My Coaching Journey Brandi Kist, Queens University of Charlotte

Brandi Kist is the head coach at Queens University of Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is the program’s first head coach, but this isn’t her first head coaching gig — she was the head coach at Appalachian State University from 2006 to 2014. She assumed the role after serving for seven months as the assistant coach with the Mountaineers. Brandi played at the University of Pennsylvania, but field hockey was a part of her life long before that — her mom, Gwen Alexander, was a field hockey coach who’s long career was highlighted by stints at Temple University, University of Pennsylvania, and Old Dominion University as well as a period as the goalkeeping coach for USA Field Hockey.

Brandi sat down to answer some questions about her unique coaching journey and shared some advice about becoming a head coach, starting a program, and balancing a coaching career with a family.

Question (NFHCA): You’ve been coaching for over 15 years — when you first graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, is this where you imagined you’d be?

Answer (Brandi Kist): Initially it wasn’t. I went to Penn to become a veterinarian. Every summer though I would coach six to eight weeks of field hockey camps as well as coaching the USA Field Hockey Futures sessions in the spring. Going into my junior year I decided I didn’t want to give up hockey and coaching was the route for me. Both of my parents were college coaches — my mom, field hockey and my dad, track and field — so I grew up with a lot of exposure to the ins and outs of the profession.

Q (NFHCA): You started as an assistant coach at Appalachian State, then were promoted to head coach — what advice would you give to assistant coaches who are considering making that leap?

A (BK): Grow your network! Find other coaches — in field hockey or other sports — that you admire. Develop your coaching village. We all need support, advice, and mentoring at all stages of our careers. Have a diverse group as well, including administrators. Every season is different and sometimes you can run into unique situations. Having people you trust to talk through ideas with, get guidance from, and who have a different perspective is incredibly valuable. When searching for that head coaching job, make sure the administration is supportive of their coaching staffs and their athletic programs. Knowing what their expectations and goals are is also key. Look for like-minded people.

Q (NFHCA): What was the biggest factor in your decision to transition from App State to Queens University of Charlotte?

A (BK): Two main factors really went into the decision — family and Queens. Between my job and my husband’s job we traveled a lot. He is based in Charlotte and I had a three-hour round-trip commute often with our infant twins. Especially as the kids got older and involved in more activities the commute and time just wasn’t sustainable. The opening at Queens came at just the right time. After my interview, and after learning about the university and their vision for their athletic programs, it just felt right. Queens is an awesome fit, personally and professionally, with a great support network. Also, it is not often one has the opportunity to build a program from scratch. It was a new challenge I was looking forward to.

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!

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