Equal Play. Equal Pay.

I was 10 years old and riding in the car with my family; a Dodge Minivan, to be exact. The 1999 Women’s World Cup was fast approaching and I could not be more excited. My Dad starting singing the theme song from a popular commercial featuring Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan.

Anything you can do I can do better…

…I can do anything BETTER THAN YOU! was my loud reply

The women on the US Soccer Team were my heroes and idols. I wanted to be just like them. I could name every player and her number on command. My room was covered floor to ceiling in posters of women’s soccer players, swimmers, runners, and articles cut out from Sports Illustrated. I love sports. I love female sports. I love playing and watching sports.

I am part of the generation of girls who count the 1999 World Cup as a turning point in their life. I will forever remember Bob Gillespie’s article in The State newspaper decrying women’s sports and urging everyone to “wait for the hysteria to die back down.”

Well Bob, you were wrong and I’m glad. The popularity of women’s sports has only continued to rise and millions of girls around the world love and play sports.

Many of the players on the reigning World Cup Champion team were also influenced by the ’99ers. They too remember exactly where they were when Kristine Lilly saved a goal line shot with her head or when Brandi ripped off her shirt after beating China in PK’s.

The current generation of players are standing on the shoulders of these giants and they are reaching higher. They are demanding equal pay for equal play.

On the surface, this is a no-brainer; an easy decision for any non-female hating person. On the surface, I agree. Equal play, equal pay. Still, I think the issue is more complex than social media typically allows.

Let’s first acknowledge that women have been (and are still) paid less than their male counterparts for the same work across many (if not all) fields. This is not right. This should be challenged, called out, and changed.

The issue comes with how we define “equal.” I think most of us agree, equal does not mean the same. A butter knife and a steak knife are equally knives, but they are not the same. A chimpanzee and a rabbit are equally mammals, but they are not the same. With this in mind, I would argue men and women are equal, but not the same, especially in sports.

I work out regularly with guys and while there are somethings I am better at, across the board, even the weaker guys are bigger, faster, and stronger than me. I work hard, sometimes I’m more skilled, but all things (weights) being the same, I cannot keep up most of the time. This principal holds true across the majority of the male-female spectrum with regard to physical pursuits.

Drawing this out to sports, the work effort, hours of practice, and technical skills required are equal, but the results are different. The best female players in the world, the US national team, are on par with a talented U16-U18 boys team. Though the work is equal, in comparison, the result is not the same.

This being said, the women have achieved what their male counterparts have not – multiple world cup titles, olympic medals, and higher world rankings. All things being equal the women are competing at a higher level than the men and succeeding.

Admittedly, there are more factors than just the play on the field. Marketability, media coverage, sponsors, all factor into an athlete’s value to a company. I do not know the exact dollars, but I would imagine the marketability of the female players as reigning world cup champions is equal to, if not greater than the men. The players leading the charge for equal play, equal pay are some of the most highly marketable athletes in the world, particularly when marketing to women, though more than a few Sports Illustrated magazines have been sold as a result of the work of these women as well.

My concern for the movement, and the reason I desire clarity, is because I see a trend in sports (and Western culture in general) towards declaring men and women the same, and not merely equal. I fear a day when women’s and men’s sports will be combined and women will be excluded not because they’re women per se, but because after around age 13 they simply cannot compete on the same level as their male counterparts.

Women and men are different, but equal and those differences need to be celebrated. Women and men are much more similar than they are different, but much like a painting by Monet, the beauty is in the detail.

I still say equal play, equal pay, but let’s not confuse equality with sameness. Women and men bring different strengths and people to the game and that should be celebrated, valued, and rewarded, not minimized.

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We Won!

mia-hamm-vision-of-a-championPreviously I wrote about my response after a loss. I was coaching my high school soccer team and we lost to a talented opponent. It hurt. We were disappointed. I wanted the outcome to be different. We played the same team again last Friday and. we. won.

