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In Support of Harvard Women’s Soccer


By Alicia H. Malnati, PhD, CSPS Research and Design Assistant

I’m going to be a bit more honest here than I probably should be.

A few days ago, I read this statement from the Harvard Women’s Soccer team. As a fellow human being, I encourage you to read it in its entirety. The 951 words are bold and provocative, and I am proud to share their bravery with you.

By now the story is national news, largely because of the consequences delivered earlier this week, but here’s the gist: In what appears to be an annual tradition, members of the men’s soccer team at Harvard produced and circulated a “scouting report” in 2012 that rated incoming recruits to the women’s soccer team based on their perceived sexual appeal and physical attractiveness.

And, before you brush off their vulgar words as insignificant or get annoyed with another story about how women aren’t equal, let me provide you a few excerpts:

“She seems relatively simple and probably inexperienced sexually, so I decided missionary would be her preferred position.”

“She looks like the kind of girl who both likes to dominate, and likes to be dominated.”

“She seems to be very strong, tall and manly so, I gave her a 3 because I felt bad.”

“While some of the scouting report last year was wrong, the overall consensus that [a certain player] was both the hottest and the most STD ridden was confirmed.”

I include their exact words not to spread sexually explicit comments about women across the Internet but instead to highlight the extent to which these young men feel ownership over women’s bodies and women’s lives. Their words are painful, degrading, and outright disgusting. Their attitude reinforces to our collective conscience that women ought to submit to men.

Unfortunately, this situation is familiar. “As if we weren’t surprised men had spoken of us inappropriately,” the women stated. Hearing another story about men disrespecting women, comparing them to sexual ideals, or feeling “entitled to bodies that aren’t theirs” feels strikingly normal. Somewhere deep down in your gut, it probably feels normal to you too.

This normative language deprives women of dignity and respect. We all know that. But it also dehumanizes them, reduces them to objects of use for others. And, when we learn that it’s okay to comment on and joke about women with words that undermine their worth, our standard for how we act toward them is a little bit lower too.

You see, research shows that historically, “The introduction of humanizing language has generally preceded humanizing changes in societal behavior,” meaning that we must first speak about women with respect before we will treat them with respect. Our words and actions are inextricably linked.

In a thick case of irony, I’m in Washington D.C., not for the historic election we’ll all see on Tuesday, but to implement an initiative that aims to empower women and girls through sports. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and espnW, the Global Sports Mentoring Program brings together women from around the world and empowers them to use sport as a way to address important issues in their community. Access to sports, gender expectations, lack of role models, underserved youth, low levels of education, you name it.

This week I’ll hear this year’s participants, 16 women from 13 countries, describe their vision for change, undoubtedly my favorite part of the program. They’ll use their words, their voice, their bravery to challenge dominant narratives in their home country, dominant narratives we’ve all seen in our own country.

Their words matter because change is painfully and agonizingly slow. As the Harvard women stated, “More than anything, we are frustrated that this is a reality that all women have faced in the past and will continue to face throughout their lives.” So, tomorrow I’ll hear from 16 incredible women working to do something about it. Tomorrow I’ll hear plans of action to create spaces where women are valued and uplifted, where women’s contributions are remembered, where a new culture of men and women can work together to address issues we all know exist. And, with our support and the support of those at home, they’ll find the courage to actually do something about it.

I’m exactly where I need to be.

CSPS Leads International Program to Empower Women for Fifth Year

GSMP 2016 class at the espnW Summit

Since 2012, our small team has played a part in touching every corner of the world. By supporting and training international leaders through our partnership with the U.S. Department of State and espnW, the Center for Sport, Peace, & Society has left an imprint in Jordan’s Syrian refugee camps, the soccer and softball fields of Mexico, and the disaster-affected southern islands of the Philippines.

For the fifth consecutive year, the center is implementing the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP), a five-week cultural exchange program partnering international female sports leaders with female executives at organizations such as Google, NBA, NHL, and Disney XD.

