cori Close (top) and women's golf coach Carrie Forsyth

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.

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