We, the underdogs, won! Before the game we talked about sacrifice, perseverance, and not giving up. We talked about fighting for each other and not with each other. I told the girls it would be hard, but the reward of beating the #2 team in the State would be worth it.

The girls fought with every ounce of strength and skill they possessed and it paid off. However, though the game was technically won on the pitch over 90 minutes, the real game was won on the practice field. Each and every day at practice over the past few weeks the girls worked hard. The left practice sore, bruised, and tired. Girls who never saw a minute on the playing field fought hard in practice and in doing so, made our team better.

In life, we will have big moments. Game changers. We will have seasons of all out fighting and battle, but the real game is won day in and day out when there is seemingly little at stake.

The vision of a champion is bent over, drenched in sweat, to the point of exhaustion, when no one else is looking – Mia Hamm

During practices we worked on the fundamentals of the game – defending, passing, transitioning. When the game came and exhaustion set in, our fundamentals held strong and enabled us to keep fighting beyond what we believed was possible.

What are your fundamentals? What can you work on now, to prepare you for the big game?

Winning against the #2 team in the state required more than we thought we were capable of giving. Even with our preparation in practice, we were tired and weary. Today, we face our next opponent. The grind doesn’t end after victory, but we’re a little stronger, a little wiser, and a little more battle tested for the next round.

Leave No Doubt.

Two players imitating Madei and me as Coaches - sunglasses and all. How could you not want to support those faces?!?!

Two players imitating Madei and me as Coaches – sunglasses and all. How could you not want to support those faces?!?!

We stepped onto the field undefeated. This was our home turf. Our house. Our game. We were playing one of our rivals, a team we barely beat 3-2 the last time we played. Before the game I reminded the girls of our goals for the season, many of which we already accomplished. Still, our task in front of us seemed large and difficult. Our opponent recently took the defending state champions to double overtime. I challenged our girls to leave no doubt. Leave no doubt about the previous win. Leave no doubt that you deserve your playoff spot. Leave no doubt that you are a force to be reckoned with.

The final score was 5-0. Leave no doubt. I can honestly say this was the best I’ve ever seen them play. Each and every girl left everything on the field and she rose to the challenge with determination, poise, and panache. Before the game, I told our leading goal scorer I may need her to fill in at defense because one of our starters was out with a concussion. I thought she would be disappointed, but not only was she OK with it, but she said she wanted to do whatever it took to help the team.

This kind of attitude is typical of the girls on the team. Each of them has put their heart and soul into practice and games. They care for one another and genuinely want the best for each other. I’ve been on many teams in my life and there are few teams that are truly family. This team is one of them, I think.

As a coach, it is great to see the girls fighting for one another instead of at one another. It is exciting to think of possibilities and dream big – yes, I’m already dreaming of a state championship 🙂 We have seniors on the team who don’t start and yet they encourage and are genuinely proud of the underclassmen; not an easy task for an 18 year old to manage.

We have secured our spot in the playoffs and thus fulfilled one of our big goals for the season. Now, it’s time to dream big and challenge ourselves to defy expectations.

I want to get playoff t-shirts for our girls. This is the first year our program has made it this far. In fact, 2 years ago we only won 1 region game all year. We didn’t plan for it in our budget so we need to raise the money. The girls and boys have already fundraised over $5,000 for the program so this on is on me. If you want to be a part of greatness and support GMC Women’s Soccer then let me know and I can get a check from you. If your business wants to donate we can put your logo on the shirts too.

Go Blazers!

Suck it, Kelly

exhaustion

This was me after I finished. Minus the six pack abs and no shirt.

It all started innocently enough. I thought the morning workout would not be too bad. At this point in my CrossFit journey I should have known better; however, I thought this workout played to my strengths. Lots of running (by CrossFit standards at least), no weights, box jumps, and wall balls.

