Episode 152 – Coffee N5 – Sipping Success & Breaking Chains with Coach Jen Welter

Join Lara and the trailblazer Dr. Jen Welter for an energizing chat over a cup of coffee on the latest episode of Coffee N° 5. Lara and Dr. Jen dive into the invigorating world of building teams as a global community while breaking chains and savoring the aroma of fresh ideas.

In this engaging episode, Dr. Jen Welter, the illustrious first woman to coach in the NFL, shares her remarkable journey. From shattering stereotypes as a player in men’s professional football to making history on the sidelines, Coach Jen’s story is one of resilience and triumph.

Tune in as they explore moving beyond limitations, bouncing back from setbacks, and carving a path in uncharted territories. With insights from her groundbreaking career and her expertise in sport psychology, Dr. Jen inspires listeners to embrace their limitless potential.

From her gold medal-winning performances with Team USA to her pioneering role in women’s football, Dr. Jen’s accolades speak volumes. With a PhD in Psychology and a passion for empowering others, Coach Jen’s impact extends far beyond the gridiron.

Whether you’re a sports enthusiast, an aspiring trailblazer, or simply seeking a dose of inspiration, this episode is a must-listen. So grab your favorite brew, join the conversation, and let’s break ground together with Coach Jen Welter on Coffee N° 5.

We’ll talk about:

  • Dr. Jen Welter’s upbringing and journey into football
  • Living her dream as a ‘superhero’ on the field
  • How she found her place in team sports
  • Navigating points of pride
  • Deep dives into the realities and differences between playing in men’s and women’s teams 
  • What it means to ‘renegotiate’ your life on your terms

For more information, visit Dr. Jen Welter’s website.

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Also, follow our host Lara Schmoisman on social media:

Instagram: @laraschmoisman

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LinkedIn: @laraschmoisman

Lara Schmoisman 0:05
This is Coffee Number Five. I’m your host, Lara Schmoisman. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Coffee Number Five. And my coffee is ready. And it’s warm. And I have the best guest for you today. You know, I will always talk about this that there, there is not there is a will there is a way. And if sometimes you need to be open and to see what’s out there for you. I don’t think that Dr. Jan was here today with us ever expected to be an NFL coach. This is something that he had dreamt up Welcome, Dr. Jen.

Dr. Jen Welter 0:44
Oh, welcome. No, I never dreamed of coaching football, because that was something that girls didn’t do. Right? I didn’t even get, I wasn’t even able to play football until I was 22 years old. And so, you know, there was there was no place that I can look on the sidelines and say, I want to be her. So I think it’s really cool place to be in the world when we we look at it not as it is. But how it can be. And I think that’s how we open our minds.

Lara Schmoisman 1:15
I know. But okay, let’s go a little backwards. Because I started like at the end. Tell us a little bit. How did you get here? I mean, it’s incredible your journey that you were the first female coach in the NFL, this is huge. You broke all the rules?

Dr. Jen Welter 1:35
I think so. And you know, it’s interesting in football, we always say move the chains, right? Like, if you think about the American football field, you see the big orange chains on the sidelines, and they move them. That’s how we measure progress, right. And you have to get 10 yards at a time. It’s this big visual thing I’ve had. So many people ask me about goal setting, and this that the other. And one day it struck me. I want to just move the chains. I want to break them. Because if we’re only looking at progress as being measured in 10 yard increments, how are we as women playing the game that was not designed for us? Going to ever get ahead? Because we’re playing rules that we weren’t included in? And once you get to that, that mindset, it’s like, oh, okay, I’m not limited by what’s there. I’m actually excited about the fact that in a game that has had the least progress for women, we have the most potential for growth.

Lara Schmoisman 2:39
Amazing. But how did you get from? What tell us where you come from? And how did you get from there to the NFL, and we’ll talk about what are you doing today to but this is your journey I had the pleasure of seeing you. The conference talking and telling you about was so motivational. And that’s why I wanted to have you in the podcast. And you were wearing this amazing high heels and talking about football, which was such a conundrum to me. But tell us a little more what you started your career.

