Graciela Steidley has more than 20 years of experience coaching softball at the high school and collegiate levels, but her bachelor’s degree from the United States Sports Academy ultimately helped her land her first collegiate head coaching position.

Steidley holds a Bachelor of Sports Science degree in sports studies from the Academy. She was recently hired as the head softball coach at the University of Antelope Valley (UAV) in Lancaster, Calif.

“My education with United States Sports Academy helped my career by opening doors that were not possible prior to earning my degree,” Steidley said. “Prior to applying at the Academy, I was complacent with being an assistant coach and not looking to advance my education. It wasn’t until my daughter was injured and I had to watch her dreams of playing college soccer get taken away. Her drive and determination to be back on the field gave me the drive to want more for myself. It was then that I enrolled at the Academy. Earning a degree in sports studies helped me understand the game, people and athletes at a different level.

“Having this degree gave me the confidence and ability to apply to other coaching positions. Without this degree I would have never applied at UAV.”

Like many Academy graduates, Steidley took advantage of the Academy’s flexible scheduling options and continued working in the field while pursuing her degree.

“I am grateful that the Academy gave me the ability to earn my degree while coaching,” she said. “The online learning environment allowed me to continue doing what I love while learning how to do my job better by taking some very useful courses. The specialization of sports course work transfers very well to the field. During the mentorship program I was able to work under the supervision of (UAV) athletic Director Joe Cascio. This program allowed me to learn and see athletics from a different side and has triggered my desire to someday explore the world of collegiate athletics administration.”

Prior to her work at AVU, Steidley was a co-head coach at Porterville (Calif.) College, where she spent 23 years as a player, volunteer coach, assistant coach and co-head coach. She also worked as an assistant volleyball coach at Porterville. In addition, she coached softball and volleyball at Strathmore (Calif.) High School and Monache High School in Porterville.

As a teenager, Steidley developed a passion for coaching when she worked with youth sports teams in her town.

“The influence I had on those young children was my drive to pursue a career in coaching,” Steidley said. “Being able to help young athletes love the game and teach them about life was when I knew coaching was in my career path. I did not know exactly how I would get into coaching until I met my mentor Vickie Dugan my freshman year of college at Porterville College. She taught me the game of softball, what it meant to be a coach, and what you do as a coach can influence a life.

“Coaches can change lives, help guide student-athletes to make better choices, and build relationships. I enjoy showing up every day and being given the opportunity to lead, serve and impact the lives of athletes. Everything I have done in my coaching career has been for my student-athletes. My philosophies are built to help my student-athletes become productive members of their communities.”

The daughter of immigrants, Steidley said she learned to love sports by playing games in the street with her neighborhood friends. She later played volleyball and softball for her middle- and high school teams and played two years of softball at Porterville.

“We didn’t have the money to join expensive travel teams, so we played outside until the sun went down,” Steidley said. “Nelson Mandela once said ‘Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.’ This is especially true and important today with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Sports give people a way to unite. Sports allow people to forget about their problems and release stress. Sports are a way for people to come together. They help unite people who may not ever have anything else in common.”