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Episode #35

Be Your Unapologetic Self

with Michelle Tumolo

26 Jan, 2021 · Lacrosse

Michelle Tumolo, Team USA Lacrosse Player and D1 Lacrosse Coach, discusses her journey with her LGBTQ+identity and finding her voice while rising to the top level of her sport.

Transcript

Michelle Tumolo (LGTBQ+ Journey)

Stef

  Welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast. I'm your host, Steph Strack, the founder of Voice In Sport., As an athlete professional, and mom, I have spent the last 20 years advocating for women and innovating across the sports industry. Now, I want to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice.

 At Voice In Sport we share untold stories from female athletes to inspire us all, to keep playing and change more than just the game.

Today, we welcome our guest, Michelle Tumolo to the Voice In Sport podcast. Having grown up playing lacrosse in New Jersey. Michelle is a multi-year member of the US National Team, and currently coaches at Wagner College after having coached at the University of Florida and the University of Oregon. 

Michelle is a former member of the Syracuse University women's lacrosse team. She immediately made an impact on the field, earning big East in LCA attack player of the year.  Landing multiple places on the All Big East first team and finishing her collegiate career third on Syracuse's all time scoring list with 278 points. 

Her impact off the field is even greater. As she has openly shared her experience as an LGBTQ lacrosse player and then as a proud gay female head coach. Today, Michelle discusses her journey of finding her voice while rising to the top level of her sport. 

And she reminds us to be proud of and embrace our true selves. As she describes her transition to coaching, Michelle discusses how embracing her true self has impacted her own journey in sport. And she emphasizes the need for women in roles of power in sport and beyond. In this episode, we truly dive deep into the importance of representation. 

Women and people of color need to see role models that look like them on the big screen to show them that no dream is too big. We hope that you leave this conversation feeling empowered. Michelle. Welcome to the voice in sport podcast. We are so incredibly excited to have you here with us today.  

Michelle  

Thank you so much for having me, so excited.

Stef

 We love having lacrosse players on our platform. And it's very exciting today because we're speaking with a team USA lacrosse player, a coach, and an openly LGBTQ person who has found her identity and voice very early in her journey.

 So let's start with your journey.  How did you find your voice? Let's talk about more, you as just a person.  Everybody has their own journey, but what was yours?  

Michelle

 I can honestly say that I've been an athlete, since I was born.

Sport was just so my thing,  and I think that my parents noticed that really early on. So they put me in all types of different sports and I loved it.  I would even play in the backyard with my guy friends and  they treated me like one of them.

 I found my identity as an athlete, really young. And I think I learned a lot of lessons through that. But me personally, growing up was amazing . But there was just this piece of me that I felt  not if it was missing, but to be quite honest, I had a lot of anxiety in high school.  I was a small town kid and I love sports. I didn't know if I was going to go big time I wanted it so badly. And then all of a sudden I realized that  I was good at lacrosse. And then I was like, okay, all this pressure to go to a big school I was putting on myself. And then I was like, wait, but there's this other piece of me there's something else. And I finally realized it,  it started to come my freshman year of high school, I realized  okay,  such a people person.  , I love everyone. I love to be around people but I really liked to be around these girls. And  I was really excited to be around one of my friends and I was just like, this feels different. That identity and that coming to Jesus moment,  this is what I needed to uncover.  This feels so good but at the same time it was so scary because I'm so young, I was 14 at the time. But I really didn't  take it to the next level, telling people until I was 16, 17.

So finding myself made me have a greater voice and I think being yourself is so amazing because you can influence so many people around you without even noticing. So finding my voice was  that high school moment for me.

Stef

 So you were 14 when you.  felt like, okay, here are the types of people that I am attracted to. And wanting to be around in that way. How did you have conversations with your parents or did you at that moment? What was that process between 14 and  17 or 18 when you more outwardly spoke out about your identity?

Michelle

 So a lot of hiding and lying, to be honest, because I was so scared. I had people that were LGBTQ around me at my high school. It is very open.  I was so thankful because I can't tell you that I've ever met people that went to a high school  like mine. So I was really lucky to be surrounded by people that  it was normal to do that. But it's still a pressure that you put on yourself because of  the social norms and just everything outside. And I was just like, "Oh my gosh,  I love my parents so much, they love us, I can't imagine upsetting them". So there was a lot of hiding and the anger that comes out as a young teenager  I would fight with my mom, my dad was like, what's happening?  I will never forget. I was in a fight with my mom, probably because I didn't clean my room. Let's be real. 

