SHARE THIS ARTICLE

DROP A HINT

INVITE AN ATHLETE

SEND AN INVITATION

Home Sessions Feed Podcast Membership Join our Team Shop Join Affiliate Program Advocate Program Sign up

JOIN OUR COMMUNITY

Join Us

Start for free or explore plans.

Home Sign up Team plans Membership Get Quote Podcast Join the VIS Team Join Affiliate Program

JOIN OUR COMMUNITY

Join Us

Start for free or explore plans.

Back to Tune In

Episode #31

Changing the Game

with Tziarra King

15 Dec, 2020 · Soccer

Tziara King, Professional Soccer Player, shares her journey through becoming an outstanding soccer player in her rookie season and, more importantly, finding her voice as an outstanding leader off of the field.

Transcript

Tziarra King

Stef

 Welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast today, our guest is former division one athlete from NC state and professional soccer player in the NWSL Tziarra King. Tziarria played her first rookie season in the league at the Utah Royals, which is now under new ownership and will be based in Kansas city. At 22 years old, tziarra not only made a name for herself as an outstanding soccer player in her rookie season. But more importantly as being an outstanding leader off the field. Tziarra has been an active voice fighting for social justice and inclusion. The consistent effort Tziarra has shown to use her voice to drive change is why today she is now a VIS  League mentor on the Voice In Sport platform. Today, we are going to go deep into how she found her voice as a black female athlete in a predominantly white sport in the us. And how finding her voice has led her to bring more visibility to the injustices that need to be addressed, not just in the soccer field, but in other sports like hockey. She is a powerful example of doing more with your platform as an athlete. 

Tziarra, welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast. 

Tziarra

 Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be on.

Stef

Today in our episode, we're going to be talking a lot about activism and how to speak up during your journey in sports. So I'm so (Tziarra saying "thank you")  excited to kind of talk with you about how you've done that. Especially as a newer player to the NWSL, you're sorta just coming right out and speaking up. So,  how did you get there? How did you get to that confidence to that level where you were going to use your voice right away, even as a rookie into the NWSL?

 Tziarra

 I think it's something that I just always been vocal about the problems that I had and when I tell the story, I always say, I'm the youngest of three and I have two older brothers. So if something wasn't right, I was letting everybody know,  I don't like this.

We need to do something about it. And so I think, from that kind of upbringing, and just the support of my family and just always, encouraging me to be myself and, stand up for the things that I believe in and my values, has allowed me to just be pretty vocal and open.

And, it's definitely been paying off for me.  

Stef

 So take us back to where it all started in New Jersey. That's where you grew up. You actually played soccer and ran track So, what was your experience like as a black female athlete playing soccer in New Jersey growing up?

Tziarra

So I started playing when I was about four. Again, my older brothers played, so I was kind of like, I came out and I was on the sideline and when it was my chance to play, I was super hyper about it. So growing up, when it was time to start clubs and travel, I played for a team.

 And I think I was probably the only black girl on the team and it just wasn't an enjoyable experience. I remember a very vague memory of going to a team sleepover and I called my parents and I was like, please pick me up, I'm uncomfortable.  With that experience not going well, my dad was like, you not like we're going to start our own team. So, Winslow township, youth soccer is a team where we started and it was very atypical from a lot of the typical youth soccer teams. Because a majority of our team was actually black. And so that kind of like flips the script from a lot of the things that you see right now.

So we just kind of recruit from all different areas. And when we would play teams, the black girls on their team would be like, Whoa, what's going on. And so it just kind of attracted me and it was really cool, honestly. 

Stef

How old were you at that time?

Tziarra

 I wanna say probably about eight, eight or so.

Stef

 And had your dad ever coached soccer before?

Tziarra

 No, so my dad has literally no soccer  (Stef Laughing) background. He would buy all the DVDs and would watch things online and learn and do the coaching classes and all that. Just so he could be involved. But no, besides coaching me in Peewee he had no soccer backgrounds  (Stef Laughing) , so it was pretty, it was pretty funny.

Stef

 Well, what happened at that sleepover that made you so uncomfortable?  Can you unpack that a little bit for us because I'm assuming some other girls out there might be in the same or similar situation.

