Mantras, Mindfulness and Mastering Your Mentality, we explored the value of positive self-talk and establishing a growth mindset. 

"> Murray: Redefining the Female Athlete, To Feel Free to Define Herself | USA Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

U.S. and Command defender Megan Douty wishes she wasn't so hard on herself. At the end of the day, you learn from your mistakes.

Murray: Redefining the Female Athlete, To Feel Free to Define Herself


Last month in Mantras, Mindfulness and Mastering Your Mentality, we explored the value of positive self-talk and establishing a growth mindset. 

The topic gave me the chance to hear directly from some of the highest performing athletes in the game today – male and female collegiate and professional players. In it, I share samples of the words and phrases they rely on to push through challenges, reaffirm their values, expand their potential and ultimately find success. 

Initially intended to preserve the privacy of the responders, given the potentially sensitive subject matter, I elected to keep the submissions completely anonymous. In doing so, I was able to highlight what I thought to be a powerful melding of many different groups and perspectives. Primarily though, anonymity purposefully blurred the sometimes-glaring gender divide, opting instead to unite participants as simply “athletes.”  

As I reflected further over the next few weeks and started to focus my thoughts on this next column, I wondered whether or not there were deeper motivations behind my choice. 

At first, I thought perhaps it was my own subconscious extension of the larger sociocultural shift away from labels in general. Be it gender identity, sexuality, politics and beyond, labels have the potential to create burdensome expectations, assumptions and perceptions. By lifting them, we can better focus our energies to promote choice and flexibility in a free state of fluid impermanence.  

From a different angle, maybe it was audience-driven. Covering a sport with such a strong and loyal fan base, and considering the role of social media in opening direct access and communication channels between fans and players, name recognition is inevitable. It could influence and distract from the personal aspect at the very core of the mindfulness journey, completely defeating the point of the exercise altogether. 

Alas, my late night ponders proved inconclusive. 

And then I was invited to participate in the Keep Her In The Game symposium in New York City as a representative of the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL). 

Keep Her In The Game, presented by the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), invited young female athletes and their coaches and families to participate in a day of female-centric programming designed to inspire, educate and encourage girls to stay involved in sports. 

Guided by the steady hands of Dr. Karen Sutton, board-certified orthopaedic surgeon in sports medicine at HSS, physician for the U.S. Women's National Team, and chief medical officer for the Federation of International Lacrosse, the program celebrated womanhood – clearly, fiercely and unapologetically.

From musculoskeletal development and nutrition, to mental health and body confidence, and everything in between, topics positioned women at the center. Delivered through the layered lenses of interdisciplinary perspectives, sessions gave attendees a broad and balanced look at real female journeys – the hair-raising triumphs, and the hair-pulling frustrations. The gut-wrenching disappointments and the grit-fueled redemption stories. But mostly, the everyday occurrences, encounters and experiences that we all share as female athletes.


"Being capable and feeling capable are two separate battles," Lauren Murray pens. "I’m hopeful that together we can create an environment for the next generation of female athletes to define their own destiny."


It goes without saying that I valued the experience. By the end I had honestly forgotten that I was ever even a panelist, but rather an attendee, perched on the edge of my seat and soaking up the learnings. 

My first thought upon leaving? Wow, how I wish I could pack all of this knowledge into a carry-on and hop a time machine back to 2003. Because let me tell you — walking into her first lacrosse practice, wide-eyed-low-pony-Lauren Murray? Oh, she would love this. And to be honest, she needed this. 

Needed, not in the way that I didn’t feel supported growing up. Actually, quite the opposite. I have been blessed with a family so emphatically and fanatically invested in me that they will go to wild demonstrations of commitment and sacrifice to help me achieve my dreams. Beyond my innermost circle, I was gifted an amazing support network of coaches, teammates and mentors, all of whom play a crucial role in my continued development today. 

But rather, needed, in the way that I now realize I under-supported myself. 

I remember wanting so desperately to drop the “female” part of my athletic journey. Part of it was insecurity and seeking legitimacy. Part of it was wanting to prove something, anything. To someone, anyone. Ultimately, it was me not realizing the value of my own identity. 

I didn’t understand why the boys’ team was just called “lacrosse” and we had to be called “women’s lacrosse.” 

I didn’t understand why, when questioned about their philosophy, coaches said, “Well I don’t coach girls. I coach athletes.” 

Don’t get me started on the painstaking hours I spent on CustomInk.com trying to fit “Women’s” onto a team sweatshirt design. Because let me tell you, one extra word is a big deal.

But that’s exactly it, one extra word is a big deal. 

Somewhere along the pinball tracks of my own journey, I lost the value of my own feminine qualities. A gap formed between my natural instincts and what I understood to be success. My creativity, my empathy, my intuition, my flexibility, my expression — all of the things that I now focus on with my own players — I suppressed. Those same qualities have since been the root of my greatest successes on and off the field, personally and professionally. 

So I wish I had known then exactly what it means to be a female athlete. 








IF I KNEW THEN: REFLECTIONS AND GUIDANCE FROM THE PROS

I’m not one for regrets. I believe that everything in life happens for a reason, even the things we cannot immediately explain. Especially the things we cannot immediately explain. 

But I do believe in reflection, growth and widening perspective. In my own self-reflection writing this piece, I started to think about lessons I’ve learned. Not the practice curriculum or the hard skills. But the kind that only exist in the hindsight of tomorrow. 

While we are the largely the product of our own firsthand experiences, we can definitely benefit from the experiences of our peers. Included below are the guiding principles of a few players that I draw inspiration from on a daily basis. 