“October is absolutely our favorite time of year,” said Dr. Ashleigh Huffman, assistant director of the center. “Welcoming 16 women from around the world to our nation’s capital makes us proud to be American. It’s a privilege to watch these accomplished women grow and form an unbreakable sisterhood that will carry them as they advocate for equality and opportunity at home.”

For the program, the center collaborates with mentors and other program partners to provide 16 women with the tools to return home to their countries and increase access and opportunity for women to participate in sports. During the first week in Washington DC, the emerging leaders take part in curriculum sessions led by Drs. Huffman and Sarah Hillyer, director of the center, as well as activity sessions that include self-defense, aerial yoga, adapted sports, and executive leadership coaching.

This 2016 class joins the ranks of 66 remarkable alumnae—Olympians and Paralympians, journalists, government officials, civic leaders and advocates, sports administrators—from more than 40 countries. In 2016, the 16 participants hail from Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Jordan, South Korea, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, and Ukraine.

Working side-by-side with these emerging female leaders, senior female executives in the U.S. sports sector open their respective organization as a host site while sharing their personal business, entrepreneurial, and strategic management insights. The mentors support the emerging leaders as they develop action plans aimed to allow more women and girls around the world to experience the benefits of sports participation: enhanced self-esteem and confidence, improved academic performance, and increased health and wellbeing, which empower them to create stronger and more stable communities.

The 2016 mentor organizations are America East Conference, Big East Conference, Disney, ESPN, Google, Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), New York Road Runners (NYRR), RPA Advertising, Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, Spurs Sports & Entertainment, the University of Connecticut, and the University of North Carolina.

“The mentors are critical to the success of this program,” Dr. Hillyer said. “The tools, resources, and networks they provide the emerging leaders are what propel them to be global change agents. It’s amazing to reflect on the GSMP network around the world and the multiplier effect that is taking place because of the incredible women and men involved in this program.”

The program runs through November 10, when the emerging leaders return to DC to present their action plans before the center, mentors, and representatives from the State Department and espnW.

To follow the GSMP on social media, use the hashtags #GSMP2016 and #EmpowerWomen on FacebookTwitterFlickr, and Instagram.

A Dad, A Daughter, and Their Love for the Denver Broncos

John Elway Broncos

By Dr. Ashleigh Huffman, CSPS Assistant Director 

Why do I love the Denver Broncos? Is it their bone-crushing defense? Is it the deafening sound of Mile High Stadium? Is it their Tennessee tie to my favorite quarterback, Peyton Manning? Sure, in time, these things have become part of the equation. But ultimately, no. These are not the reasons why Orange and Navy runs through my veins.

I love the Broncos because my dad loves the Broncos. My brother loves the Broncos. Heck, even my mom loves them. It’s what we do as a family. As a 10-year old girl, I remember running passing routes in the front yard with my dad and brother. My dad was always legendary quarterback, John Elway. My brother and I would swap out playing offense and defense, becoming Shannon Sharpe, Ed McCaffrey, Steve Atwater, or the beast, inside linebacker, Bill Romanowski. We would take turns running slants, hooks, hitch ‘n’ go’s, and out routes to the “end zone.” And when the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and ‘98, I’m certain it was our cheering from the basement that got them there.

Ashleigh and Football Family

Dr. Huffman with her uncle and father as a girl

I love the Broncos because it reminds me of a time and place, a nostalgic moment in my life with my family. A time when kids played outside. A time when family fun was free. A time when neighborhoods were safe. A time when imagination and creativity were the order of the day. A time when organized sport was not a substitute for parenting.

I love the Broncos because running routes as a little girl in a neighborhood full of boys was empowering and inclusive. It was my way of fitting in. It was physical literacy and social currency. I was learning how to navigate the world as an athletically-minded girl in a sea full of fellas.

I love the Broncos because when they play, my family dresses accordingly. And we find a place to watch it. Then we text each other throughout the game, commenting on our cover defense or our passing game or the play calling from the booth. We cheer together, we throw things at the TV together, and we pull out our hair together. So even though we live in three different states, hundreds of miles apart, Bronco Sundays unite us.


