A New NFL Assistant Coach’s Many Mistakes: Dr. Jen Welter

A New NFL Assistant Coach’s Many Mistakes: Dr. Jen Welter

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My guest for Episode #60 is Dr. Jen Welter. She has a PhD in Psychology and a Masters in Sport Psychology.

Jen played professional and semi-pro football as a linebacker (on women's teams) and as a running back (for a men's team). She's most notably known for being the first woman to be hired as an assistant coach, when the Arizona Cardinals brought her in to be an assistant coaching intern during their 2015 pre-season training camp.

She is author of the book Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL.

In today's episode, Jen talks about breaking the “glass sideline” of NFL football and what it was like to work amongst men on the field and the sidelines. She openly shares some mistakes she made when she got so much attention in 2015 with the Cardinals, including “maintaining an air of perfection,” “not being open to help,” and getting taken advantage of since she didn't have an agent or others looking out for her.

Jen also discusses topics including:

  • Coaching and working with girls and how football is great for their self confidence and developing their bodies for strength, not just appearance
  • What would we have seen if they did a reality show about her coaching? Or if they made a movie about her story?
  • What are your biggest strengths as a football coach in terms of connecting with players? Knowing you played the game? Or more than that?
  • Being a speaker — what sorts of messages for a corporate setting?
    • Your unique value proposition is special – lean into it… be more special
    • Authenticity – giving note cards to the players, “that’s what I would have wanted”
    • Empathy is a leadership trait, period
  • Has she watched “Ted Lasso”?

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  • Full transcript

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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban (0s):

Episode 60 Dr. Jen Welter, I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast, you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes, because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at myfavoritemistakepodcast.com for show notes, links, video, and more. Go to MarkGraban.com/mistake60.

Mark Graban (43s):

60. If you liked this episode, please share it with a colleague or a friend, please subscribe, rate, and review, and now on with the show. Hi everybody. Welcome to my favorite mistake. I'm Mark Graban. My guest today has a PhD in psychology and a master's in sports psychology. My guests played professional and semi-pro football as a linebacker and a running back. Now you might be forming a picture of my guests in your head and what you're picturing might very well be incorrect because my guest is author of the book, Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL.

Mark Graban (1m 25s):

That's right. Dr. Jen Welter became a linebackers coach for the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. She was the first woman to ever break what she calls that glass sideline of the NFL. So Jen, thank you so much for being here as a guest.

Dr. Jen Welter (1m 39s):

Oh, I'm good. It's great to be here with you.

Mark Graban (1m 43s):

I'm really excited to talk about your work and all of the interesting things that you've done in different aspects of your career. But you know, first off as we ask our guests, what would you say is your favorite mistake?

Dr. Jen Welter (1m 59s):

Gosh, you know, there are so many and I will say for all of you listening, I think this is something that we in general don't talk enough about, right? We, we put together a highlight reel of the lives of so many people in it. Like it all looks really shiny and really pretty. And it's like these picture perfect moments that we, you know, picked out of real life. And that becomes really intimidating for most of the people that look it's like, Oh my gosh, she has clearly never had a bad day. Well, let me tell you all that. That's really not the case. And for those people who are known as being strong and known as being successful, one of the mistakes we make is trying to maintain that perfection, which means that you're not open to help.

Dr. Jen Welter (2m 49s):

And it also means you're not that approachable to other people that you might meet trying to help. So for us athletes who have been taught, never to admit fear and never to admit weakness, that's one of those things that we, you know, we have to work to overcome and because it helps others. And so as you say, like my favorite mistake, I could look at so many times in my career, but the time I'm going to go to is when I was with the Arizona Cardinals. And I was so busy with coaching and trying to do a good job.

Dr. Jen Welter (3m 30s):

And there, there was not anyone who really was there to look out for me. It wasn't like I had, you know, an agent and a manager and a publicist and all of these people, or even like a direct mentor to guide me on what to say yes to, or what to say no to, or, you know, to look through different things and handle like, I would have say like the business of what being me meant at that time. And because of that, I actually got taken advantage of quite a bit.