Tziarra

 Yeah, it's such a vague memory. I just remember it was just not fun for me. There had to be something specific that happened and I don't remember exactly what it was. All I remember was I wanted to leave and I wish I had more details on what exactly happened. And I feel like it's not uncommon being the only black one on your team. Sometimes like you get comments or you can't really relate to certain things and you try your best to try and fit in and kind of suppress the things that are going on. But at a certain point it's like, okay, I really am uncomfortable and this environment is not for me.

 Stef

 That's unfortunate to hear because that feeling of not feeling included. Feeling that at such a young age can have a pretty big impact on a girl. So you ended up dominating state champion in both indoor and outdoor four by 4 hundred, which is pretty amazing.

 You were doing that on the side and then you were on this new team that your dad had formed from when you were really younger. And you didn't go the traditional route of playing in this top  club team. So looking back on that experience now, how did that form your younger experience in soccer and what did you learn from that?

Tziarra

 So yeah, so I played on that team from about eight until probably my junior ish year of high school.  And there was a point in time when our team kind of broke up and a lot of the players on my team were like, "Hey, we need to be playing for these bigger clubs". And so, , there was some clashing between parents and so they ended up going into the PDAs, the N JSA. Like the bigger name teams.

And so our core kind of fell apart. And so we ended up then combining with the Princeton team, my junior year and played there. And so with track, I didn't start running track until actually freshman year of high school. And I kind of did it as okay, let's do something to stay active, stay in shape.

 And I wasn't a fan honestly. I don't know how track runners and long distance runners do it because it is hard.   I had a really great team, really great coaches. So that experience was awesome. just the running part was I wasn't very fond of.  So how did that shape me to be who I am today? You know, I think that it kind of played into the underdog mentality that I love. I love just feeling kind of counted out in a way. And  I was cut from ODP when I was in middle school. I tried out one time I got cut and I said, I'm never doing this again.  (Tziarra Laughing) 

And I was like, I'm going to prove to these people, they shouldn't have cut me. And it was a wrong decision. And  that honestly has always kind of fueled me going through middle school, high school college, just knowing that people counted me out. So I think that that has kind of helped me to channel a different level you could say. 

Stef

Yeah, I mean it's amazing that you had supportive parents during that time and you had that confidence to keep going. But a lot of girls don't, unfortunately.

What do you think looking back at just youth soccer in America? What do you think needs to happen or change for it to be a more enjoyable experience and more inclusive for girls of different races and backgrounds?

Tziarra

 So I think,  when you have this conversation, a lot of times what comes up is, you know, the whole pay to play system and how it's difficult for maybe lower income families to put their child in the sport. And honestly, I was having a conversation with Nikki Washington, one of our assistant coaches.

And she was saying honestly, when you compare it to other sports, it's like similar costs and travel and all that. But what the difference is for examples, like basketball, you can see the payoff. You can see that, boys or girls or whatever, going into the league and you see black faces in those leagues. But you see something .Like soccer and you don't necessarily see people that look like your kid in that sport, making it to the next level or making it however far.

And so it's  like a payoff situation. Like, is it worth it? And then you also have the side of, is my kid comfortable? Is my kid having good experiences? Is the environment  welcoming and inclusive for kids that look like my kid. And so, I think there are so many levels to it to just break down.

But I think a big place that would help is having more black coaches, having more coaches of color, having more women, having diversity in coaching. Because when you have that system in place, those coaches from that perspective can make the environment inclusive.

They can relate to certain situations, they can call things out when it's not right, things like that. And I think that that's a huge impact,

Stef

 I think it's so important. And there's a lack of female coaches within soccer and all of the sports across the United States. But definitely you go one layer deeper and you look at black female coaches, and become even fewer. So I do think it is so important that we continue to drive change in that area and elevate the leadership  across the sports industry.

So, did you ever have any female coaches or black female coaches growing up or all the way through to where you are now?

 Tziarra

 So,  when I was probably beginning high school, freshman year ish, my dad had reached out to Sherri Gray, who was a professional player for Sky Blue. And he just sent her an email, was like," Hey, like we have this team, we would love it if you could come out and maybe train us".

