“I think it comes down to what kind of person you are. That is the culture that you are going to help create. That is where you have an impact.”
These are the words of Kelly Roderick, the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for Columbus Crew SC and the only woman in Major League Soccer to work on a club's strength and conditioning staff.
Growing up, Roderick was constantly around sports. Her father was a professional golfer while she played field hockey and swam.
“I cannot think of a time where I wasn’t playing a sport,” Roderick said. “I didn’t really imagine being involved in my career that wasn’t in some way related to sports.”
In 2008, Roderick attended Michigan State University to play field hockey. After suffering an injury, she transferred home to The Ohio State University and reconnected with her high school field hockey coach, who asked her to coach at her high school alma mater, Upper Arlington.
“That was the time when I fell in love with that side of it,” Roderick said. “Being able to have an impact on someone and help them get to their dreams was really exciting for me.”
After taking the head coaching position, Roderick stayed at the helm of the Golden Bears for four seasons.
That's where she was connected with one of her mentors, Austin Strapp, who at the time was the strength and conditioning coach for the field hockey team.
Through Strapp, Roderick's path into strength and conditioning was established.
Along with Strapp, Roderick has found other people in sports to look up to, including the swimmer Janet Evans, the 1999 United States Women’s World Cup team, and Rachel Balkovec, who was the first strength and conditioning coach in Major League Baseball.
Today, Roderick hopes to be an inspiration to other women who are interested in becoming strength and conditioning coaches in professional male sports. Often times, she will hear people mention how they now see it as a possibility for women to be put in positions such as hers.
“Until they see it, you don’t really realize it is possible,” Roderick explained. “If that is what you want to do, you can do it. It is possible.”
In her work with Crew SC, Roderick never uses being a female as an excuse, except for when it comes to fitting into Men's-sized practice gear.
Instead, she sees the challenges that she faces as something that everyone, regardless of gender, must overcome.
“You are always going to hear 'no'. You are always going to hear 'that’s not possible,'” Roderick said.
“There are always going to be challenges. Strength and conditioning is by no means an easy field to break into regardless of being male or female. I worked very hard in learning my craft and being able to have an impact on the individuals I work with. If you boil it down to something like that, you can compartmentalize it and focus on what you need to do in order to get to the next level.”
While Roderick does not refer to being female as an obstacle, she does believe that the best is yet to come for women in sports.
“Now is a really exciting time for females in sports,” she said, “because physically they are starting to realize that we are very capable of performing on that level. I think that is huge.”
For Roderick, she feels that her role as a fitness coach is to, first, build a relationship and understanding with the players, and then from there, make an impact.
“I eat breakfast with these guys. I eat lunch with these guys. I see them every day, all day," Roderick said. "I have met their families. I know where they come from. I know where their backgrounds are. As a coach, that is the kind of environment that you dream of. When you know someone so well, you are able to have more of an impact. You are able to do your job on another level.”
When asked about the advice she would give to a young person interested in strength and conditioning, Roderick replied:
“My biggest advice is to know what you are passionate about and know where you want to go. Then, have at it. Get after it every single day and know in the back of your mind that that is where you are going to end up.”
In honor of figures like Roderick, Crew SC is celebrating the foundational importance of women in sports as part of the Crew's match against Sporting Kansas City on June 23 at 5:30 p.m. ET.