Q (NFHCA): That brings us to our next question — can you describe what it is like to start a brand-new program?
A (BK): Exciting, challenging, a huge learning experience. I have loved every step of the building process. The first few years really took me out of my comfort zone as recruiting was a bit different. I had to adjust my approach, and make sure people knew we were located in Charlotte, North Carolina and not New York! Learning from my previous experiences, it has been great to build the program from the ground up. Setting the expectations, team values, and culture from the start has really allowed us to have the success we have had as a young program. The most challenging thing about getting started is that we really didn’t have any experienced upperclassmen to help show the younger players the ropes. At the same time, seeing these young women learn and grow together has been so rewarding. This fall we will graduate our first class of players that have completed their full four years and I am so proud of how far they have come.
Q (NFHCA): What were your top priorities when you began as the head coach at Queens? Have they changed?
A (BK): My top priority when starting out at Queens was finding the right people, staff and players. My first assistant coach played for me at App State. I could have hired a more experienced coach, but I trusted this person completely. We had the same drive for success and core values and that was key. Our current assistant played for me as well and again the most important factor is trust. This is the same with recruiting student-athletes. As a coach our job is to teach the skills and tactics of the game. What we can’t teach is an honest drive to be successful, grit, and a willingness to do all the unglamorous work day in and day out to achieve the goals for the team. We have players that I trust. They are here for the right reasons and we work together to find the right path for our program to achieve our goals.
Q (NFHCA): What was the best piece of coaching advice you have ever received?
A (BK): Keep learning. Always look for ways to get better, just like we expect our athletes to. The game is constantly evolving so as coaches we must as well. Learn different styles and approaches to the game and new skills. You must also invest in learning more about team building, the off-field stuff, the mental game is just as important as the x’s and o’s.
Q (NFHCA): What do you think is the biggest difference from your first year as a coach to now?
A (BK): Perspective and confidence. Having been the assistant for only seven months, I had just turned 24 when I was named the head coach at App State. I was more rigid with tunnel vision, focused only on winning. Hours on the field and in the weight room, the running work outs…I tried to make other people’s coaching styles fit me and it didn’t work out so well. Over those ten seasons I realized how important it is to connect with your players on a more personal level. Working on team building, goal setting, and communication off the field is just as important if not more important than anything you do at practice. I grew up as a coach in Boone and have taken those lessons and confidence into the role at Queens.
Q (NFHCA): Anything else you’d like to share?
A (BK): This past season we had some unexpected weather-related issues and I ended up last minute having to take my two kindergarteners with the team on a 10-hour road trip to Pennsylvania. I reached out to the opposing coach to see if she knew of anyone to help watch my kids during our practice and then game the next day. She bent over backwards for me and secured some people to help. One of which was an administrator at her university which I didn’t learn until after she watched them during the game. I am still so grateful for these women! I share this story because I am big on family and I have seen a lot of women get out of coaching when they start having kids and don’t feel like they can handle balancing coaching and family. We are all in this together and I would just encourage all coaches to support each other and know that having a family in our profession is hard but absolutely possible. Sometimes you need to get creative, but from my perspective growing up as the child of two college coaches, some of my best memories are of traveling and being around my parents and their teams.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts Brandi!
Check back next month when we sit down with former FDU-Florham head field hockey coach and current athletic director, Jenn Noon!