And my dad came in and he looked at me. He's like, there's something else, like what is wrong?  I know you're not just acting this way, because you didn't clean your room and I was like, dad, you're right.  I've been hiding this and this is who I am.   And so that was really great.  My siblings are my best friends, they didn't blink an eye. They felt like they had to tell a funny story or something after I told them, they made me feel good though.

It's Okay, like whatever. And then  told my mom last, and of course she still holds over my head that I told her last. But it was the best feeling because those are my people. My family I'm so close and I just felt so much better. I felt like I had wings after that because okay, my family knows, now I don't care who else knows. 

And that to me, and I'll always remember this for the rest of my life, that I had such an amazing family, that I was able to be myself and continue on to just grow from there on. And I'm so lucky and actually, my brother is also gay, so I basically rolled out the red carpet ramp.

 

 Stef

 What impact did coming out to your family and being more open about it when you're in high school,  have on you personally?

Michelle

 I think I was Really proud. I think being proud of yourself is really important.   So much pressure on people to be so great and this and that. And I was just really proud of myself. And I was proud that I was succeeding on the lacrosse field as well because that was what I wanted to do. So I just felt like, okay, this is me. I'm so excited to be this, I'm so excited to be out and talk about it.  And now I can help my friends around me who might be struggling. And then it just taught me life lessons, like go into your next college team and be you. 

Maybe you'll help someone that didn't have the experience I had because I'm still teaching people or learning about people that haven't had what I've had. And  I literally am so thankful.   

Stef

 It sounds like you had  a very supportive family, which is incredible. But a lot of girls might not have that. So what advice would you have, maybe a girl that is in a similar position as you were in  middle school or high school really does know who they are and their identity, but is scared because their family has certain beliefs.  

Michelle

 Because I actually get DMS about people like that  and I get emotional about a lot of the kids that reach out to me because it's like, well, people don't have it as well as I do.  And it's hard to put myself in their shoes because I didn't live it. So I try to give my best advice as don't let the people that you love most  make you not be who you are. 

But if you can just maybe give them time and be like, "Hey mom and dad, or brother, sister, whoever it is like, I just want you to know this is who I am and I'm accepting that and I'm so happy that got it and if you need time to, understand that's okay, but just know I'm not going to change". Because a lot of kids will think that they need to change or be this person for their family.

No, that is who you are in. You were born to be exactly who you are and it's hard for me to understand why parents don't accept their child. And  I get that, that's a huge issue. Be you and be your unapologetic self, and just radiate that.

because you can't make the world happy. Right? You can't make everyone happy around you. As long as you're happy, and like maybe one day they'll understand.  

Stef

 Absolutely. And you're a great role model. So I wonder what advice you have for those that are  in the process of coming out. Maybe they haven't quite figured out what their identity is.  What advice would you have, because you found out pretty young. But it took you a couple of years to  be open about it.

 Michelle

For sure. My advice would be, get to know people for a deeper level and feel that connection. I think that every human is different, but I knew deep down, like it's a feeling. When you have that connection, it's like, okay, this is  so telling. But it doesn't even have to be to a boy or a girl.

It could be to both. And I think just being honest with yourself and. Just having those genuine connections is so important and you don't have to ever force something. And  you don't have to ever label it yourself.  I don't even really call myself a lesbian, to be honest. I'm just like, Oh, I'm gay. and just really quickly, my fiance actually, she has never dated a girl in her life. And she said she would never date a girl in her life until  she met me.  

Stef

 You really don't know  who you're going to be attracted to at the end of the day and who you're going to have that special spark with.

How old were you and where did you guys meet?

Michelle

 I was coaching at Oregon, so I coached there for two years. it was 2017, so I was what, 26 and she was 27. She was an alumni. So she came back for alumni weekend and  it's actually really funny. My boss, who was my best friend, looked at me and went, Michelle, that's your wife.

 And then we're engaged. We're getting married in a year or so.

I love telling our story.   it helps so many people be like, okay, I don't have to be gay. I don't have to be a lesbian. I don't have to just like girls that have short hair.

It doesn't matter. It's whatever it is at that moment, because they're human . It's because they're human that you are attracted . 