A typical Huffman family text message conversation on Broncos gamedays

So ultimately, I love the Broncos because they are my story – the story of a young girl who grew up idolizing her dad, learning football to fit in with the boys, and realizing the power of sport to create connection. I hope we can find a way to recreate this world, one where parents are the heroes, gender doesn’t define sport, and we all feel a bit more connected to our families and communities.

As the saying goes in Denver, the same holds true for the Center: We believe.

Confessions of a Preschooler and How Society Should Respond

Dr. C Weight Blog Post

By Carolyn Spellings, PhD, CSPS Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator

“Mom, my belly is bigger than yours. I am so fat.”

A few months ago, while watching one of her favorite TV shows, my daughter said those words to me out of nowhere.

“Wait, what did you say?” I responded.

“I’m fat.” She repeated without taking her eyes off the TV screen.

She didn’t say it with sadness or frustration, but rather in a way an adult woman says negative things about her body when looking into a mirror or out with girl friends. I quickly turned the TV off and held her so close and reaffirmed her that she is not fat. She is beautiful just the way she is. We then proceeded to have a quick, very quick, conversation as to why I did not want her to say those words about her body ever again. The conversation seemed to be lost on her as indicated by her eyes darting back and forth from the remote, to the TV, to me.

Clearly she was mimicking what she has heard other women—women like me—say. I wonder in her four short years how many times she has heard women say negative things about their bodies—only praising their bodies if they are thin, have lost weight, or look good in a pair of jeans. And then I wondered how many times she has heard women talk about how strong or healthy their bodies are. Probably not many, if any at all.

Sure it is common to talk about inner strength, how we are more than our pant size. But how often do we view our bodies as strong or celebrate its physical power? Last year, I heard 2012 Global Sports Mentoring Program alumna Chyloe Kurdas from Australia speak passionately about the beauty of teenage girls playing Australian football. She described the confidence these teens develop when they realize that their bodies are strong, agile, and quick. She described the beauty of women engaging in a physical sport that allows them to display their mental toughness and physical strength.

Instead of exercising and eating healthy with the goal of being thin, let’s focus on becoming stronger and healthier so that we can coach the community soccer or basketball team, carry a box of cans to a local food pantry, or help our neighbors move into their new house. In the words of a wellness instructor at a local YMCA, “You are stronger than you think you are.” That is something I want my daughter to believe about herself. Something I should believe and celebrate about myself.

Getting to Know One Another Keeps the World, And Us, Going Around

Sport for Community 2016 Rec Center

This post was originally published on, where CSPS Program Assistant Alicia H. Malnati, PhD, contributes articles on her experiences with the Center and its empowerment initiatives for PGA Tour Charities

Quick! Name the 13 provinces and territories of Canada…

No, really. Go ahead.

Didn’t get them all? Neither did we.

I contributed three answers of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan to our self-induced trivia game as we travelled from the Toronto airport to our hotel for this week’s PGA TOUR event, the Canadian Open. Peter added Alberta, New Brunswick, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec, but we soon had to rely on Andrew, one of hundreds of volunteers this week, to help us with the rest: British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.

I was pleased with our 8/13 performance. Pretty good, eh? But, even with our well-traveled season, including stops in 17 states and three countries, I had trouble answering a basic question about the country to our north. In that moment, I was reminded just how much we know about ourselves and just how little we know about others. Or how they live. Or what they experience. Maybe if we knew a little more about each other we’d see the world a little differently, which is exactly what a woman named Adeline Dumapong did for me not long ago. Let me tell you about her.

I met Adeline, a power lifter from the Philippines, in June during the U.S. Department of State’s Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP), the foundational initiative of my work with the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society at the University of Tennessee. In 2000, Adeline became the first Filipina to earn a medal at the Paralympics, and next month, she’ll compete in Rió de Janiero, her fifth and final trip to the Games. Although thriving now, Adeline is a story of overcoming the odds with remarkable courage, strength, and love.

Filipina powerlifter Adeline Dumapong, a five-time Paralympian, participated in the Sport for Community program to empower leaders in disability sport and was mentored at the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Ala.

