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Episode #40

The Power of Role Models

with Dani Weatherholt

02 Mar, 2021 · Soccer

Dani Weatherholt, Pro Soccer Player, shares her journey in sport, and reminds us all to only focus on what we can control and how developing a positive mindset and support system are essential in sport and beyond.

Transcript

Dani Weatherholt

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.

Please welcome today's guest. Professional soccer player, danny Weatherholt. Danny has an incredibly inspiring journey going from five years on the B team to becoming varsity team captain and making the national team camp all during her freshman year of high school. She believes that being on the B team for five years shaped who she is today.

She is grateful that during that time her dad pushed her to focus on the things that she could control and to stick with it, regardless of her team status. Today, she still believes in putting herself worth into tangibles and controllables rather than what others think of her. Danny currently plays as a midfielder for O L Rain.

After her college career at Santa Clara University, she made her pro debut at the Orlando Pride, and she was also called up to the U S under 23 national team today. Danny shares advice and stories that every female athlete needs to hear, soccer player or not honestly. Even those who are not athletes need to listen to today's episode.

Danny's dedication to helping others and spending countless hours to give back is so inspiring. Her sport journey took many interesting turns. She even played soccer, softball, and golf all at the same time. And she faced adversity early on in her career, tearing her meniscus at just nine years old. She reminds us that there are going to be challenging experiences at every corner, but it's how you work through it that will ultimately shape you. 

She discusses the importance of having a growth mindset and seeking out opportunities, being comfortable with change. And of course the need for guidance and mentors like we have at voice and sport. We hope you enjoy this episode. Welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast, Danny.

Dani

 Thank you for having me.

 Stef

 It's exciting to have a professional soccer player on our show. But I think just equally exciting is to have somebody who has just had so much involvement in helping young girls in their communities. Not just nationally here in the United states, but also internationally. And so I'm so excited to  dive into this experience that you've had, not just on the field, but off the field.

And I know it will help so many girls and it's really unfortunate, but we know the facts that girls are dropping out of sport at two times the rate of boys at age 14. And it's a big reason why we started Voice In Sport . We want to change that. 

  So let's  jump right into how you got started. We know you've spent a lot of time growing up in the soccer world,but nobody in your family played soccer.

So take us back to kind of who really inspired you to play soccer and  how you started.

Dani

Yeah, so I grew up in a very athletic family. I had two older brothers, so it was always trying to keep up with the boys. And from an early age, my dad really hit home on that. He's like, you can keep up with the boys.  Signed me up for baseball, like no matter what the sport was. So I grew up playing a bunch of different sports and funny enough, I asked my mom to sign me up for AYA, ASO soccer and she accidentally missed the sign up day.

And the whole next few months I was just playing by myself in my backyard, it was so funny with my dogs. Like you name it, every day I was out there and that's when my parents were like, wow, she really loves this sport.  We have to get her in it. And that's kinda how my soccer journey started.

And I think my dad was my coach my whole life for golf, for softball. Cause I played all three sports up until my senior year of high school. And I think soccer was my own. And I think that's what I really loved about it.

Stef

 So you played all those sports all the way through high school. At what point did you know  soccer is the one that I'm going to go all in for.

Dani

 Yeah, I think again, I had that love for it at an early age. And to be fair, it was the sport that didn't resonate or  click the fastest. I can die was Gramps two of the brothers. I just, it made sense, but soccer, it really challenged me. It was a sport that didn't come as easy to me. So I think for me, when I decided to play soccer, it was probably around my freshman year of high school.

I had already been playing the other sports and I feel so fortunate that I had coaches and parents. And teammates that really were ex accepting of me playing multiple sports. Cause each one taught me something different. And I know in this day and age, they really want kids, especially so early.

And I think playing multiple sports every time it was soccer season, I was a little more excited. And I think that's when I knew that  my whole heart and my passion was in soccer.

 Stef

 It's interesting because I also played two sports growing up I was a ski racer and a soccer player.  And I also wasn't as good at soccer as I was with skiing, but I ended up choosing soccer.  And for me, I just wanted to be around more people. Skiing was a pretty isolating sport and I was really thankful, you know, I didn't have the pressure of my parents or anybody telling me to really choose.

But you know, a lot of girls do have that. And so I think there's so much power in playing multiple sports growing up. And you are a great example of that. You ended up going on to play in pro in the soccer world, but you started with so many other sports. I think  a great lesson for everybody to take away is you don't have to specialize so early.

In fact, sometimes that specializing can hinder people's love and passion for sport.

 Dani

 Yeah. And I think by not specializing, I got the feedback of so many different coaches  and I also got exposure to so many different families and people. And I think that really shaped who I am as a person.

Stef

 Absolutely. When we first met and we started talking about your journey,through high school and college and pro you actually struggled a little bit to making the top teams. And so take us back to , , high school and when you're trying to figure out, okay.

Do I really want to go further with soccer? You know, were you always on the best teams? , what was that like for you.