 Stef

Searching for that connection because a great piece of advice for anybody, any age.  Where are you feeling the connection and follow that. I want to talk a little bit about some of these stats in high school, because  girls drop out of sport a lot around the age of 14.

There's a lot of reasons, right? But coming into high school, there's another big drop. And there was a recent study done by the human rights campaign foundation that said  that 68% of all high school seniors play sports.

But only 21% of the LGBTQ seniors played sports that year and 13% reported not playing sports because they did not feel like they would be accepted because of their identities. And that stat just crushes me. That's still in 2020, girls and boys in high school aren't feeling accepted within the sports community in high school.

So  I would like to know your experiences, Being gay, a female athlete. And did you ever feel like you weren't accepted and what advice would you have for those that might be feeling, they're not accepted by their teammates?

 Michelle

 I've heard that's that recently and I think it's so crushing. And it's like, how do we change that? And it's people like you, doing podcasts like this. Little kids are going to hear that bit. Okay, no I'm going to go out for that team and be like, I'm going to be myself. And  I never understand why kids  are judgy, but that's so high school kid right? You come in, you have to look this way or be this way, or you have to be a girl, you have to like the boy. I think breaking that stigma and just being like, okay, High school is a time right? You go through all of these things.

So many things.  Your brain is developing still. 

 you're experiencing so many things. And these kids, if they don't feel accepted, it's because it's so team and cliquey,. I'm sure they feel just like, Oh my God, I'm just not going to do it.

 And that's so sad to me that they don't feel comfortable to even just go and play a sport that they love. So I would say , it's really important to surround yourself around good people. And  have good friends.

And if there's a friend, you don't feel like it makes you a better person that maybe that person isn't for you. And it's really hard because you can't really choose your teammates, right? It's just who wants to play, but it's really telling and really important for people to go out for that team and be themselves.

And maybe it'll change those kids. Maybe you will be the person that  opens their eyes or makes them feel like, okay, maybe I don't know why I thought that way.  It goes along with coaches too, like setting a good culture.  So many things that could go into it, but my advice for those kids that are going up to these sports that maybe think about not going, go out for it. Go out for it and be yourself. And I promise you it'll get better and if it doesn't, then those people need to change their mindset in life.

So,  be the spark and be the change.

Stef

 So then what happened when you went to college? You went on to play division one sports at one of the top Universities, Syracuse. So you're playing in a top level and you're openly gay.

Did you feel accepted within the community? 

Michelle

 I did,  going to a big school that had just been in the final four and , lacrosse wise, this is like I'm so where I need to be.  This coach is going to make me an all American. I want to be the best for my teammates. But I know if I don't go in there and be so authentic to myself, I'm not going to play well. And when I tell you, I went there with purple hair streaks,  that was me.

  I'm so thankful for my Syracuse family. And I think truthfully, it sounds narcissist, but I think I did help people on my team feel comfortable being them. Because they were like, Whoa, if Toomey could do it, that he called me to me there.

And make it so normal and natural, like why can't I? Because I see the reaction of everyone else. So I'm just really thankful.

Stef

 That's so powerful. And so I hope anyone that's listening to this .Podcast episode will do the same because you being authentic to yourself helps other people. What if though, your teammates are disrespectful?

What advice do you have for those girls? 

Michelle

 Yeah. And again, I can't say it was perfect. I'm sure people made gay jokes all the time. At the time I didn't let it bother me  because I didn't see it as them trying to hurt me.

It was just them just talking. But a lot of people don't understand that. So, my advice would be having a conversation with those people. Or go to your captains if they're good leaders and there's people on the team that aren't respecting you.

  I think the power of conversation and confrontation is really important. I know sometimes it doesn't go as smooth and it's kind of scary. And You know, I don't really love conversation, but I think it's really important to have a conversation and maybe ask questions. Like, Hey, why are you acting that way?

What makes you feel this way? Because this is who I am, and I'm so happy with that. You're hurting my feelings and you might not think you are, but it's really upsetting. And I want to be friends, I want to have a good relationship.

So let's see eye to eye here, how do we make this work? And just maybe be like, Hey, this is what my journey was. And they might have no idea what it's like. So I would say that would be my advice.

Stef

 I really liked the thought of telling your story. I think stories can be really powerful and nobody can argue your story from your experience. 