Born into a poor family in the mountainous, landlocked province of Ifugao in the Philippines, Adeline was diagnosed with polio at the age of six. With few resources to care for her, her parents made the difficult decision to move her to a school for children with disabilities seven hours south in Manila. However, growing up away from her family was difficult, and the school environment lacked the knowledge and means to help children like her thrive. Nonetheless, Adeline was introduced to many sports during her time at the school.

“Wheelchair racing, wheelchair basketball, swimming,” she said. “But, I really wanted to find a sport that made me feel strong. And here I am now.”

For the past 17 years, Adeline has traveled around the world, won medals at some of the top powerlifting championships in Asia, and set remarkable records, like the time she bench-pressed 117 kilos, which is probably the weight of your entire body and then some. She’s also worked tirelessly as an advocate for disability rights as a member of the National Paralympic Committee of the Philippines. And, her newest endeavor, Operation LLP – the product of her participation in the GSMP – uses foundational values of learning, leading, and playing to expand access to disability sport in her country.

During her presentation on Operation LLP, Adeline described her vision for change, specifically including an increase in feelings of worthiness within the disability community. Besides her dedication, passion, and advocacy toward a cause that means so much to her, I noticed her presence. When she spoke, people listened. We listened to her words, but we also listened to her spirit. Her bubbling and joyful personality. Her genuine and forthright nature. Her passion to create small, incremental change. Her dream of a better world for others.

For me, Adeline arrived to the GSMP as a participant but left as a peer. Perhaps more. We so often and so easily forget the connections we have with our neighbors, whether across the street or across the world. And, my friend Adeline gave me so much: a reinvigorated passion for my own work, an extraordinary example of empathy and compassion, and another reason to remember that we’re all in this together.

CSPS Completes Disability Sport Exchange Program for State Department

Sport for Community class of 2016

Our team recently wrapped up a five-week exchange program to empower international leaders in the field of disability sport. The program was implemented as part of the Center’s cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State.

The Center has collaborated with the State Department to run the Global Sports Mentoring Program, developed in 2012 by then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton and ESPN President John Skipper, for the past four years. While the original GSMP (now known as GSMP: Empower Women through Sports) focused on women’s empowerment, this revitalized initiative includes a second program concentrated on leaders in the disability sport movement.

Sarah Hillyer, director of the center, with participants and partners in the program: Ann Cody, program officer for the U.S. Department of State (bottom left), Beth Curry, chief program officer for Lakeshore Foundation (top right), and emerging leaders Olesya Vladykina (top middle) and Adeline Dumapong (bottom right).

Sarah Hillyer, director of the center, with participants and partners in the program: Ann Cody, program officer for the U.S. Department of State (bottom left), Beth Curry, chief program officer for Lakeshore Foundation (top right), and emerging leaders Olesya Vladykina (top middle) and Adeline Dumapong (bottom right).

The spring’s program included 15 sport leaders from 13 countries (Guatemala, Ecuador, Brazil, Kosovo, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Philippines) who formed the first class of Sport for Community.

Our directors, Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman, who are also clinical assistant professors in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, worked side by side with the participants and their mentors, selected from leading disability sport organizations such as the US Olympic Committee, Lakeshore Foundation, Ability 360, and the University of Texas at Arlington.

Using Hillyer and Huffman’s “Better World” curriculum as the framework, leaders, mentors and the UT team worked together to develop individualized action plans—sports-based business proposals to promote inclusivity and social change in their local communities.

The international leaders selected included two-time Paralympic gold medalist Olesya Vladykina, mentored by Jeff Underwood and Beth Curry at Lakeshore, who developed a campaign called #HowISwim to promote inclusive swim lessons and accessible sports facilities for people with disabilities in Russia.

There were also grassroots workers like JP Maunes, founder of Philippine Accessible Deaf Services, which provides sign language translation and deaf rights advocacy to the hearing-impaired community in Cebu, and Anderson Gama, the marketing manager for Obra Social Dona Meca, an organization that provides sports opportunities for hundreds of children with disabilities in Rio de Janeiro.