It Starts with a Dream

MICHELLE TUMOLO, Syracuse University, WPLL Fire:

Set goals and dreams, no matter how crazy. Chase those dreams until they become a reality.

KYLIE OHLMILLER, Stony Brook University, WPLL Fight:

Recognize that there is so much out there for you to accomplish still – even if it seems nearly impossible. If you want it, don’t ever say you can’t. Create your goals and go out there and put in the work to make them happen. And enjoy the journey of it all, because the trials and tribulations of the process behind chasing success is the best part of the success; and just like everything else in life, it flies by! Enjoy every step of your journey toward greatness!

Stay True to Yourself

ALLY CAREY, Vanderbilt University, WPLL Pride:

Stay true to the player you are. Grow your skills, keep your competitive edge and take accountability for your mistakes. A great team is made up of different types of players that complement each other so believe in your abilities, believe that they are just as important as the talent of the girl next to you. Don’t compare and be jealous of your teammates talents, but embrace them and celebrate everyone’s success including yours. Stay humble, but be proud of what you accomplish.

SHELBY FREDERICKS, Northwestern University, WPLL Pride:

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Take your work seriously, take your responsibilities seriously, take your dreams seriously, and take your character seriously, but it’s okay to laugh at yourself every once in a while. 

LAUREN LEA, University of Florida, WPLL Fight:

It is incredibly important to stop comparing yourself to other lacrosse players. I was constantly comparing myself to the girls that were bigger and stronger than me. I was always thinking, “How can I be more like them? How are they able to shoot like that? Why can’t I shoot like that?” Nothing positive comes out of beating yourself up over the fact that you aren’t like someone else. You are YOU. And know that YOU deserve to be here. Find what you’re good at and roll with it, be confident in the things you can do and know that it is okay to fail. The athletes that overcome failure and obstacles, are the ones that are successful.

MEG DOUTY, University of Maryland, WPLL Command:

It is OK to fail and make mistakes, because that is how we grow. Every bump in the road is a lesson learned. I always have set such high standards for myself and had this fear of disappointing people in anything I did. Wish I wasn’t so hard on myself!

Keep It Simple

SARAH LLOYD, Princeton University, WPLL Command:

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I know now you have to be willing to take chances like going for that interception or taking the lefty shot, because if you play scared of making a mistake, you’re just missing out on what makes lacrosse so much fun. 

MOLLY WOLF, Loyola University, WPLL Pride:

Just play. Get out of your head. Too many times as a young player I would get into my own head and it would ruin my game. Worried about the next save, if they’d pull me if I didn’t make the next stop. I read an article about “playing out of your mind” and the best players just go out and play. The line I believe was “just do." And I say that to myself before every game, just do. Play your game, have fun and just do.




PHOTO BY JIM HARRISON

"Don’t ever say you can’t," Fight attacker Kylie Ohlmiller says.


Make the Most out of Every Moment

SAMMY JO TRACY, North Carolina, WPLL Pride:

There are a ton of talented players and great athletes. You can separate yourself by being a fierce competitor. Go 100 percent everyday, practice or game. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable and with heart and desire you can get anywhere you want to be!

LAUREN KAHN, University of Connecticut, WPLL Fire:

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. It’s really easy sometimes to just show up and go through the motions, working hard is something we have to find from within. Even on the hardest of days, just remember why you play the game and how blessed we all are to be able to play this sport. There is no greater feeling than playing for something bigger than yourself and giving everything you got. Even in the toughest of moments, you will always be tougher. 

Enjoy the Process

LAURA ZIMMERMAN, North Carolina, WPLL Brave:

Do not stress over things you cannot control. Focus on what you can such as the details, your attitude, your mindset, extra reps. Worry less on the outcome, and enjoy the process. Also, every second of it is worth it. All the ups and downs you’ll experience in sports. You’re learning the lessons of life that will forever change and shape who you are as a person.

BROOKE GRIFFIN, University of Maryland, WPLL Brave:

You are in control of your own destiny more than you know. Hard work isn’t always easy, if it was easy everyone would do it. Continue to work hard and push yourself to follow your dreams, it opens doors and creates opportunities. At the end of the day lacrosse is a game we love that should bring enjoyment and fun. Don’t get lost in the grind, embrace the process and enjoy it. 

KARA MUPO, Northwestern University, WPLL Command:

Naturally sports expose every athlete at every level to various types of scenarios, experiences and obstacles that relate to the biggest game of all time – life. Sometimes these things can be extremely difficult to face head on. And more times than not the outcome isn’t what we’ve always dreamt for them to be and or add up to. With that being said, do not waste your time complaining. Find ways to spark positivity within yourself and for your teammates, so your work can be solution-driven toward the overall mission of the team. Remember, when you are grateful for what you have, there leaves no room for self-pity.

WHAT I KNOW NOW

I initially titled this piece “Redefining the female athlete to be free to define herself.” But scratched it because generations of female athletes before us already blazed that freedom trail for me and my peers. So now, equipped with new opportunities, a voice and a platform, what do we do with it? 

Even after all this time has passed. Even while I’m competing at the highest possible level. Even in the company of the most talented, driven and inspiring group of women I could imagine, I still have some figuring out to do. 

Because being capable and feeling capable are two separate battles. 

Fighting alongside my peers quoted above, leaders like US Women’s Soccer and Muffet McGraw taking a public stand, and programs like Keep Her In The Game committed to higher athletic education, I’m hopeful that together we can create an environment for the next generation of female athletes to define their own destiny.