Dr. Jen Welter (4m 11s):

There was somebody who positioned themselves as being in the industry and, you know, really having my back and taking care of stuff and being connected. And it turns out a lot of, a lot of that was not true. And whether it was finding out later that, you know, I was told I was going somewhere out of the goodness of my heart and showing up and, and she was taking money for it or, you know, responses or deals that didn't go through or having things like contracts rewritten.

Dr. Jen Welter (4m 54s):

And then at the same time, you know, this person was telling me they were doing outreach and, and teams and doing a lot of things that might've helped me figure out the next phase. And none of those things were actually happening. And then when something didn't happen, she would make it seem like it was my fault. So not only were things not happening, but then I'm being made feel as less than because you know, nothing added up and the way manipulators continue to manipulate is to, you know, first establish dependence.

Dr. Jen Welter (5m 34s):

And then, you know, also cut ties of other people who would tell you otherwise, and to make you feel bad. And it was a really intense, angled, really tough situation that hurt me at a time when, you know, I should have been a very hot commodity.

Mark Graban (5m 55s):

So thank you for sharing that. I'm sure it's not easy to think back to some of those moments, but you know, you, you, it, it was a very big story when you were with the Cardinals, I'm sure you were in demand for interviews and all sorts of possible, you know, marketing connections or what have you. I mean, you know, NFL players who are drafted, have a program to sort of try to help prepare them for what they're going to be going into, I guess you, for being such a groundbreaker there, wasn't a program to prepare you for the, the media exposure and that's going beyond the job that you were trying to do and that you did well. Right?

Dr. Jen Welter (6m 34s):

Yeah. And you know, the media, the media part was well managed by the Cardinals. You know, I mean, you know, the truth is that for me, you know, they did a press conference and they set up the interviews and there were only a few asks that they let me do during that time. They really did the best that they could to let me focus on just being a coach. Right. But in terms of all of the other stuff, or even the demands or people, you know, reaching out, I didn't have anyone who, you know, could help me in that way or filter it in that way. And so unfortunately, when you don't have people who are schooled in that stuff, then it leaves a door opened for people who are just trying to take advantage of a situation.

Dr. Jen Welter (7m 28s):

And it it's something that we hear about a lot with athletes and celebrities, you know, whether it's contracts being rewritten money, not going the place that it said it could or should. And, you know, I know how not only devastating that situation was, but how hard it was to detangle and to figure out because your confidence is also affected, right. I'm obviously a smart person, but I was very busy. Right. Like, and that's really just what it is I had such demands to do well in terms of coaching that I just couldn't dig into things or look at them the way I normally would.

Dr. Jen Welter (8m 20s):

And I had no support system to help and no, you know, no roadmap on how I could do it. And, you know, I find that even in a residual way, like it, you know, there's trauma there, right. Because you got so taken advantage of and so abused in the situation that then it makes it harder to approach other situations, you know, later on. And so I think it's important that we talk about those things, you know, too often, we just think there's something wrong with me because, you know, I didn't know any better and yet how does anybody know any better if we don't talk about it.

Mark Graban (9m 8s):

Right. Right. And I appreciate you talking about, you know, as you put it getting past the highlight reel and, you know, I'll link to this in the show notes. I mean, there, there are impressive highlight reels of, of Jen playing a women's football team and some pretty, pretty hard hits, you know, and you think, well, look at the, the tackling form and, you know, your people describe you as a really tough hitter. There are also plays where you, you make the wrong read or as a running back, you slip and fall and fumble, you know, I don't have a highlight reel, but you know, we think of social media, that's often described as like this really curated, unrealistic view of our lives.

Mark Graban (9m 53s):

And so that's maybe something for everyone to kind of think about like, are we portraying our lives online as this inaccessible era of perfection as, as you put it?