Dani

 Yeah.  When I started playing club soccer, I actually suffered a knee injury early on. I was nine years old and I tore my meniscus. . And so At that age, actually, I had the doctor being like, I don't think you should play anymore. And I was, , nine years old with big dreams , and a love for sports.

So overcame that adversity. And that's when I was put on the B team of the so-called blues and year after year, you know, I watched, as my teammates would get pulled up to the, a team and. my dad, I'm so grateful for him, but every year he was like, if this is what you want,  you have to fight for it,  pour 110% into this.

And he was a big proponent of like, I wouldn't be able to say, , I can't  he's like You won't. Gratefully, he didn't play soccer. So he really only judged me on whether or not I poured my heart into a game, whether or not I was a good leader. All the things that I could control.

So he really shaped, like focusing on the things I could control. So like year after year,  I couldn't control whether or not the coach picked me to be on the team. So  I wouldn't change being on the B team for anything because of the invaluable life lessons. It taught me.  When I finally. Made the team.

I felt like I had worked so hard for that.  And I went a week after making the team, the coach made me captain, I had just got there. And I was like in awe, like, yeah, I finally made it and he made me captain and I didn't know that all those years being on the B team that I had developed so much confidence, so much self-belief and so much leadership and bringing people together because year after year we lost so many players.

 Stef

 That's pretty cool. I mean, it's probably because you were lifting other people up on that beat team, , and that right there is an amazing skill to have, in soccer or out of soccer is like lifting others up. So I'm sure he saw that in you.

 Dani

 Yeah. And I'm just really grateful that, you know, some parents, if they saw their kid, wasn't playing on a team,  or they were on the B team, just like we're quick to move them to new clubs. And in the moment it was very hard, but I'm so grateful. My dad's like, Hey, stick with it.

You're going to work hard. You're going to earn this and you're going to be so proud when you do  

Stef

That's amazing. And so what age were you that you got on the team?

 Dani

Yeah, so it was from nine to when I was 14. So from my freshman year of high school, so right around the time of  recruitment.

 Stef

Wow. That's quite a few years to be on the B team. And it's amazing to see that you persevered through that and got on the team and then obviously turn pro. So  What advice do you have for young girls that might be missing out on those top teams today? Like if you could whisper back to yourself in that moment and tell Danny something, like, what would you say to her?

 Dani

 Oh, stay in the moment.No matter where you're at, there's an opportunity to grow and get better.  Every day we have an opportunity to improve. And you're meant to be where you are. And I think making the most of that situation was huge. And in doing so, like believing in yourself.

Stef

That's so easy to say, like believe in yourself, but , how do you practically work on that when you're a young girl in sport and you're like getting told no from certain teams.

Dani

 So for me, what's really helped. And I still use this to this day.  I made a list of what's important to me. So  what makes me a good person? So  off of the soccer field, on the soccer field, , who am I?  for me, , no matter what I do, I want to pour my heart into it.

So give 110%.  No matter what I do, I want to be a leader and I want to empower people and build people up.  those were the tangibles that I placed myself belief on.  Those are things in my attitude.  Those are things I can control. So my belief came from controllables  rather than  what the coach thinks of me rather than what my teammates think of me or society.

 So  I made myself believe in intrinsic instead of extrinsic.

 Stef

 I love that and that simple act of  making that list , and thinking of yourself, not just as an athlete, but as a person, like , what are my values, what am I going to stand for?  What am I going to get after? And consistently do. I think that's a great lesson to learn earlier in your life.

 So. All of this self belief, hard work and you get on the eighth team finally, your freshman year in high school, what was that journey like to then being recruited to a division one school to play soccer?  Was it a tough journey for you?  How would you describe , that recruitment process?

 Dani

Yeah. So interestingly enough, I went from being on the B team for so many years. It was like the whole building process of my career. And then when I made the 18, like everything started to kind of unfold for me. Ironically enough, , my coach was leading Or he was going to get his B license and they needed teams to be like the demos.

So it coaches would use our team to run sessions, to get critiqued on whether or not they get the license. , and of course, like I was just playing soccer. So I was like pouring my heart into it. And  one of the guys who was administrating the license  happened to be like a us scout. So he just  happened to be there.

 And he was like, Oh, this girl is talented. And again, it was just a random one-off, but. My character of who I am. I was like gonna pour everything into this session. And someone  happened to be there watching. And I got called into  a us national team camp before I even made  my state team. So it's pretty interesting my journey.

 Stef

 Oh, I love that. And those moments, you never know when those moments are going to happen. And so you want to have that consistency of how you show up. That's such an important

lesson. 

Dani

 Yeah.

Stef

 Well, what advice do you have for girls today that are  going through that recruitment process right now? And especially for the ones that maybe don't get to go, like they're not living in California, so they don't get to have like, maybe more of those random moments where a Scout's going to be showing up, you know, maybe you're in Alaska, like where I'm from.

What advice do you have for girls that are going through that recruiting process right now?

