Jen Welter on breaking into football: 'Let your game speak'

Jen Welter is a groundbreaking presence, becoming the first woman to coach in men’s professional football at multiple levels, including the NFL, when she worked for the Arizona Cardinals in 2015 as an intern.

It’s of paramount importance that Welter doesn’t become the last.

Welter entered the coaching circuit after featuring as a running back during her own career, and was named as a linebackers coach for the Texas Revolution of the Champions Indoor Football League. She then graduated to the NFL with the Cardinals and most recently worked as a defensive specialist for the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football.

The Global Experiential Sports Lab, in conjunction with She’s4Sports, launched the She Can Coach panel at Toronto’s Ryerson University in January, where Welter — along with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky’s Kayla Alexander, Toronto Raptors assistant coach Brittni Donaldson and activist, player, coach, journalist Shireen Ahmed — spoke about their experiences in professional sports.

Welter highlighted the importance of women’s representation in football, noting the current landscape makes it difficult for women to envision a career in the sport.

“Anytime you turn on the TV and you watch football in the States, you can see Pop Warner football on TV. You can see high school football on TV, you can see college and the pros,” Welter told Yahoo Sports Canada.

“And what you see is a sin of omission because there really aren't girls playing as much - you might see a few. Or, even represented in on the field capacities to the extent that they could be.”

The lack of women’s representation in football extends outside of the playing field and broadcast booth, Welter noted.

“If a girl has a coach in a video game, or gets to play a video game where she's represented, wouldn't she be more likely to say 'oh, I can go play football.' And the same thing with Madden, it creates a new normal,” Welter said.

“When a kid, whether it's a boy or girl, has a female coach in a game, then it's not weird to see it in the real world. And by the way, you want to pick my team because we are the best defense in Madden Superstar KO, not just because (I'm) a female coach.”

Despite the barriers to entry in the world of professional football, Welter advises women to go out there and focus on playing to their best of their ability, even if the sport isn’t evolving at the rate it should.

“It took me a long time, being great in football, to have the conversation not be 'she's good for a girl' or 'she plays football' or 'the female coach.' It then shifted finally to 'that's a baller' and 'that's a coach' and the truth is that when we get to that point, if you're good people want you. So whenever I work with girls, I say 'let your game speak.'”

“Let your game speak louder than your gender because they don't owe you a spot just because you're a girl but when you are good, regardless of being a girl or a boy, you will find your way.”

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