Dr. Jen Welter (10m 3s):

Yeah. I mean, think about it, even, even the filters that we put, you know, on the pictures or, you know, the efforts to, you know, restructure our, our bodies in different ways. Like those are, those are images. Other people then see and absorb and, you know, the truth is that perfection might be a moment, right. It might be a, you know, my hair looks perfect for like one moment. And then the second I step out in the windy day, it's like across my face. Right. And so much of how we look at the world and we think of ourselves in the world, depends on just judge, which camera angle someone happens to snap at that moment.

Dr. Jen Welter (10m 44s):

And, and I think it's a really hard time, especially for our younger generation where everything is so visual and so accessible and so on all the time. Right. That I, I wonder on the impacts on, on confidence to, you know, have those moments live on in perpetuity. Right. You know, I, I can think of some bad days, some bad plays, and I'm really glad, you know, are in the past and don't have a digital footprint.

Dr. Jen Welter (11m 26s):

Right. And yet in the age that we're in right now, that's so much harder because that, that grace of even, you know, Oh my gosh, I can't believe you cropped that picture. And I'm going to rip it up physically. Isn't there anymore. Right. Like, Oh my gosh, I look terrible. Oh, that's so horrible. Or, you know, whatever, because everything is digital and instant and shareable and viral. So I'm going jump ahead

Mark Graban (11m 54s):

To more of the current day before we go back, I want to ask more about your playing and your coaching and other things, but you do a lot of camps and programs for girls to provide opportunities that you didn't have growing up. I was wondering if you could share a little bit of that and you know, how football and sports now, as a way for girls to maybe build strength, character self-esteem in ways that don't involve pictures on Instagram.

Dr. Jen Welter (12m 20s):

Well, you know, I mean, let's talk about pictures on Instagram, right? If you're posting a picture of just your body, then it means your body is the source of your confidence in terms of the response of what it looks like. I wanted to be the source of your confidence in terms of it allows you to go out and run and tackle and catch and do whatever it is that you want to accomplish in your life, right? Like that you're building into your body, not just so that someone will respond to how it looks, but how it allows you to accomplish how it makes you feel. And we know in terms of confidence for girls, that when they're involved in sports, they're much more likely to take care of their bodies and respect it, which means making choices, like, you know, not being less likely to, to have teen pregnancy or to, you know, use drugs and alcohol and things like that because your body is then something that you really have to treat as a temple.

Dr. Jen Welter (13m 29s):

Right. And when, when you're an athlete and you know that your body is helping you accomplish all these things, you, you view it in a different way, right? Like I am, I am developing my leg strength because, you know, I want to explode through a tackle, not just because I want to look good in a swimsuit. Right. And those are tangible results that you can build on and feel and see what hard work does. So for me, it's so important that girls know that they can do anything and that they can be the instruments of, of success, not just an accessory that's accessible because of someone else's success.

Dr. Jen Welter (14m 16s):

Right. And I want you to be arm candy. I want you to be the candy, right. Like, I mean, be the substance be, be the story. I'm not just an adjunct. And there's so much that we as girls see and absorbs it, doesn't put us at the heart of being the heroes of our own story. Right. I, I, I respect the creative content in the world of, you know, of reality shows, but in so many it's a reality. I don't want to be a part of, right. Like, I don't want that to be my reality. And I don't want it to be the aspirational reality of a lot of the girls.

Dr. Jen Welter (14m 58s):

Right. Like, I, I don't, I don't want to be the Real Housewives or the Basketball Wives or the, you know, whatever that is. I w I want it to be, you know, the real husbands, right? Like why don't we showcase them and watch them like edifying these amazing women, as opposed to, you know, being the adjuncts. And, and I think that we have the opportunity to put women out front that, that show girls that, you know, they could become a Harris. They could be the vice president. Right. And that her husband could be the first, you know, the first man, I don't, I don't know how I

Mark Graban (15m 44s):

Think they call him the second gentleman.

Dr. Jen Welter (15m 49s):

I don't know how that is, but, you know, it's like, it's like, why not have those dynamics? And any of them can be great and any of them can be fine, but we have to struggle to find the examples of the women who are put out front in those roles, as opposed to the ones who were put second. Now that doesn't mean you're not amazing in and of themselves, but the storyline doesn't often put them first. And I, I just believe that girls deserve more and that we can create places and spaces for them in every area of society to say, you know, you know, yeah, I've got rings.

