Ep66 Elana Meyers Taylor Sets Sights Really, Really Big

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Dear Listener,

It is that time again – annual August break for Hear Her Sports. It comes a little late this year because we were just too excited about the 3-part mini series on coaching to break it up. So here we are mid-August with the last episode before some time away and #3 in the series. Our guest this week is the absolutely incredible Elana Meyers Taylor talking about a new report on coaching girls, concussions, bobsled training, bobsled as trash can, unbridled confidence, martial arts, and what's happening in women's sports right now from an insider's seat at the Women's Sports Foundation.

I'll say it again, Elana is a super star. She is a 4-time World Champion, 8-time World Championship medalist, 3-time Olympic medalist, and 2015 World Cup Champion. In 2015 Elana became the first woman to earn a spot on the US National Team competing with the men as a 4-man bobsled pilot. She is currently dry land training full speed ahead after recovering from a concussion with aims to win gold in Beijing2022. For a full bio and list of Elana’s accomplishments click here. I feel very lucky to have spent time with her even if only over the phone. I hope you get as much from the conversation as I did.

As part of the coaching series we talk about the new study by WSF and Nike about coaching girls titled, “Coaching Through a Gender Lens: Maximizing Girls’ Play and Potential”.

News Flash!:
Girls want to play sports and be competitive.


It’s interesting that this is news, but of course! that’s the case. We’ve heard from several guests about how we as a society still have trouble with the idea that girls and women want to be energetic, active, aggressive, assertive, and plain old rough and tumble. Yup, there’s more work to be done to increase coverage of and opportunity for female athletes.

Other Highlights:
1. I really enjoyed hearing Elana talk about her hill sprints and hours (&hours) of off-season training. She quickly mentions that once the season starts it’s hard to get in consistent training. To expand a bit, competing athletes live in an ongoing cycle of prep/taper→travel→compete→travel→recover. In season, there are few blocks of time for good solid training that won’t impact performance. Off-season training allows for solid rest, good eating at home, and no competition stress. Athletes often select a few top tier races to be in peak readiness for and train around the others without cutting back (or cutting back less) on training in order to limit fitness and strength losses during their season.

2. Thank you Elana for mentioning the incredibly high percentage of C-suite women who played organized sports in their youth. She thought 90% -- whoa!, that’s high. But wait, it’s really 96%.

3. One of Elana’s greatest stories is of being the pilot on a 4-men (as in male) team, a highlight of her career. As written above she is the first woman to do so. The full section of the episode starts @27:00.
* Elana talks about how her husband’s perception of her abilities (already very high) increased. This is super important. She’s given a chance, other people see her and change their perception of what women are capable of. I’m sure we can transfer this lesson to other places, don’t you think!?
* She talks about the differences in confidence of men and women. (Definitely listen to this – it’s funny. This short bit starts @28:30)

4. Elana’s long term goal is to be the CEO of the US Olympic Committee -- another whoa! Huge goals like this are motivating. Even better is her explanation of why she’s “not one to go after small goals”.

5. Because Elana is the current President of the Women's Sports Foundation, I was able to ask some questions about WSF's role in battles for equity happening now in many sports like hockey, soccer, and basketball. Yes, WSF is helping out in a number of ways -- directly and indirectly. Elana even brings up my personal hero, Billie Jean King.

6. And finally, I just loved editing this episode. Listening to Elana’s voice brought me back to getting started with the podcast and being so aware of the range of voices, tones, cadences, and speaking styles. It was the best possible way to close out before taking a break.

The podcast returns to our regular schedule of motivating episodes with female athletes in mid-September. I am looking forward to some time off and also looking forward to talking to guests scheduled for the fall. Get ready for some motocross!

It's always great to hear from you, so send your thoughts & ideas via the Contact page. I read every email.

Ep65 FELISHA LEGETTE-JACK You Matter

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Dear Listener,

Let’s start from the beginning – Hanna Hall’s video about her struggle with anorexia. She talks about the origin of her illness and sets the stage for how it took over her training and life. The story is a good one, she’s brave to tell it and her University of Buffalo basketball coach, Felisha Legette-Jack, stepped in when Hanna needed help. That’s what struck me. Coach Jack noticed something wasn’t right and took action in time for Hanna’s college and basketball career to flourish. At the MAC tournament the past 2 years, I’ve watched her play at the Q Arena here in Cleveland and she’s a force even at 5’4”.

