Category: Featured on IOU Sports (page 2 of 4)

Success is a Perpetual Labor!

As athletes and active women, we always seem to strive for our next goal—whether it’s improving a skill, our physical fitness, weight, or trying something new. In this month’s installment of Just Jillian…, I will share how the act of goal-setting as an athlete has manifested itself in all areas of my life and can be a tool to make the finish line feel more accessible in this journey called life.

There are very few things in life that gives me the same joy of checking something off my endless “To Do” list except for how I feel when I reach a goal. Not only do I feel pride and satisfaction, but I also see it as a sign that I’m one step closer to reaching my potential. As the Zen saying goes, “Success is not found in what you have achieved, but rather in who you have become.” I truly believe this and with the recent completion of my annual performance evaluation at work, as well as the theme of Better (inspired by the book of the same name) for my organization’s staff retreat, I have been doing a lot of thinking over the last few weeks about who do I want to be a year from now and how can I improve the things I already do well. Such aspirations are not new to me.

In fact, my first memory of setting a goal occurred during my first season of playing basketball in a youth league. I was a mere ten years old (5th grade) with afro puffs in my hair and glasses on my face determined to not only tryout, but also to win a spot on a traveling AAU basketball team. Despite my lack of skills and experience at the time, I made the team. In hindsight, I’m convinced it was due to my work ethic and enthusiasm for the game. Plus, I’m positive it helped that the coaches could see my potential based on both genetics (e.g. height, muscle mass, and strength) and family history—my great uncle was an original Harlem Globetrotter and my father a former NBA player. Nonetheless, I was determined to set my own path and through sport, I found goal-setting to be a useful tool to accomplish anything I imagined.

Fast forward eighteen years and I’m still inclined to set goals for myself. What’s more, here are a few of my current ones from my professional life:

*       Balance! (work/life + mind, body, & soul)

*       Work on proactive problem-solving

*       Continue to develop my writing for audiences in professional, academic journals

*       Getting 1 of the 3 articles I’ve been working on published

The best part is that I’m supported by my organization and various professional colleagues to not just merely achieve these goals, but also to use them to help me become a better professional colleague and as a result a better person. This is where the book Better comes into play.

The book has aided in my realization that being “better” is not simply about becoming one who exudes superior excellence (American Heritage Dictionary, 2010) or doing more, but instead it’s about one’s content of character as well as the quality of the content in any given area. In other words, less is more. The book’s author—Atul Gawande—outlines three requirements for success that are worth sharing: 1) diligence, giving sufficient attention to detail; 2) to do right; and 3) ingenuity, thinking a new.

During my reading of the text, I was most intrigued by ingenuity since this is something that doesn’t come naturally. Gawande states, “It [Ingenuity] is not a matter of superior intelligence but of character. It demands more than anything a willingness to recognize failure, to not paper over the cracks, and to change” (p. 9). Taken as a recipe for success, this quote highlights how “we always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small go right” (p. 21). Or as Robert Collier noted, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

Regardless of how you slice it, to be better you must do better. I believe that such change begins with yourself—knowing and loving who you are—and once such a foundation is laid, then making the human connection. I covet my connections—the personal as well as the professional ones—and enjoy staying in touch via the various means that technology offers may it be phone, text, email, gchat or my personal fav—Facebook. Yet, even when my various connection, I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering: how do I really matter?

It is these three requirements that when taken together creates the potential for a revolution by being “a ’positive deviance’ from the norm,” which Gawande suggestion for how to not only answer the question, but also how we can make a worthy difference. I must admit I’m partial to his five suggestions, so I share them below:

1.     Ask an unscripted question

Whether this is finding out how your friend or colleague is doing or reaching out to a stranger, you don’t have to come up with a deep or important question, just one that lets you make a human connection. Make sure you listen and make note of what you learn. And remember, “if you ask a question, the machine [however you define it—school, were you work, or society as whole] begins to feel less like a machine” (p. 252).

2.     Don’t complain

Pretty simple, so I leave it at that.

 3.     Count something

I love this one considering I’m a researcher and I enjoy and see the importance of working with numbers! Gawande notes that, “The only requirement [to counting something] is that what you count should be interesting to you” (p. 254). Thus, “if you count something interesting you find interesting, you will learn something interesting” (p. 255).

4.     Write something

I recognize that writing is not something everyone enjoys like I do, yet I’ll admit, despite my love for it, it doesn’t always come easy. In fact, it’s normally a love/hate relationship as was the case with writing this particular post, which I’ve been sitting with for weeks now. However, I never lose sight that I have an audience, even though I’m still figuring out who is actually reading this consistently besides my family and friends, and each of you as belonging to virtual community that is not only for me but for all of us that support and advocate for girls and women in sport. Furthermore, it is my connections that have provided me with this opportunity to have a space to share my thoughts and feelings, so thanks Bernell! That said, do not underestimate the power of writing.