The workout was simple, a little thing called “Kelly”: 5 rounds consisting of a 400m run, 30 box jumps, 30 wall balls. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. I started out blazing fast. I sprinted by 400m run, blew through my box jumps, went all out on my wall balls and died by round 2. There was 45 minute time cap and I finished with 3 seconds to spare. I collapsed on the floor, exhausted, nauseated, and wondering what went wrong?

Fast forward several months and the workout comes up again. As soon as I see it, I remember the pain, the confusion, and the frustration. Still, I wake up at 5:30am on Monday morning and trudge to the gym, praying I’m not the only one. At the gym, I’m getting nervous. I start to doubt myself and I’m honestly getting nervous before the start. Will I be able to finish? Will I throw up? What if I embarrass myself (again)?

The first 400m run and the box jumps are fine, as I knew they would be, but the first round of wall balls and I can already feel it. This is where I fell apart before. I don’t particularly like wall balls for exactly all the reasons they’re good for you: they’re hard and they work almost every muscle in your body. Self doubt creeps in and I wonder if I can last 5 rounds. I remembered what I tell my soccer girls all the time, Just keep moving. Turn your mind off and let your body do the work. Your body will go farther than your mind will let it.

I remembered watching my girls fight to cross the finish line with seconds to spare for the sake of their teammates during preseason. I remembered my own soccer team fighting from behind a 3-0 deficit to tie the game in regulation then win in overtime. I turn my mind off. I let my body work. Just keep moving. I take a break when I need it, careful to keep my heart rate low – especially on the run and box jumps.

Much like life, sometimes the best we can do is keep moving. One foot in front of the other. The future is unknown, but the present is here now.

By round 3 I knew I would make it. Yes, this was hard, but I could do it. On my fourth round, my coach yelled “SUCK IT, KELLY!” I couldn’t help, but smile.

I maintained a nearly identical pace through all 5 rounds, a feat for which I was very proud, and finished with a 9 minute PR using a heavier wall ball than before. Yes, I still collapsed in exhaustion afterwards. Yes, it was still hard, but I proved to myself that Kelly is not my nemesis and yes, my body will go farther than my mind will let it.

As a coach and former athlete, it’s easy to forget the pain and mental fortitude it takes to finish a workout. It’s easy to look on the outside and view with rose colored glasses my own glory days while lamenting the lack of effort in my current team. Surely, these sprints were easier for me. I never doubted my own ability to finish. I always saw the big picture. When push comes to shove I struggle with the same temptation to quit as I did when I played sports and the same temptation my girls face every day. The question we all must answer is: Is it worth it?

Training without a purpose won’t get you through Kelly or any other workout when it gets tough. Without a purpose or guiding post in life, we won’t make it through the hard times either.

Sometimes the best we can do is gut it out and call it a day. Sometimes we surprise ourselves and PR on a day we thought would be a bust. Those are the days that make it worth it and remind us why our goal is so sweet to begin with. Yesterday was one of those days.

On Sacrifice and Reward

A little throw back from my own soccer playing days to go along with some lessons I'm learning as a coach.

A little throw back from my own soccer playing days to go along with some lessons I’m learning as a coach.

Last night, my soccer team (the one I coach) won their first region game this year by a margin of 3-2 against one of our rivals. The game was easily the best team effort I’ve seen in the history of the program; including the game we won 10-1 playing a man down the whole game with no subs. It was a come from behind win with many dramatic moments, pk’s (penalty kicks for you non-soccer fans), and injury, all on the hottest day of the year so far.

At half-time we were tied 1-1 after a late, gritty, all-effort goal for us. It wasn’t our best half, but we kept ourselves in the game by fighting hard and refusing to give up. Our focus at half-time was less on tactics and more about playing for each other and sacrifice. Our team has the talent to win a lot of games this year, but we are still fairly inexperienced and, like many all-girls teams, there can be underlying drama and tension among ourselves.

