Wednesday was supposed to be a day off for the University of Arizona women’s basketball team.
But when you’re the head coach of a college program in a Power 5 conference, like Adia Barnes is, there is no down time — especially in the middle of a season.
While her players took a day to rest, Barnes and her staff were working. Associate head coach Sunny Smallwood and assistant coach Morgan Valley were back on the road recruiting. Assistant coach Salvo Coppa was in town, but making recruiting calls.
And Barnes, well, wasn’t taking it easy.
Her morning consisted of watching film and prepping for the next four days of practice before Sunday’s home game against San Diego State.
Over lunch she inspired another group of UA women —those who work at the university during the Women’s Leadership & Empowerment Luncheon, the first in a series presented this year to “examine, promote and empower women’s leadership and action on the UA campus.”
Wednesday’s session focused on “Building Community and Bridging the Gaps.”
The women’s basketball program is a sponsor for this series and Barnes takes pride in using her platform to help other women and provide these sessions.
She spoke to more than 100 women (and a few men)about her experiences and the women who mentored and believed in her. Those who have had the most impact on her life are former UA women’s basketball coach Joan Bonvicini and Barnes’ mother.
“My mom always believed in me and I learned work ethic, even my stubbornness from her,” Barnes joked on Wednesday. “My mom is my biggest fan. She knew I’d be successful even before I did. Of course, she also believed I was better than) former Seattle Storm teammates) Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson.
“Looking back, something drew me to Joan. Years later, I realized that it’s because both my mom and Joan share the same birthday and are both Italian.
“Joan is the woman who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She shaped my life and who I am today. All the (career) steps I’ve taken … going pro, going into broadcasting, becoming a coach … I’ve called her. She has been my rock. Without her believing in me I wouldn’t be here. She even texted me last night after our loss.”
Barnes says she’s been fortunate to have others, like Seattle Storm co-owner and former Microsoft CEO Lisa Brummel and former WNBA player and coach and current Sacramento Kings assistant coach Jenny Boucek, in her corner.
Many others aren’t as lucky. The number of women coaching women’s sports has decreased since 1972, when Title IX was enacted. This law prohibits discrimination against girls and women in federally funded education, including in athletics programs; it gives access.
Today, 40 percent of all women’s college sports are coached by women. In 1972, the number was closer to 90 percent.
There are many reasons for the drop-off. Wednesday’s participants talked about the scarcity of good jobs.
Barnes also brought it back to a fundamental difference between men and women, one that starts early and is taught.
“One thing I’ve noticed from coaching is confidence,” Barnes said. “I see it when I’m running a camp for fifth-to-ninth graders. When I ask the girls who wants to become a professional player only a few raise their hands. When I ask the same question to boys that age, all the boys want to do it. They can be the worst player and still think they will go pro. When I ask my team this question only a few will say it. They think they might be seen as cocky. While men with no experience in coaching will apply to coach at Ohio State.”
Another point raised was the pressure on women to do it all.
“A man leaves on a trip and his kids are at home with his wife,” Barnes said. “I have to spend time with my son, watch film, and call my players back at night, and sometimes I’m sending emails at 2 a.m. It’s hard. I’m exhausted trying to be a good coach, a good mom, and a good wife. If I didn’t have support I couldn’t do it.”
One person Barnes relies on is her husband, Coppa, who was one of those few men in the room Wednesday. Spend a little time around the women’s basketball offices, and you’ll see them sharing the parenting duties.
Barnes joked that she’s finally learning to let go of certain things so she can spend more time with her son, Matteo.
After the luncheon, Barnes attended UA president Robert Robbins’ installation, set up time to watch film with senior Kat Wright the next morning before practice, and ensured a student manager had his assignment for his office time.
Then it was off to pick up Matteo at school, take him to the dentist and swimming, call players back and respond to all the emails and texts that came in while she was off, and get ready for the next day.