Champion in Every Corner

Leading Culture Change in Sport

July 01, 2022 U.S. Center for SafeSport
Leading Culture Change in Sport
Champion in Every Corner
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Champion in Every Corner
Leading Culture Change in Sport
Jul 01, 2022
U.S. Center for SafeSport

To change culture, we need to change the conversation. Dive in with Ju’Riese Colon, CEO of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Board Chair of the Center and VP of Policy & Philanthropy, Americas at Twitter about the hopes and challenges to create safer sport culture. 

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

To change culture, we need to change the conversation. Dive in with Ju’Riese Colon, CEO of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Board Chair of the Center and VP of Policy & Philanthropy, Americas at Twitter about the hopes and challenges to create safer sport culture. 

00:00:04:09 - 00:00:12:08

Welcome to Champion in Every Corner, the U.S. Center for SafeSport's Podcast. Building a safe and positive sports community is what we're all about. 

00:00:14:29 - 00:00:20:09

So you'll hear from experts about innovative ideas and abuse prevention practices you can put in play today. 

00:00:22:12 - 00:00:49:02

Often it can be tough to have difficult conversations, especially in the work of abuse awareness and prevention. But at the Center, we want to lean in with an open attitude and a genuine desire to learn. In this episode, you'll hear from Ju'Riese Colon, CEO of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Board Chair of the Center and VP of Policy and Philanthropy, Americas at Twitter about the hopes and challenges to create safer sport culture. 

00:00:51:29 - 00:01:04:00

Hi, Jessica. So glad you're able to join me today. Before we get started, for those of you who aren't already familiar with your work, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and how you have supported the Center? 

00:01:04:21 - 00:01:32:18

Sure. So my name is Jessica Herrera-Flanigan. I am currently the Chair of the Center. I've been on the Board since the Center first started and inaugural member. I'm out of the DC area where I've done a mix of public policy, sports technology and a few other random things for most of my career. I am a recovering lawyer, I'd like to say. And currently, I'm at a tech company. 

00:01:33:16 - 00:01:48:18

So you were one of the founding members of the Board of Directors for the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Thinking back, you know, can you think about some things that have changed just in sports, in culture, in society, and at the Center that you'd like to share with our listeners? 

00:01:49:17 - 00:02:18:23

Sure. So I think what we're seeing is more of an awareness within sports. Obviously, a lot has happened over the last several years. Sports has just been moved to be more inclusive overall. But I think there's an awareness both on the education front, where people want information, they want to know how do we approach these issues? And then at the same time, there's an awareness of it's okay to speak out about something if you think you need to. And I think both of those things have really been helpful to the Center as it's moved forward. 

00:02:19:09 - 00:02:39:24

Now, I couldn't agree with you more. You know, it's interesting the types of people we get to be part of the work and the journey that the Center is on. Many of them have a direct connection to sports, either through their lives, their own careers, or through their kids. Can you talk a little bit about what your connection to sport and why this is so important to you? 

00:02:40:12 - 00:03:14:04

Sure. So I like to say I'm a casual athlete. I am not high performance at all. I do have a black belt in taekwondo. It's a sport I took up in my adult years. I grew up playing softball, intramural volleyball, running road races, my teen years, a bunch of different kinds of sports. I was always trying different sports whenever I could. I currently manage and play on a co-ed softball team, a slow pitch softball team. I've been doing that for several years. I run, I've dabbled in tries, and most of all, and probably the hardest thing is I've coached my kids in their various sports they've done. 

00:03:14:15 - 00:03:47:26

I have coached and probably the most dangerous part ever, which is T-ball. Standing behind a five year old with a bat and trying to jump out of the way, by far has been the scariest thing I've ever done. Coach soccer, volleyball, football. And the thing I remember most is like being the smallest kid because I was always petite but having the biggest heart and drive to play. That's what I like to see in sports, and that's why I'm so drawn to it. It's like you can get inspiration from the goat of any sport or you can find it from the most challenged but enthusiastic player who just wants to play. 

00:03:47:28 - 00:03:49:16

And both of those things are amazing to me. 

00:03:50:02 - 00:04:11:27

You know, you've got guts standing behind a five year old and tee ball. So praises to you. You know, when you think about how long you've been involved in sport and the different types of sport that you've experienced throughout your life and now with your kids, like have you seen changes in sport? Well, how we interact with kids or just how sport is viewed societally.

