Defining Excellence And Shattering Stereotypes

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By Adam Reed, Managing Editor, CSCCa Monthly | Twitter: @CSCCaMonthly




Stacey Torman is used to pushing her limits and reaching her goals.

On top of being named the first female Master Strength & Conditioning Coach (MSCC) by the Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa) in the association’s history, Torman has also earned the distinction of being named the first female vice president of the CSCCa.

Currently the director of athletic performance for olympic sports at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB), Torman is a pioneer for women in the collegiate strength and conditioning field. But as far as she’s concerned, her gender has little to do with her accolades and achievements.

Torman became interested in fitness at a young age. Her father was the first in a long line of mentors who developed her into the coach she is today. Torman fondly remembers her first forays into what would evolve into a lifelong passion.

“My dad used to have a little weight room down in our basement,” Torman says. “It was the concrete weights with the plastic around the outside. He’d always have friends over to lift weights downstairs, and he would always encourage me to come on in there. It was never a ‘girls don’t do that’ kind of thing.”

That little weight room with cheap equipment sparked a fire in Torman which blazed through her years as a high school and college athlete. Every step of the way, there was someone to mentor her, and she grew fascinated by the way her body responded to her efforts under their guidance.

After her traditional athletic pursuits began to wane, Torman naturally segued into coaching. She began her career at UAB in 1990 as a strength and conditioning coach and assistant coach for the volleyball team. She perfectly fit her positions, having lettered in the sport for three years at Texas A&M University.

More than 25 years later, Torman worked her way to the top of the coaching ladder at UAB. She remains engaged with volleyball, as well as men’s and women’s soccer, but her primary focus now is building the UAB coaching staff into one cohesive team to provide student-athletes with a complete level of coaching, counseling and care.

Not About Gender

In spite of her many firsts as a female coach, Torman doesn’t view herself as a trailblazer. In her mind, the fact that she is a female doing things a female has never done before isn’t a big deal. In fact, she finds it difficult to even look at her career in that way.

“When I got into strength and conditioning, I didn’t really understand that there were so few females in it,” Torman says. “It was never a boys’ thing. That aspect of it just wasn’t a part of my upbringing.”

It’s not that Torman doesn’t recognize the negative effects of gender-bias, but she chooses to focus on the positive, and asks only that coaches be judged on their passion and professionalism.

“I think this generation coming up, it makes more sense to them that it shouldn’t be a gender thing,” Torman says. “If the person has a passion for what they are doing, and they’re constantly learning and they’re professional, what more can you ask from any employee, male or female?”

Winning Personality

In addition to a coach’s passion and professionalism, one of the other key ingredients in a winning coach at any level is personality.

Some of the most respected coaches in athletics have very unique personalities. The great thing about coaching is that your personality doesn’t need to fit some strict set of criteria to be effective. Your athletes only need respond to your personality to be an effective coach.

Torman highlights the importance of personality and points out that the transactional coaching style isn’t always the best choice, even for male athletes.

“I think you’re going to miss out on some great females that could really train some great male athletes who will listen to a female even better than a man sometimes,” Torman says. “It just depends on both sides of the personality scale from the athlete and the coach.”

Ultimately, the best results are achieved when players respond sincerely and meaningfully to their coaches. If the player responds appropriately to his or her coach, what does it matter if the coach is male or female, she says. It shouldn’t. It doesn’t.

“I train men’s soccer,” Torman says. “If I were a male athlete, and I had the same personality I do now, it would make no difference to me if my strength coach was female.”

Family First?

Balancing a family and a career is always a struggle, especially with so many single parents and households in which both parents have careers. Torman is no stranger to family challenges, having been married, divorced and raised her son Seth while climbing the ladder at UAB.

Her concerns aren’t centered around stereotypes and bias keeping females out of the field, but rather the pressures of having a family while still giving student-athletes the attention they need.

“My fear is that women are going to get in the strength and conditioning field and they’re going to get out because they want to have a family,” Torman says. When you take a job, you have to consider if you are going to work for somebody who is single and on-campus all the time, because you are probably going to be expected to follow that example.”

Working long hours is an unavoidable part of the job, but Torman urges coaches to limit work hours whenever they can. Developing a team mindset among the coaching staff – and having a fair approach to coaches caring for their family – will empower male and female coaches alike to work hard, knowing their families are taken care of.

“I don’t understand why we work 16 hour days,” Torman says. “You just have to understand there’s got to be a balance, there has to be a little give and take.”

Torman is confident that fostering this kind of mindset will help more females to stay in the career field, and is convinced that both male and female coaches will benefit from a balanced approach.

Give Female Coaches A Chance

Still, Torman doesn’t dismiss the bias and stereotypes female coaches face today. She is certainly aware of the flawed thinking from both players and coaches who aren’t comfortable with women coaching men. So how can coaches begin to correct a flawed culture, one so deeply ingrained in both athletics and society?

“Just give some of these females a chance,” Torman says. “There are so many knowledgeable and professional females in strength and conditioning today. Throw them in to any situation and see what they can do.”

There is no easy approach, says Torman. Like so many other challenges the CSCCa frequently embraces, achieving equality for females in a field long-dominated by males will take time. In the meantime, Torman is doing her part to show other coaches they can build a successful career in spite of the obstacles they face, gender-related or not.