Dr. Jen Welter 3:15
So I grew up in Vero Beach, Florida, where football is a way of life, right? It is. It is like a religion there the whole town shuts down, everybody goes. And just like so many kids sitting in the stands, I looked at the field, and I thought they look like Real Life Superheroes. And I want to be a superhero too. And it was the first place in the world that somebody told me what girls can do and what boys can do is different. Thankfully, for me, football wasn’t the only sport for me. So I played a lot of sports. But the things I might have done in the world seem big. I’m actually only five foot two. So I am five foot two, about 130 pounds. And so I was told in a lot of spaces in the world that I was just not big enough or I’d never be strong enough because of my size. And so tennis was my first sport they told me because of my size and build I’d never be strong enough to play pro tennis. Then I found my place in team sports. I think the beauty of team sports to me was that I didn’t have to be everything. On my own. I could be a great part of something bigger. And that’s what I found in team sports. And thankfully played soccer. I was a two year captain. This is my dog boss she loves to Crash Zoom interviews.

Lara Schmoisman 4:40

Dr. Jen Welter 4:44
I was a two-year captain in soccer in high school, then decided to go to Boston for Business School. And once I got to Boston, I found rugby. I had never seen rugby before growing up and I was like what is this crazy wild gold’s amazing sport that like it’s kind of soccer meets football and a tackle. And I love it. And so I was all in, I ended up playing all four years of college rugby for Boston College.

Lara Schmoisman 5:15
I don’t know what to think. But their mother thought about that, because I think rugby is the one sport that is so scary.

Dr. Jen Welter 5:27
You know, I don’t think my mom really had watched rugby. But when she saw it, she was like, really make sense. And then, you know, I got recruited for the under-23 national team and rugby, although I didn’t make it. So for anybody who has gotten to the point where you thought you had this dream, and you thought it was a pathway, and you didn’t get it, and you didn’t make it, and it was hard to get back up. That was my story. Right? I, I literally thought I was finally there and found my destiny. And then I just didn’t make it. And I was devastated. And I started playing flag football on weekends. And the general manager of a team up there called the mass mutiny, called the league and said, Do you think any of your girls playing flag could play tackle? Having come from rugby, I never stopped tackling. So they will probably really happy to get rid of me. They were probably like, take her get her out of the years. She breaks all the rules anyway, like super taker. And I ended up going to an open tryout and making my first football team there, which led to about a 1415-year women’s tackle football career. won four Super Bowls, had the honor of playing for the first and second women’s team, you know, national team, and winning two gold medals.

Lara Schmoisman 6:48
Just how because so early on in the woman’s soccer, football championship, how many teams were out there?

Dr. Jen Welter 6:59
There were six, six countries represented in the first one. Yep. First and Second, actually. Yeah. Which was so amazing. Because when we went to go play for the first time, we didn’t even have tape on anybody. So you know, you think about like this global sport that you see. But like these women’s teams, we had no idea what to expect. So we had to prepare for anything and everything. And, you know, go to gosh, the first championship was in Stockholm, Sweden, and go to Stockholm, Sweden, and just literally take on the world, which was probably one of the coolest experiences of my life.

Lara Schmoisman 7:41
I can imagine that. And are you still in touch with your teammates from them?

Dr. Jen Welter 7:47
Oh, absolutely. You know, there’s those are some of the very best women in the world. And I think it’s, it’s one of those things, though, it was, you know, the first women’s US national team was in 2010. Right? So 14 years ago, I don’t think it matters. If I see somebody every other day, or every 10 years, that is a bond that will never be broken, that –

Lara Schmoisman 8:16
Those relationships are so meaningful. And you have so much in common. And at the same time, they’re so unique, because there’s so few people in the world who get to experience that. Yes. So from there on, how did you evolve? So you play for you for 15 years? –

Dr. Jen Welter 8:38
Yes, about 15 years. And then I got recruited to a team called the Texas Revolution, which was an indoor football league team. And they actually wanted me to play against the guys. And so I became the first woman to play running back in men’s pro football. I played a year against the men, which was more than anybody thought was possible. And after surviving that season, which is what I tell everybody,

Lara Schmoisman 9:08
But I question because you said that you’re so petite, and then you weren’t even able to play some sports for woman. And now here you’re playing, you’re recruited a few years back after to run against men, which in football, they’re pretty big.

Dr. Jen Welter 9:24
They are really big. And I’m still five, two. But you know, I think one of the things and being undersized for me is that I never got to take a shortcut on anything. So if I was going to play, I had to be, you know, really fast and really strong and really well trained and really resilient. Because it meant you were going to take some big hits and get back up and do it again. And I think just the passion and drive for the game drove me to not only you know, just be willing to Who gave everything I had. And I was actually very outspoken my whole career about how I would never play against men. And it was knowing how much all the other women like my sisters that we had all sacrificed for the game of football that made me willing to do it, because I knew the stakes were high, I knew there was a chance that I’d never get backed up. And yet, I also didn’t know how to do it any other way. And so, to me, that was, you know, kind of a priceless opportunity. And, and it was a risk I was willing to take to move the game forward.