It is an honor that Coach Jack, such an incredible person, coach, and supporter of women agreed to be on the podcast. I personally felt her strength and caring at the end of our conversation when she said kind, motivating words about how Hear Her Sports lifts women up. I’m grateful she made a point of saying that.

Don’t be fooled, Coach Jack is also tough and works hard to win. In seven seasons at Buffalo she has 143 wins (the second most in program history), two MAC Championships, four postseason appearances, three NCAA Tournament wins, the 1st Draft Pick in school history with Cierra Dillard, and this year she led the Bulls to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.

This episode is the 2nd of three in the mini-series with coaches. One reason I’m talking to female coaches is because it’s such an important, influential position and there aren’t enough of them out there. In women’s college teams, across all sports, only 40.8% of the head coaching jobs are held by women. And this is for women’s teams! On the men’s side, women hold roughly 10% of the head coaching jobs. Read here for more stats, changes since Title IX, and why, big surprise, bias is the reason.

A couple other notables:
1. In 2024, the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four is coming to Cleveland, so all you local listeners stay tuned for more basketball and keep your calendar open (April 5 and 7, 2024 at Quicken Loans Arena) for those games. This is a big deal.

2. During our conversation, I ask about how Felisha so frequently calls herself a failure in reference to being fired from her coaching job at Indiana. I’m so glad I did because she corrects me to say that she doesn’t call herself a failure but says she failed. That distinction is key in her coaching and beliefs. Failing does not make you a failure. Instead she “CHOSE to go from fail to flourish”. Here’s an excellent clip particularly for young people. It’s a lesson Felisha wants to share. This clip is only a small part of the full section about making mistakes and stepping forward despite fear. She suggests letting the discomfort sit inside your belly and still take the step forward.

Ep64 Haylie McCleney 24/7 Focus on Tokyo2020

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Me in Softball kit

Me in Softball kit

I hope this little, sporty letter finds you doing well and enjoying the summer. I’m a big fan of sun & heat so am happily writing this from my lovely and hot studio in Cleveland.

This week’s episode is especially fun for me because in junior high school I played softball. We were not good, often losing by the mercy rule (which my mother was happy about because she could go home early rather than continue to watch us get whupped). This was during a time when coaching of girls’ sports was not what it is today. Our coach told batters to “Hit the ball!” As bad as we were, I’m confident we all knew that was the aim. So!, talking to Haylie was super terrific! I loved learning about all the intricacies of softball, her intense preparation and training, along with what she loves about the game since I clearly missed most of that.

The episode is also special because I LOVE talking strength training. All the better because, Haylie is incredibly smart, totally immersed, and dedicated to her work as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Florida A&M. I’d love to train with her, even for a short time. (Just putting that out there. 😃 )

Some things that stood out from the conversation were:
1. Because there isn’t a vibrant pro league in softball (and in many women’s sports), softball players have only 4 years to master their game, which really is just not enough. Sports take time, (which Haylie also talks about). And here we have yet another reason it’s a real bummer for women not to have the same opportunities as men do in sport.

2. Haylie is completely focused on making the Olympic roster for Tokyo2020. Like so many women’s sports that only get solid media coverage during the Olympics, this year and next are crucial to drum up support and win big to create interest. We just saw this same dynamic play out during the Women’s World Cup. And not solely for the USA Team. Lower ranked teams like Thailand, Chile, and Jamaica have players who were quoted saying that they need to put on good performances to add weight to their asks for greater equity. Notice I say greater equity not equity. Equity would be too huge a leap to achieve in one go.

3. Strength training is important for everyone. Haylie talks about how lifting a few weights a couple times a week as we age can keep away all sorts of diseases of the body and the brain. This is super important stuff!
Ages ago, I read a recommendation of weight lifting your age in percentage of total workout time. Meaning, if you are 50, strength train 50% of your total hours of exercising. If you are 20, 20% of your workout time is strength training. As an older endurance athlete, this is tough for me but I have greatly increased how much time I spend in the gym. It is, by far, the change that has made the most difference in my health and fitness over the past decade.