 There was another stat, done by the human rights campaign foundation that said four out of five LGBTQ youth are not actually open to their coaches about their sexual orientation. And I found that to be pretty staggering again. So I want to talk about coaching, because you have one of the few women who have gone from sport and then into coaching.

 And coaching, unfortunately still has a lack of female representation, especially when you get to the college and the pro level. Most of those coaches are men.  So what are you going to do, as a female coach, a role model for being authentic to yourself.

What are you going to do to make it a little easier, for  all of the people out there that would like to be open about their sexual orientation, but  don't feel like it's a safe space.

Michelle

 Make your team feel comfortable.   If you're ever talking to a group and sometimes coaches are weird about relationships and stuff. But I'm close with my girls and I don't want to know some stuff, but I'm also like, "Hey, how's your boyfriend", or, "Hey, do you have a partner"? 

You know, this and that. I think it could be so simple as to like, if a coach is talking to the group, it could be, "Hey, talk about your partner or whomever you might love". Or it's simple verbiage like that because they're like, Oh, coach is cool.  Coach doesn't care who I love.

And maybe I'll feel comfortable saying, "Hey my girlfriend's coming this weekend". so there's simple verbiage and simple ways to communicate. And without being like, hey, you gotta tell me that you have a girlfriend, hey you got to tell me that you're gay. You know, cause a lot of kids don't feel comfortable.

I think that could just start with that for sure. Or, "Hey we're going to share maybe an article about LGBTQ rights or the history of LGBTQ, month".  "Hey, we're going to put pride stickers on our backpacks because we want to be allies to anyone that feels that they might be in that community".

Or even just doing a pride game for your team or donating to a certain foundation. There's so many little things and that you're not like tagging a player on your team.  

 

Stef

 I'm so excited that you decided to go into coaching because I didn't have a lot of female coaches growing up. I want my daughter to have female coaches, along her journey in sports. Unfortunately right now the stats are showing the opposite is happening.

 There was a recent study that showed there's a decline in women's head coaches in college sports. And in 2019, only 43% were women. And in 1971 back, when, Title IX and all that started. 90% were actually female head coaches for women's college sports.  Why do you think there's this huge decline in women coaches at the high levels?  

Michelle

 I don't know if I'm right on this, but  I've been at some big schools and now a small school, which I love. But, I don't know if pressure of being a woman head coach and then wanting to have  a family and you're  providing, and you are the mom and you have to plan when you have the kid, because then you're in season. And then you're recruiting and you're gone every single weekend.

That's something I think about, truthfully. I'm at a school right now where I totally can manage that because it's not a big time and you don't have to be in the office every single day from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. And some people love that.

That's fine.  I feel like maybe it's the family, it's very time consuming. But some people can make it work.

 Stef

 what I'm hearing is the social pressure, not a systematic  I think that's an issue as well.  I mean, I did have men coaches.  I definitely think that they do sometimes look to hire men. but it is such a glaring stat.

Michelle

 And I do wonder what the real reason is, and we need the women.  I did love being coached by men. But I agree, women empowerment. And we've been through it, you know, we've played the sport of women's lacrosse and we've been through it all.

And I think the girls on our teams can relate to us very well. 

Stef

 It is frustrating, I think to see. Because we know that lack of exposure to female coaches can limit girls sports participation. It's so important to have visibility of role models and coaches, but it's not just in coaching, right?

 If you look at the stats, 16.9% of the athletic directors. in the United States were women. 16.9.

And so that to me is  well, that's not a job. You have to travel, that's more of an, obviously an administrative role. So what's happening there? 

 Michelle

I feel like you think about it, it's  a male dominated area. Like the men are supposed to be in charge of the sports, right? It's a man's world. 

And I think that the world right now obviously needs more women in charge. And I hope, I really hope that there is a change in that. Because we can do the same job that they do. 

Stef

 Okay. So what would you say to the girls in sport right now that are considering going into coaching? 

 Michelle

  I knew that I wanted to get into coaching because of what my coaches gave to me and the experiences I had. They had influenced me to be the best that I could be. And also as an athlete, but outside of who I am. And I was like, I want to do that for players.  You remember coaches for your whole life,   and I think it's really important to get in the coaching world for the right reasons. Not just to put kids on the line, this and that and yell at them. I totally understand that there is a time and place for that, but you want to mold these kids into amazing young women. And make sure that they're the best that they can be on the field, but also to be so powerful in their career and whatever they want to do. 