 And it was a long shot, but she actually responded. And she was like, sure, I'd love to. And having a black woman coming to our practice and she was such a strong, intelligent, well knowledgeable in the game. Her impact on my journey and, seeing myself in her and being able to see my dream in her, was so impactful for me.

 And I don't even know if to this day she realizes how impactful she was and how inspiring she was for me. So that was my first female and black coach, which was really cool. And then, this past year, so at Royals, I had in my next two female coaches, which was Amy, Lapelvit and Nikki Washington. Nikki Washington being black, and both of them were awesome.

So knowledgeable, so relatable. Made the environment fantastic. And I remember Nikki's first day, I was like, Oh my gosh, another black woman. Cause there, really isn't much diversity in the front office at Utah. And so when she came in on her first day, I literally, was like, do you guys see this?

 like I felt like that,  (Stef and Tziarra Laughing) when I was a kid feeling like Sheree came to our first practice. Like, I felt that same, inspiration, just excitement. And so, being able to have conversations with her and just relate with her . I don't think anybody really understands how impactful that is.

Stef

 I so much agree and I'm looking back at my experience. I played division one soccer as well, and I did ODP. I never once saw a black female coach. I did have some female coaches in ODP.  So I think that if anyone's listening to this podcast, coaches or even players, and you take a look at your team and you think about what you can do to make it more inclusive. Think about that simple thing that Tziarra just actually shared with us . 

Okay, so let's transition a little bit. You weren't on this major club team in New Jersey. You got cut from ODP. But you still made it to a division one school at NC State and one of your quotes and talking about why you chose NC state was because you wanted to be part of creating a new path for a program. Again, that underdog mentality.

So can you take us back to that moment of deciding on NC state, what was your recruitment process like?  

 Tziarra

 Our team, we did showcase tournaments and things like that. And also I would go to the day camps, and kind of go to their camps and meet the coaches and be able to like showcase what I had going on.

 And then also my dad would send out, I'm not kidding you. This is actually a really funny story. I don't think I've ever told this story before. But he printed off DVDs of my highlight tape and literally mailed it to probably every coach, on the East coast, and some just like across the country.

And 

Stef

 Of all, DVDs. So that was a really long time ago, but you're only 22. 

Tziarra

 I know,  It sounds super dated, but not even like an email, but a DVD and mailed it. But when I was a sophomore, I think I got my first offer from Monmouth, which is probably about an hour from my house. And so it was after a camp I had gone to.

And she had told me , okay, we're going to offer you. You need to let us know by this time. And at that point it was only like a few months from the date that I had got offered. And that was my only offer. And so part of me was like, okay, maybe I should just commit, it's close to home.

It'll be cool. And I don't have any other offers. So what if I don't get any by the time, the deadline comes around and then I'm just left out in the dark.  And I really was this close. I was like, you know what, I should just do it. But something inside me was you know, maybe you should just hold off.

Maybe there's something else out there for you. And so I did some more recruiting trips and, you know, visits and things like that. Phone calls the worst, but you gotta do it. 

And so when I went down to NC state, I visited West Virginia, NC state and UNC Wilmington in the same trip. And so West Virginia first, they have all new facilities, brand new lifting gym, everything was so nice. So my vision was I want to go to West Virginia. But when I got home and I really thought about it and Tim, and that's the head coach at NC state and like his vision and his idea and how the visit went at NC state.

I was like, I think this is where I belong. And so yeah, I committed. And like you said, the underdog mentality the previous year before my class has gotten there. They went 0 and 10 and conference, lost every game. They were at the bottom of the ACC, but I kinda liked that.

I liked that he saw me having an immediate impact.  He knew that he had a vision for where he wanted our program to go. Our freshmen class had 11 people in it. So he was like, we're turning this thing around. And I loved every minute of it.

Stef

That's so cool.  I've met a lot of girls face this where they're like, well, I could go be a star or help turn something around at this school that might not have as good of a ranking, or I could go beyond the best school, but I might be on the bench. 

So did you just use your intuition? How did you make that final call?

Tziarra

 And honestly West Virginia and NC state kind of had opposing ends. In that West Virginia was doing really well, and had a legacy type program under Nikki is all Brown. And then you had NC state. I genuinely remember sitting, talking to my mom about it and she was like  look, your whole life, you've been In this situation. Playing for a team where you have made an impact and how would you handle, sitting on the bench? 