Lara Schmoisman 10:37
But what do you think that change that someone recruited to you, a woman to run with man? What changed in the space?

Dr. Jen Welter 10:49
I don’t, I don’t know that it was necessarily that I think they thought it would be a big story. And I think they thought I would wash out after a few days. And the fact that I didn’t, was the part that’s so special, right? Like, there was, there was no delusion that I was gonna run to over these guys or pass them. But I became a great teammate. And we did something that no one imagined was possible. And that’s the power of it. And, you know, we formed great relationships, despite what the world thought was possible. And it was because of that, then I then got asked to coach the same team the following season.

Lara Schmoisman 11:32
So now I have two questions. The first one is, how was your relationship as a teammate with the opposite sex when you made

Dr. Jen Welter 11:42
amazing, like, you know, those guys taught me a lot. And what we realized is it couldn’t be me versus them. It had to be us against the world. And they really took me in. And it was a point of pride for those guys that, you know, they were doing something that had never been done in the world of football. And, you know, I think it made all of us not only better players, but really better people. And I still am super tight with those guys to this day, like, we will look at that we laugh or they’ll call me and they’ll be like, did you see this or, you know, and just it, it taught me to be a way better teammate. Because in the women’s game, you know, I, I and another girl, we had the same stats across the board. And we led the US national team in tackles. So I won a gold medal, and led the team in tackles was somebody else. So the two of us led the team with literally tide. So one of the best in the world knew I could tackle anybody that’s, that’s without question. In the men’s game, that wasn’t the case. Right? So I could be like, the Enforcer, I knew there was nothing I couldn’t do on a football field as a woman, and then in the men’s game. Oh, there, this, this was not the case. I I needed. You always to but like, those guys really looked out for me. And I learned to add value in other ways than, you know, being the one who could literally tackle anybody, right? Like, it was a completely different role.

Lara Schmoisman 13:25
This is so great. I mean, you had experience from very few people having the wall to be a player in a woman’s team. And in a men’s team, what’s the difference? Or the woman’s really more beachy, and the men more laid back and just let’s just fight it off? And that’s it? Or what’s the difference?

Dr. Jen Welter 13:46
Um, well, one thing that I will say, like for the women, women want to know the why. Right? They don’t want to just say go here, they want to know, how does going here fit into the bigger strategy. Like, I want to know the parts around me, whereas a lot of the times the guys are just like, Okay, go. Right. That is that is one of the things that’s different. And then number two, I think, guys take things less personally. You know, like, I literally watched guys get into a fistfight, and then you know, you’ll be icing your face. And they’ll be like, Man, you really got me with that hook. Can you show me how you did that? All? Yeah, let me show you why you moved your hand and then boom, and they’ll, you know, they don’t take that personally. It’s not like it’s it’s against them. And sometimes, I think we as women do ourselves a disservice. Because we take things more personally and hold on to them longer. I know. I know. I’m guilty of it. And I know some of my friends are like I’m guilty.

Lara Schmoisman 14:46

Dr. Jen Welter 14:47
I – right?

Lara Schmoisman 14:51
Yeah, I tried not to be but it gets to us.

Dr. Jen Welter 14:54
It does. Then we assume then, that you know, I think in our relationships with guys too, we sometimes assume that they’re taking it as personally as we are. And they’re not. Like, if you ask them about something, they’d be like, Oh, also for woman, –

Lara Schmoisman 15:10
I think many times is like we are, when you are discussing something, sometimes we’re discussing a problem. It’s not about the relationship. And I noticed this with my husband too, when I’m fighting about something, I’m about fighting about the coffee, I will find out about the coffee, it doesn’t have to involve the relationship or have this, that’s a different conversation. And I think many times woman’s will get a lot more emotional, and we put everything together.

Dr. Jen Welter 15:39
Yes, we do. We do. And, you know, we might, we might have some lingering stuff. That was like two weeks ago, and it comes out in a conversation that’s not related. And the guys will be like, Whoa, where did that come from? Right. Like, and they’ll literally be like, don’t get it. Yeah. And so I think it’s interesting, because, you know, we look at and interpret the feelings of others through our own personal lens. And so often, that’s not the case for the other person. And that was one of the biggest things that I noticed that was different with the guys versus the women.