And I think it's really important to take those life lessons that I learned from my coaches and now express them to my players. I always stress that to them. I'm like, you're here for two and a half hours, three hours on the field practicing. And I want you to give your all, but what you do  after is so important as well.

And if you're doing well in the community and in the classroom and  setting yourself up for success. That's all that matters. 

 Stef

 I couldn't agree more. And such an amazing time for girls that are finishing college to pursue these coaching roles, or even for the coaches that have been in the coaching world for a while to actually pursue the athletic director positions.  What I love about what's happening right now in the world is that there's this movement going on about more voices and having more diverse voices at the top.

So I hope this leads to a lot of women taking that step. I do have a question though, for you,  can you make a living as a female head coach?  

Michelle

You definitely can. It depends where you're at, some schools can pay more than others. Head coach, definitely. You can definitely love off that,  and assistant coaches too.  If you have a good head coach, they'll fight for your salary, for sure as an assistant coach as well. 

 But definitely. It would be awesome if we got paid more. 

  Stef

I think that the country right now as a whole, we're all seeing some of these jobs in a little bit different light, right? Since the pandemic, I think, we all are  appreciating teachers a lot more. I know I am a mom of two kids doing homeschool. And I think the same thing goes with coaching.  These young girls right now are missing that everyday interaction from their coach.

And sometimes the coach can be one of the most influential people in these girls' lives. So I do hope that there is more appreciation for coaches moving forward and also just more women actually going out for those big jobs.

Michelle

I agree. I would push someone, whoever wants that dream of being that. I would push them to try it and keep applying and keep applying and keep applying.  You get shut down once, do not stop.

Stef

What do you think are the biggest challenges being a female coach?

 Michelle

 there's a lot. I mean,  I'm in charge of my team to win a championship right now. But there's so much else. There's kids that struggle mentally and kids that struggle just day to day.

And it's tough to go to sleep sometimes because I'm so worried I'm like their mom. I'm literally their mom. I'm their big sister. I'm their friend. I'm all the above, obviously with a fine line. But because of that puts stress on me because I'm so worried about them at all times.

I need to make sure they're getting good grades and all that stuff. And it's like,  I'm all that in one. But I signed up for that and I want to be that cause I want them to be happy. And that is my ultimate goal. I'm much rather than happy. I alluded to my team today. I was like, This is a joy to be  on this team.

And to be on this field should be a joy for you. Obviously, if it's not, then  we got to talk, let's figure it out. But my goal is to always make sure that my players are feeling so completely surrounded by love. And I just want them to feel that they have a coach that believes in them and belief they can be whatever they want to be 

But it's hard because there's a lot of things that I can't fix sometimes. Cause I don't even know that it's happening. Cause you can't see it. So I would say the biggest challenge as a head coach and a female is making sure my players are happy and making sure that they're just completely okay. Every single day is really, really hard. Other things too though, is just, I mean, I love my job. I really do, it's so fun. And  I'm not stuck to a desk or a cubicle, you know?  That just wasn't for me. But I feel like  I'm where I'm supposed to be  influencing, those kids feel right.   

Stef

 Well, you said it yourself, you remember all of your coaches, and they've had such an impact on you. So, how do you create that inclusive environment? Because I don't know if every coach is going to be as comfortable as you are about talking about sexual orientation. Or I talk to a lot of girls about how their coaches are bringing up, racial injustices and creating that environment to have discussions. How do coaches create an inclusive environment and what do girls do if their coaches are not creating an inclusive environment? 

Michelle

 Good question. How do coaches create an inclusive environment? I would say if you don't feel comfortable talking about it yet, do your research. Even I'm still getting to know the LGBTQ history and all that stuff. And  I want to make sure that I'm telling my players the right information.

That's the same stuff with  black lives matter and  diversity. That is so important to me as a coach, because I want my players to know that that is important to me and our team. So I would say doing your research , and talk to someone that might be gay that isn't involved with your team. And be like, "Hey,  I want to make sure I'm inclusive to my players,  and make sure that they feel like they can always be themselves, how do I do that"?

 Because some people don't know. Watch a webinar.  I've done a ton of webinars with us across talking about this stuff, and just watching those things and learning is so important. 