Dr. Jen Welter (16m 29s):

I've championship rings, right? Like those are my rings, right? Every, every freedom that I have has been earned. And that doesn't mean that I can't have the other ones, but that was my focus. Right. I want a championship rings and Hey, anybody who's gonna put a ring on this finger has to, has to defeat a championship ring to get it. Now that's setting a standard, right? Like he has to know that he can live up to a super bowl ring. So, you know, you better step your game up. And I think that girls deserve to have that swag when they look at making choices in our lives for what they want to do and the partners that they want to have, do it with them.

Mark Graban (17m 5s):

So tell the audience a little bit more about Jen's background. She played for many years in women's football leagues, and as she mentioned, it was championships plural, right. She was an all-star, you know, quote unquote pro bowl selection, but then she also played on a men's team, the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League. Now it seems like, you know, coming back to reality TV, that would have been a fascinating reality TV show. There's one about making the Dallas Cowboy cheerleader squad. Boy. It would've been, what, what, what would people have seen if there were cameras following you? If setting this example is showing girls here, here's Jen accomplishing something hadn't been done before.

Dr. Jen Welter (17m 51s):

Oh my gosh. Yes. And you're right. I have thought about that many times on how, if only there were cameras tracking that, you know, I think you would have seen a lot. I think you would've seen first me as a woman coming in, used to being among the best women in the world. Right. You know, just coming off. My, my most recent was a season where we lost in the, in the championship, but we won a gold medal. So the best of the best. Right. And then going into this men's world where I'm not the top dog, right. I am scratching and clawing and fighting to find a place in a space on practice squad.

Dr. Jen Welter (18m 34s):

And I'm also the one of one. So to some people at target to some people, a champion, right. There was, there were very few people that were neutral about it. I had some friends that thought I was the coolest girl in the face of the planet because I was doing it. And these were like NFL guys. I also had friends who were like, I can't, I can't watch. I don't, I don't agree. I don't think it belongs in the game and you're going to get hurt and like the end of friendships over it. And then I had the amazing women who I had played with who were so excited and so supportive.

Dr. Jen Welter (19m 13s):

Right. And we all knew I was doing it for all of us. Right. Because it could change how people thought about women in football. And then you would see what is probably the most endearing and most surprising was how the guys on my team really went from having a few champions out front to, to it being us versus the world. Right. Like I know there was Clinton Solomon who was former Chicago bear and solo is, you know, one of my dear friends to this day.

Dr. Jen Welter (19m 55s):

And a lot of that is because of how he handled that situation. Like he knew he, he saw it right. Like, and he was like, Jen, it's going to be tough on you. Right. Physically, mentally. And I need you to let me be your champion. And I remember being like, excuse me, what? Right. Like, I don't even know what that means. Right. And he was like, no, he's like, listen, it can't be you versus us. Because if it's that you'll always have another battle. And it doesn't mean that you won't be able to handle a lot of stuff. He's like, but I don't want you to have to. And he said, so what I'm going to ask is that you be ice cold, no matter what happens, nothing gets to you.

Dr. Jen Welter (20m 40s):

Right. You handle it. You know, you laugh about it, keep it moving. But if something bothers you, you come tell me and let me handle it because you're not on your own. You're you need to be a part of our locker room. And I was like, okay. Right. So, you know, I didn't really know what to think yet. I'm not going to say that I was woken up to be like, Oh my gosh, you're the best. Like, I didn't, I didn't know. I don't know you. And so, so we're in practice one day and you know, this, this is a scene to a movie in my mind, right? Like in the, in the movie of my life, on, on things that I will always cherish.