Dani

 Hmm. So like for me, when I was going through the recruiting process and ultimately making my final decisions, I, again, I guess I'm a list person. I made a list of like, what was important to me on a team and what I love the area. If I were to get hurt and still go to school there,  those were all things that were really important to me and having a coach that believed in me.

 And then also I really sought out, like getting to know the girls. So maybe you can't go out there for a visit, but maybe you can ask the coach like, Hey, can I connect with a few of the teammates to get a sense of what the culture is?  Cause I think for me, the environment was really important.

So being around girls that I knew I'd be able to be my authentic self with and  feel comfortable and feel challenged. And  I think those were all important things to me that.  I was able to seek out through the coach or talking with the girls at the school.

Stef

 It's so important to not just look at one dimension. So I think making those lists is a great idea. So heading into college can be  a really hard transition for a lot of girls, you know?

Cause you're coming into a new environment, lots of new things are happening. So when you transitioned, think back about  your experience, what advice would you have for the next generation? That's about to transition into college.

 Dani

Yeah, I think transitioning to college is definitely challenging. So coming in a little more prepared definitely helps. I think you start to learn how to balance things better. You have schoolwork, you have your social life and you also have a commitment to sport which is also something that's so different.

You go from just having clubs, soccer, which is a game a weekend. And then now you're playing at a very high and competitive level. So the way you fuel your body is different. The way you recover is different.  Even in college, you start to see the change your freshman year. You started to recover, but then your senior year you're like full recovery mode.

You're doing what's best for your body. So I think the earlier you can start to focus on those, the better you'll be throughout your college career.

 Stef

Yeah, it can be a tough transition. So  paying attention to those different dimensions of what's going to make you a great student athlete,  before you get there, I think is always a good idea.

 So , heading into college also can be really challenging because your body's changing a lot. You know, you start doing the lifting, you kind of get into a new intense routine with training. So did you ever face any body image issues or confidence related to your body in those first few years?

And how did you handle it?

 Dani

 Yeah, I was fortunate that I had great role models  going into college that prepared me. Like listening, there's a lot more weightlifting. Your body's going to change for the better. And I think having that framework going into college helped me. So as I saw my body change and gain more muscle and gain more weight, I was seeing it as a means to fuel myself to be stronger on the field to be a better athlete.  It was all for a purpose.  So I think again, I had great role models going into college that prepared me for that. So the change didn't come out of nowhere. I was able to  set my framework going into it.

Stef: Yeah, the right mindset is so important and,  also looking at your body and like the muscles that we gain is a beautiful thing. And sometimes that can be hard with social media and the pressure  from society.  So, how do you steer  around social media? Not just in college, but even now as a pro.  Because it can be damaging to our confidence. People's comments or even just seeing how certain female athletes are represented in the media, it can put a lot of pressure. I think internal thoughts for young female athletes and it can become   a bad environment to be around.  So what's your advice, when it comes to social media and, still maintaining your confidence in your sport.

Dani

 Yeah, I'm careful on how I use my words. So I want to say like, try not to compare yourself because we naturally do. And that's why I want to encourage people to not, because we're all so different.  A lot of the social media we might see might be people that aren't elite athletes or.  They don't need to train their body a certain way that we do.

 And also everybody is so different. I think I struggled when I first went pro. I remember seeing like some of my teammates had six packs, some of them didn't. And I just remember being like well, should I have that if I wanted to be at the elite level. And just knowing genetics plays a huge role in it as well.

So some of it's out of your control. And also  I started to just focus on what's best for me. So, there's certain things I eat that make me feel great. And there's certain things I eat that might be encouraged by a diet, or it might be encouraged by other professional athletes that don't work for me.

So it's  figuring out  what makes you feel your best.  And it's not someone else's best, it's completely your own. So  again, it's the trying not to compare yourself because I think that's what is the hardest part.

 Stef

 Absolutely. It's  a natural human tendency to compare.  But then I think when you're a female athlete and  you know you're working hard. And you know, you're doing things normal people aren't doing.  All of a sudden, you start to feel different. You're like, Oh, well, I'm different than like the, you know, 20 images that I'm coming across on the daily on my Instagram feed.

And that's when it can become  bad for young girls or actually anybody, any age. So it's important, I think to like separate out, okay social media, what people are doing. And then like, who am I? What works for me? And loving yourself. And it can be tough, you know, I think we've all gone through it as female athletes.

I certainly did in college.  If you're thinking about your younger self that might be struggling with your body changes,  what would you say to her in this moment?

 Dani

 I think you're perfect just the way you are. I think the body is also always changing too, so if right now in your life your body demands that you be strong and powerful for your sport. Then , that's what's best for you right now and that's what's best for your body. And being confident in that and knowing that maybe when you're done with sport and you might not need to be powerful anymore, then you might change.

So I think being comfortable with the change which is difficult. But I personally like to put purpose behind a lot of things and that's what helps me. So what's the purpose of this right now and trying to stay present in that moment.