At the executive level, five leaders from National Paralympic Committees—Bayron Lopez (Ecuador), Njomza Emini (Kosovo), Priyantha Peiris (Sri Lanka), Deepak KC (Nepal), and Yerlan Suleimenov (Kazakhstan)—developed plans to raise awareness of the Paralympic movement in their countries and increase participation at both the grassroots and elite levels.

Participants in the GSMP: Sport for Community program class of 2016. Top: Alemayehu Teferi (Ethiopia), Adeline Dumapong (Philippines), Julio Rueda (Guatemala), JP Maunes (Philippines), Valeria Filiaeva (Belarus). Middle: Yerlan Suleimenov (Kazakhstan), Bayron Lopez (Ecuador), Agwang Christine (Uganda), Priyantha Peiris (Sri Lanka), Oleksandra Nasadiuk (Ukraine). Bottom: Olesya Vladykina (Russia), Anderson Gama (Brazil), Njomza Emini (Kosovo), Eyasu Hailu (Ethiopia), Deepak KC (Nepal).

Participants in the GSMP: Sport for Community program class of 2016. Top: Alemayehu Teferi (Ethiopia), Adeline Dumapong (Philippines), Julio Rueda (Guatemala), JP Maunes (Philippines), Valeria Filiaeva (Belarus). Middle: Yerlan Suleimenov (Kazakhstan), Bayron Lopez (Ecuador), Agwang Christine (Uganda), Priyantha Peiris (Sri Lanka), Oleksandra Nasadiuk (Ukraine). Bottom: Olesya Vladykina (Russia), Anderson Gama (Brazil), Njomza Emini (Kosovo), Eyasu Hailu (Ethiopia), Deepak KC (Nepal).

“For me, Sport for Community was better than I ever could have imagined,” Huffman said. “To work with men and women in the disability sports space was eye-opening and inspiring. Through sport, there is adversity, but there is also hope and healing. To research and facilitate such an incredible global initiative is important for the University of Tennessee as we seek to ignite change and promote equality throughout the world.”

In addition to its work with the GSMP, the Center partners with the UT’s Athletics Department and Center for Leadership and Service on campus for the VOLeaders Academy, a yearlong sports and leadership program for student-athletes. The inaugural VOLeaders class of thirteen students will travel with Hillyer and Huffman to Brazil for a service-learning trip June 30.

To learn more about GSMP: Sport for Community visit the official website or the program’s social media accounts on FacebookTwitterFlickr and Instagram. To find or share more Sport for Community news use the hashtags #S4C2016 and #Sport4All.

CSPS Presents on 4-E Model of Empowerment at Ali Athletes for Social Change Forum

Screenshot 2016-04-11 10.47.50

On Saturday, April 9, Carolyn Spellings (“Dr. C”), monitoring and evaluation coordinator for the Center, was given the honor of presenting on behalf of our team at the 4th Annual Athletes and Social Change Forum.

The forum, hosted by the Muhammad Ali Center and held in collaboration with other universities, organizations, and leaders in the field of sport for development and peace, is a one-of-a-kind experience that spotlights the ways sport and its practitioners have and can continue to spark positive social change in local, national, and international communities.

For those who missed Dr. C’s presentation—”The Importance of ExposingEquippingEngaging, and Entrusting Local Audiences: Reflections from 20 Years of International Sports Development Experience”—there is no need to fret. We’ve included highlights below.

Let’s start with two questions that are a constant consideration for the Center in our work with both the Global Sports Mentoring Program and VOLeaders Academy:

1.What role do we, as cultural outsiders, have in sport for development and peace work in an international setting?

2.How can local leaders be empowered to create sustainable sport and physical activity opportunities for marginalized populations?

We take these questions quite seriously because we do not want to assume a paternalistic/or colonial view of the world or SDP work. Yet we have resources, knowledge, support networks, and experiences that many of the international participants do not have access to in their home countries/communities.

So, we seek to do this work in a culturally sensitive and culturally grounded manner; in a manner in which we view the international participants as experts on the issues in their communities as well as experts in solutions to those issues.

