Mothers in Coaching: Tiffany Smart

Tiffany Smart is an assistant coach for the Seton Hall University women’s basketball program. Smart (33), who has been coaching at the Division I level for eight years, has a one-year-old daughter. Tiffany discusses the challenges of balancing motherhood with the demanding career of college coaching.

Q. How do you balance being a coach & a mother?

A. It’s hard. For every coach that’s a mother, it’s a sacrifice. During the season, I have to figure out ways to spend time with my family. So a lot of times I take my daughter with me when I go recruiting and my family may travel with me to games. For me, being a coach means being a part of fifteen young adults’ lives everyday. I’m accessible 24 hours to them, as well as my family. So it doesn’t stop when I leave work. It’s a juggling act.

I wake up early in the morning and cook. I might put dinner in the croc pot or try to make some sides before I go to work so that after work I can just throw something on and dinner will be done. My new thing now is that we have a chef that prepares meals for my husband when I’m away. That’s a way for me to be home when I’m not home.

Q. What is the biggest challenge?

A. Leaving my child. It’s been a year and I still struggle with it. Sometimes there’s certain coaching clinics that I could go to and better my craft, but I won’t even go because I’m gone so much during the season and I don’t want to leave her if I don’t have to.

When I was breastfeeding, there came a time when I was on the road for four days and my daughter ran out of milk. I always tried to keep as much as I could in the freezer for my husband to have while I was gone. It worked for a while, but the more that you’re away from the baby the less milk you produce, so my supply started to slow down. I’m not a crier but I actually cried because I felt so bad that I wasn’t there. 

I can’t say that I’m going to coach for the rest of my life because I just cant see myself missing graduations, games and recitals. That’s just something that I’m not compromising. When that time comes, I’ll deal with it. Hopefully by then it’ll be easier to do both.

Q. Was there ever a moment when you thought you would stop coaching?

A. There isn’t a moment when I don’t think about it. It’s something I struggle with everyday. But I love what I do. It’s the best job in the world. I get to come to work in sweats and a couple times a week I get to dress my best. I love that everyday is different. It’s never a routine.

I never thought that I would love coaching as much as I do. I’ve always loved basketball and it’s gotten me to a point where I’ve been able to get degrees and see the world. But it’s been more fulfilling coaching young women. I feel like God put me in these kids’ lives for a reason and that’s why I decide to stay. The girls keep me going. I’m a big kid and I love to laugh and joke. They keep me young and on my toes, and I love that about them. Those are the things that make me get up and go everyday.

Q. How has your husband supported you?

A. My husband is my anchor. We have a routine that we follow everyday, which makes it easier for me to balance being a coach. We work together as a team. When one person is changing diapers, the other one is making a bottle. We rotate going to the grocery store every week. We’re in constant communication about the baby and always working together to get things done quicker so that we can spend time together at the end of the night.

Instead of telling me to quit because I’m not home enough, he says, “This is what God called you to do and you’re great at it. Don’t worry. No matter what, I’m going to be here.” He lets me know that it’s not a burden and that he doesn’t feel overwhelmed. And he shows it with his actions, not just his words. He travels to all the games that he can make and he’ll be in the front row cheering us on. He could be home relaxing but he chooses to go with me.

He pushes me to be better. He holds me accountable and I’m big on accountability. He’ll let me know if I’m right or wrong, or when I could’ve handled things a little differently because he knows how important it (coaching) is to me. He actually keeps me focused and reminds me why I do what I do. I guess you could say he’s kind of like my coach.

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Q. Who else has helped you to balance home and work better?

A. Our parents have been great in helping us when they can. His mother takes off of work when we need her to and my mom is going to travel to some of the games next season to watch the baby when I have things to do. But I have no family within a five to six hundred mile radius and my husband’s mother lives an hour and forty-five minutes away, so we still have very little help.

My boss is very supportive. He understands that aspect of my life and he has always worked with me when it comes to my family. I’m also blessed to have coworkers that always help me when I have the baby with me. When we travel, I can sit by my coworker on the plane and don’t have to worry about the baby crying or disturbing her. It makes it easier when you don’t feel like you’re inconveniencing people. That means a lot to me.

I also just try to surround myself with as many women that go through the same things as me to help my personal life run smoother. I have a friend in the business who is also a mother and wife. She coaches for a different team and lives about four or five blocks from me. She’s there for me when I get low and I’m there for her. We bounce different ideas off of each other and discuss what works in my household and what works in hers. For example, she’s the one who told me about the chef who prepares our meals when I’m not home, because she does that as well.

Q. What do you think would be a viable solution for balancing home life with the tough schedule of college coaching?

A. I don’t have the answer because telling you what I think would be selfish for somebody who might be going through something else. I would just say, sit down and get as many ideas as possible. I know that it’s going to be some type of sacrifice and compromise, but being gone every other week is a lot.

One thing I would suggest changing is the consecutive recruiting days; It’s about fifteen total days in the month of July. That’s a long time to be away. Then an additional recruiting week was added in April, when there was already one during that month. Not to mention recruiting at high schools during the season in between traveling for our games, too.

It’s disheartening. I see a lot of my friends get out of the business because it’s so hard for them to be both a mother and coach, and I don’t think a lot of people understand that. I’ve seen husbands divorce their wives because they’re not home doing their so-called “wifely duties.” It’s hard. My husband is essentially a single father at times. He has to do a lot by himself. I think being a mother makes a lot of women better coaches, but that aspect is being missed in coaching because they’re getting out of it. I think there needs to be a better way for women to do both.

Q. What advice would you give other soon-to-be mothers in coaching?

A. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do it. Don’t feel bad for being a mom. Don’t feel bad for being a wife. In this business a lot of coaches are young and single, or male. Just understand your reason for being there.

It doesn’t mean you don’t work hard, but you feel torn because you essentially have to pick between your family and your job. And your job is what helps support your family. I would say, always choose your family first. You can’t be successful at work if you’re not successful at home. If I didn’t have such a supportive husband, I wouldn’t be a good coach. You have to be happy.

Take it one day at a time. Try to get a routine and stick with it. Sometimes you’re going to have to tell people “no” and that’s hard, but make sure you take time out for yourself. If you’re an assistant, make sure you’re in constant communication with your boss. If (s)he is not very flexible, then that may not be the place for you.

Once you get to a level where you’ve done it, make sure you always have a younger aspiring mother-coach and make sure that you’re in her corner. Help her through the process because it’s hard going through it alone and trying to figure it out.

Q. How has becoming a mother affected your approach to coaching?

A. [Laughs] It made me softer. I’m more sensitive. I don’t yell as much. I actually don’t even feel comfortable yelling anymore because I just look at the girls differently. I have a more nurturing approach now. When you’re young, all you know is the way that you were coached or what you’ve seen. Having a baby helped me becaustiff coaching st peterse I learned that you can get to people in different ways. It doesn’t always necessarily have to be yelling.

Q. What is your favorite part of coaching?

A. Watching the players become successful women is the most rewarding and exciting part for me. To see a person go from barely passing in high school to being on the Dean’s List. That kind of stuff; the things that they thought they could never do, but then accomplished it. The basketball part is just the fun part, but it’s not about the X’s and O’s for me. I’m responsible for 15 lives and I take that very seriously because I would want somebody to treat my child the right way.

Q. What is your favorite part of being a mother?

A. I can’t even explain that experience because it’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The best thing is just to watch her develop, laugh, respond to her name, start saying “ma-ma” and “da-da.” The progression is the best part. You’re in a world where there’s so much chaos and turmoil and hate, and you look at somebody who’s so innocent and loves you just because. She doesn’t have a reason to, she just does.

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