Behind the Whistle: Practice What You Preach — Authenticity


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Dani Ellis is an assistant coach at Middlebury College.

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” — Brené Brown 

One of my personal goals as a coach is for the student-athletes I work with to feel my utmost support to be their full and true selves. If they don’t know who that is yet, the goal is to provide an inclusive and loving space for them to find out who they actually are. 

In the spirit of Pride Month, this post is for all coaches, student-athletes and administrators who are in the LGBTQIA+ community, who are allies, who may never live “out,” or anyone at the intersection of any and all of the above. 

For the first time in my life, I lived this practice of authenticity every day this past season when it came to my personal journey of self-acceptance and being my truest self. I am now a little more than two years into my relationship with my girlfriend, Sarah. We met while coaching at our previous jobs and school.

While we dated for a whole year at Washington and Lee, there were only a handful of people who I was comfortable sharing that part of myself with. While there was nothing wrong with keeping that information personal and not having my team or other peers know, I now have the perspective of how fulfilling it is to just show up every day as my whole self and to be accepted for just being me.

I have felt the weight come off my shoulders that was once there when I chose to hide parts of myself, and I have felt more confident in myself and my role as a coach, both on and off the field.

My journey has included a year of taking the advice that I would give any of my student-athletes: 

  • Be yourself — it is what this world needs from you

  • Life is too short to not share something that makes you happy

  • Advocate for yourself

  • Bring your best self — Every. Dang. Day

  • Sure, people might judge you, but if you know your intentions and what brings you joy, those opinions will start to matter less and less

  • This life is yours to live

I have been incredibly fortunate to have accepting and supportive people around me through this journey. At the beginning, there was absolutely fear and apprehension to let people in, but there came a time that the love and happiness I felt through my relationship and close friendships allowed me to take that leap of faith in living my truth.

As coaches, we may come across student-athletes, peers and co-workers who might not have support in their personal or professional circles. Since everyone is on their own journey, I would suggest meeting them where they are. Be the listening ear, the accepting friend, the curious learner and the consistent presence that they might not have in their lives. Don’t forget that the advice we give our student-athletes can be life-changing for our own lives as well.

Be you and do your best to create the space for others to be their best selves, too.


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