00:04:14:14 - 00:04:46:04

I think there's a more systematic approach to sports, and that's both good and bad in some ways. It's good in the sense of I remember coaching softball when I was in high school. It's basically like, we need somebody go out there and teach these kids with no training whatsoever. I mean, there are a couple of kids I bribed with books like, Oh, if you go out and hit, if you just try, I'll give you a book, you know, things like that. I had to today where even to be involved in sports with my kids, you have to go through training. There is a requirement in almost every sport that I've been in, you had to learn safe sport. 

00:04:46:06 - 00:05:16:19

You have to learn how to just be a good coach and an enthusiastic coach for the kids and encourage them. So that's the good side. On the same side, I think on the bad side, what you've seen is this push to really push kids to be specialized very early on. And there are there's a movement among some it's like, okay, we're going to be organized, we're going to push. You're going to have to be you're going to go with the pros when you're nine years old. And that's taken out a lot of the fun for kids and. I think that's had a negative effect, but there is a realization of that, too. 

00:05:16:21 - 00:05:22:06

So in some ways that's being countered by all the other good things in the trainings and everything that's out there. 

00:05:22:24 - 00:05:46:23

So you mentioned, you know, making sure that wounded kids weren't specialized too early, but also that there is a need for really good coaches. Right. I love that you are getting kids out there with books like that's just amazing to me. But when you think about characteristics of a good coach and someone who is supportive, particularly of young kids trying out new sports, like what do you think about? 

00:05:47:21 - 00:06:20:10

I'll tell you a story, actually. So I have a son who tried lacrosse and he is not athletic by any means or he wasn't at the time. He was the slowest kid out there. The smallest kid out there, was scared of the ball. And I remember his coach was very...He wasn't a coach that screamed. He was a coach that was very enthusiastic. Always gave him time to play. He didn't have to play him. I mean, they were trying to win games. He didn't have to play him, but he did. And he always tried to encourage him. And I remember the very last game of the season, the team was winning 10 to 0 and my son was out there and somehow he managed to pick up the ball. 

00:06:20:12 - 00:06:55:14

The only time the entire season he picked up the ball and he starts running towards the goal and he throws it and it makes it. You would have thought he had won the championship. He actually thought it because the coach said, you just won the game. You know, it's 11 to 0. It was at the end. But that coach will forever be in my mind because he made him love a sport that he wasn't that good at, but he was so enthusiastic. He came home and he's like, I won the game for the whole team, but none of us told him otherwise. But to get a kid to enjoy that sport that way and the whole team becomes a part of it, right? So they all came around him, they cheered him on. 

00:06:55:16 - 00:07:06:07

They were like, yeah, yeah...Carrying him practically...A good coach is going to make the kids also, or the adult if it's an adult sport feel good about a sport and that's what you want to see. 

00:07:06:21 - 00:07:36:18

I love that. And as the slowest and smallest kid on my track team, that story speaks to me when you think about, you know, winning, right? You're you're you won the game. Right. And that that ultimately is the point, right. Of a lot of sports. People want to win the game, you know, how do you think that this winning at all cost kind of perspective and narrative that we've kind of built up, that we've got to be the best of the best, has really changed and contributed or harmed sport? 

00:07:37:22 - 00:08:08:28

I think there needs to be a balanced approach. The winning at all cost leads to bad consequences depending on how you approach it. You do want to have people try to strive to be competitive, to actually give it an effort, to give effort. But it's okay to tell people it's okay to lose. And when we say winning at all costs, that's when you start seeing some of the bad elements come in. And that's when people start cutting corners. That's when you start seeing cheating or hurting others. And that makes the sport not really a sport anymore. It makes it something completely different. That's not good for anyone. 

00:08:09:00 - 00:08:29:03

It's not good for those who win. It's not good for those who lose. So finding that competitive edge, where you're encouraging people to play the sport safely and fairly and try to win, you should try to win. But also being a good sport about it, you know, the good sport concept that we all had when we were growing up, you don't hear that much about that anymore and we could certainly use more of that. 

00:08:29:17 - 00:09:09:01

I couldn't agree with you more. You know, our culture is so invested in sport and it is something that drives a lot of people. It brings countries and communities together. And it really is amazing. But, you know, at some point it does start to impact kids, particularly in a in a really interesting way, you know, because we don't want to get to the point where we're sacrificing in a way that kids are kind of moving through the system and growing up and taking away what they're learning, but also to make sure that they still understand all the good things that you can get a sport which is fantastic because you know you can't win when people on your team aren't part of a team. 

