The first thing you notice about Coach Kayleigh Fournier is her big, warm smile as she welcomes you into her sanctuary, the Varsity Performance Center. Hidden in the basement of Palladium, the Varsity Performance Center is where all of NYU’s athletes come to train under Coach Fournier’s careful watch.
“I always knew I wanted to be in athletics,” Fournier said. “I just didn’t know that this was a field. I went into my undergrad thinking I wanted to be a physical therapist, and then I ended up getting an internship within strength and conditioning. I fell in love with it, and I never looked back.”
Fournier is in her second year as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at NYU, after spending two years at Yale University as the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach and three years at Dartmouth College as the First Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach.
Her passion for getting to know the athletes is part of what makes her so successful.
“A lot of being a coach is building relationships,” Fournier said. “Having those miniature conversations, knowing their names, what they’re going to school for, where they’re from — all these things and building a relationship with a kid really helps them buy into coming into the weight room and wanting to be here.”
CAS senior Victoria Deleon has worked with Fournier in the VPC as a student assistant since her arrival at NYU in 2016.
“I think one of the best things is that she’s very personable,” Deleon said. “She handles each athlete differently, and she knows the strengths and weaknesses of each athlete, which is important because not every athlete receives criticism in the same way.”
Student athletes have some of the busiest schedules. When they are already exhausted from school, practice and games, it can be difficult to motivate them to perform at their highest level in the weight room.
“Ultimately, I think you have to get them to buy in,” Fournier said. “One of the quotes that has always stuck out to me is, ‘They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.’”
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Sport Sponsorship, Participation and Demographics Search, in the 2016-17 season, only 15.2 percent of all strength coaches were female. Women face certain difficulties when trying to climb up the ladder in traditionally male-dominated fields such as athletic training.
“Being a female in this field has definitely presented some struggles for me,” Fournier said. “But I don’t think I would be where I am today if I wasn’t a female. I think having that pushback early in my career has helped me become the best coach I can be. Women’s sports is growing, and I think having strong, fit women in the field is only going to help younger generations realize that they can be in this field and that there’s a spot for us.”
Nikki Webb, coordinator of Athletic Training at NYU, believes that Fournier has always been the best person for the job, regardless of her gender.
“Coach Fournier wasn’t hired because she is a woman,” Webb said. “She was hired because she is an extremely qualified coach who works very well with our population of student-athletes. She not only pushes our male athletes to get better on a daily basis, but she also sends a message to our female athletes that getting stronger translates to better health and better performance.”
Deleon said that working with Fournier has completely transformed her time as a student assistant.
“When Coach Fournier arrived at NYU, everything just changed for the better,” Deleon said. “I started getting more involved with helping athletes, and she motivated me and helped me out of my shell. She allowed me to go and help athletes personally instead of having me just stand around and see something wrong, but not saying anything. Now, I’m definitely more comfortable in my job and able to help.”
Fournier hopes that more women continue to get involved in the fields that they love, and that they are not afraid to reach for their goals.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions,” Fournier said. “As I’ve grown in the field, people within the jobs that I’ve had have extremely influenced me, and I still talk to them today for advice. As you grow, you’re always going to meet someone new that you can grow from.”