Up until the current season, alpine Head Coach Kelsey Levine ’10 stood out not just because of her excellent coaching, but also because she was the only female head alpine coach in the NCAA.
Before Levine secured this title, she was a student-athlete at the College. She majored in computer science and graduated after four years with the alpine team. Right after earning her degree, she moved into coaching. This year marks Levine’s seventh year of coaching and third year as the alpine ski team’s head coach.
As a graduate of the College, Levine relates to her team in a way that goes far beyond their shared sport. Not only does this bring her closer to her athletes emotionally, but it also allows for important coaching insights, such as an in-depth knowledge of when the students can and cannot be pushed based on other aspects of life at the College.
“Kelsey understands the physical and mental toll taken by the academic experience,” Alpine Assistant Coach Dan Gura explained. “She’s able to use her experience as a former student here to balance the athletes’ training schedules depending on their needs as students.”
Having skied for the College, Levine has learned much of what she knows in this particular environment. She acknowledged that this is, in some ways, a dangerous position. “It can be easier to do things the way they have been done rather than to think them through anew,” Levine said. She must make a conscious effort to study other programs and coaches to widen her perspective on collegiate alpine skiing.
At the same time, however, she has continuously learned from the College’s team. Levine explains that, because ski racers often take an extra year after high school to improve their skiing before college, it was not until three years after she started coaching that she was older than all of her athletes.
This encouraged a collaborative rather than authoritarian approach to working with the skiers during her years as an assistant coach, which has carried over into her philosophy as head coach.
“While I now direct the athletes with a bit of a harder line, I still think it is important for each of them to own their skiing, process and fitness,” Levine said.
Gura cited the idea of ownership, which Levine also highlighted, as one of the central tenets of her coaching. “In order to be accountable as an athlete or as a coach, you have to be honest with yourself or the athletes,” Gura said. “Kelsey puts a lot of thought into her decisions and actions as a coach, and the motive behind many of them is the question, ‘How can we use this to empower the athlete?’”
These coaches believe that their athletes, at the collegiate level, should be treated as adults, and this cannot happen unless the students are given responsibility, ownership and accountability.
Levine also works hard to maintain a high level of honesty with her athletes, which allows them this level of ownership in their skiing and encourages them to stay honest with her and themselves.
Gura observes that this coaching philosophy leads to a great confidence in the skiers. “Confidence goes a long way in ski racing,” he said, “And it sure as heck goes a long way in life.” This thinking beyond athletes’ four years at Williams, beyond their set of races with the team, is yet another aspect of Levine’s coaching that sets her apart.
She explained her outlook: “I believe that doing my best to instill open and honest communication along with ownership in the student-athletes on my team unlocks potential while ski racing and pushes the athletes to grow as people over their four years.”
Each athlete is so much more than just a time score on the board, and although Levine does all she can to get the fastest skiing out of her team, she ensures this is done in a way that will hold value beyond the college years.
She is now excited that Bates has hired a female head coach for the 2016-2017 season. “NCAA skiing is a small world,” Levine said, “And we know all the head coaches by first name, so I knew the other programs were all run by men.”
Levine did not let this affect her coaching, however. “I feel I can give valuable perspective on female college athletes — and my coaching colleagues are open and receptive,” she said.
This receptiveness, and the exciting entry of another woman into the “small world” of NCAA skiing, holds great promise for the future of talented women such as Levine in alpine ski coaching across the country.