Kaela Jackson may have stepped away from coaching, but don't be surprised if she's back making a difference in the lives of student-athletes in the future. South Carolina's former assistant softball coach decided to leave the program after spending the last four years at her alma mater in order to spend more time on her family.
"It just felt right for my family and needing to be home more," said Jackson. "My long-term goal is to earn a third degree from South Carolina. I have a bachelor's degree (psychology) and master's degree (exercise science) from here, but I want to get my EdS (Education Specialist) degree in counseling. I would like to become a sports performance coach here and work with all kinds of student-athletes.
"Mental health is a passion of mine, and I can't wait to learn all about it so I can help other student-athletes. I see such a need for it. It's such a different game now, even from when I played. There is just so much more pressure and media attention on these student-athletes now. There are just a lot of tough things that these student-athletes go through now that a lot of people don't talk about. I see mental health as something where there is a lot of need."
South Carolina Athletics provides its student-athletes access to a wide variety of mental health providers, with expertise ranging from mental performance to mental health services, covering their psychological, psychiatric, and emotional needs. The Gamecocks have six mental health professionals on staff, and Jackson hopes to be in that field someday, preferably at South Carolina.
"I want to impact athletes in the best way that I can, and I believe mental health is how I can best serve."
Jackson came to South Carolina as a student-athlete after two years at Chattanooga State and played for the Gamecocks in 2011 and 2012. She later became a graduate assistant and volunteer assistant coach in the program before moving on to Michigan State, where she was an assistant coach for three years. She returned to South Carolina prior to the start of the 2019 season. Making a difference in the lives of student-athletes in different capacities stays true to her calling as a coach.
"I've talked to a lot of professionals, and they say there is a need for more counseling and more coaches that have lived that lifestyle, as players and coaches, and can really make an impact," Jackson said. "So, I want to impact athletes in the best way that I can, and I believe mental health is how I can best serve."
Now that she is no longer coaching, Jackson will have some adjustments to make in not being around the softball diamond.
"I think I'm going to miss the student-athletes the most," Jackson said. "I genuinely love every one of them and everyone involved here. I plan on being the most supportive alum, ever. The thing that makes me feel a little bit better about leaving coaching is that I'm not doing it permanently, per say. My dad used to say, 'you don't coach ball, you coach people.' My feet won't be in the dirt anymore, but I'll still get a chance to coach people and all the other student-athletes that I run into.
"Being in the stands will definitely be a new perspective, but the biggest thing I want to exude is support. I'm one of the luckiest coaches in that I got to leave on my terms and on good terms. I have an excellent relationship with Coach Bev (Smith) and with the team. There's no awkwardness. It's just full-on love and support for this program that has given me so much. My best memories are definitely the team-bonding experiences that we've had and watching players be challenged and grow, on and off the field."
As she tends to her family and later continues her education, Jackson looks forward to the next phase of her life and hopes to have the opportunity to return to her alma mater in the future.
"If it were up to me, I'd stick around here forever!"