And then you can go back to your team, be like, okay, I feel comfortable enough. And if you're not comfortable, truthfully, you shouldn't be a coach because you're going to have gay players

 Stef

  Boom, mic drop. 

Michelle

And then the second part. So I would say for the players, that the girls that might feel like they're not  in a good environment, that they don't feel that it's inclusive. Call out your coach. We're so timid to call people out when they are  wrong.  If it's really bad, then obviously you gotta do something about it.

You can go to the higher ups, you can go to the administration,  that's important. Like if it's not right, it's not right. Or you go in and have a conversation. You go in your office and be like, "Hey, coach I'm gay, and I don't feel that I could be myself here in this environment".

And I don't know if you realize it, but you're saying things that are hurtful and, we were just not being mindful of it. And I think that it would go a long way if we have  an open conversation. 

Stef

 Think it's great advice.  So I wanted to touch on another subject within the lacrosse world. It's not known to be the most diverse sport racially. So why do you think that is the case in the United States? And what would you say to the girls that feel like they're not included. 

Michelle  

It's such a hot topic right now and it should be, and it should have been for a long time.  I think lacrosse got this label of being the white, rich sport. And what you saw in magazines and all that stuff is white people. And I'm so happy that it's starting to change. It's sad that it took this long.

My role is to  recruit good players. It's also my job to recruit diversity and I've been at a ton of different schools.  When I was at Oregon, we did a really, really good job. And I would say like 50% of our recruits were people of color. 

And I think it's really important that we do that. And I think that I really believe that we're starting to get better at that. And I think that it's starting with these players that haven't been exposed to lacrosse because it's too expensive or it's maybe not in their area.

And it's definitely been really eye opening  and it's been amazing to hear so many stories and their perspectives.

 We have Citylax and Harlem lacrosse, and I have access to them in the city and it's been really cool to kind of connect with them. And I can't wait for Covid to  not be a thing so our girls can really connect to them and be with them. And, to not just give them a stick. It's a mentor and see these kids and be like, you do have an opportunity to go to college, you do have a spot on these teams.  

It's not just these white kids that get these opportunities. You have a chance and it's the coaches for us to recruit these kids. And, It's been really cool. I've been in a conversation with a lot of lacrosse players of color and, I've gotten to know them and  I could honestly say one of them that I've gotten to know recently might be my in my life for the rest of my life.

 I love that and am sad that it took that long for us to connect, but I'm learning from her. She's learning from me.  And it takes a whole   

Stef

 Is it just kind of shocking. The stat that stuck out to me the most was that 80% of division one women's lacrosse players are white and then only 2% are black. And I'm just like, wow,  that's really uneven. 

 Is it because nobody is playing at a younger level?  

Michelle

 I think it's because of the expense of being on a lacrosse team. It's so expensive and they probably stop playing because of that. And then it's just, they're gone, they're done. Now we need to help these kids get from the youth model to high school. All right. Now we need to give them scholarships to play because these schools are not cheap.

Even my family would not be able to afford a four year Syracuse. Thank goodness for scholarship.  It could be as little as every school put aside a full scholarship to give to X people of color every year.  Because these kids definitely stopped playing because of the cost.

And they probably don't see, Oh, in the USA , there's no people of color. So they were probably like, I don't have a spot here. And I want them to know what lacrosse is for everyone. Lacrosse is for everyone and we need to do a better job of recruitment and getting these kids from young to the next level, to the next level. And keeping them in the sport because they're way too good not to keep in this sport.

Stef

  It's just so important for girls in general to see themselves in sport right? So we have this overarching issue within women's sports where we don't see any women.  And so we've got that to fight up against, and then you dive deeper into some of these smaller sports, and then it's like, you don't see women in general, and then you don't see yourself within a sport

 that's predominantly white. It's  a pretty bad cycle that we have to get out of. It's one of the reasons why Voice In Sport is a community where we're trying to bring in as many girls as we can in sport, so they can have access to role models and see more of each other.   

Michelle

 A hundred percent. I agree, I think  it's exposure that we show. Cause I agree, when was the last time that we saw a person of color on the lacrosse magazine or something like that. When these kids start seeing that they belong, they're going to feel like, okay, I belong here.      

Stef

 We're in a unique position where you're a coach and you're also training for now that we're all at home and we're having zoom calls with our coaches. advice would you have for all of the female athletes out there that are trying to  stay motivated at this time? 