How would you handle, not having an immediate impact? , I just was like, you're right. And it's, like you said, it's such a personal decision type of thing.

And everybody's different. And I think that that's like the beauty of the recruiting process and having options and having different, you know, coaches and schools to look at.

 But yeah, for me, I just knew that 

Stef

 Everyone's path is different too. It's not just one path. And I think that's so important.

I want to go back to the phone call really quick. Cause I did think it was also ironic that your phone was renamed. Right, right. When you said that, when the background, so, okay.

What is one piece of advice you would give girls that are trying to make and are picking up the phones right now to call a coach trying to get recruited? 

Tziarra

I would say before you're having those calls really try and write out some questions or something you really want to know about the program, the culture, the coach. Because sometimes the conversations can get a little awkward cause they're like, do you have any questions?

 And you're just kinda like, ah, I don't know. But there are so many important things that you really can get from those phone calls. And I think that  coming into them prepared  is a really good tool. 

Stef

 So you were still in college time for you and you were one of two athletes named by the ACC for the 2020 NCAA women of the year award. Which is pretty cool because that award looks at not just your playing, but also the things you do off the field.

So you go to NC state, you help bring the rankings up at that school. You have this amazing award. But the reality is still that according to a 2020 study by the NCAA, only 5% of women's soccer athletes are black and that's across all divisions. So talk to us about, I guess, your experience there compared to what you went through in high school and middle school as one of the few female black athletes on the soccer team. To then transition to college, where the stats actually are showing that there's still not very many girls there that are black female athletes. 

What was your experience like? And did you ever feel you weren't included in that experience in college?

Tziarra

I actually really got fortunate in having good teammates and also a coach who was very much not putting up with any type of nonsense. And even going to a predominantly white school, I think only 6% of students or something at NC state are black. And so it's an interesting thing because it's almost like as a black person with being the minority and in most situations, you kind of figure out ways to almost adapt to make the situation more comfortable for you and for everyone else.

But luckily I actually did have, I think there were probably five or six black girls on our team. So I had other women that I could relate to and have conversations with. And that could back me up in  situations. 

 Stef

 I do think it's interesting that we've talked about the importance of inclusion and seeing yourself in the sport that you're at. So I guess, what do you say to the girls out there that might not see themselves in their sport in college and they're in high school thinking, ah, do I really want to pursue that?

What would you say to those young black girls?

Tziarra

 You know, I think that I would probably say don't let that discourage you because you could be that change that you want. So if  you don't see it, but then you become it. Look at how that could impact black girls to come and future generations just seeing Oh, well this girl went there and she did it.

 I could do it. And that's a lot to carry. That's a big load, it's a lot of hard work. It's not as easy as just saying like, I'm going to do it. But I think that, , the payoff and the reward is greater than anything else.   is greater than anything else.

Stef

 Absolutely . Be the change that you want to see. You mentioned in an article that you were worried about kneeling during some of your games and in college and your final years there, when you were definitely wanting to go pro and you were worried that it was going to impact your prospects of being drafted.

So can you unpack that for us? Because if you felt like you were in such an inclusive environment, why did you feel like you couldn't sort of stand up that moment?

Tziarra:

So I think as a black woman, you're already counted out. You already kind of have to work,  against the odds. And so for me, I was like, okay, I had aspirations of, potentially playing for the national team, playing  in this league.

And I just didn't want for whatever reason they would say, well, she's problematic. She's too loud. She's, you know what I mean? Like the stereotypes that black women often get and, it was definitely a hard decision. And I had talked to teammates about it, what are you thinking? Should we just do it?

 And ultimately I just never built up enough courage to just do it. And I know my coach would have totally been supportive of it. But then the  component of it was we're in North Carolina, very red state, very conservative ideals. And so there were just a lot of factors that went into it.

And part of me feels guilty in terms of like, you should've just did it. You should have just stood up for what you believed in. But I think that that has also helped me to continue to use my voice and to stay true to who I am. And it was definitely a learning experience that helped me to be more vocal and moving forward.