It is from 20 plus years experience in the international SDP sector and continually working through these questions that we have developed and refined the Center’s philosophy on changing communities.

The 4-E Model of Empowerment

Expose – participant to new people, resources and networks so that they can have access to political support, business support, academic support, peer support they may need when trying to create positive, sustainable change in their communities.

Equip – participants to tackle issues in their communities by:

  1. helping them identify a manageable issue that they can address through sport and physical activity
  2. helping participants identify gatekeepers (parents, religious leaders, community leaders, teachers, etc.), whose support in the community is critical
  3. helping participants develop leadership skills – communication, conflict resolution skills, etc.

Engage – participants in new experiences and exchanges in order to apply skills they are learning in two ways:

  1. Service learning: Hands-on, experiential learning, where they have an opportunity to apply newly developed skills in a real-world setting
  2. Reflection on the impact of these new experiences on their own personal and professional development. We have found this to be very helpful for the participants to internalize what they are learning and how they are growing

Entrust – participants to carry out their own vision for change through Action Plan development and presentations. Action Plans are concrete actions the participants will do when they return home to address a particular social issue. Oftentimes, these Action Plans are developed in conjunction with program mentors, peers, and Center staff. However, the purpose is not for the mentors, peers, or Center Staff to be a co-author of the Action Plan but to provide feedback and access to resources. It is critical for us that we view the participants as experts and give them a sense of ownership.

What is important is that by using the 4-E Model of Empowerment we are not telling the participants how to use sports to address a social issue. We are not giving them a blueprint of what has worked in an American or Western context, and telling them to duplicate or even adapt this blueprint. We are inviting the participants to create their own blueprints. We view them as the experts on what issues need to be addressed, as well as experts to the solutions. Our goal is to provide additional support, knowledge, resources, and skills so that through Center programs we have increased the capacity of local leaders to use sport for social good.

Since 2012, 86% of participants in the Global Sports Mentoring Program have implemented at least one component of their Action Plan. The 17 members of the GSMP 2014 class alone mobilized over 3,300 volunteers and coaches to implement their plans, and over 7,000 individuals have participated in the SDP programs they’ve developed.

Again, our philosophy of change at the Center is not to create communities that are dependent on us or on an outside group, but rather to increase the capacity of local leaders to create SDP programs that address a critical issue in their community. We believe that this philosophy of change is respectful to all individuals and culturally sensitive.

VOLeaders Organize Student-Athletes for UT Sexual Assault Awareness

VOLeaders Hike the Hill 1

On Friday afternoon, the University of Tennessee (UT) campus community kicked off Sexual Assault Awareness month with their second annual Hike the Hill in Heels (H3UTK) event.

More than 200 students gathered at the Europa Fountain and walked the famous UT “Hill” in high heels to raise awareness about sexual assault, consent, safety, and violence prevention on campus.

Our Center was very proud to be present at the event and walk with roughly 100 student-athletes who collaborated to show they care about the UT community as much as any other group. We were even more proud of the work of the VOLeaders Academy, 13 student-athletes representing 10 sports teams, for playing a large part in organizing their teammates and getting them out to demonstrate their support.

“We’re not doing this to get media attention for ourselves, but really to support the cause,” said Juan Carlos Serrano, a VOLeader and member of the men’s golf team. “This is not something we’re doing as the Athletics Department, but as individual members of the university community.”

Through VOLeaders and his role with the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), Juan Carlos co-lead the effort with Raina Hembry from volleyball. Before leaving for the walk, the Thornton Center was packed with student-athletes as Juan Carlos and Raina addressed them. Members of all the different sports teams walked together to the fountain, where they met with the rest of the campus community.

During the spring semester, Drs. Hillyer and Huffman, co-directors of the CSPS, have been teaching a sports-based leadership class with the VOLeaders focusing on how they can use their platforms as student-athletes to create positive social impact. Joining with the rest of the university for a big event like the Hike the Hill in Heels and mobilizing teammates was a great way to apply the leadership skills they’ve learned to rally their teams and make a difference on campus.

