March 31, 2016
By Mandy Housenick
GoLeopards.com Featured Columnist
Many college students never hear their school’s president address a crowd. Getting the chance to hear him or her give a presentation geared toward you and your group is an even more coveted experience.
Lafayette women’s soccer coach Mick Statham made it happen for his players and the women’s volleyball team.
Statham has his team read a book, of his choice, every summer. He wound up being so gung ho about this year’s choice – Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to lead,” that he shared it with women’s volleyball coach Terri Campbell, and came up with the idea to have three sessions that included guest speakers and breakout sessions.
Lafayette president Alison Byerly was one of those speakers.
“If I told some of my high school friends that the president came to a meeting to speak to us, they wouldn’t believe me,” senior Sam Potoczak said. “Alison Byerly is, I think, the most intelligent woman I’ve ever been around. When she speaks, she is in command of the room. It was perfectly appropriate. It was an amazing experience. What she had to say was extremely helpful, extremely valuable.”
It’s reactions like that that Statham was hoping for because that’s the feeling he had after he read the book.
Even though he’s the father of two daughters and in his ninth season coaching Lafayette’s women’s soccer team, Statham was emphatic about how much he learned from the book, which focuses on the challenges women face in trying to get ahead in the workplace and how to best balance being a working mother.
“There were things I learned from the book that will help me in my future handling of my players, psychologically and emotionally,” Statham admitted. “And some issues I can’t say I have ever encountered simply because I’m a male. That was also enlightening. This was exactly what I wanted out of the book for the players, for my staff. I think I nailed it this year. It’s a book that kind of keeps on giving.”
Statham came up with the list of invitees and left it up to assistant coach Kim Fritchman to set up the dates and times of the three sessions, each of which lasted about an hour. Although it’s not unusual for Statham and his assistants to go over the book with his team, he’s never invited administrators or other coaches to take part.
But after he read the book, he knew the topic was screaming to have working women be involved.
“I didn’t want to be a hypocrite either and stand up there and say, ‘Here’s my experience with it when I really don’t have experience with it.’ I didn’t want to say, ‘Well, here’s what I’ve heard,’” he said.
And Statham also didn’t want to inhibit anyone from truly speaking their minds, and he was fearful with simply his presence, as a male, some of the student-athletes wouldn’t be comfortable sharing their true feelings or recalling some awkward situations.
So the coach left the room.
“I can’t even tell you 10 percent of what was said,” he said. “I didn’t want even one player to not be able to speak freely. Then, when they were in small groups, I would listen for 30 seconds to a minute.”
Kaelin King, a junior forward with a double major in government and law and international affairs, won’t be waiting until she’s in the real world to start applying some of Sandberg’s messages. Instead, she’s going to make a conscious effort now to work on changing the way to accept compliments.
“We need to know our value and have confidence in our skills. As an athlete, we have to be proud of our accomplishments. As women, we try to minimize our accomplishments. We say, ‘Oh, we got lucky,’ and men say, ‘Oh, I deserved that.’ We need to accept when we do great things in athletics and academics.”
– Kaelin King ’17
“We need to know our value and have confidence in our skills,” she said. “As an athlete, we have to be proud of our accomplishments. As women, we try to minimize our accomplishments. We say, ‘Oh, we got lucky,’ and men say, ‘Oh, I deserved that.’ We need to accept when we do great things in athletics and academics.”
While most women will face challenges in the workplace based on their gender, some will have a tougher time than others. Potoczak may be one of them. The senior, whose double major is film and media studies and international affairs, will graduate this spring. She’s already gotten a small taste of what may lie ahead during an internship she had working in the technology department for Major League Soccer.
The outside left defender from Cleveland, Ohio, said she would love to be a producer for ESPN. She has a feeling that book won’t be far out of her reach in the next few years if she stays on the path toward sports journalism.
“This past summer, I had two internships,” she said. “Both were great. But it’s weird when you get in certain environments and aren’t in your Lafayette bubble anymore. Men, for the most part, control most of what we do and what we see and I don’t like that. I want to have a say and have a voice. This book is definitely something I will keep with me and use for the future.”
Even though Fritchman had her hands full in moderating the sessions and planning them all out, she was grateful for the chance to read the book and thrilled that the team appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity Statham provided them with.
“It didn’t surprise me that he suggested that we read a book like this,” Fritchman said. “He’s such a family man. He’s a very 21st century kind of guy. He never compares women’s to men’s soccer. He cares so much about his players and you can see that in the way he talks to them. He wants them to win but there’s so much more to it than that with him.”
The ‘Lean In’ discussion has not only changed the mindsets of Lafayette’s student-athletes on and off the field, but it’s caught on at the professional level as well. The NBA is currently in the first year of its #LeanInTogether partnership, with the goal being to make the point to men that they benefit from leaning in to support the women in their lives.
“There are incredible examples,” Sandberg said in an interview with ESPNW.com. “You’ve got Chris Bosh, star NBA player, talking about how he prioritizes helping at home because his wife runs a boutique and he wants her to be successful. You’ve got Becky Hammon, assistant coach for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, saying she’s achieved her position because the men around her – from her father to her brother to her coach – supported her in her ambitions…This is about what equality does for all of us, and these players are demonstrating it to us with their hearts.”
Continuing with the expansion of instilling this philosophy in student-athletes, Lafayette and Lehigh athletics, along with support from Coordinated Health, have developed a leadership conference this Saturday on Lehigh’s campus entitled “Raise Your Game: The Power of Female Leaders On & Off the Field.” The conference will feature panel sessions and keynotes delivered by several staff members and prominent alumni from each institution and hopes to teach participants “why it is so important to step into their own leadership power – and how to do so with courage, conviction and competence.”
Check back with GoLeopards.com next week for a full recap of this weekend’s conference and for more information on the Lean In initiative, visit leanin.org/together.