This episode with Haylie is the first of 3 episodes with coaches. I’ve been editing the next one with University of Buffalo’s Women’s Basketball Coach, Felisha Legette-Jack, and, it too, is terrific. Very different and very terrific. So stay tuned. Subscribe to the podcast wherever you find your podcasts.

Ep63 NAM Cyclo-Touring To Extreme Danger

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No surprise, I have a special fondness for my cycling guests.
This week cyclo-tourist, bike adventurer, and activist Tenzin “Nam” Namdol joins us.

Some recordings come easily, others not. It is fitting with Nam's life of traveling and everything else we talked about, that setting up with Nam wasn’t hard at all, but did involve being mindful of her adventure, no-home living. All it meant was acknowledging that the sound quality and internet connection weren’t great in the windy hills above San Francisco. She had taken a day ride from Oakland up to Headlands Center For The Arts with excellent plans to record from there. All was well: we rescheduled and she spoke from her van in Portland.

The nomadic, weather-chasing, van life appeals to me until I try to decide which of my oh-so-essential stuff to get rid of. In this episode, Nam expresses her joy, health, and sense of healing from moving around, riding bikes with friends, and of knowing she’s doing important work. She also acknowledges the struggles of having so little stuff, of upgrading to a gas-using vehicle, and feeling like she’s not doing what she’s supposed to as a good immigrant kid in the land of plenty. A lesson I’ve learned talking to all the incredible women of the podcast is that what looks easy and an obvious choice often is not and decisions made still gnaw with questions.

When I asked Nam about what she learned during last year’s WTF Summit that she & 5 fellow bike adventurers co-founded, she responded by talking about money in bike racing. This is so fascinating! Her perception is that the current, historic, and deeply entrenched inequity in bike racing ripples to cause inequities in bike touring and in bike shops. That had never occurred to me but certainly makes sense. Racing could be considered the top dog of the sport so, of course, dictates the tenor of everything below. This makes the work that Iris Slappendel (Ep42) is doing via the Cycling Alliance even that much more important.

Find out more about Nam in the Show Notes.
Briefly, she is a first generation Tibetan-American, nature enthusiast, and budding travel writer. Through environmental activism she discovered bike commuting and now rides her bicycle full time while advocating for more gender and racial diversity within the outdoors industries. She is also strategizing on what she wants her role in the 2020 elections to look like.

In addition to putting together the 3-day Summit, which sold out this year in 2 hours! (Obviously, there’s a demand for this kind of get together.), WTF manages The Grassroots Ride Series. They are free, self supported, bike packing trips organized by someone local who knows the route and has experience in adventure trips. The idea is to make bike touring more accessible for more WTF and gender non-conforming self-identifying riders.

I hope some of you sign up to take part in the rides. They take place throughout the country, are for a range of levels, and generally are a few days long. What a great and comfortable way to get started. The concept of bike touring isn’t difficult but, I think, can be a bit scary if you’ve never done it and aren’t an ace bike mechanic.

In the episode, Nam who is an ace story teller, chats sexism in cycling, joy of bikes, being an immigrant, suffering while climbing, adventure, activism, women bike mechanics + so much more.

Ep62 SENSI GRAVES Big Beautiful Life

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From her very first email I was taken with Sensi Graves’ energy.
She is a professional kiteboarder and founder of Sensi Graves Bikinis “empowering women in watersports by giving them the confidence they need and the swimwear they can rely on”. (This means cute suits that stay put.) In her own training, coaching, and competing she was tired of pulling at her bikinis and not having them function the way she wanted so she up and launched her own swimwear line!
 
In our conversation we cover starting a small business, some helpful entrepreneurial tips, bikinis, tits&ass social media, and wearing clothes for confidence & rockstar status. Plus, quite a bit about the sport of kiteboarding. (She swears it’s easy to get up and riding quickly.)

Sensi also tells a story about her kiteboarding community recently coming close to blows over pay equity. It’s been fascinating to watch men really dig their heels in as women ask for a fair share. Responding to Sensi, I said that it wasn’t true that men will lose out and there was enough pie for everyone. I should have said they won’t always lose out. Certainly, in some cases, some men will. In Episode 7 of the cycling podcast Off The Front, that I co-produced for almost a year, Katie Compton addresses just that. She has a very hardcore version of competing that I love and have always subscribed to. In a nutshell…. not everyone deserves a trophy. Paying men to 40th place while women are earning way less than 50% makes no sense.
 
