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Women are busting gender barriers everywhere these days, and that includes on the football field. Dr. Jen Welter (47) became the first ever National Football League female coach when she joined the Arizona Cardinals in the summer of 2015. You can’t help but cheer on a 5’2 woman standing on the sidelines doling out strategies to a group of enormous linebackers (even if you’re not a Cardinals fan)!
The Texas Conference for Women invited Jen to be a “Corner Office Success Panel” speaker because she knows how to thrive in a man’s world and has dedicated herself to teaching other women to do the same. If you want to get inspired, follow her on Twitter and read her book Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless From The First Woman To Coach in The NFL.
Welter is a woman of “firsts” — just take a look at her accomplishments:
— 1st to play running back in a men’s pro football league
— 1st female to coach men’s professional football
— Won four National Championships and two gold medals as a member of Team USA in the 2010 and 2013 International Federation of American Football’s (IFAF) Women’s World Championship
— Dubbed by the United Nations as Sports Pioneer of the Year
— Named one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Sports by ESPNW (2015)
Meeting Welter was quite a thrill because I’ve always been a football fan and even played tackle football with the neighborhood boys when I was young. Around age 13, my mother said it was time to stop– something about developing into a young woman and the boys getting a lot bigger. I was devastated, but that didn’t stop me from sneaking out when she was at work to make a few plays in the field. Then, I’d run back inside, shower, and put on the clothes I wore for school with a “nothing to see here” look on my face when she came home.
The next best thing I could find to playing was a gig as a trainer/manager for the varsity football team starting my freshman year in high school. Guess who lettered in football! That’s right, I wore my letterman’s jacket with pride and took those training skills with me to Ohio Wesleyan University where I spent my freshmen year as the football team’s assistant trainer. My education path took me into journalism, but I always wondered what would have happened if I had continued playing football all those years ago.
Honestly? It probably wouldn’t have amounted to more than a few cracked ribs and an extra year wearing braces. That notion was confirmed when Jen (who is the best of the best in so many ways) stated:
“The most I ever got paid for playing women’s pro football was $12. That check came at the end of my 4th season when I won a Super Bowl. We went 12-0 and got a check for $12. It was literally a dollar a game.”
You can imagine my surprise when Jen revealed when she started playing football in this short video interview. I especially like what she has to say about women needing to step up the way men do. She gives us permission through leading by example. “There is no field you don’t belong in or on,” she preaches. Amen, sister!
If you love sports in particular and want to pursue your dreams, don’t give up! Age and gender aren’t the issues they used to be and there are so many more opportunities for women in sports than when we were in high school. Nearly half of football fans are female, and the NFL not only recognizes that but is working to include more women as reported by CBSNews.com earlier this year. Many of these professional opportunities are by way of coaching, internships, recruiting, and more. In fact, the efforts are going so well that the National Baseball League is looking to the NFL for advice on doing the same for baseball.
There’s even a Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) league comprised of 65 teams nationwide in the U.S. the WFA is based on non-profit business model that rewards players based on performance. The formula worked so well that within two years, the WFA had become the largest women’s tackle football league in the world and home to the most successful and longstanding franchises in women’s football history.
Welter contributes to that with her football camps for girls and women. Welter set up her GRRRidiron Flag Football Camp, which “empowers young women to play big, dream bigger, and provides the game plan to turn their dreams into reality.” There’s also “A Day In The Life” for adults who get to train like a pro.
If this video doesn’t get you fired up, what will?