Lara Schmoisman 16:24
And then you transition to coach the same team. And so how was to transition from being a team member to a coach? Because they need to follow your orders?

Dr. Jen Welter 16:35
Yes, and I mean, so, first of all, it’s not orders, right. It’s, it’s, it’s always been in respect, right. And I earned their respect. As a player, they knew I was there for the right reasons, right? Like, some of those guys literally hit me every day, and watch me get back up and do it again. Our Head Coach actually said to me one day, he’s like, man, Walter, if I could take the heart in your chest, and put it in every one of these guys, we would be undefeated. And so the, you know, coaching is trust, love, respect, right? Like those things work together. They already knew that I was there for the right reasons, I’d earned the respect to taking the hit, and that we loved each other already as a teammate. So sometimes the dynamics have to shift. But I think the way that I earned it that way, was really powerful for a lot of the guys, because they were like, no, no, she’s the truth. Right? Like, we’ve seen her take hits that you would not get back up front. Like, she’s the real deal. And, you know, it was it was important, I think, in that dynamic that I had been out on the field with them,

Lara Schmoisman 18:00
Do you think makes you a better coach, being a former player?

Dr. Jen Welter 18:07
You know, it’s an interesting dynamic that, you know, people say, Well, if you haven’t played you can’t coach. I don’t think you can’t be a great coach without having played. However, in my career. It’s an element that I use to understand the game and also understand the players, right? I don’t, I don’t necessarily compete with other coaches and say, I’m better because of this. I’m a unique person in the space. I played. I’ve coached I played with men, I’ve played with women. I’ve coached men, I’ve coached women. And I also have a PhD in sports psychology. So I look at the game through a different lens than someone else does. And I think what’s most important is that we find ways to reach athletes, because if you can’t reach someone, it’s impossible to teach them.

Lara Schmoisman 19:06
Yeah. And I mean, I’m so glad that you brought up about your PhD because that’s what I wanted to go next and talk about the cause. Why? Why you decided that you needed this degree of a PhD in sports psychology.

Dr. Jen Welter 19:21
So when I was playing football, there was no roadmap for a woman in the space and I knew I was getting valuable practical experience as a player, but how could I create a space to make this sport that I was talented in my life’s work? That wasn’t an option for women? And what I thought is, if I got my PhD, which I did while playing, then that’s my Yeah, so I would take my practical experience as a player and fuse that with my you know, Edge occasion as a scholar to be someone who uniquely understood the sport and its players, and you know, the UPS downs, right flips, and could add value to whatever situation I was in. And so that was really, the plan is how i How could I continue to be unique and special to the sport itself,

Lara Schmoisman 20:20
you made yourself real special because you were like, not only understanding the game, because anyone can understand the game from watching it. But then you know how it feels to play the game. And core. I mean, what we feel in our body, playing it getting hurt all the things, you can understand it from experience, and also mentally understanding what it going through. I mean, it’s, it’s tough, it’s heavy, and also the pressure from the fans from the club. That’s something that a lot of people don’t know about it.

Dr. Jen Welter 20:58
Yeah, yeah. And so, you know, I think, for me, I absolutely consider myself a player’s coach, and one who, you know, puts relationships at the core of understanding. And so that’s, to me, that’s what’s special. Right. And that is, again, that that’s from the combination of having played having coached and having a PhD. Yeah.

Lara Schmoisman 21:24
So how do you mean the career of the any athlete? It’s short? Any stuff? And how to transition from being an athlete? And to after the game after that?

Dr. Jen Welter 21:44
Yeah, I mean, you know, so when we look at at athlete transition, a lot of how well, athletes transition depends on, you know, what that timing was, like, wasn’t expected wasn’t their choice versus someone else’s? And in how many ways in our life do we identify, right? Like, what is our identity composed of? So the athletes who have the hardest transitions are ones in which one they experienced identity foreclosure, which means they’re really one thing. And one thing only. So if we take away that one thing, who am I? Right, which is any of us? And then the second one is, was it unexpected. So an unexpected transition from a sport is harder, they compare the psychological impact on an athlete in experiencing a career-ending or threatening injury as the death of a close family member. That’s how hard it hits us psychologically. So thankfully, for me, in terms of transition, you know, the transition from player to coach was an opportunity. It wasn’t a like, I can’t do this anymore. I think sometimes I feel like maybe I retired too early. Because I was at the peak of my athletic career when I stopped playing, and went into coaching. A lot of the women who I know and love, they actually joke and they’re like, well, you’re never retired, she got stolen, because I got taken by the men’s game. And so, you know, in that part, I mean, I think all of us always feel like we can play anytime I’m out on a camp or like, coaching guys, like, even my guys like the coach. It’s like, you could still play it. I’m like, Oh, don’t put that idea back in my head. Please don’t do it. But you, you always, I think, have that love for the game, or at least I did. Yeah. Right. I will. –

Lara Schmoisman 23:47
Someone – told me that once an athlete, always an athlete.