Dr. Jen Welter (21m 20s):

This was one of those days. And it was partially one of those days, because I personally was like face planning it in the mud. I'm having to work as a running back, picking up blitzing linebackers were doing inside run. So it means every play I'm getting hit, whether I'm picking up a blocker or, you know, I am running the ball and getting tackled. Like, there's no escape. There's no way out. Like, and it's, it's getting ridiculous. Right? Like I'm covered in mud. You know, just when I think I need to set more and you know, like brace myself and I get swim over and, you know, probably end up face in the dirt. And the receivers and DBs were over on, you know, they were playing seven on seven, pretty much like, Oh, isn't that nice?

Dr. Jen Welter (22m 2s):

Right. And solo stops practice. And he says, coach dub. I need some one-on-ones right now. And coach dubs kind of looked at him and he was like, all right. So lo do what you're going to do. And so I was like, well, mama, don't worry about it. I got this. And I was like, Oh, what she got, but, okay. Right. I'm like face like, and apparently there was a quarterback who hated that I was out there and he says, you know, this is bull. Like, she runs my way. I'm going to take her out. Well, that, that was not happening on solos watch. And so he stopped practicing said, you cornerback, you want to talk smack to a girl.

Dr. Jen Welter (22m 48s):

You are not good enough. I'm getting you cut today. Right now, if you would meet. And so the guy kind of comes up and he lines up off man. And so it was like, Oh no, no, no, you're a big man. You want to talk to a girl? You're going to press me. Come on. So he pulls him up to the line of scrimmage. Then he looks at the quarterback and he's like, Hey, quarterback, I'm about to run a fade on this guy right here. So called out the route happens. He runs, he gets it in the end zone, takes the ball down, puts it in the guy's face said, you still want to talk smack to a girl. Let's go again.

Dr. Jen Welter (23m 29s):

And several times the same thing kind of played out. The guy gets cut. And after that day, it was just really different. You know, it wasn't me as the outsider. It was us, everyone else. And, you know, there were a lot of different moments that happened across that season, but what's so fascinating is we all got to be really close in a situation where everybody thought it would fail. Well, it's a publicity stunt. It's this it's that I'm like, man, you know, I know the definition of a publicity stunt and I got to get better at it clearly because this hurts too much for a publicity stunt, right?

Dr. Jen Welter (24m 12s):

Like I might take in these hits every day for us. Then if it's a publicity stunt, I'm working way too hard, but it was the relationships that we formed that actually caught the attention of a new head coach, the following season, Wendell Davis, who then sat me down and grilled me on football. And when we finished talking, he said, you have to coach my football team. So, you know, it was one of the most transformative seasons of my life and something I never set out to do and would do it a million times over if I had the opportunity. Yeah.

Mark Graban (24m 51s):

So clearly not a mistake from your perspective, spending that season with the men's team. And you know, like you, you, weren't just standing on the sideline, holding a helmet, you were in the mix. And I mean, for context, I mean, you know, you're, you're strong, like, you know, this is the pictures of you and the card and the sideline, like, you know, but of a gun show, you know, with the, with your arms, but you're five two, which is a disadvantage in football as a running back man or woman. I mean, that, that was something that really overcome, you know, people might be picturing, well, she must be five eight, five, nine, five 10. I mean, you've been told. And I think it's interesting as you were growing up a couple of times, unfortunately, that you were too small, does that lead?

Mark Graban (25m 37s):

What, what does that lead to in terms of strength or learning to overcome things?

Dr. Jen Welter (25m 43s):

You know, I think, I mean, first of all, it, it motivated me to learn to work out and to lift weights. Cause I never wanted to be told, I, I wouldn't, I wasn't strong enough again. And so I was in the gym at a very young age, but it, you know, it also was something that was a disadvantage in my mind, early in my life. But as a player, once I realized that it was actually an advantage, that's when I became really good. Like we always say low man or low women wins in football. And so leverage and being able to get underneath somebody is an actual advantage.

Dr. Jen Welter (26m 23s):

So it's funny because when I was first playing, I was trying to overcome my height, which means, you know, running tall and that's a big disadvantage, you know, big guys are trying to get lower and lower and I'm already starting low. So once I realized that that was actually an advantage and I leaned into it and stopped trying to be everything, but what I was naturally and owning that what I was could actually be special that's when I became really good. So I think it's a, it's a great life lesson that like, you know, there are certain things you can control.