I told the girls before the game I didn’t care about the weather and how hot it was – everyone was playing in the heat. I didn’t care about little owwies and boo boos that hurt (but I do care about real injuries, for the record). I cared about who was willing to work hard and push themselves for the sake of their teammates.

During pre-season, in the middle of sprints, I often told ok, yelled to, the girls

1. It pays to be a winner and

2. Your body can go farther than your mind will let it.

Last night, we saw, felt, and enjoyed these truths first hand. Our girls came out of half time fighting and willing to sacrifice for each other. Each person gave more than they thought they were capable and each person executed their role with a mind for their teammates. Tactically, we had to switch positions, players, and formations several times and the girls embraced each new challenge and gave their best effort.

In the last minutes of the game, with the other team pushing all out, we maintained possession and kept playing our style of game. We refused to let down and there were several instances of girls playing beyond their skill or fitness level to make a play for the team. Their bodies pushed harder than their minds thought possible and it paid off.

All in all, I’m thrilled for the first region win of the season, but I’m even more impressed and excited about the sacrifice the girls made for each other. The challenge now is to continue the momentum and fight to remain united against continued obstacles. But for now, I’m going to enjoy the win!

On Coaching

coachOne of the best decisions I ever made was the decision to coach high school soccer. I started as a volunteer, mostly as a way to get to know girls while I was a Young Life leader, but that quickly turned into an official assistant coaching position. Eventually I was lured away by lots of money (not) to start a program at a local charter school.

There are many reasons I love coaching – I love the game of soccer, I love working with high school girls, I love building something from the ground up. Still, my favorite part of coaching is the opportunity to lead young women in a unique season and in a unique context.

As an assistant coach, my responsibilities for the emotional side of the team were clear and easy to fulfill. I was able to be the kinder, softer side of the coaching staff. I could easily focus extra attention on a single girl if she needed encouragement, correction, or advice. As a head coach, however, this balance is a little trickier.

As a head coach, I am responsible to not only the individuals, but also the team. My strict and intense side comes out when I am fighting to forge individuals into a team in a few short weeks; a time when I am admittedly not the most approachable. To be honest, I love introducing difficulty and hardship (aka running) into their lives because I thrive off the energy created by individuals sacrificing for one another and achieving something greater than themselves.

There is immense satisfaction in teaching young women to lead themselves and their peers – especially through challenge. I am elated when a girl is able to push through her mental barriers and realize she possesses a strength she never knew she had.

Still, all of these emotions and goals are secondary to the greater goal of preparing these women for life. As high schoolers, these young women are just beginning to understand who they are; their unique gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. As a coach, I get to bring clarity and encouragement as they figure themselves out. I have the privilege of a natural platform to speak wisdom (I hope), encouragement, and truth.

The opportunity to bring clarity and wisdom(?) is not unique to coaching, but coaching provides more daily, uninterrupted time than almost any other opportunity outside of parenting. The girls on the team are about to enter one of the most tumultuous seasons of life. Someone once told me, your life will change more between 18-28 than any other time in your life. As I have yet to reach age 28 I cannot verify this personally, but it seems to hold true for me so far!

As a coach, my goal is not only to prepare these young women for the soccer field, but also for the onslaught of challenges they will face when they leave home and/or the safety of college for the first time. Lessons like perseverance, building mental strength, and overcoming obstacles will serve them well in life and on the soccer field…That is, if they don’t die from running first!

Running with a Purpose or Running Away?

I took off running without any idea how long I would go for, how far, or how fast. I ran to get out of my own head; because I didn’t know what else to do. The soccer team I help coach had just lost in the 2nd round – the first time we didn’t play in the finals in 6 years. It was a shock to say the least. I still can’t believe it happened.

I had a need, a compulsion really, to run that I hadn’t had in a long time. As the game replayed through my head, I also wondered if I was (again) holding soccer too tightly in my life. Was it normal to get this upset about a game? Numerous times people have asked me if I am glad soccer is over and truth be told, I don’t really understand the question. I could never be glad that we ended the season with a loss, nothing less than perfection would satisfy me.