“We’re so proud of the student-athletes that participated in the H3UTK event. And we’re especially proud of the VOLeaders who took a leadership role in organizing it. It’s everything we’ve talked about in class – finding a way to stand up for something that you believe in and using your time and talents to make the world a better, safer, and more inclusive place. And that’s exactly what they did.”

The Center for Health Education and Wellness will host other events all month for sexual assault awareness. To find out more, visit its website.

Reflections on Experiences with Powerful Women during Women’s History Month

Janine Dima and Batoul in Jordan 2

By Janine Al-Aseer, CSPS Research Assistant & PhD Student

As we come to the end of Women’s History Month, I reflect on the amazing women I’ve had the privilege to work with over this month. There is Paula Korsakas, the coordinator for the Human Development Program for Sport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Dr. Alicia Malnati (“Dr. Hatch”), the design guru and writer extraordinaire of the Center, Dr. Carolyn Spellings (“Dr. C”), the backbone of programmatic monitoring and evaluation for the Center, and Shannon McCall (“Sha-nay-nay”), the Center’s project manager and organizer supreme. That’s not to mention the superstars that create the foundation of everything we do, our co-directors, Dr. Sarah Hillyer (“Dr. SJ”) and Dr. Ashleigh Huffman (“Dr. Ash”).  

On top of all of these incredible women, in March I was given the distinct pleasure of meeting Dima Alardah and Batoul Arnaout, two emerging leaders from the Global Sports Mentoring Program on their home turf in Amman, Jordan.

But, first I had to get there!

On the way to Jordan, I was detained for six hours at an Israeli checkpoint. In a sectioned-off area, my Palestinian family and I watched through the low bars as countless Israeli citizens passed by us. The detainment section filled with other Palestinian families, the children playing with toys (the parents had anticipated the wait) and getting out bags of food to share.  

After being released and crossing the King Hussein Bridge over the now completely dry Jordan River, I finally arrived to meet Dima and Batoul. The women greeted my family and I warmly and shared in our frustration over travel issues during the ongoing political conflict.  

I couldn’t believe that here in front of me were two Palestinian-Jordanian women of whom I had seen pictures, heard incredible stories, and listened to for hours in audio interviews. I admired them from afar for their great sacrifices and commitment to women. Strong and confident, they welcomed me into their lives and shared about their current work.

See more of Dima and Batoul in this video from the Center’s trip to Egypt and Jordan in December

Together, Dima and Batoul strengthen the team at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), empowering young Syrian refugees with skills that will give them purpose and a way to make a living while in the camps. Batoul, the NRC’s communications coordinator, now works in the same office as Dima, a youth program officer for the Zaatari and Emirati Jordanian camps. Their friendly banter and ability to finish one another’s sentences is evidence of their deep friendship.  

During our time together, they regaled me with stories about their daily routines.  On top of her regular job at the NRC, Batoul founded the nonprofit organization BOOST, which runs sports projects around Jordan aimed at increasing access to sport for the country’s underserved athletes. Dima makes similar sacrifices of her evenings and weekends with SHUTTLERS, the first badminton academy in the Arab world. In spite of their incredibly busy schedules, these women make time for their families, friends, and even an evening to spend with me at the Wild Jordan Center.  

After a two-hour meal, Batoul was forced to depart and we reluctantly said goodbye. With traditional Arab hospitality, Dima offered to take my travel partner and I around downtown Jordan. We walked Rainbow Street, perusing shops and people watching. Some young men stopped to take pictures with her.  From their laughter, she was obviously just as funny and charming in Arabic as she is in English. At the end of the evening she wouldn’t hear of us taking a cab home and went out of her way to drive us across town to our family.
I am humbled to have spent an evening with such icons in Jordan. These women are famous in their sports—Dima in badminton and Batoul in cycling—and for the way they’ve used their achievements to show that Arab women are strong, confident, and capable. Despite their status, they have dedicated their lives to something larger than themselves by empowering women and youth to create the kind of transformation that will spread like wildfire through Jordan. As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I can’t help but think about these remarkable women, the historical impact they are making in their country, and the honor of spending a day in their world.