Stef

Well don't feel too guilty. Cause now you're making up for it, like 10 fold with  (Tziarra Laughing) everything that you've done in the last year. We're going to talk about that next.  You were the eighth drafted college athlete into the NWSL, for the 2020 season. And that was actually the first Wolf pack player ever selected for the NWSL draft, which is really cool.

And you ended up at Utah Royals and headed into kind of the first season for you, which ended up being sort of a crazy season for everybody, with the virus and the social justice movement heating up and the election. So there was a lot going on, but you were also in your very first year into the pro leagues.

And I want to throw out just another stat for  context. So if in college there's 5% black female athletes. Across all divisions in NCAA soccer, you go to NWSL and there's 7.5% of black female athletes in the league. And that's a stat from 2019. So it may have shifted a little, but there's not that much of a change.

So you're still going to walk into an environment where you are the minority on your team or in the league. But you did walk in and sort of again, that underdog. The scene is basically the same as you've dealt with with your whole life.

So what changed was that you were like, you know what, I'm going to go in there and  I'm going to mix some things up.

  Tziarra

 I think in the midst of everything that kind of went down with this year, you know, Briana Taylor, George Floyd, the continued police brutality and murdering that we've seen black people continue to see and feel. And I think that more people have kind of been picking up on it this year.

 And so with, you know what had gone on earlier this year, which was right around the time when the challenge cup was starting up and we were just coming back and something just inside of me said, speak up. And so I had sent a message to the group. And at this point I didn't really know anybody on the team.

I was just like, I care about this and I'm going to let it be known that this is important to me. And so I sent a message just saying, obviously you guys see what's going on in our country. I have been impacted by it. Like I feel affected by it, it hurts me. And if you want to hear the perspective of a black woman on these issues, you can always talk to me.

So I just kind of opened up that platform for conversation. 

Stef

 I just want to pause on that because I think you just put yourself out there like that and being vulnerable and being like, "Hey like I'm here to talk". Is such a great invitation for everyone on your team who might feel uncomfortable to talk about it, because they're not black.

So that's great that you did that. And so then what happened?

Tziarra

So I had a really great response, like instantly, I had messages from people saying thank you so much for being open. Thank you for starting this conversation. If you need anything from us, we'd love to talk a whole bunch of great responses and I'm thankful for that.

 And so the thing that, you know, unfortunate to have again on our team is we have about five or so black women on our team. And that's not the case for every team in this league. There's some teams where there's only one black woman. That's hard like trying to have those conversations and trying to get people to understand your perspective when.

You're like the singular case. And you don't have anybody to back you up and so, I'm thankful to have that. But the thing that was challenging still, which I kind of touched on earlier in terms of having people in higher up positions, was the lack of diversity in the club.

And so that kind of added a weight on the black players shoulders a little bit in terms of we were like one of the last clubs to have a statement out. It was a whole bunch of so what do you guys think of this? 

And we obviously want to be involved, but we don't want to be the ones that are doing everything or saying everything. And we want there to be somebody in a higher up position that has the experience that has the knowledge that knows what racism feels like to be able have that relation to.

 And then obviously when you then become the vocal one, you are always look to as like, okay, well, " What should we do with this". And I was like, sometimes it was just draining. I was like, guys, like do whatever. Can't have this conversation right now.

  I really don't even want to think about this right now, talk to me like tomorrow. Cause I'm not. And it's part of the battle of being the minority, being vocal. But like I said, it's rewarding in the end in terms of knowing that you know your voice is being heard and knowing that you're standing up for something bigger than yourself. And in terms of younger black girls and making change in the league and all that.

  Stef

 I'm so happy that you're speaking up and we need more women like you to do that so that you personally don't feel the burden of so many people. So let's talk a little bit about self care. What do you do mentally to make sure you keep yourself in a good spot when you feel that burden?

Tziarra

 Yeah, definitely. I like bubble baths.

Stef

Ooh. 

Tziarra

g (Stef Laughing) o on walks. I like teaching. I have a singing bowl. I don't know if you know what that is. 

Stef

No. 

Tziarra

I don't even know. Maybe I have it around here somewhere, but it's a bowl when it plays like a song if you like hit it with a mallet and it's really relaxing. Here it is. Here's that singing bowl?

If you can hear it. 