Dr. Jen Welter (27m 4s):

I can't control my height, so I'm not going to put a lot of energy into, gosh, if I was only six foot, I can't, I can't change that, but strength I can change. Right. That's something that's in my control and you know, how I use my height. That's something in my control to, you know, probably less likely to be able to, for example, dunk a basketball. But that doesn't mean that I couldn't be great in other areas. So channeling the energy into, you know, what I could control, which was, you know, my strength and my speed and my technique.

Mark Graban (27m 39s):

I think that is a very transferrable lesson and reminder for people. I want to hear a little bit about your time with the Cardinals and how you bridged that gap. Again, going into a new environment is the first woman in an active coaching role with the players. What, what, what strengths did you bring it? When we talk about leveraging strengths, what did you bring into that role as a coach and, and how were you accepted on the field and with the team,

Dr. Jen Welter (28m 11s):

You know, first and foremost, definitely a PhD in psychology, you know, and, and somebody who had a master's in sports psychology. So really being good at sports environments and, and knowing where I could add value and what kind of communication would be, you know, well received from the players often, you know, very, one-on-one very personal and very, very personal and very interpersonal. And so this, it was different for them in a way, because it was not necessarily the communication they were used to, but one that they were used to in their lives, just maybe not in football, right.

Dr. Jen Welter (28m 59s):

A lot of these guys had been coached by very strong women in their lives. They just hadn't had it on a football field before. So it was, you know, I think something that stood out and then also, you know, to their credit, those guys knew everything about me before I even walked onto the field for the first time they had watched my game film, they had called their friends. Like they had dug deep. And to me that meant, okay, well, we're, we're fine then. Right? Like, because it's athletes, that's the ultimate sign of respect, right. When you watch somebody's game film, that means you're invested. So they knew about me.

Dr. Jen Welter (29m 41s):

They were to be a part of history. They had, you know, they knew I had played on the men's team, which to a lot of them was like the standout because they knew I was in it for the right reasons. And then, you know, on top of that, I just made sure when I, when I had the chance to add value, I did what it doesn't mean talking all the time, but like, you know, kind of being like a little secret weapon, right? Like, Hey, next time try this. And when it would work, they would want more. And so I just think that coach athlete relationships are so special and so important, and we just really formed bonds that were about being better players and better people in the process.

Mark Graban (30m 32s):

That's great. So when you think about, I'm curious lessons that you help bring to people outside of sports, like I'll like for example, the only time I've ever been on a football field was because I played drums in the marching band. Right. So I wasn't out there with a helmet on and getting hit or hitting a lot, you know, like a lot of people, I'm a fan of sports and it's always interesting to think of connections, lessons, inspiration that you see from athletes and coaches. Like when you work as a speaker, what are some of the messages that you bring to say, you know, people like me who sit in the chair too much?

Dr. Jen Welter (31m 12s):

Well, one of the things is to realize, like, I always say, what if everything that somebody told you was wrong about you was actually what made you write right? There, there are so many things that we don't fit to somebody else's mold, but then again, are you really trying to fit their mold? Right. If I'm trying to be something that I'm not, then I always feel a little bit off, a little bit wrong. I'm a little too short. I'm a little too female, whatever it is. And yet, if you understand that your unique value proposition is yours and it's special, then you start to lean into it in a way that allows you to be more special.

Dr. Jen Welter (31m 59s):

Right. I think authenticity is so important and the consistency in who you are, how you act, how you move to go from one situation to another. Right. And you know, in, in football we see a very clearly, right. It doesn't work if everybody looks the same. Right. Big, big talk about Tom Brady right now. Right? Like, you know, he's the goat. He went from New England, you know, everybody wanted them, Tampa Bay picks him up. We want T B12. Okay. You're right. Absolutely. It's a great quarterback. He is, he is one of the greats out there, but do you want 11 TB 12s? I don't, I cannot think of an offense or a defense that would put 11 TB 12s in a situation that we're winning.