 Stef

 Yeah, great advice. So, you know it is challenging though, right? It is super challenging, but I think that not comparing yourself to other people is a really important thing. It's just hard to do. And so just trying to think of like tangible things, you know, what are tangible things you can do if you feel like you're in that constant, like hamster wheel of, of comparison, what could you do?

Like w to get out of that?

 Dani

Yeah, I have found.  Gratefully. I've never really been that big on social media.  But when I have, I have found myself like in a rabbit hole of constantly looking, comparing, and starting to feel bad about myself. What gets me out of that is one getting off of social media. And two, I think who you surround yourself by?

 I've had a lot of friends that have had positive impacts on me by watching the way they love their bodies. And being able to be a positive role model to my friends.  So I think we can help each other too and the culture that we create around our bodies and seeing them as  powerful tools. And the way we shaped conversations in a locker room amongst our friends, amongst our family.

Cause a lot of those are all external factors that impact the way you view your body.

 Stef

 Yeah, I think that's a huge one and cannot go unnoticed. Like, who are you hanging around and how are they talking about themselves?   It also translates to food. How are they talking about food? And just kind of taking a step back and being  like aware because we're all influenced by people, especially by the ones that are closest to us.

So it's so  important.

Dani

 That brings up a really good point. In high school, I had a close friend that was struggling with an eating disorder and inevitably I started to develop some habits because we played the same position. We're best friends, and I'm seeing her get smaller and smaller and thinking like, Oh, do I need to do that in order to be a great player?

Like, do I need to start cutting back ?It's interesting how people around you can start to affect that. And then again, I get to have an opportunity to make a positive effect on her as well, but that's a good point you brought up.  

 Stef

 Absolutely. And I think  we can also do our best to support each other when we notice those. Things from our teammates. And it's part of our role as a teammate and as a friend to check in with the girls who you see, maybe doing some things that are not going to be helpful  for their body and their long term performance.

 Okay. So after a successful four years at college, you ended up going pro in 2017  and you went pro as a midfielder for the Orlando Pride. Which is really exciting, but  thinking about your earlier journey,  I'm not sure if you were ever thinking that you were going to go pro. So tell us, did you always see yourself  going pro?

And then how did you make that decision to go from college to pro versus following a career outside of sports?

Dani

 Yeah. So as you know, the professional woman's soccer league has been up and down. As I was going into college, I think it  was just starting up again. And that is part of the reason why I chose to go to Santa Clara is that Jerry Smith had had a lot of players go pro. He understood the process. So ever since I was a freshman in college,  we'd have meetings in his office where he was like, okay, you need to start taking these classes.

 We're going to be taking summer school classes. So early on, he was shaping me. If you want to go pro , here's the route.  I'm grateful that I had Jerry Smith there to really guide me in that route. And, come my senior year when the draft was happening, fortunately I got picked up by Orlando Pride.

You go from like the highest of the highs. Like I'm a professional athlete, like you just got drafted. And then the reality of Jerry calling me the next day and being like, okay, they have your rights, but you don't have a contract yet. So that's how it works in the women's game. Like you get drafted, but you don't have a contract.

Like you have to show up and you have to earn it. So it was just kind of like, okay, I have an opportunity and now I have to go prove myself.

Stef

 Is that for everybody?  

Dani

 Pretty much. I think they're starting to change it where more like first rounds get signed, but yeah, for everyone. So when I got brought in, there was a first round draft pick, a second round draft pick and I was a fourth round draft pick.  And the first round draft pick got signed and I did. . But you come in as a draftee and there's three spots. For example, in Orlando, there were three spots and there were three draft picks and then seven trialists. So it's not like you're just going against the other draft picks. It's girls from the previous year that didn't get picked girls in the local area, girls coming out of retirement.

So again, you go from like, Oh, I'm proud of him. It's like the reality of no, actually like you have to earn it. This is just you getting invited. So that was huge because I was thinking, Oh, like there's a first round draft pick and a second round draft pick and I'm a fourth round draft pick,  but being like that, doesn't define me.

Like, that doesn't mean that I'm any less because I'm a fourth round draft pick. So that was huge going into preseason.

Stef

 So tell us about that moment when you stepped on the field there and you weren't sure if you were going to actually make it to get a contract,  how'd you show up? I mean, it ultimately worked out so you must've done something, right. But how'd you get there in the first place with confidence and with the right.

 Dani

Again, I had guidance. So I had mentoring from my coach, which really helped me. And that was what he led with. Like you're enough. You're meant to be there. Cause  when you turn pro, it seems like a big jump. Of course the speed of play is faster, the biggest jump is mentally. Like that confidence that I belong here,  I'm meant to be here.

 And I think my first week was a little nervy and then  I just completely flipped my perspective.  My coach is like have two good training sessions and then  demand that contract, you've earned this.  So I think for me it was the mentality that these are girls I looked up to my whole life.