I often find that during the interviews it’s really easy for me to sound as if I always live my best self, but the reality is I struggle with many of the things guests talk about. I’ve experienced the positives of meditation and still have trouble getting to it every day. Meditating in bed is a work-around, a hope for a solution to skipping it once I get out of bed. It was super fun to hear that Sensi found the same solution even if for different reasons. I eat lots of sugar. (I was eating licorice candies while editing the episode!) Sensi made sure to point out, “We don’t have all the answers!” She doesn’t eat packaged foods and yet admitted to that not being true 100% of the time. That’s what I love – lofty goals and being quite fine with not reaching them every time.

Go to the Show Notes for a more complete bio, but briefly, Sensi has been featured extensively in online and print publications including The Kiteboarder Magazine, Kiteworld, IKSURF Mag, The Kite Mag, KiteSpain, barefootkings.com and womenwhohustle.com.
 
Sensi has been nominated for AWSI kiteboarder of the year for the last four years and ranked 3rd on the Kite Park League World Tour in 2017.
 
Sensi Graves Bikinis has been recognized by Self Magazine as a top suit for sports and is the winner of the 2017 SELF Healthy Living Awards.

Ep61 ERICA AYALA Women's Hockey Now

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Thanks to all you who subscribe and read the newsletter. It’s fun to write down a few things that cross my mind while researching, interviewing, and editing. So, I appreciate you joining me in discovering more female athletes and about the business of women in sports.

For a while now, I’ve been following this week’s guest, sportswriter Erica Ayala, and hoped to get her on the show to talk about women's sports in the media. With the recent folding of the Canadian Women’s Hockey league and #ForTheGame movement it was such a terrific opportunity to get Erica on the show to fill us in on that whole story with a bit of background thrown in. She's quite the expert on hockey and it's quite a story! I’m thrilled she agreed and can’t wait to have her back on again.

What’s important about our conversation is a dose of reminders that the battles in women’s sports are definitely about money AND about being treated as professionals. The Metropolitan Riverters who had links to the NJ Devils until very recently were one of the few teams who weren’t sharing a locker room with rec(reational) leagues. Gah! Seriously? I mean, it’s not like these professional athletes are asking for the world.

Emotions are hot, as Erica explains. There are two sides. Or more. She also points out that what’s happening in hockey is the same thing that happens in all labor movements. I like that she puts it in that context rather than keeping this fight for working equity in a separate sports arena.

Erica also points out, with actual numbers, that there is, in fact, an audience for women’s hockey and for women’s sports. (And this is without the marketing dollars + other support men’s sports get.)

Our conversation was recorded the day before #ForTheGame announced the formation of a players union so obviously we didn’t talk about it. You can head over to the Show Notes to find some links to an article about that development and a whole ton of other links to articles, podcasts, players, and topics Erica mentioned in the episode. A highlight is the 30 for 30, episode, Back Pass, which she highly recommends.

Erica is a sportswriter, broadcaster, and podcaster. She serves as a color analyst and ringside reporter for the National Women’s Hockey League and writes the weekly hockey column for The IX Newsletter. She covers women’s basketball for High Post Hoops and the new WNBA vertical at The Athletic. Erica has contributed women's sports coverage to espnW, The Guardian, The Hockey News, ThinkProgress, WBAI Sports Qualified (radio), and more.

In addition to sports, Erica is a youth justice advocate. She has worked for over ten years with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools®, a summer literacy program that seeks to fosters a love for reading and promote literacy in communities throughout the United States. She currently works as the Project Manager of the GPS4Kids Collective Impact initiative at the Westchester Children’s Association.

Erica received her B.A in Political Science, with a minor in African-American Studies from Elon University. She is an Elon Softball letter winner and a 2006 Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar. She completed her Master of Public Administration degree at the NYU Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service in May 2016.

Ep60 REBECCA ROSS Name Drops Mountains

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This week's guest on the podcast is mountaineer, climber, and photographer Rebecca Ross who is on her way to the Republic of Georgia in less than a month. 