So it's like

Stef

 Yeah, that's nice. All right. That's good, I've used those in yoga classes before.

 So let's talk a little bit about what then transpired, I guess, within your club, because you don't have as much diversity in that leadership.

 There was, I believe a statement that was made by the owners, but it was criticized a bit by all the players and specifically your message was, and I'm just going to read it here. Messages about inclusion and diversity are in complete contradiction with an owner who refuses to understand the relevance of a player strike for racial equality. So what happened in that moment for you to then get to this statement?

Tziarra

 So, RSO the men's team was the same day as the NBA, I think it was the Bucks and the WNBA  and went on strike after I think it was the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin. And so it was like a unified strikethrough like multiple leagues. And I don't know if it strikes the right term, but they weren't playing games in protest of what had happened.

 And after that had happened, when our men's team had done that. The next day, Deloitte had gone on a talk show and was saying  how he was personally offended because the players in play. And that was like the first day that the stadium was supposed to be open. They're supposed to be fans. And he had brought  some staff back and things like that. And so just like the comments that he had made. And how he kind of turned it around to make it about himself.

 When it was a situation that was so much bigger,  it personally hurt me. And it was upsetting because he never took the time to have conversations with the black players or to understand the perspective of us or why the strike was happening or what was going on. And so he just kind of went on and just started talking without trying to get what was going on.

Personally I was upset and I just wanted to show my solidarity with  RSL and the decision that they had made. Because  I remember watching the games and just seeing how impactful it was to see, the athletes deciding we're not playing. 

Stef

 So  a lot of players within the NWSL during the challenge cup and sort of this very short season that was 2020, decided to kneel and stand in solidarity and really support black lives matter. Do you feel like there is progress for representation and inclusion or is there work to be done? Not just within your club team, but just  the league itself?

Tziarra

 I mean, I think there's absolutely work to be done. Fair had put out a report, you know, showing the lack of diversity in the coaching staff and in the GMs and the front office and all those positions. So 100% there is work to be done  and  that seven and a half percent number is not representative of  everything that encompasses the league. And so I think that when you put in terms of that and how much bigger it is than just the players, then  there's 100%, a lot of work that needs to be done.

Stef

 I agree,  that number probably shrinks down even less. So if you had to pick  three things for the league to focus on to make it more inclusive and a better representation, what would you say those three things should be? 

Tziarra

  I think the three things I would say are, first of all, diversity and hiring.

 So that first would come from front offices and having women of color, women of different backgrounds, religions, you know, sexual orientations, all that at the table and having those important conversations. And then you take it to the next level and you have diversity and hiring and coaching staff.

 And then a third thing that would be really impactful is if, you know the NWSL  partnered on the youth level and was having camps or clinics or whatever. And helping to make that level more inclusive so we could have a retention rate of women of girls of color and different backgrounds, coming through the ranks and then eventually making it to the league.

Stef

 That last one is so important because that pipeline, if we can start it early enough. Then all of a sudden you're gonna create more at the college level and then that's going to go more to the pro level. So it's all connected, that's super insightful.  So it's a rookie season. You're using your voice. You're driving change within your first year. And this sort of led to a group of black female athletes in the NWSL to start the black players collective in September of 2020.

So why was this created now? And what is the hope of the black players collective that they hope to accomplish in the next few years?

Tziarra

 So the black women's player collective came about earlier this year in the midst of the black lives matter movement and the midst of, you know, statements from every person everywhere. And one of the main starters of this was Margaret purse, Mitch purse.

 She had a vision for this and she kind of brought it to life, so big credit to her. And I think it was just kind of like, you know, we're seeing these statements, so we're not really getting any input on them. And it's like, well, we have our own thoughts and we have our own ideas. And as you know, the population that's most impacted by it, we should be able to use our voice and say  how we feel. And so I think that another big component of that as well is, like I was saying, there are teams that have only one black girl on the team. And so when you have that situation and you don't know how to have those conversations, how to, reach a big population like that.

The black women's player collective kind of comes in and says, okay well know that you're not alone when you're speaking. We are behind you, we're with you and I love that. I love just you know, we've had a zoom call and just seeing everyone's face and hearing their voices and their ideas is just so empowering.