I was stepping onto the field with Alex Morgan,  Ashlyn Harris,  all these big name players  and you can see the difference so evidently and how they carry themselves.  I quickly saw that it was a mentality switch that I had to make instead of a strictly speed of play or technical or tactical.

 I just had to believe in myself, I can be here.

 Stef

 It's amazing. And it's also very inspiring because I think from the outside you think, Oh my goodness, like, can I hang? And then for you to get there as a fourth round and really feel like it's more about the mentality. I think it's just so inspiring for a lot of girls  who might be wanting to go, but maybe just not that confident.

 But you know, working on your mental game is just as hard as working on your physical side or sometimes harder. So , what have you changed  as you transitioned from college to pro around the mental side? Have you hired a sports psychologist? Have you  changed  how much time you spend on your mental performance each week?

Dani

Yeah, I think my strengths as a player, are more towards the mental side: my work ethic, my fight, my grit, my determination,  my leadership. So all those are my mental side. So  it's like focusing on my strengths.  And yes, I've done some work with a sports psychologist that I'm currently working with.

And that has really helped me. And just focusing on your strengths and developing  plans to help you thrive.   

Stef

 What have you learned the most from your first few sessions with your sports psychologist? Cause not all girls get to have access to those amazing resources. So I'd love for you to pass on  the lessons learned so far. 

 Dani

For me, I had read so many books.  I felt like I had done so much self discovery and journaling and a friend had recommended, like you should try a sports psychologist. And for me , it was almost  sharpening those tools. So we've been really diving into visualization.

So using powerful imagery of yourself being successful, and watching yourself being successful on the field  and. Another toolkit is  setting an intention each day.  So again, who do you want to be going into training,  so you walk away feeling good after a session.

So those are the two main takeaways that I've  really seen in my first few sessions with the sports psychologist.

Do you 

Stef

wish  you  would have started that sort of mental work earlier on?

Dani: Absolutely. I would highly recommend working with a sports psychologist.  We train our bodies, we train the tactical side of the game, but  do we train our minds? And I think our mind is the most powerful tool we have. So  how can we rewire our mind to focus on our strengths more to watch ourselves doing positive things, to believe in ourselves.

So I think I would highly recommend if you have access to a sports psychologist, then definitely do it.  I listened to a podcast called finding mastery by Michael Jervais,  my absolute favorite podcast. And he interviews all these top  athletes, CEOs. He should interview you. This is a shout out for him to do that.

But in doing so you get to see how people have wired their framework and their mind and their lives in order to be successful. And  the questions he'd ask, I'd ask myself. So, if you don't have access to a sports psychologist, that's the way to do it.

 Stef

Amazing. I love it. You mentioned when you were getting drafted to a team when you were trying to figure out also just like where you wanted to go after college. You mentioned that  the value of  a team that also gives back to the community and outreach is an important aspect to  choosing a team. And I just want you to touch a little bit on that for choosing a college  or choosing a pro team. And I know sometimes you can't choose your pro team but how does that aspect of  community and the resources that they're providing play into your decision making?

Or how would you, I guess, advise young girls to think about that when choosing a school or a team.

Dani

 Again, I think it's finding what's important to you. So for me, being in an environment where it was really inclusive and it was really service driven. So they really were involved in the community. Those were all important things to me. And also being in an environment where I was challenged.

So, yeah again, finding what's important to you, and then seeking those components out. 

Stef

 So how did that come into play when choosing Orlando as your team? 

Dan

 So I was fortunate enough that my coach actually knew Tom Samani. And was like, Hey, give this kid a chance.  I promise she  won't disappoint you, like she'll show up every day. Like he was just kind of begging, like Tom taker.  Because as a midfielder in the draft, it's rare to get drafted if you don't have a lot of goals.

Fortunate enough, Tom took a chance on me and  I couldn't have been more grateful to have ended up in Orlando.  I didn't know it at the time, but they were one of the most community driven clubs. One of the owners, Kay rollins was all about community service.  And Tom Armani, he just really gets  it's so much bigger than soccer. 

So at every training session, he had like a little girl out on the field that, you know, the mom emailed Tom and was like, Hey, my daughter loves soccer. And he's like, Oh, come on out. And he was constantly bringing in kids from the pediatric cancer unit. I was constantly around people that wanted to empower more people.

And I just loved that environment. And I remember  we had such a great community service rep, Kaia. And I would just be like, Hey, Kaia, I have a lot of times  today, can you get me plugged in the community? And she must be like, yeah, awesome. I have here, the boys and girls club.  Like, yep, got you doing visits at the cancer center.

So  I just feel like I was so fortunate that I landed in an environment that knew that it was so much more than soccer.

 Stef

 Those opportunities where you're giving back, what does that mean to you personally?

Dani

 For me personally,  I just grew up with so many people who believed in me, loved me, encouraged me, supported me, and  I just feel so fortunate for that. And so for me, being able to give that to someone else.  I  have found my purpose is to use soccer as my vehicle, to  make an impact on someone.

