Business & Careers

NFL’s First Female Coach on How to Crush Your Comfort Zone and Rise

BY Emma Vertolli

jen welter in orange shirt holding football under arm

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Dr. Jen Welter is a true trailblazer who has paved the road for other women in the ultimate boys’ club, the NFL. As an undersized 5'2” athlete Jen risked it all to chase her passion of football. What was the outcome of her sacrifice? Welter made it to the top of the ranks in women’s football, she joined a professional team where she played against men easily over 2x her size, and she was the first female to hold a coaching position in the NFL.

Dr. Jen is the ultimate boss babe. She’s an inspiration to me and I look up to her as a role model. Here are a few lessons we can learn from Jen Welter about overcoming challenges and crushing glass ceilings…

4 Things You Can Learn from Jen to Grow and Thrive in the Workplace

  1. How to Gain Respect

During an interview with CNN, Dr. Jen openly spoke about the challenges that she faced in her role as the first female coach in the NFL. One of the questions that someone in a new managerial position must ask themselves is, “how do I gain respect from my subordinates and my peers?” Dr. Jen went through the trenches herself playing football at a high professional level. But she needed to prove her knowledge.

She had to accomplish three tasks: show the players that she had the foundational knowledge, pick an area of expertise to zone in on (i.e. football technique), and prove that she cared about the players. Welter needed to earn respect from the players, other coaches, other teams, and fans. She gained respect by earning her credibility as an expert.

“If they try what I gave them, and it worked, they’d come back and they’d be like, ‘Coach, did you see that?” Welter said. “Man, that worked. What else do you got?’. And it kind of just slowly evolved that way.”

Jen Welter provided feedback about player technique by giving them actionable pointers. It gave them small wins. This helped her gain credibility and become an authority figure.

  1. Bring Personality Into Your Role

It can be easy to lose yourself in a role, to morph into a version of how you should be and who you should be. When we take on a new task, it’s especially important that we stay true to ourselves. Especially in a leadership role, people need to see that you are authentically yourself. Jen holds a PhD in Psychology and it was important for her to connect with players on a personal level.

“Welter saw some “paralysis by analysis” in some of the younger players. Welter wanted to reinforce the things they had talked about during the week with those locker room notes.”

This simple, yet sentimental approach was very well received by the players. She was taking a new approach, implemented something that she would have wanted to receive as a player herself, and it showed them that she cared about them and their growth. Jen brought her personality into how she connected with the players.

  1. Don’t Set Limits on Yourself or Your Capabilities

Jen was discouraged from training to play tennis professionally because a coach set limits on what she was capable of achieving. She was told that because of her size she would never be a top contender in the sport. It deflated her, but the lesson learned through it helped her climb the ranks of professional football.

“Don’t give up. That coach didn’t know what I was capable of,” said Welter during an interview with ABC News, “My size might’ve put me at a disadvantage, might’ve meant I had to work harder. But there was no way he could say for sure that I’d never be at the top of the game.”

Anything is possible when you fully commit yourself to it. Other people don’t know what we are capable of. We need to take back the power in pursuing our dreams.

  1. Play Your Heart Out

Play your heart out and compete at the highest potential that you can. Don’t play for other people and don't do things that other people want you to do, instead play for yourself. We’re only in competition with ourselves so it’s important that we aim to improve from where we were yesterday. Try not to take things too personally. Things will happen and we will experience setbacks, through those setbacks keep pushing through. And support other women by going to their events. Women supporting women increases the number of ceilings that we can break.

“Don’t worry too much about what opportunities you might or might not have in the future,” Welter said, “Opportunities that you never could imagine might present themselves. They did for me.”

We can learn a lot from Jen Welter about business, taking new opportunities, and stepping out of our comfort zones. Her path allowed girls to look up on a television screen, see a female standing on the sidelines, and opened a door that was previously closed to our dreams.

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