A Chat with Celia Slater of True North Sports

Celia Slater, Sarah, Ash

Coaching may be one of the most important professions in the lives of young men and women. Coaches influence millions across the United States yearly, from peewee football players all the way to professional and Olympic athletes.

That is why Celia Slater, chief visionary of True North Sports in Gainesville, Fla., dedicates her life to making coaches better leaders, mentors and influencers.

In the decades prior to launching her own company, Celia was a NCAA Div. 1 college basketball player, head coach, and executive director of both the NCAA Women Coaches Academy and The Alliance of Women Coaches. Thousands of coaches have taken part in Celia’s programs, seminars and conventions—truly, her influence reaches across the country.

In February, the Center welcomed Celia to Knoxville to speak to student-athletes in the inaugural class of the VOLeaders Academy, the exciting partnership we have with UT Athletics and the Center for Leadership and Service.

After Celia’s time with the students, we were able to sit down with her and talk about why she finds coaching so important, the way she hopes to influence the profession, and her hopes of helping to lead a brighter future for both college coaches and athletes.

So, what is True North Sports?

Celia Slater: We are a company that works primarily with collegiate coaches to develop everything from coaching philosophy to different skill sets—communication, conflict resolution, program management—to how to create a positive team culture. I named my company after Bill George’s work around being an authentic leader and following your “true north” because I really want to help coaches be more authentic and genuine, instead of trying to be the coach that coached them. I want them to really stay in tune with who they are as a person, their highest values, how they want to impact the world, and never forget why they got into coaching in the first place: because they love the kids and they want to make a difference in their lives.

What made you aware of the need for this kind of work with coaches?

Celia Slater: I was a coach and I learned everything the hard way. I made every mistake in the book. You learn on the fly and are never really trained on stressors like communication, or conflict, or how to organize your program. There are people leaving the profession and it’s not because they don’t know their sport. They’re leaving and getting fired because of the stress that comes with the lack of a skill set to handle managing, leading, and motivating people. In my personal experience, I realized how hard it is to just kind of learn as you go. And it’s too important of a profession, where you are touching millions of lives, to not train them.

How many coaches have you worked with since launching your company?

Celia Slater: Since I started TrueNorth Sports, I’ve had one pilot program with 22 assistant coaches—15 women and seven men—from all sports and divisions of college athletics. Prior to that, I did a lot of programming with just female coaches. Since 2003, I’ve probably worked with at least 1,200 women.

How do coaches respond?

Celia Slater: For coaches, the X’s and O’s and strategy are the most important things, and they put a tremendous amount of their time, energy, and money into that. I’m going against the grain when I ask them to think about the other skill sets they need to really be great coaches.

And in our country everything is organized by sport, so I really think coaches become very tunnel visioned within their sport. I really feel this is a missed opportunity to unify coaches. The profession is greater than the sport that you coach and I believe there should be a standard of excellence across the profession.

When you get all of these coaches from different sports in a classroom together, it’s like there is this unbelievable connection. I was just at East Tennessee State University running a session for 18 coaches. I broke them into groups and they were talking about what they struggle with as coaches and I said, “Feel the energy in this room. How many times have you all gotten together to talk and share ideas as coaches across sport?” And they were all shaking their heads. It’s like they walk down the hall and they miss all these coaches in their department that have incredible stories, incredible experiences, incredible ideas.

In a best-case scenario, what do you want to see happen from your work for these coaches?

Celia Slater: I want to see people joyful in their work. I want to see them being creative and innovative because to me that’s a lost art in coaching. I like to see coaches willing to ask for help and share ideas. It’s okay to make a mistake and it’s okay to learn and grow from those mistakes and to love their kids in the process.

Ultimately my dream is that we have a university for coaches to go to in this country. And the NCAA. NAIA, and all the other governing bodies help to support it. And at this university we start to train student-athletes who want to become coaches. We help them explore the profession. And we bring athletic directors and administrators to this university so they can help the coaches learn how to navigate the hiring process. We start connecting our rising star coaches with the right schools. I want to be at the grand opening of that ribbon cutting.

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