 Stef

 It's amazing. Cause you had that. Not everybody has that. And  that's now what you're giving back.  So one of the amazing programs that you volunteer with is soccer without borders. So can you tell us a little bit about that program and how you got involved?

Yeah.

Dani

 Yeah so when I'm in season, I try to be involved with the local community as much as I can. So when I was in Orlando  the boys and girls club, the youth homelessness shelter, and for my first off season, I was like, I really want to go somewhere and serve. And I had an incredible teammate named Maddie Evans and she had done a trip with soccer without borders to Nicaragua.

She's like, you have to go.  So she was really the one that introduced me to the organization and I went on my first trip to Nicaragua and that's kind of how it all started.

 Stef

 Amazing. And so what does that program really do for young girls?  And what was your role within it?

 Dani

Yeah. So it was 10 day trip and they take about 18 girls down to Nicaragua and we're all soccer players, whether that be currently in college or recently pro. And in the morning, we run a session for young girls in the community. And so every day I had two sessions, in the morning it was running soccer clinic.

And then in the afternoon it was like team building and self-confidence. A bunch of different fun exercises. And they've been going down there for  10 plus years now. And apparently when they first started, there was  only a few girls that would come out.  And the coaches would have to go door to door, just begging parents.

Like, please let your daughter come play.  And trying to encourage them of all the benefits that come with playing sport. And it's pretty incredible. The organization is completely self-sustainable now. They have grown so many girls through the program that now the wants to graduated, they have come back and coached the girls.

So it's pretty incredible to see the benefits. And the empowerment that soccer has done for girls in this community.

 Stef

 Yeah, it's amazing. And you realize in moments like that when you leave the United States, It's not as easy to get girls into sport. I mean, we have our own challenges here in the U S with costs of leagues and such. But you go other places and you realize, wow, like I'm so fortunate to have grown up in a society  that does encourage girls to play sport.  How has it impacted you, seeing another culture and its relationship to sport and girls?

 Dani

 I was just filled with gratitude that growing up I had family and the society I grew up in that encouraged girls into sports. And encouraged us to be powerful and encouraged us to be strong. And I just wanted to bring that to these girls. I wanted them to have the opportunity to discover themselves and to discover their potential.

 And I just love that this program was giving them an Avenue to do that because at the end of the day  they're trying to change these young girls into professional soccer players. They're trying to give them a vehicle to self discovery and a way to empower themselves and make positive life changes.

 The program has enabled so many young girls to be able to go to school cause they've been able to provide them with. Because education is free in this specific community, but you have to have a uniform. Then the uniform is expensive. So a lot of the households just send the boy to school. 

So this gave it a lot of opportunities for girls to get into education.  And again, I've had so many opportunities because of the resources I've had. And I just want to be able to give girls those resources, because I know if they had them, they would have so many more opportunities.

 Stef

 I love seeing athletes like you, really just pour in their heart and soul to  giving back to these communities.  We're excited to have you join the voices team as a League Member.  You're now part of our new digital mentorship program for young girls at Voice In Sport.

 So tell us a little bit about why you decided to join the Voice In Sport team as a mentor. 

Dani

For me, I grew up with so many incredible mentors.  I would have never made it to where I am without them. So there's a piece of me that just wants to be able to give that back to young girls. And that is honestly why I coach.  That's my way of being able to make an impact on girls and encourage them to believe in themselves and motivate them and challenge them.

And  when I got approached by Voice In Sports, it couldn't have aligned more with my values and my beliefs.  I just wanted to give back for all that I had received. And also I just see the benefits of mentors the ability it has to change a generation.  You see it already with young girls watching wonder woman and seeing girls in high roles as CEOs  like yourself,  and that allows them to strive for those.

 I just wanted to be that type of person for a young girl.

 Stef

It's amazing. So when you think about showing up in these VIS live sessions where you're mentoring girls, you know, we offer the group sessions and the one-on-ones. What are some of  the biggest lessons, from your own personal journey in sport that you hope to share with the girls on the VIS platform?

 Dani

 For me, the biggest one is finding your best self and using sport as a means to do that. I think  I was so caught up in  goal oriented that  sometimes I missed really unique opportunities to grow and learn and discover who I am and how resilient I am. And  I really  hope to show that there's no path to becoming great.

There's not  this one shoe fits all. Your journey is completely your own.  And you're in control of that. And there's women who have done it before you and who want you to pave the way for the next generation.  So I think We're just handing off the Baton. So I just want to empower them to keep striving farther than we were striving because for women, the sky is limitless.

Stef

 Are there any practical mistakes that you feel like you've made in your journey? From nine years old to now that you're like, okay, I really want to make sure I share this with those girls.

 Dani

 I mean, the biggest one is definitely trying not to compare yourself.  Cause if I would have done what worked for some of my other teammates. If I tried to be like the fastest player on the field and take the ball and be one all the time,  that's not what works best for me.

