Basketball

Kim Barnes Arico and the Powerful Women’s Club


Kim Barnes Arico is a member of a pretty unique club. It also happens to be one she completely invented. 

The foundation for the “Powerful Women’s Club,” as Barnes Arico calls it, was laid early on in her coaching career. In sports, a field so male-dominated, she wanted to create a system to help the women — few and far between at the time — stick together.

“It was an opportunity for women to celebrate women,” Barnes Arico told The Michigan Daily. “So many times, whether it’s in coaching or teaching or whatever it is, it seems like the men always have a platform and the men always have a voice and the men always bond together. And I just thought it was an opportunity for women to have a platform and have a voice. 

“So I made up in my mind this club where we have our shoulders back and we have a voice and we stick together and we lift each other.”

Throughout Barnes Arico’s 25-plus years of coaching, from her first head coaching job in Division III to the Michigan women’s basketball program, she hasn’t just talked about the Powerful Women’s Club — she’s lived it. Consistently filling her coaching staffs with female assistant coaches, she sets clear expectations for every woman in her program: work hard, act like you belong and support other women.

A few years into Barnes Arico’s tenure at Michigan, the club took its present form. Barnes Arico’s coaching staff had three female assistant coaches — Melanie Moore, Megan Duffy and Joy McCorvey — all of whom embody the blue-collar spirit of the powerful women that make up the club. 

“It’s about empowering women, empowering her players, empowering her staff to stand up and use our voices and fight for each other and ourselves,” Moore told The Daily. “And so it was something that we started when we had Coach Duffy, Coach Joy and myself on staff with her and we kind of called ourselves the Powerful Women’s Club. We said we were going to have our shoulders back and continue to empower these young women that we surrounded ourselves with every day.”

Those three tenets — keeping your shoulders back, empowering women and working hard — have guided not just the Powerful Women’s Club, but also Barnes Arico and all of her teams. 

***

The powerful woman’s stance is a key component of Barnes Arico’s pre-practice circles. She wants every player to carry themselves like they know they belong, and so a confident posture is expected.

“Her thing when I played was, ‘You have to stand in powerful woman’s stance,’ ” Jillian Dunston — former Michigan forward and recently hired assistant coach — told The Daily. “So it’s one leg forward, both your hands on your hips, your chest is up, your chin is up and then you project when you speak.”

Kate Hua/Daily. Buy this photo.

For most student-athletes, their four years in college serve as a period of learning and growth. Barnes Arico’s philosophy helped take that growth even further for many players who passed through her program. Entering college, it isn’t unusual for players to be unsure of themselves and doubt their abilities. But Barnes Arico ensured that even if a player entered her program reserved, they graduated with a newfound assuredness — and with their head up and shoulders back. Katelynn Flaherty, the program’s all-time leading scorer, serves as a prime example of that growth. 

“I feel like (Flaherty) was more reserved and on the quiet side and I thought she did an excellent job of just growing and maturing under Kim’s leadership,” Moore said. “… By her senior year, just even her using her voice more on the court and it was neat to see her growth as a player and, more importantly, as a woman.”

Barnes Arico wants her players to know they belong, and to feel as if they belong. So in addition to making sure players stand tall and confidently, those in her program have to demand respect through the rest of their actions, too.

“She’s an advocate for powerful women,” former Michigan assistant coach and current Southern Methodist head coach Toyelle Wilson told The Daily. “Doesn’t matter what your race is, but just about us owning the moment, owning the room, owning your job, earning everything that you’re doing. To really demand that respect, to demand that you belong, and I think that’s the biggest thing is that you belong where you are. And she emphasized that every day through her actions, she emphasized that through her words.”

***

About two years into Moore’s first stint in Ann Arbor, Barnes Arico gave her something that had a message written on it. Moore doesn’t remember the exact details of the timing or even the item itself, but she remembers what it said clear as day:

“There’s a place in hell for women who don’t help women.”

Moore often turned to those words, looking to them for guidance even after she left Michigan. It’s easy to see them in action for Barnes Arico as well, especially with a quick look at her expansive coaching tree.

Barnes Arico’s former players and coaches litter Division I coaching jobs across the country. She suggested McCorvey — now an assistant at Tennessee — join her staff at St. John’s just a year after she graduated from the program following a decorated career. She maintained a close relationship with Dunston after she graduated, continuing to serve as a resource as she moved up through the coaching ranks and now to Ann Arbor. And in the middle of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, she encouraged Moore to take the head coaching vacancy at Xavier. 