5.     Change

The final yet in my opinion most challenging suggestion, Gawande notes that you should “make yourself an early adopter [and] look for the opportunity to change” (p. 257). What’s more, George Herbert suggests, “Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”

Using your social justice lens, you might be asking yourself…what about access to such opportunities? Well, there is no denying that not all things are created equal and you would have blinders on not to think that aspects of social identity (i.e. race, gender, sexual orientation, class, education, age, etc.) comes into play with one’s ability to reach their goals; however, Gawande’s suggestions are intended to help you focus on what you can control. So, what are you waiting for? There no time like the present to set a goal or two you’d like to reach by the end of year…carpe diem!

~ One Love

CALL 2 ACTION: Since I have the privilege to have this platform to share, I see as my responsibility to highlight a few possibilities this month…

*   October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Celebrating 25 years of awareness, education, and

empowerment. For more info, check out:

*   National Coming Out Day (10/11): Even though it has past, I’m highlighting still to encourage the support of

those who identify as LGBTQ and/or in the process of coming out. With the four recent suicides, it more clear

than ever that we need to reach to who we can and show our love and support.

*   Make time for yourself to reflect and think about how you could be “better” based on what I shared in this post

and feel free to share your thoughts if you’re interested.

*   I’ve been writing this blog for nine months now. I would love to hear of any topics or hot button items I should

cover, so let me know!


Back 2 School: The Link between Sport + Education

With Labor Day behind us, summer is officially over and kids, teachers, administrators, and parents alike have begun a new school year. For sport fans, this means the return of both the interscholastic and intercollegiate sport season. Everyone from youth leagues to high school teams to collegiate athletes are preparing for their respective season in some capacity, which also means the return of balancing between life as an athlete and a student. This got me thinking about the connection between education and sport, and in particular, should one identity take precedence over the other?

I’m of the belief that one should not come before the other nor should they be prioritized as if one is more important. In fact, I know it’s possible to do both well since I am who and where I am today because of my experiences as a student, an athlete, and as a student-athlete. With both requiring practice, discipline, commitment, persistence, and support from others, there is no doubt I gained these life skills and much more, which continue to serve me in both my personal and professional life.

My interest on this subject and the binary it creates was reignited by my current reading of Mahiri & Van Rheenen’s (2010) new book, Out of Bounds: When Scholarship Athletes Become Academic Scholars. In the opening page of the book, they quote how Wideman (1992) “suggested, ‘Our current popular culture would be incomprehensible to an outsider unless he or she understood basketball as a key to deciphering speech styles, clothing styles, and metaphors employed by kids, politicians, and housewives’” (p. 1). They go on to argue that with “the pervasiveness of sport in our lives and imaginations […] spear-headed by athletic icons that inspire us to ‘be like Mike’” (p. 1) or to ‘Go, Girl, Go!,’

The athletic body [becomes] a cultural text [that] is also subjected to particular kinds of readings in the context of schools, readings that invoke coded and often contradictory conceptions of mental and physical divides, of masculinity and femininity, of pleasure and pain, of agency and identity, of race and social class. (p. 2)

In order words, as athletes, and especially as student-athletes, we are subjects who are often treated as objects that are stereotyped and expected to fit a mold. What’s more, these expectations play out based on context, ability, gender, sexuality, power, race, and economic status. It’s clear from what I have read thus far that the book will discuss both the “constraints and possibilities of athletes moving beyond boundaries and trajectories of sporting practice to become professional scholars,” yet that is not what I want to discuss here. Instead, I would rather illuminate how the capacity of individuals, leaders, and institutions needs to operate better to support a student-athlete’s “intellectual and physical growth and development” (p. 2).

On the individual level, I must give a shout out to the physical education teachers—my partner being one of them—who teach our youth that physical activity and fitness is not only fun and can be shared with family and friends but also can be experienced for a lifetime. These are the same teachers who don’t use students as targets (yep, that’s right…no dodge ball) and aim towards teachings a standards-based curriculum during a time when programs are being cut left and right due to funding and/or a steadfast focus on standardized tests. Furthermore, coaches and physical education teachers are not necessarily interchangeable and it must be stated that knowing a sport or having a love for sports doesn’t automatically make one a teacher. I argue we must hold those who educate our youth whether in the classroom, playing field, or court to a higher standard that ensures the kind of growth and development mentioned above.

In terms of leadership, I wish I had a tangible example to share as none are coming to mind. Yet, I believe that developing leaders for social justice in both physical education and sport is one answer. What’s more, I think using literacy as a tool to do so could be critical to creating holistic human beings who also happen to be students and athletes. Sport teaches us so much about ourselves; why not also improve our intellect? Or why not use our intellect and skills of reading and writing to instead name and understand the sporting world? This level of analysis is something I’m particularly interested in and hope to explore further as a future research endeavor.