She's been adventurous since early on but her climbing career started only in May 2017 shortly after completing a Basic Climbing Education Program offered through the Mazamas. 

The skills and knowledge she’s gained over a short amount of time has led her to successfully obtain two international climbing grants: leading her first international expedition to the summit of Pico de Orizaba in December 2018, and another expedition planned in 2020 to summit three peaks in Mongolia.

Rebecca jumped right into leading climbs, which is really interesting and brings on a whole other set of issues and responsibilities. During preparation for the trip to Mexico she cut a team member and another left. Find out why in the episode. What struck me was how Rebecca knows how she wants to climb and sticks to that for safety and good team togetherness.

Big surprise we talk about equipment. She borrowed a backpack for Three Fingered Jack in Oregon but it was too big and had other fit issues. Her story reminded me of a hut to hut ski trip I did years ago with my husband and friends. One borrowed climbing skins last minute and didn't get a chance to test them out. They didn't work well and he ended up bailing days early. This all brings up something Rebecca emphasized was important to her. She takes lots of classes to keep upgrading her skills, increase her knowledge, and understand the equipment and tools. This can be particularly important for women who aren't always seen as knowledgeable in stores so can be steered in wrong directions. 

Rebecca goes over some of the mundane parts of expeditions like planning, grant writing, and negotiating. It's all good stuff. She certainly has made a mark for herself in a short time by working smartly and pushing past her own fears (she's afraid of heights!) and standing up for herself. 

Ep59 NAYA TAPPER Professional Rugby, USA Women's Eagles Sevens Team

 

This week I’m very happy to introduce rugby superstar Naya Tapper who was recently named the all time top try scorer for the USA Women's Eagles Sevens Team. As she said in Ep59, "I’m fast, powerful, and I’m hard to take down, so that’s kind of a try scoring machine, if you think about it."
 
Naya is originally from North Carolina and attended UNC, where she began her rugby career in 2012. She began playing for the USA Women's Eagles in 2016 and currently resides in Chula Vista, California, where she trains at the Olympic Training Center with the USA Rugby team. 
 
Naya began her athletic life as a sprinter so transitioning to rugby required learning how to work with a bunch of other super star athletes and how to play with a ball. As I mentioned to Naya, it never occurred to me I could work on improving my eye-hand coordination (which really is not my strength).  Naya reveals that she uses special eye-hand coordination glasses! What!? Yes. I love that. I love really specialized sporty tools. Take a listen to the episode to find out what they are all about.
 
Another standout portion of the conversation was Naya’s hesitation and answer to my feminine-side question. Relistening while editing made me feel old by even asking the question. Like what is a feminine side? Having labeled it seemed odd. And yet, the other side of it is her reply: "They have the bows in their hair. They have their finger nails painted. Things like that just to show, yeah I’m a girl, I’m feminine, and I’m playing this rough, amazing sport and I’m kicking ass at it. That’s as good as it gets, I think."
 
This episode with Naya Tapper is the 3rd rugby episode following Ep12 with Phaidra Knight and Ep47 with Hannah Hall and Laelae Mituanai of the YSU Rugby Team. I spoke with Phaidra almost 2 years ago so it’s particularly interesting to compare what she and Naya say about the growth of the sport and about tactics in rugby sevens.


Send me your thoughts via our Contact page.

Keep Listening,
Elizabeth Emery

Ep 58 Jen Gurecki CEO Coalition Snow Demand Exceptional

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Once again, I have a phenomenal female athlete to introduce this week. Jen Gurecki is CEO of Coalition Snow, a woman founded ski & snowboard company, Editor in Chief SISU magazine, (uncovering the untold stories of the outdoors), Co-host of Juicy Bits podcast, and Founder of Zawadisha (improving women's lives one loan at a time).
 
With all that, what excited me most about having Jen on the show was the opportunity to hear an insider's view of selling quality women’s equipment versus "pinking down" something designed by and made for men.

If you’re a regular listener to the podcast, you have heard me talk about my quest for wide cycling shoes and I mention it again in this episode. It’s interesting, this time while editing our conversation it struck me that my feet aren’t really that small and yet I’m nearly apologizing for needing something special. My feet are 7.5, small for a man of course, but pretty average for a woman. Over the years my experiences finding cycling shoes have mirrored what Jen talked about in the episode. 
 