What you have is enough. If you're only five two, that's enough. It's finding how do I make this work within the sport? How do I become my best?  So I think instead of trying to become the best, it's refocusing on becoming your own best in and of itself.

I think a lot of success will come of that on and off the field.

 Stef

 I love that. I think that's so important  cause pro athletes come in all shapes and sizes and that's another thing we try to talk a lot about on Voice In Sport is like a runner doesn't have to look like this. You know, a soccer player doesn't have to look like that. And I think it's so important  for girls to focus on. Okay, what is it that they're great at and how are they going to make that great something amazing.

 Dani

Yeah and that brings up another good point is your story is so important. Just because you're a woman soccer player and just because you look a certain way, and just because you're on a path, doesn't mean that you're the same. You have a unique story to tell unique experiences that have shaped you and  your voice needs to be heard.

So instead of trying to be someone else or try to fit into someone else's journey.  Yours is special and it's completely your own and it's needed in the world. Your experiences have shaped you in a way that is powerful. Knowing that you're important and you matter, and  your experiences the one that the world needs to see.

 Stef

Sport can be so like all consuming sometimes, especially when you're a driven athlete. And, I think as female athletes, we're already up against a lot of barriers. That we're trying to break, but how do you find your identity, outside of sport too. Because that's also an important part of the journey.

 Dani

Yeah, I had an injury in high school, actually that put me out for a little. And  it wasn't like your typical injury where like, you'll be back in six months. I was like, Oh, well, we'll have to see, we'll have to keep doing scans. I broke a bone in my foot and they didn't know if it would heal. 

And I was out of my three sports and that was my identity. Like I was known around the campus as the jock and all of a sudden I was, that was taken away from me. So  I kind of had to reshape how I saw myself and also  it gave me the opportunity to like take a step back. So I was able to be like, wow. Like my family pour so much into my athletic endeavors.

I also was like wow, I really love photography now that I have time on my own. So I think taking the time, you don't have to have an injury to induce it, but taking the time to be grateful for what you have. And also again, you don't have to specialize early.  Have a bunch of passions, don't be afraid to try new things.

 I think that's huge and finding yourself, your true self. 

Stef

Absolutely. You can't discover who you are without trying new things. And so this idea of , not just on the field, playing multiple sports. But also  off the field, really trying to making the time to try things. So on that same note,  when you think about your professional athlete now you're involved in a lot of amazing community work.

 You're training, you're on a top team.  What do you do for self care now as a professional athlete?

 Dani

 That's a great question. And I think that is a piece of advice I would give to young girls is finding those processes. For me,  I love nature. So I didn't realize it at the time, but growing up by the beach was my outlet. So being so involved in sports, but being able to drive  by the ocean and looking at how big the world is and how little my problems are.  And so I realized now that when I need to refuel, like I go for a walk, I go for a hike. I try to go to the beach or I read a book. Those are some of the things I refuel myself with as well as spending time with my family and my friends.

And  I think it's important to have balance in all aspects of your life.

 Stef

 We all need a little bit more self care. That's why we started at VIS ,doing self care Sundays.  And it's just so that we can put more things out there to the world, to all the female athletes. We also do it for ourselves. But you know, it can be little things like a walk, like you said. But also taking the time to do something outside of sport, taking a bath. Something that is going to be bringing you some sort of rejuvenation is so important, especially right now with a lot of things still on hold with COVID.

 Dani

 Yeah, that's huge.

 Stef

 So ,we've talked a lot about confidence and self-belief, and you've been so open about your journey with your struggles, you know, early on.  Is this something that to this day now that you're a pro, you still struggle with? Because I feel like sometimes people think, Oh, this is just a youth problem, confidence.

You know, so do you still struggle with it today? And how has that sort of mental side, that mentality now coming into play to help you push through.

Dani

 Yeah, that's a great question. I think people assume that self belief in confidence is something you just arrive at. Like all of a sudden you have this edifying moment. And you're like, I believe in myself now, when in reality it's an ongoing process. So the quicker we can realize,  there's going to be ups and downs, because life's hard.

Life's going to throw experiences at you that are going to challenge you to really pull from the framework you developed. So I think for me again, it all comes back to like setting that framework of who you are. And having protocols or things to lean on when those obstacles or adversities arise.

So for example, you might have like a support system.  Like I have good friends that I go to who really know who I am  that can remind me who I am and encourage me. Or you might have  an outlet getting out into nature or forgetting about sports for a little. I just think having cues or trigger words or visualization.  I want to reiterate that it's not something you arrive at it's ongoing and you constantly to be putting work into it.

 Stef

 That is great advice. You know, it's a process  we are all still working.

Okay. I love what you said. And it's something that we all have to be actively engaged with to keep at the forefront.  We're always going to be coming into new spaces, as we go through our journey. And so it's like how you arrive at that space in that moment.  What is your mentality? How are you going to approach it is going to be a big part of how you succeed.