 And I just think it's really cool, and so I think that the vision is giving a voice for black women and black girls. And encouraging black girls to  play soccer , and to feel seen and heard, and to just do some outreach and programs and just use their black voice.  

Stef

I love it. Well, we will be your number one cheerleader at Voice In Sport. So anything we can do to help the black women's players collective, we will definitely do.  I think it's so important. It's so critical. You know, it's like one of the major things we focus on is mentorship and role models, with the VIS League.

So the more girls can see themselves in sport, the more likely they're going to continue. So that sort of visibility. It's again, why we call it VIS, it's why it's so important. So I love that and I'm excited to see what you guys accomplished in the next couple of years. So I want to touch on one other area that you have been a little bit of an activist behind, which is a completely different league.

The NWHL, where there are only four black female athletes in NCAA college hockey across all divisions. Four like, not 4%, but four. So it gets even harder in some of these other sports, like lacrosse, hockey. And I want to talk about sort of how your activism continues beyond soccer. I love that you spoke up about the t-shirts that the NWHL put out there.

 So walk us through what the moment, I guess. Where you were when you saw the t-shirt and then what transpired thereafter? 

Tziarra

 So my whole mission this year was okay, I'm supporting all women's sports, if it's on, I'm watching it, supporting them in any way that I can. So I just want my WBA shirt. It came in the mail. I was super hype. I put it on Twitter. I'm like, Hey, y'all look what came in the mail.

 My NWHL shirt is up next. So I went onto NWHL website and the shirts selection was like, just a girl with a hockey helmet and a straight ponytail. And for me, that hit me because that's something that I've always talked about. Not even talking about, but felt internally, my whole life. I'll get a trophy and it has a ponytail and I'm like, I don't look like that.

Or , a metal or a shirt or, cause that's always  the token. Oh, my daughter plays soccer and she's a girl, so here's her ponytail. So that's always been something that's kind of hit me. So when I saw that shirt, I was like, okay, So I went to Twitter. I said, Hey, NWHL , I really want to get a shirt.

I want to support your league. But this shirt doesn't look like me. The shirt doesn't represent me. So how about we get a shirt for the black girls, for the girls with short hair, switch it up a little bit. And they responded immediately. They were like, absolutely we'll work on it, we'll get back to you.

And so, I had gotten an email from Chris Bata. He reached out and was just like, yeah, these are  some of the designs that we have, what do you think?

And kept me super involved in the process and It was awesome. Like I got to say okay, well maybe we should tweak this a little bit because this makes it a little bit more like it could be  inclusive of everyone. And so then they put the shirts out. I don't know exactly how the sales went, what people thought. 

Stef

 It almost doesn't matter.

It almost doesn't matter because it's the fact that girls can actually see that even if they don't buy it is already going to make them feel more included.

Tziarra

 And like you said, hockey very, very much lacks diversity. And so I think that that was one thing that I was like, okay, here's another league that absolutely needs some help. So let's all around, if we're all doing good, let's just boost everybody up and help everybody get on the same page.

So that girls feel included everywhere.  

Stef

 Well, you are the perfect example of  what a modern athlete should be all about.

 And  I'm giving a talk okay at the world football summit next week and on the modern athlete. And I feel like you're doing it when you're doing what I hope all athletes will do, which is you're using your platform to speak up and to represent other people.

 So you have this amazing following and platform today, but not all the girls out there in sport have that right now. But we need all of them to  activate their voice and stick up for other people, especially the underrepresented voices.

So what advice would you have someone, a girl out there in sport that wants to get involved in advocacy, but doesn't know where to start? 

Tziarra

 I think the first place to start is to stay true to who you are and to really fall back on your values and the things that you believe  in order to impact the community and the crowd  that you have.  It doesn't matter how big your platform is.

It doesn't matter how many followers you have. What matters is that you're using your voice to stand up for what's right. And that can be as simple as, going to your club teammates and saying, "Hey, like what you did today was, not inclusive of everyone".

And maybe you should try doing this instead, or talking to your family members . I think that there are so many different avenues. And  this year really showed us that having the conversations wherever, no matter where you are,  who you are, is really important.

 That's a really great place to start. And then finding people who have similar ideas and  want to make change like you and, starting a network. And that could even mean  sending a DM or reaching out to a professional athlete.

