Day two of the SheCompetes virtual series, presented by the U.S. Women's National Lacrosse Team and Nike Lacrosse, yielded informative discussions about women in leadership roles and raising the profile of women’s athletics through digital media platforms.

Karissa Niehoff, who serves as executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), kicked off the first panel by noting how past experiences can help lead women into new opportunities.

“You have aspirations, you have ideas, you have intuitions, and abilities, and then you are presented with some opportunities along the way, and I think if you say yes to opportunities, and identify some great role models who are women and aspire to do what they are doing, that seems to work,” Niehoff said. “That’s been my journey through many levels. Everything has been about an opportunity.”

Niehoff was one of four panelists for the session entitled “Developing Women in Leadership”, alongside Jenny Levy (Head Coach, U.S. National Lacrosse Team), Marci Robles (George Washington University Rowing), and Kristen Wright (USA Hockey). Kristen Carr, a member of the U.S. Women’s National Lacrosse Team, served as the session moderator.

“There’s always a combination of what I like to call public and private victories and challenges,” Niehoff explained. “You have these things that happen to you that are very public, but you have to think about what’s going on privately. What are my challenges and my fears, and what do I want to take on as far as risk? You have to balance these public and private experiences and trust in yourself.”

Levy, who became the head coach at the North Carolina at age 24, spoke about the importance of learning from others, benefiting from role models, and then developing a personal leadership style.

“I just mimicked everything that my Hall of Fame coach (Jane Miller) did, who was a trailblazer prior to me,” Levy said. “Through mimic, it was a great way to learn, but it also didn’t have the soul that it needed. I had to find my own style and my own why. I have learned that you have to figure out where your strengths are and what makes you unique. What are you bringing to the table that the people around you don’t have?”

Robles is the women’s rowing head coach at GWU and has also served as a head coach of men’s teams. She echoed the importance of finding your own voice.

“I was fortunate to have teammates and a culture that empowered me in finding my voice,” Robles said. “I was able to take that skill development from my collegiate career and transfer it over to coaching. I’ve been fortunate, along the way, to be surrounded by leaders, and being a sponge and absorbing, and listening, and paying attention, and then learning through mistakes. Figuring out what works and doesn’t work, and then adapting, is a big part of being able to lead in a way that is effective.”

Wright stressed the importance of leaders developing relationships with others and connecting with people.

“Being able to find mentors but also create mentors out of others has been one of the most influential pieces that I have found from being in a leadership role,” she said. “Having relationships with people, and caring about them, helps a little bit to not feel that you are out on that limb alone.”

Tuesday’s second session, “Digital Media: Amplifying Women’s Sports”, was moderated by Halley Griggs, women’s director at Inside Lacrosse. Panelists were Haley Rosen (Just Women’s Sports), Lori Lindsey (US Soccer), Kristen Gowdy (Women's Sports Foundation), and Angie Benson (Virginia Tech women’s lacrosse goalie).

“Overall, there’s just this stigma that men’s sports are better than women’s sports,” Gowdy said. “I think that’s something that’s slowly going away, but we need to help that process and keep investing in women’s sports. When people know that women’s sports are happening, the viewership goes up and the coverage goes up.”

“I don’t think women’s sports has a product problem,” Rosen said. “The product is awesome, the women are amazing, the games and leagues are awesome. I think this is a content problem. It’s just not good enough. We need to carve out a space that celebrates these amazing athletes for what they are and who they are.”

Benson noted that social media is helping to amplify the voices of female athletes. 

“Now you see people speaking for themselves and you see videos of women’s lacrosse players going viral,” she said. “And because those videos went viral, now ESPN decided to recognize that as a Top 10 video. So, I do think we have our own space and we need to appreciate it.”

A former professional soccer player and midfielder for the U.S. Women’s National Team, Lindsey cited the need for a broader approach in marketing female athletes, and how social media is being leveraged to do that.

“If you can see it, you can believe it,” she said. “In soccer, it has traditionally been white, pony-tailed, thin-body-types that we have put out in front. And that, obviously, is not a great representation of everyone that plays. Social media provides a glimpse of what these athletes are in everyday life, not just on the court or on the field. It gives a more in-depth look into the personalities.”

US Lacrosse’s three-day webinar series concludes on Wednesday with two more sessions focused on issues that impact female athletes and women in sports. The SheCompetes series is free of charge but requires a basic registration. Additional details, registration links, and webinar replays are online at uslacrosse.org/shecompetes