Q&A Keri Becker
Keri Becker joined Grand Valley’s athletic administration staff in 2011 as associate director of athletics. For 15 years, she was the head softball coach at Ferris State University and then later served as the Bulldogs’ senior woman administrator.
Becker earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Saginaw Valley State University and a master’s of business administration from Ferris State University. She talked about coaching, career changes and her role in Operation Iraqi Freedom to Grand Valley Magazine’s Michele Coffill.
GVM: You majored in criminal justice. What was your career plan at that time?
KB: I wanted to be a police officer, and had started the process of becoming a state trooper. I was also interested in being a firefighter.
GVM: So, something must have happened to set you on a career in athletic administration.
KB: Dana Munk (Grand Valley associate professor of movement science) actually talked me into putting my application in at Ferris when they were hiring a softball coach.
I was a student at Saginaw Valley for five years, so in my fifth year — because I couldn’t play softball anymore — I took on the role of assistant coach. Dana and my athletic director at the time both saw something in me that I didn’t know was there.
GVM: Was it difficult to be new to the coaching arena?
KB: The first few weeks were intimidating and I was insecure, privately. I fell easily into the coaching side; the hardest part was the introduction to the administrative side of coaching.
GVM: Toward the end of your time as softball coach, you moved into an administrative role. Why the change?
KB: When I was working on a master’s degree, I did fieldwork at Ferris on its NCAA compliance. That work thrust me into administration. I enjoyed it, and I’m the type of person who is always looking for ways to get more experience.
GVM: What attracted you to this position at Grand Valley?
KB: This position fit my strengths perfectly. It’s also right for me geographically, as my family is here; and it was the right move for career advancement.
GVM: Do you miss coaching?
KB: The biggest thing I miss about coaching is the close relationships you develop with your players. In this role, you certainly have a positive impact on student-athletes, but it’s not the same as being with a team.
GVM: What’s it like to be a student-athlete today?
KB: It’s probably no different today trying to balance athletics and academics then it was years ago. That part never changes. The differences are the other opportunities this generation of student-athletes has access to before they get to college.
The opportunity to participate in travel, club and AAU teams is far better. These opportunities result in three things. First, it has raised the talent level of the student-athlete pool today. Second, it has increased injury rates. By the time these student-athletes get to college, their bodies have taken a pounding and the toll of overuse rears its ugly head through injury. Third, I think there is a heightened pressure to succeed because this is how this generation of kids was raised. They want to do things right and do them well.
Because of all of the time and money spent honing their skills, they feel a sense of obligation to succeed in their sport for their parents, coaches and teams. This obligation creates even more pressure than the normal pressure of succeeding.
GVM: You served in the Army Reserve as a staff sergeant and were deployed during the early stages of the Iraq War.
KB: I was in the Army Reserve from 1992-2000. After I was discharged, I signed up with what’s called the Individual Ready Reserve, which meant I was placed in a group of individuals who don’t train with a unit but could be called up in times of crisis.
So in January 2003, I got a letter calling me to active duty in Qatar. It was quite shocking at first. I had a one-year deployment that lead to six months of deployment overseas, and another six months stationed stateside.
GVM: So you were in Qatar at the early stages of the war?
KB: Yes, I was stationed at the Special Operations Command Center in Doha, Qatar, which was very secure because that’s where Gen. Tommy Franks was. It was a joint forces base that housed all four armed services.
I did small tours into Baghdad with a supply and maintenance unit. I wasn’t in extreme danger, but there was a definite heightened sense of awareness.
It was challenging but very rewarding to serve my country that way. While not overly excited when I received the letter, it was something I was prepared to do when I signed on the dotted line. My father and two brothers also served in the military and I knew it would make them proud; “Little Sis” would do her duty.
GVM: You’re co-chairing the committee that established an endowment fund to support students in movement science or student-athletes who want to pursue professional development opportunities. Why is that important now?
KB: It’s overdue, actually. We have scholarships for student-athletes, scholarships for academics, but there’s not much support for professional development opportunities.
We know there are not many women in the pipeline for leadership positions in the field of athletic administration. This is a way to show those who have an interest and passion for sports that there are great opportunities out there, and we can help them achieve those goals.
GVM: Why does someone’s participation in sports translate rather easily to leadership skills?
KB: Student-athletes on a team are putting those leadership qualities to work for a common good. They also experience loss, failure, insecurity, but through participation in sports, they learn how those experiences can help them gain confidence and get back on the same horse that just threw them.
It helps you fail, succeed and keep succeeding.
GVM: I’m sure you have many stories about watching someone gain leadership skills throughout four years of college.
KB: It’s remarkable to watch the maturation process from a freshman to a senior. Some young women are very insecure, inexperienced; they don’t assert themselves. Then, as a senior, I see them walk differently and talk differently. They say what they mean and mean what they say because they have finally figured out who they are as an individual and they have confidence in the person they have become.
People say there are born leaders. I think coaches help make young people into leaders by allowing them to put it to use, by pulling it out of them, or just teaching them how to be a leader.
GVM: What’s next for Laker athletics?
KB: We need to maintain our position at the top. The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference is very competitive. Looking from the outside, it was always, “How do we get to be like Grand Valley?” Now, many schools are competing right at our level and we are not experiencing the domination from the last decade.
We have to reinvent ourselves. From our administration to our coaches, this will be our focus — to position us back at the top — alone. We will look for ways to create that separation again.
Also, the resource landscape has changed. The expenses have gone up around us and, as we receive less state funds, we will need to find ways to increase our revenues to support a successful athletic program.
Recruiting will remain the lifeblood of a successful athletic program as well. We will need to be creative in our efforts to continue to recruit the best talent and draw those blue-chip athletes who are difference makers.
Page last modified February 19, 2013