You could probably make a case that I am holding soccer too tightly and you might be right. However, as the days have passed though I am upset, I am not devastated – I really never was. I don’t feel incomplete as if part of my identity was taken, I am glad for the opportunity I had to spend time with that group of girls. My need to run that night was a way for me to process, not escape. I had just gone through 80 minutes (or 5 months, depending on how you look at it) of an emotional roller coaster and I just couldn’t sit still. I needed to run, to use the emotional energy that bordered on angst as fuel for something, anything, that would get me out of the race in my mind. Running is and always has been a way to “not think” and that night was no different. Do you want to know the last thought I had before I came inside?

Man, I wish I had started my watch because I was flying! – oh well, such is life.

My top 10 reasons why I love hanging out with athletes:

This post is inspired by the lovely ladies on the soccer team I coach as well as many memories as a former athlete.

10. Dinner time. No one judges you if you take 2nds, or 3rds or 7ths.

9. Who doesn’t want to smell like sweat, BO, and grass?

8. No hair bows.

7. There’s nothing that says bonding like planning to massacre another team, break their spirits and make them cry.

6. Any time is game time. Athletes can turn anything into a competition.

5. You learn valuable survival skills. Any injury can be fixed with pre-wrap and tape.

4. It’s OK to drop a deuce, if ya know what I mean – as long as you’re not the person next in line.

3. It is OK to discuss said deuce on the bus. Was it good? How bad did it smell? How long did you have to evacuate the room until it was safe to re-enter? – All worthwhile discussion topics.

2. You can look like a slob and no one cares. In fact, people notice if you get new sweatpants.

1. Athletes have more fun. Period.

Do you have any other thoughts on why life is great (or not) when you hang out with athletes?

My Life as a Coach

I began volunteering as an assistant soccer coach at a local high school my sophomore year of college. I played soccer competitively through high school, but opted out of playing in college. I sincerely missed soccer and I wanted a chance to connect with girls for Young Life. I essentially bugged anyone I could find at the school until they let me come. Perhaps not the most effective strategy, but it worked.

For 2 years, I volunteered primarily with the JV team helping with practices, coaching games and getting to know the girls. This year, my first group of freshman girls are now seniors and most of them were on the varsity team last year! I feel old. You see, now that I’m a postgrad I can say stuff like that and be taken seriously. Like, for real.

My senior year of college was my first year as a paid assistant and I worked primarily with the varsity team. I absolutely loved it. They are an amazing group of girls, who are INCREDIBLY talented on the field.

One of my favorite parts has been getting to know the girls as people outside of soccer. These girls are smart, funny, motivated, but also broken. They hurt and experience brokenness just like everyone else. They are traversing the halls of high school without a lot of guidance or any clue as to what is going on. A girl who is on cloud 9 one day, may walk in on the verge of tears the next. These girls are not overly-emotional, they are not dramatic (usually), and by in large they have a “good head on their shoulders,” but such is the reality of high school.* This is perhaps the only time when I can legitimately accept the phrase “finding oneself” from someone without laughing. It has continually been my prayer that I would boldly take advantage of my time with them to offer them hope in the One who is unchanging, the Father and Truth.

If you feel led, please pray for me as I love these girls; pray for wisdom, boldness and strength. Pray that I will not make it about me or what I can offer them, but about the only one who can save them from themselves, the only one who can make sense of life. Pray for the girls as they navigate a tumultuous stage of life and are confronted with choices that they never thought they would have to make. High school is scary, petty, and daunting; pray that they would make wise choices and not put their hope in something that will fail them, like soccer.

*For a more detailed and fascinating explanation about the mind of a woman from in-utero to adulthood I highly recommend The Female Brain. It is an easy read that will either help you understand the woman in your life or, for you women, make you realize that you are NOT crazy and make sense of your life.