At just five-foot-two, Dr. Jen Welter has played football with the top women pro football leagues and also played linebacker in a men’s professional football league … with men more than twice her size. But when she shattered the glass ceiling AND the glass sideline in pro sports, Welter became proof positive that true grit will win the day in spite of your size.
In 2015 she became the first woman to ever break the NFL’s glass sideline when she became a linebackers coach for the Arizona Cardinals. She not only garnered appreciation and loyalty from the players but also praise from Cardinal coach Bruce Arians, who has had this to say about her: “But her enthusiasm about the game, her expertise, and being able to teach what she knew, I thought was very evident in the first meeting. That’s why I hired her.”
In addition to her athletic prowess based on 18 years experience as a professional athlete, Welter has a master’s degree in sports psychology and a doctorate in psychology and appears regularly as an NFL and sports analyst on NBC, ESPN, on the NFL Network and in national newspapers and other publications.
I was fortunate to interview her about her about her new book released on October 3, “Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL,” written with Stephanie Krikorian.
Dirk Smith: As the first female to coach in the NFL, you have become a true champion for women in sports. Congratulations on your new book, Jen! In addition to women and girls already playing or wanting to play sports, what other groups do you hope your new book will motivate with your message to “Play Big?”
Dr. Jen Welter: This is not just a football story; it’s a life story that played out on the football field. This is a book about overcoming, and how the ultimate underdog story of a small person with a large part who finds her place in the world, in the most unlikely of places. If you have ever felt different, been called crazy, had a vision beyond societal norms or fought an uphill battle of greatness, this is the book for you.
DS: For those non-competitive readers not particularly interested in football or wanting to experience a life of sports, what sort of life coaching advice does your book offer based on your personal experiences and your educational background in psychology?
JW: The lessons in this book go far beyond the football field, to the game of life. I promise, there are lessons for every reader.
DS: What is the one thing you want every person who reads your book to take away from it and incorporate into his or her daily life?
JW: I want them to see that there are truly no limits in life and that you don’t have to be big to have a big impact.
DS: Your personalized hand-written notes to each of the NFL Arizona Cardinals linebackers the night before each game have led to you being called a “noteworthy coach.” Would you characterize your book’s message as your personalized message to your readers?
JW: Little things can become big things, especially when they come from the heart. Realize that people matter, and getting personal is sometimes the key to success.
D.S. Jen says she doesn’t understand why some people think she plays football with men for publicity, money or fame and is quick to point out that “If it was just a publicity stunt, I could find something that’s a hell of a lot easier on my body.” And as a college rugby player, she also talks about learning how to tackle full-on rugby style while not wearing any type of protective gear. With increasing evidence of brain damage due to concussions, this is an interesting difference from the NFL method of tackling.
By Dirk Smith
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