One institution that has taken note of the student-athlete intersection is my alma mater, Vanderbilt University. Who in 2003 went against the dominant narrative of intercollegiate athletics by restructuring the athletic department into the resource-rich university which in turn dissolved the underfunded department. This allowed athletics to be treated like any other department, similar to physics or English. Although there were and continue to be many skeptics to this change, the results are clear. Off the field, the average GPA for student-athletes in the Spring of 2008 rose to 3.1, narrowing the gap with other students, while Vanderbilt’s NCAA graduation success rate was a Southeastern Conference (SEC) best—94%. From a financial perspective, the Commodores no longer operate at a deficit. When the changed happen in 2003, Vanderbilt athletics were running at a $4 million-a-year deficit, yet in 2006-07, it posted a surplus of $27,000. Vanderbilt’s restructuring is symbolic of the University’s desire to make every athlete a student, which is the goal, right?!? That said, the question in my mind is why aren’t more institutions willing to make this their focus? I mean the NCAA does state in their PSAs that there are “380,000 NCAA student-athletes and just about all of them will be going pro something other than sports.”

So I ask, what are our intersecting experiences as athletes and students either past or present? And, how did they form who you are today?

Just something to think about with the start of a new school year…

~ In solidarity

CALL 2 ACTION: I posed a lot of questions in this post, so hit me up with a comment below or on Facebook to share YOUR answers and thoughts!


Almost six months ago, I started on this journey of blogging and have quickly come to realize how the news, perspectives, and my own feelings can constantly change and with such change comes the challenge of focusing on just one topic to share with you. Based on the title of this post, you might think I’m going to talk about some historic sport achievement or amazing feat that has occurred in the last month but instead I take a step away from sport for a moment to peel back the layers and expose a little    more about myself.

Today was a historic day that has a real impact on my future. Today in California (where I reside), Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Prop 8 is unconstitutional on both Equal Protection and Due Process grounds. In other words, he struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. Although the decision will not immediately lead to any new same-sex marriages being performed in California, it does provide a foundation to build upon for full marriage equality, which many suspect will result in a decision from the Supreme Court. As Judge Walker wrote in his decision, “Proposition 8 cannot withstand any level of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. […] Excluding same-sex couples from marriage is simply not rationally related to a legitimate state interest.” Thus, today marks not just a victory for California but also for the additional 45 states who do not allow same-sex couples to marry.

So, you might be thinking what does this have to do with sport? Well, on personal level, nothing. Wait…I take that back, I can make a personal connection to sport…

I have been an out athlete—loosely defined as me staying active outdoors and at my local Y while always being up for a little competition—since the summer after my freshman year of college nearly a decade ago. Although the coming out process never truly ends, through the years I have come to cherish the comfort in my own skin to be and express who I truly am and most importantly, who I love. That lucky woman is Stephanie Roth—my DP (domestic partner), partner in crime, and best friend—who is in the picture with me. She makes me laugh, she loves me unconditionally, and she makes me step up to the plate as we go through this journey called life together. My life has not been the same since the day I meet her and I can’t imagine my life without her. In fact, we are currently planning what opposite-sex couples would call a wedding while we prefer to call it a celebration of our love and commitment, especially since we don’t have the right to marry. After almost seven years together, there is no doubt that we are committed to one another and want to share the rest of our life together. And, for us, it’s also time to share that love and commitment with our closest friends and family as we prepare for the next chapter in our life—kids.

All this is to say that my partner and I are no different than most of our friends, which interestingly are mainly straight, in that we want to expand our family and live our life for more than just ourselves. When I think about the possibility of brining another human being into the world, I’m brought back to reality about the world we currently live in. A country that provides us with so many freedoms yet still continues to discriminate the same people it claims to protect. I’m one of those individuals.

My parents broke the model as an interracial couple just less than a decade after the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision that outlawed anti-miscegenation laws in America. I’m proud that I and many others I know have the strength to continue to break the mold as open and out lesbian couples. However, I say it’s time for my sisters in uniform—sports uniforms that is—stand up and share their stories. And, in those stores including the ones they love, regardless of their gender. It’s time to break the silence and cloak of invisibility that raids women’s sports on this topic. Although this is just one piece of the puzzle, it also requires an end to the fear-mongering about strong women athletes being stereotyped as lesbians. As Pat Griffin states in her 1998 groundbreaking book, Strong Women, Deep Closets:

The closets in sport are so deep because so many women are hiding there. These deep closets are full of not only lesbians, but also heterosexual women who fear that women’s sport is always one lesbian scandal away from ruin. These strong women coach and compete in the shadow of a demonized stereotype so reviled that all women in sport are held hostage by the threat of being called a lesbian (p. x).

As I celebrate today’s victory, I’m reminded of the women I interviewed for my thesis and think of the handful of women athletes who have publically come out, which are listed on Outsports list of “Out Athletes.” I hope that one day that list is so long it’s not necessary anymore. Until then, its clear there is more work that needs to be done. So, I leave you with this to ponder, “Does everything have to be the same for things to be equal” (hooks, 2007, p. 147) with thoughts of “At Last” sung by Beyoncé (originally recorded by Etta James) playing in the background.

CALL 2 ACTION: It’s time for the Women’s Rugby World Cup and to support the USA Women Eagles! Didn’t know the US even had a women’s rugby team?!? Well then, find out more about the Women’s National Rugby Team as they prepare for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in London!

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