Dr. Jen Welter 23:51
Absolutely. But where do you take it and transition it? Right? Like, I love pickleball I’m gonna, you know, and I can hopefully play that for the rest of my life. So that’s beautiful. Right? Like, it’s, it’s channeling that energy. And I think, you know, instead of saying, this part of me is gone. It’s saying how can this part of me go on?

Lara Schmoisman 24:12
And last week, I was in an event that a lot of really high-level C suite corporate individuals were transitioning into consulting. They were the fear of having all that pressure and that disability is they were having the fear of disappearing these things that that’s something that affects athletes.

Dr. Jen Welter 24:38
I think it affects everybody. Right? I think, you know, when you when you’ve been very visible, I think, you know, we we get a part of who we are by how we’re identified, right? Like, if you’re used to having your face on a poster and all of a sudden there are no posters anymore. That’s all Hard, right? Do you do you feel like the game has passed you by are some of those things? So I think it’s important to reimagine certain elements of self, right? We’re used to this kind of visibility. Okay, well, if that’s important, where where can you get that in other areas of your life? Right for me, you know, maybe I’m not on the sidelines of the NFL anymore, right. But I can, you know, I can be there as a mentor for girls in camps, but I had to create those camps in order to do it, right, like, and I knew in showing up for them, I could be the person that they needed. And that part wasn’t contingent on anybody else, you know, hiring me or putting me in that position. Those were things I could do and create and build that. Nobody else I don’t. And I think so many times when, whether you’re an employee or you’re a teammate, or a, you know, a player on a team, that that element isn’t an all up to you, right? Like, it’s not up to any of us, right, Father Time is undefeated in some of those ways. But there are also certain things that we can create. And I think life is about recreating, right, like, it’s, it’s a constant state of change on who we are and what we’re capable of. We just have to figure it out and be willing to,

Lara Schmoisman 26:29
I always say that I really negotiate with myself and with the world who I am, right? And you, you have all the tools to really negotiate and then as you grow and as you mature, you have more tools. So never get that for granted. So you have a lot more things that you can offer to the world. You just don’t need to, to just get up and try it.

Dr. Jen Welter 26:52
Yeah, absolutely.

Lara Schmoisman 26:54
So what’s next for Dr. Jen?

Dr. Jen Welter 26:59
Um, you know, I, I am constantly you know, I like to say I’m constantly I like how you said it renegotiating. You know, I have, I have several programs that I build that are mine. One is gridiron girls. I’ve done 60 Girls camps across the country to date worked with some of the top girls in the game now that I started that back in 2017. I have a program called A Day in the Life where I teach women who are in in other fields of play, how to come out onto my fields and learn the game of football. I think it’s very empowering. And it’s a fun thing, because if you haven’t gotten to do it, why wouldn’t I teach you? So I literally bring women into my game to step their game up. It’s huge confidence builder. That’s one of my favorite programs. And then I think, you know, I’m a, I’m a creative at heart. So I write credit quite a bit. And I think there’s a lot of storytelling there in terms of coaching. I don’t know yet. Last year, I was in the NFL, I was the linebackers coach for the biggest vipers. But the you the X AFL, in the USFL emerged, and so Vegas wasn’t one of those teams. So we’ll see in terms of coaching again, what’s next?

Lara Schmoisman 28:23
Okay, well can’t wait. I’m sure that we’re gonna see you’re doing amazing things because your life is has been non stop. And I can’t see you’re not doing something amazing again. I’m ready to close.

Dr. Jen Welter 28:38
Well, I can’t wait. Yeah.

Lara Schmoisman 28:40
Well, thank you so much for being with us today. I was really enjoying these podcast and this conversation with you.

Dr. Jen Welter 28:47
Thank you for having me and for bringing great messages to all of your listeners. truly a pleasure to join another kick last woman.

Lara Schmoisman 28:58
– You guys I will see you next week with more Coffee Number Five. Find everything you need at LaraSchmoisman .com Or in the Episode Notes right below. Don’t forget to subscribe. It was so good to have you here today. See you next time. Catch you on the flip side. Ciao ciao.


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