 Dani

 Yeah and I think mindset is huge on that . For me and for everyone as we grow, I growth mindset is so important.  Because when you have a fixed mindset, it doesn't enable you to really listen and learn and improve.  If I didn't have a growth mindset, then I probably would have been done after my first year of pro cause you have to be able to adapt and change and change is healthy.

It means that you're challenging yourself. It means that you're putting yourself in uncomfortable situations that you're engaging with different people.  I just think it's  so important to have a growth mindset and to really lean into uncomfortable situations.

 Stef

Well, it's so inspiring to hear from you danny because, you had that growth mindset from the beginning when you were on the B team. You know, right before high school. And so I hope that girls are listening to this podcast, realize that there is always room for growth, and it's a process. It's a journey and you can always continue to work on your confidence and it can help you reach your goals.

So I'd like to end with our two signature questions at Voice In Sport. So what is one single piece of advice you would tell your younger self in sport?

 Dani

 I think again, always look for an opportunity to grow no matter where you are. Every day is an opportunity to get better.

Stef

I love that. And what is one thing you'd like to see changed for the future of women's sports?

Dani

Just one thing?

Stef

 No pressure.   

Dani

  Exposures, one of them I think. Most of the role models I had growing up were male athletes. Cause it's constantly what I saw. I was a tomboy by virtue of not wanting to be a girl. Like I wanted to be strong.

I wanted to be powerful.  I wanted to be allowed. And so I think exposure of those types of women will be really encouraging for both athletes. And non-athletes, I think seeing women in those roles and then resources and opportunity.  I want to see it less as a charitable act and like it's something we deserve  we have a great product and we can produce money and income and,  girls deserve that.  

Stef

 I love it.

 I noticed that you didn't have any female coaches in your journey. So did you only have male coaches growing up  in your experience?

Dani

 So when I was at Santa Clara, Brandy Chestain was the volunteer assistant coach . So I had a powerful female role model. She's the one that also introduced me into the community. She started bossy, which is the Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative. And that's just getting girls connected with female role models.

 But wow. She is passionate like that is someone I saw who it was a volunteer coach and she's in a session. Like that's not fair. It's our ball. Like she just says pours everything she has into session. So I was fortunate I got to see her and have her as a volunteer coach. And then also with the national team, I had a few female coaches that were pretty inspiring for me as well.

Stef

That's amazing. There's not enough female coaches out there today and we want to see more. We just want to see more of them in leadership positions. And so that's one of our goals at Voice In Sport is to try to lift those women up get them more visibility and hopefully see them leading more teams.

Dani

Absolutely.

Stef

 Is coaching something that you want to go into after sport? Fast forward, you know, however many more years you want to be playing pro. What do you want to do after sport?

Dani

Yeah. So in college I was an education pre-teaching environmental studies major. So my passion was I wanted to be a teacher. And the reason being is I just wanted to be able to impact kids  with love and belief and empowerment could chase their dreams. Like I just wanted to instill that in kids.

 And the more I learned about that, your system. I've kind of like, I don't know if it's. But I think I've really found my passion in advocacy and a lot of nonprofits that fight for kids in underserved areas, in fight for young girls. Like that is where I'm seeing my heart go. I love coaching because of the impact I get to have.

And I mean, I love soccer. So I get to do that and I get to encourage young athletes. But I really think the advocacy route and  non-profit work and  something where I'm involved in communities.

Stef

 I love it. Well, you've come to the right place, at Voice In Sport.  And advocacy is front and center to what we're doing. We need women to be stepping up to advocate and it's exciting to see that that might be in your future.

  So, so nice to have you on the Voice In Sport podcasts. I'm incredibly excited for young girls to listen to this episode and believe in themselves. Ultimately, we want to instill confidence in every girl that's out there playing sports. So I know that they will definitely have more after listening to this podcast.

Dani

 Yeah, thank you so much for having me and all that you do. I think so many girls are going to benefit from this, so thank you.

Stef

 Danny, we are so impressed by your athletic ability, growth mindset, perseverance and tenacity. But even more so by your dedication to others and how much you give back to your community and the world, you have turned advocacy and volunteering into a lifestyle that we know will inspire so many others to give back.

We are honored to have you to join our team as a Vis League Mentor on the voice and sport platform. And can't wait to see you begin mentoring young girls and these members. Make sure to follow Danny's incredible journey on all of her platforms. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at Danny wetherholt D A N I wetherholt.

Please subscribe to the Voice In Sport podcast and give us a rating. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik TOK @voiceinsport. And if you're interested in joining our community as a member, you have access to our exclusive content mentorship from female athletes like Danny. And advocacy tools.

Check out voiceinsport.com. And if you're passionate about accelerating sports, science and research on the FEMA athletic body, check out Voice In Sport foundation.org and get involved. See you next week on the Voice In Sport podcast.

Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creators™ ___Libby___ and Anya Miller

Dani Weatherholt, Pro Soccer Player, shares her journey in sport, and reminds us all to only focus on what we can control and how developing a positive mindset and support system are essential in sport and beyond.