Michelle

 Get creative with your training. Watch videos. I watch Kobe Bryant, it's so amazing to see his videos. What did he do when he was training? He wanted to be the best, how did he get there? Sue Bird, it's amazing what she's done.

what did she do to train? Watch her videos and look at her Instagram and get motivated by the grades. Because if you want to be great, you'll be doing what they're doing. I'm motivated by my players around me when they're running, I'm running next to them.  So just being obviously competitive at all times at whatever you're doing. But be creative and  the internet is so powerful and, and using Instagram and whatnot, just to see who you follow and who you're inspired by and by them. 

Stef

 Well, this has been an amazing conversation about your journey and finding your voice as a person, as an athlete. And as a coach, I'd love to know what your one piece of advice would be to girls in sport today. That is just the beginning of their journey of finding their voice.

Michelle

 My advice would be, don't rush, do not rush, feeling your complete self, your full, authentic self, but it is important to find that. And it doesn't matter who you love, what you look like. What hobbies you have out of this sport, and experiences you do have in a sport. Like find those and put them all together and use your voice to influence people around you.

It doesn't just have to be younger people. It could be your teammates, it could be your parents. It could be your own coach that you can teach something because of your voice. Whatever you want to amplify it, you do that. And I would say, just love what you do and surround yourself with good people and always be yourself.

Stef

 And we talked a lot about women's sports and coaching and visibility to role models.  But if you had to choose one thing that you would like to see changed for the future of women sports, what would it be? 

Michelle

 I would say, continuing to amplify our  voices, get on those platforms. Equal pay, and continue to be  badass cause it is awesome to see. Just all super birds of the world, the Megan Rapinos, we need more of that. And I'm hoping that a ton of you guys listening will be in those shoes one day and you will be breaking barriers because we're knocking on the door.

So I'm hoping that we continue to fight for equality and we get that equality.

Stef

 Yes, we are in there with that fight with all of you. So we're super excited to have you Michelle, on our podcast and talking about these really important topics. And I know that a lot of girls will  find this very valuable. So thank you for opening up. You are such an inspiration for young girls.

anybody thinking about going into coaching, please reach out. So Michelle, because, obviously there's a lot that you get back from doing that. And I can tell you after 15 years in the sports industry, the things that matter the most, are those connections that you get to create when you're doing something you love.

And that's what we're doing now with Voice In Sport. And I wouldn't change it for a world. 

Michelle

 Well, thank you so much. This platform is amazing. You are changing lives all over the world, and I'm so thankful to be able to share my story. And yes, if you're going to be a coach, have fun with it and inspire those. Cause I promise you they'll never forget you for that.

Stef

 Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your journey with us. Today you reminded us about the importance of representation for the LGBTQ plus community, people of color and women and within the sports world. Throughout your career, you have shown us the power of using your voice and truly embracing every aspect of your identity. 

It is often the coaches in our lives that can help us shape our life, not just in sport, but beyond. Coming out, maybe difficult. But it is so incredibly rewarding and liberating both on and off the field. And Michelle is an incredible example of speaking one's truth and encouraging others to do the same. 

We appreciate the openness and genuine care for your players. Along with the advice you have passed on to so many of our girls that are listening, you are living proof of why we need more women in positions of power in sport. Whether that be coaches, owners, or sports broadcasters. You truly embody what it means to be a strong woman in sport. 

So we invite you to join us, leave us a review, subscribe, share our podcast with your friends to show support. And if you are a female identifying athlete, 13 to 22 and are interested in joining our community. As a member, you will have access to our amazing exclusive content mentorship from amazing female athletes on team USA lacrosse. 

And advocacy tools to help drive change. Head to voice in sport.com to join. And if you're passionate about accelerating sports, science and research on the female athletic body, check out voice in sport foundation.org to get involved. 

Thank you again, Michelle, for raising your voice in today's episode. You can follow Michelle on Instagram at M to Malone. 35 to keep up with her journey. You can always follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik TOK at Voice In Sport. And we hope to see you next week at the Voice In Sport podcast.  

Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creators™ _Liz_and Anya Miller

Michelle Tumolo, Team USA Lacrosse Player and D1 Lacrosse Coach, discusses her journey with her LGBTQ+identity and finding her voice while rising to the top level of her sport.