Dr. Jen Welter (32m 50s):

I need very distinct chess pieces to put around TB 12 that are all different and special and are together on one shared vision in order for TB 12, to do what TB 12 does. Right. And football is this unique, powerful sport that really does celebrate diversity in how it functions. And so being able to reinforce that whether it's football or business or in our lives like that, those differences are very special. It's just about matching them up with situations and demands and, and team structure and, you know, putting those all into a system where, where they're maximized.

Dr. Jen Welter (33m 40s):

Right. That, that's what we're all talking about. You just happened to see it very visually in football.

Mark Graban (33m 46s):

And I think that's, yeah. I mean, there are powerful lessons about authenticity in the beginning of your book, you talked about that you told the story of your time with the Cardinals of going and getting note cards at the store that you were going to leave encouraging notes in the locker. How, how, how did that play out? How was that received? Did you feel like you were leveraging a strength that you might've been the first coach who had left an encouraging note card in the locker? Or how did that play?

Dr. Jen Welter (34m 14s):

Yeah. You know, it's so interesting because I, I knew it was what I would want it as a player, but I didn't necessarily realize that it was so unheard of. And, you know, I kinda thought that the locker room was like Vegas, right? Like this would be our secret that this was just between us. And, you know, before the game, a couple of players like, man, I really appreciate those words. I was like, great. This was not the worst coaching decision in the history of the NFL. We're fine. And yet at the end of the game, a reporter came up to me and said, you know, history was me tonight at University of Phoenix field.

Dr. Jen Welter (34m 57s):

But up first time and the history of the NFL, a female took the sidelines as a coach. And we heard you did something very special for your players. You left notes in their locker, would you care to comment? And I was like, no, no, I would not. Cause that would have been a secret. I took to the grave. Nobody would've known. Right. Like I would not have been like, yeah, I wrote notes and put them in my guys' lockers. Right. No, but what, what came out was that, you know, our huddle color, Kevin Minter told the reporter in his entire NFL career, he'd never had a coach care like that.

Dr. Jen Welter (35m 45s):

And you know, to me, that's what it's about. It's not better or worse. It's just, what's going to resonate with what people and who you are as a leader. I know how hard we can all be on ourselves. And what I could think of is that, you know, I knew how hard those moments before a game were. And I just wanted the voices in their heads to be mine because I knew what I would tell them. And it turns out that it was something that was very special to them as well. And you know, I remember talking to Kevin and I'm like, cat, you know, you kind of sold me out on that. Like, I didn't really expect that to be in the news.

Dr. Jen Welter (36m 28s):

And he looked at me and he said, coach, that was special. And they needed to know. And I was like, well, okay then, because that was also his leadership. Right. And him as a player in, you know, a linebacker in one of the roughest toughest sports on the planet to, to share that that was important to him. That is a huge leadership role that he took in admitting that as, as a man, just like, you know, and maybe even more against the grain was admitting that then me doing it in the first place.

Dr. Jen Welter (37m 9s):

Right.

Mark Graban (37m 10s):

Because I think as, as fans, we see players who are the best in the world at what they do. They're strong, they're aggressive, they're confident we don't get a window into things like self doubt. And I imagine that's where as a psychologist and as an athlete who had been in similar shoes, I guess that gave you an appreciation for what could be helpful. That seems like that's a powerful

Dr. Jen Welter (37m 35s):

And empathy is, is leadership. Right. I remember one of the things that struck me from that as you know, they were, do you think you did that because you're a woman and I was like, empathy is a leadership trait period. And why would you discount it? Because it came from a woman, right? We need, we need more empathy in business, in sports, in society as a whole. And so let's not put it into just a bucket. Let's, let's say that we need a whole lot of empathy. And that, that is a leadership trait period.

Dr. Jen Welter (38m 16s):

No qualifiers necessary.