Somebody like me, you never know, it might be a shot in the dark, but I try my best to respond to DMS and  if I can help in any way,. I love to do that. And  just being vulnerable, putting yourself out there to potentially get that result that you're looking for.  There are so many different avenues in so many different ways to be an advocate for things that are as simple as having one conversation with your family or your teammates, can really go a long way. 

Stef

Yeah, I think it's great advice. Like don't think because you don't have the numbers or whatever on social media that you can't drive change. I think the grassroots effort of talking to your family, talking to your team, you hit right there, potentially 20 people. 20 people then can hit 20 more and all of a sudden you can have an impact individually and to a lot of people. 

So I love that you're encouraging that. And I think it's amazing. So you can also join Voice In Sport,  because that's all we do is advocate for women and girls in sport. And. Part of what we have inside of our community is access to some of the tools that girls can have to actually take those first few steps to  advocate. 

Okay. So what is one single piece of advice you would tell a younger girl in sport that doesn't see herself reflected in the sport she's playing?

Tziarra

 Yeah.  I know it says only one, but I gotta give two. So one would look for that inspiration in any form, like any way. Like for me, Serena didn't necessarily play soccer, but she's an absolute stud of an athlete. Breaking barriers,  body positivity. Everything about Serena is like, I want to be like that.

 Even if it's not a woman that looks like you in your sport. Maybe you can find that from a female astronaut or a VP of a company. And just like find those qualities that you love and kind of channel that into who you want to be in your field to then make that change that you want to see.

 Which leads into  my second piece of advice is even though you don't see it, you can absolutely be it. You can be that person that is the role model and the inspiration for so many younger girls to come. It might be hard, but how rewarding would that be to say 10 years down the road, a little girl says, Oh, you're the reason I play soccer, volleyball, lacrosse hockey. Because  you were so awesome and I wanted to be just like you. And so when I hear that, I just feel like it just warms my heart in so many different ways. Cause all the sacrifices I made, all the things that I did to get to where I am, it was paying off and people are recognizing it and feeling empowered by who I am.

Stef

 I love that advice. Especially if we already know the numbers, like the stats that we've talked about today, you might not find your role model that looks like you in your sport. And so I love that advice to look beyond that. It's excellent. So, last question, because Voice In Sport is all about trying to drive change for women's sports.

What is one thing you would like to see changed for the future of women's sports? 

Tziarra

The future of women's sports, I would love, love, love to see more women coaches. I think that even still there's so many male coaches dominating a woman's sport.   They're knowledgeable and awesome, but women are just as capable, just as talented, just as knowledgeable.

And so how do we get women that are playing to get involved in coaching and to continue to. And are  our hiring processes looking for representation and diversity in those ways. So for me, I would just love to see more women getting involved in coaching and making that impact  on a bigger level.

Stef

 It's a great challenge to put out there for all the leagues and all the club teams to really check yourself and say, what processes do you have in place to ensure. There's diversity in your staff. So I think it's a one that we hope to see as well. And thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast.

You're so inspiring and I love what you're doing and keep speaking up and using your voice. 

 

Thank you Tziarra for your open and very honest conversation about your journey as a black female athlete.

 Female athletes, like you, who are fighting for social justice and inclusion have inspired us to create Voice In Sport. You are the change that will pave the way forward for so many girls who come after you.  And we are so grateful for your wisdom that you've given us today. You can follow  on Instagram and Twitter at Ziara King.  

It's been a challenging year for us all, but for me in a community can help us get through it together. That is why we've built this to support each other.   So if you're a female athlete, 13 to 22, we'd love to have you join our community @voiceandsport.com. When you join you'll gain access to amazing female athletes, mentors like Tziarra and so many others in the VIS League. 

You'll also have access to our exclusive content and amazing tools to help us all advocate for the change that we want to see in women's sports. You can always find us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik TOK @voiceinsport.   And we hope to see you next week on the Voice In Sport podcast.

Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creators™ _Arielle__ and Anya Miller

Tziara King, Professional Soccer Player, shares her journey through becoming an outstanding soccer player in her rookie season and, more importantly, finding her voice as an outstanding leader off of the field.