But at first, letting other coaches move on from her program wasn’t easy for Barnes Arico. Originally, she felt somewhat offended and upset that her staff wanted to leave her and the program that she was building. Yet she quickly realized that, just as she wanted to climb the ranks when she first started her coaching career, many assistants had higher goals of their own. 

So, rather than feeling upset when assistant coaches left, Barnes Arico came to include elevating her coaching staff into larger roles as part of her responsibility as a head coach. Her job quickly morphed into not just developing the players on her roster, but doing the same for her assistants — readying them for greater roles, even if those roles weren’t within her program.

“So many times, you hear stories about how women feel they have to put other women down to rise,” Barnes Arico said. “I want to teach our kids ‘No, we rise by lifting each other and let’s all have a voice and let’s make a difference.’ Whether it’s fighting for change or whatever it is, let’s stick together and be powerful.”

Alum Maria Deckmann/Daily. Buy this photo.

Empowering women to rise to the occasion extends beyond her coaching staff, too.

In 2017, after the Wolverines finished third in the Big Ten, they gathered to watch the NCAA Selection Show, expecting to hear their name called. When it wasn’t, the team was devastated. They felt they earned their spot in the NCAA Tournament. While feeling snubbed, Michigan also had a decision to make. Would the Wolverines take the WNIT bid?

Instead of making the decision herself, Barnes Arico turned to her players and gave them the choice. 

“We were all devastated,” Moore said. “And that was probably one of the most powerful nights, and as a leader, you saw Kim really shine bright. She empowered Jillian Dunston and our other juniors and seniors at that time to stand up for what they believed. And they said ‘Let’s play,’ and they took it a step further. They said ‘Let’s show them that we belonged in the NCAA Tournament, let’s win the whole thing.’ 

“I think it came full circle for me, just being a part of the program and seeing it wasn’t just words, the Powerful Woman’s Club, she empowered them to use their voice.”

Michigan won the WNIT that year, hanging the first banner in program history.

***

With empowering women to grow and giving them the confidence to make their own decisions also comes another of Barnes Arico’s core tenets: working hard. 

You can’t really talk about Barnes Arico and her mindset without mentioning her mantra of being “the hardest working team in America.” Of course, many teams claim to be the hardest working, but Barnes Arico lives the philosophy. 

Blue collar is one of the words used most frequently to describe her, and a simple look at the players she recruits reveals that elevated dedication. Because Barnes Arico, who worked her way from Division III to the Big Ten, knows from experience that nothing is given and everything is earned. 

Kate Hua/Daily. Buy this photo.

Former players like Emily Kiser and Danielle Rauch hardly saw the court their first few years, but by their final years in the program, they became indispensable members of the starting lineup. Not by simply biding their time and waiting for older players to graduate, but by putting in extra work every single day to earn time on the court. Even All-American Naz Hillmon, who led the Wolverines in scoring as a freshman, came off the bench for her entire first season. 

That expectation of working hard that Barnes Arico establishes doesn’t end with her team, though. She applies it to herself as well. And, like the entire ethos of the club, it extends far beyond basketball.

Many women, in many fields, often feel like they have to choose between their career and motherhood. Barnes Arico refused to make that choice, raising her three kids around her teams. In doing so, not only did she spend more time with her family, but she also sent a very clear message to the young women under her tutelage that they too could balance a family life with their career. In fact, Barnes Arico often merged the two worlds.

“Seeing that example gave me and it gives others inspiration to know that you can do it all,” McCorvey told The Daily. “You can be an amazing mom and you can be an amazing wife, an amazing spouse, and you can be really good at your job also.”

By living to the standard she sets for her teams — working hard in all facets of her life and creating a balance where many think it’s impossible — Barnes Arico creates a philosophy that’s easy to buy into. But the Powerful Women’s Club quickly morphed beyond a guiding ideology and a nickname for Barnes Arico and her coaching staff. It also became a way to refer to other inspirational women.

“There are people in the Powerful Women’s Club that we don’t even know,” McCorvey said. “But they are people that have been highly successful women who are fearless, who are driven, who don’t back down to challenges. … People that you just aspire to be like, people that motivate you, people that drive you.”

***

The Powerful Women’s Club might not be a real club in the sense of registration or membership requirements. It’s more of a descriptor of the mindset and system Barnes Arico has developed throughout her entire coaching career. It could even be a fun way to talk about other badass women. But the Powerful Women’s Club is certainly real, with alumni and members across the world of women’s basketball.

To join Barnes Arico’s club, there aren’t any dues. No fees, no weekly meetings, no events. There are requirements, yes, but any woman can meet them.

Just work hard and support other women — and always keep your shoulders back.

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