Mark Graban (38m 18s):

Maybe one last question for you. Have you watched the show Ted Lasso? Oh, I think you would enjoy Ted Lasso. It's worth binge watching, you know, just get it, you know, Apple TV, plus you can get a free preview. I'm not trying to sell Apple TV+ but Jason Sudeikis who plays this American football coach who gets hired to coach an English Premier League team, which is of course soccer, but Ted Lasso his character. I think you would appreciate because this is not just a, a male female thing. I think he, he's very empathetic. He's focused on the players as people.

Mark Graban (38m 58s):

And there's, there's, I won't give spoilers away for you or others, but there's a scene in one of the later episodes involving a note card and a player that's very powerful because I think this is a situation where this player had never received a supportive, appreciative note like that. So I, I think, I think you would like Ted Lasso because empathy and it's about empathy and leadership. I agree

Dr. Jen Welter (39m 24s):

For sure.

Mark Graban (39m 26s):

There's a different version of that show where a woman could have been hired in from an American football perspective. But I do think, you know, gosh, I'm not a movie producer, somebody in LA should be buying the rights to your story.

Dr. Jen Welter (39m 40s):

I agree.

Mark Graban (39m 44s):

One, one last, last thing, there's, there's a phrase I've heard you use, and this might be a good point to wrap up on, you know, as a trailblazer and a groundbreaker there's this idea of being the first means not being the last, could you share what that means to you?

Dr. Jen Welter (39m 59s):

Yeah. You know, when you're the first, the whole narrative just by design is, is around what you do. Right. I remember very distinctly the media, it wasn't, you know, could Jen Welter coach guys in the national football league, it was could a woman. Right. And that means the entire, you know, fate of women in coaching and football is resting squarely on your shoulders because there's a sample size of one right now. It doesn't mean that it doesn't mean that there aren't other women, better women, you know, whatever.

Dr. Jen Welter (40m 39s):

It just means that that's all they're looking at at that time. And so I always said the opportunity and responsibility of being first is to ensure you're not the last right. So first and foremost, that means do a good job and give them no reason to say, Oh, well, this is why we can't have a woman. You know, we tried that once, but Ooh, you remember that Jen Welter thing, right? Like you don't want them to slam the door and have you be the reason why it was close, tighter than it was before. But then it also means extending the conversations. It means, you know, pushing for change. It means being, you know, an advocate. It also means, you know, helping to look at places and spaces where you can shift the societal focus, right?

Dr. Jen Welter (41m 28s):

Like, you know, working with Madden to be the first female head coach in Madden. Now that that a girl could see yourself in the game and, and get permission to think, Oh, well, coaching could be a woman. Right. And, and plant that seed of that idea and boys could look at it and say, Oh, a coach could be a woman. It could be a male or a female. Right. And then in terms of, you know, things like developing girls programs, so that there's a theater system, you know, all of those components feed into what, hopefully isn't just an exception to the rule, but changing the rules for, for future women and future generations of women.

Mark Graban (42m 11s):

Thank you for, for all of that. And thank you so much for being a guest here today. We've been joined by Dr. Jen Welter. Do you check out her book? It's called play big lessons in being limitless from the first woman to coach in the NFL, you can learn more about all of the different things that she does at her website, Jenwelter.com. This has been a real honor and a real treat to have you here. Thank you for sharing, not just, you know, story about mistakes, but the lessons that have been hard-fought along the way. So thank you. Thank you so much

Dr. Jen Welter (42m 42s):

For sure. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Mark Graban (42m 45s):

Thanks again. The Dr. Jen Walter, for being such a great guest today for show notes, links, and more, you can see video and photos of her at work. You can find that all at MarkGrabann.com/mistake60. If you're enjoying the podcast. If you like the episode again, the best thing you can do to help the show out is to share it with a friend or a colleague, or post something about this episode or the podcast in general, on your favorite social media platform. And I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me they've started being more open and honest about mistakes and their work.

Mark Graban (43m 27s):

And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems, because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me myfavoritemistakepodcast@gmail.com. And again, our website is my favorite mistake, podcast dot.


Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. He is also a Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Marketing with the healthcare advisory firm, Value Capture.