MONMOUTH — There are only a handful of women in the nation who are collegiate directors of sports performance.
One of those women works in Monmouth.
Cori Metzger has spent the last seven of her 20-year career as a strength and conditioning coach at Western Oregon University. In fact, she was the one who spearheaded the program at WOU — when she arrived, there wasn’t a system in place to coach and train the college’s athletes.
That was just one thing she was up against.
“So not only was I starting the strength and conditioning department here, I was a female,” Metzger said, “and so I do remember the first couple of weeks being here, I remember thinking, ‘What did I get myself into?’ It was brutal — there was no structure in place.”
As the director of sports performance, Metzger’s responsibilities are endless: oversee all the training programs for all the sports; oversee the budget, the planning, the facility maintenance; schedule time for each sport to train in the facility; and other day-to-day department stuff — all while being a single mom to her 4-year-old daughter.
For the first year, Metzger was by herself, starting work with athletes at 5 a.m. and finishing her day at 6 p.m. The training program and the structure she put into effect caught most of the athletes by surprise.
“It was challenging,” she said. “I got sworn out a lot, a lot of confrontations. I pissed a lot of people off, because I put into play structure and discipline and organization, and there never had been.”
Eventually, the athletes began to trust her and realized that the protocols she put in place were working. She said an athlete came up to her at one point and said he could see the structure she had planted in the training room was working — that they were beginning to feel more like a team.
“These guys, they don’t even see me as a female anymore — I’m just coach Metzger,” she said. “I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve had success with my teams, is that I really don’t care what people think of me in terms of, if they think I’m too hard. I’m very confident in what I do, and I’m confident that once they meet me, they’ll see that the program works.”
A few years into Metzger being there, Becky Smith was hired as her assistant. Smith said Metzger had already paved the way in regards to being a woman in charge, and when Smith arrived, she said the athletes showed her nothing but respect. That wasn’t always the case.
“At University of Texas, where I was the only woman there coaching, I definitely saw some things, or been told some things that were very, you know, sexist, and stuff like that, but I think once you show that you care for them, that you’re not here to prove that you can lift more than them. ... I feel like once they see that, the respect kind of comes with that,” Smith said.
Having an assistant meant Metzger could start to divide the load she had carried for the last few years, and now she and Smith split the sports they individually work with: Smith oversees volleyball, softball, sprinters, and jumpers; while Metzger tackles men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, throwers, and football.
There have been times, Metzger said, when she was confronted by other coaches about why she coaches football, as a woman.
Last year at a conference, when a coach asked her what gave her the right to work with football, Metzger asked what sports he coached, which were volleyball and swimming, and after revealing he hadn’t played those sports before, Metzger looked at him and said, “What gives you the right to coach those sports?”
Although the sports industry is changing rapidly and women are taking more of an active role in leadership, they still appear to be questioned by their male counterparts.
“I think a lot of times people say things, in this business — all athletics really — about females because they just, they’re a little bit threatened by us,” Metzger said. “You know, I wish that it still didn’t exist, but it does. I know that my programming is good, and I know that I connect with the players just as well as a male does. And, you see male coaches coaching female sports all the time, and I don’t see why there’s an issue — but there is. Unfortunately there is.”
At WOU, her strength and conditioning program is focused on making athletes physically and mentally stronger, believing that the training room is where it all starts.
“I love the interactions you get with student athletes,” Metzger said. “I love being kind of a mentor to young athletes. I love seeing kids go from being a skinny, scared little freshman to an animal. Both mentally and physically.”
As for Smith, being in the weight room means she gets to don a different hat by taking on that leadership role that being an assistant coach requires.
“I get to be a person I’m usually not,” Smith said. “I’m a calm, relaxed person most times, but when I’m here, you kind of have to be the bad guy, and so it’s kind of fun to play a different part every once in a while. As well as get to know the athletes, help develop them and then seeing that growth ... is really, really cool.”
Having two strength and conditioning coaches at WOU who are women is a unique situation, and they said they hope to see more situations like this.
Smith said at each year’s strength and conditioning coaches’ breakfast, she sees at least one or two more women than from the previous year.
“Looking back 10 years ago to now, the forward progression is starting to shift,” Smith said. “It’s exciting.”
Watching Metzger walk around the weight room, her blonde hair pulled up in a tight bun, adjusting an athlete’s posture here and there, directing athletes to the workouts they should be doing, a smile spreads across her face as the athletes joke and laugh with her; and when she talks up to one of the basketball players twice her size, you can see the respect they have for her, always ending their conversation with a, “thank you, coach.”
“I love these kids,” Metzger said. “They’re just like my own.”