00:09:09:11 - 00:09:35:03

So I love that. So, you know, when you think about just again, reflecting back on sport and what it's meant to you, like, are there any moments that you can call out, like gut check moments that people need to realize? And, you know, let me thinking about some of the conversations that we should be having about good coaches. And winning is not everything, things like that that we haven't, but we should be having with kids. 

00:09:35:23 - 00:10:08:15

I think it's the resiliency conversations. I you know, there's this whole debate of should we give participation trophies to everyone? Should everybody feel good about sports? No, I actually think we shouldn't. I actually think at some point, I mean, I think you should realize people's strengths and celebrate those moments. Right. But if we're in this win, win, win mode, we lose resiliency. We lose resiliency because we just think we're the best and that's it. And then when you finally do lose because someone some everybody finally loses at some point, even the best then they're at let down is tremendous. 

00:10:08:17 - 00:10:31:13

And it's not safe mentally. It's, you know, the mental health issues we've seen that in. Professional sports already. But you have to build resiliency both in the winners and those who don't always succeed. And that's the most important thing. That's the gut check moment is like, how do we build that resiliency? So you are competitive, but you realize that if you lose, it's all going to be okay. You just have to strive more in a different way in some ways. 

00:10:32:03 - 00:11:03:25

And so when you think about mental health in general, right? I mean, it's it's been a topic that I think we've seen here at the Center that we're seeing more and more of. One of the things that I've loved as watching athletes compete in the Olympic Games is that we've had more high profile athletes talk about their mental health journey. When you think about all the changes and just how the acceptance of mental health to be able to talk about that publicly in communities. How do you think that's impacting kids right now, especially when they're going through so much already? 

00:11:04:27 - 00:11:36:23

I think what we're seeing across the board is a mental health crisis in a lot of ways with kids. I mean, there aren't enough professionals out there. The pandemic obviously contributed significantly like to it. And then you have now that people are getting back to somewhat of normalcy. I say somewhat because I don't think it's we're quite where we we won't ever quite be where we were before. Right. But what's happening is they're interacting with people again. They're playing sports again if they didn't play because a lot of sports were put on hold. There is a combination of being around people again, which creates stress for a lot of people. 

00:11:37:00 - 00:12:10:24

And in that, how do I be competitive again? How do I come over the last few years and that mental health stress is one that they're not used to doing? You know, for a child, two years is a long time to not have that stress. So kind of thinking about how do we help them through that? How do we build that resiliency so that they're okay. Whatever happens in the sport and they're trying their best and they're improving and helping themselves, but they're not giving up because that's the problem you have is in some ways, when we've seen the over competitiveness in sports, it's not fun for kids. 

00:12:10:26 - 00:12:29:27

They give up. I've seen kids, young kids burn out in sports. You know, they were really good baseball players, really good, whatever players. And it's like, I don't want to do it anymore. It's not fun. I can't see my friends anymore. I can't do all these things. You don't want that either. So finding that balance and it's hard, we're not going to find it on the first, second or third time, but we are going to have to strive to do it. 

00:12:30:15 - 00:13:18:06

Yeah, I couldn't agree with you more. I mean, it's it's all about continuing to, one, build that resilience within kids, but really help them to learn and grow. And for us here at the Center, I mean, I know you share this sentiment. You know, that's a huge part of wellness and are just interaction in sport and making sure they have a safe and comfortable environment. So. Jessica, thanks so much for joining me for this conversation today. I think that your perspective and your participation and your just continued support is really critical to this conversation and really important for everyone in sport to understand what we do every day, specifically around abuse prevention and awareness is so very necessary and critical to our kids well-being and their participation in sport, and that is what the center does each and every day. 

00:13:18:23 - 00:13:48:15

We strive to be a champion for everyone in sport, and that inclusivity piece is really critical. And I guess if there was one thing for me to say, as we as we sign off, is that the center is here to support athletes. We are not here to stop athletes or coaches from competing at the highest levels or to scare parents or place a burden on administrators. We want people to be part of our mission because together we can...we all play a part in changing sport culture. 

00:13:48:19 - 00:14:04:28

Ju'Riese, I just want to say thank you for leading the Center and making it such an inclusive place that's creating a safe and respectful sporting environment for everyone. And if there's a message that I want people to take away from all of this is that's what we're looking for. And hopefully people will join us on this journey. 

00:14:09:16 - 00:14:24:16

Visit to hear more episodes and share them with a teammate, coach or colleague. And feel free to share your own ideas at Thank you for all you do to give athletes a champion in every corner. 

Jessica's Connection with Sport
Social Norms
Investment in Sport
Necessary Conversations
Thank Yous & Farewells