Jen says that women don’t spend money on equipment "because they don't believe they deserve it". We certainly can do a number on ourselves, so I’ll buy that. However, I’m not convinced that if it weren’t so hard to get what we needed, we’d be spending much more. Stores make it difficult to spend good money on good equipment if we don’t line up with what is expected of us. Often, I find only lower end models stocked. Would most customers know to ask for something better? I’m tired of spending so much time and effort seeking a good pair of cycling shoes. I’m also tired of riding with less than ideal.
 
I really like Jen’s point about how it takes work to support diversity, to support an inclusive outdoors, to support female-founded companies like Coalition Snow. It’s easy to say you will and way harder to make the commitment to actually take action to really get it done. It’s not easy. 

And the same is true for all undersupported, underrepresented groups. Let’s you and I do the work to spend money at businesses founded by and supporting people of color, LBGTQ, LatinX, and women. I do understand the financials of taking a stand and supporting people outside the center. And as an optimist, I believe there is a way.
 
Sometimes it takes only a bit of pre-planning. Jen shares a perfect example of not being defensive and then doing work on the front end for a women’s EVO + Coalition Snow ski trip.
 
A recent New York Times article writes there’s now greater diversity of lead characters in movies, but still directors are mostly white men. This is in part because audiences don’t vote with their dollars when it comes to directors, so there’s been no financial incentive for studios to make changes.
 
Here’s a partial list from the article of upcoming films directed by women. Make the effort to vote with your $$$.
Frozen II” co-directed by Jennifer Lee
Breakthrough,” directed by Roxann Dawson
The Sun Is Also a Star,” directed by Ry-Russo-Young
The Rhythm Section directed by Reed Morano
Little,” directed by Tina Gordon
Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.
Charlie’s Angels” directed by Elizabeth Banks  
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” directed by Marielle Heller
Poms” directed by Zara Hayes
Wonder Woman 1984,” directed by Patty Jenkins
Birds of Prey,” directed by Cathy Yan
 
That’s enough from me. Head right over to Apple Podcasts or where ever you go for podcast listening and tune in to hear from Jen about why she started Coalition and what the impact is of providing excellent gear for sporty women right from the get go. She is able to talk about her experience and challenges as she works to get her skis and boards into smaller independent stores. Right now, not one carries Coalition Snow.
 
Jen & I also talk about being kind, speaking up, and dealing with making mistakes and quite a bit of other great stuff.

Ep57 RACHEL HAINES Forgiving

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This week's episode is skyrocketing to the top of all-time listens, so definitely make sure to check out what all the excitement is about.

Rachel was a two-time member of the US Women’s Gymnastics team, two-time National Champion, and Division 1 college gymnast at University of Minnesota where she studied child psychology and earned a master’s degree in family social science. She is also Survivor 195 in the Larry Nassar case.

Tomorrow, her excellent memoir comes out!
In Abused: Surviving Sexual Assault and a Toxic Gymnastics Culture she writes in detail about breaking her back in three places and everything she did to stay in the sport after that day. But, mostly Rachel uses the lens of her psychology training to dissect her time in the sport. She focuses on the culture of gymnastics, being a driven teenager, her own process of healing, forgiving, moving on, and creating a great life after sport.

Rachel’s goal is to inspire just one person with what she’s written.

Competing versus training is a favorite topic of this podcast, so talking to Rachel about the complex relationship between competition, having fun, developing into a better person, safety, and respect for sport has me still thinking. She asks important questions like what is the aim of college sports. This discussion is timely given the recent college application scandal (which I’ve been obsessing about). And yet, making it only about fun and games takes away so much of what sport is about.

This weekend I’m running in a 5K. Even at this mini level, I’m reminded of how racing differs from training. I’ve enjoyed and hated getting ready for an actual event with a timer. While figuring out pacing and pushing myself to run a bit faster feels like an accomplishment, there’s no doubt that I’m paying a price for adding even this small amount of speed work with increased stress on my still struggling knees.

Thinking back to Rachel – how DO you balance the dueling requests sports make? She’s coaching now and has successfully implemented some of her ideas. Tune in to hear what she said.