Racial Barriers in Hockey
with Blake Bolden
15 Nov, 2022 · Ice Hockey
Blake Bolden is a professional Ice Hockey player for the Boston Blades, where she won two national titles and works to pave the way in the sport for young black girls such as herself!
Guest: Blake Bolden
“Breaking Down Racial Barriers in Ice Hockey”
[00:00:00] Stef: This week on the Voice and Sport Podcast, we have the pleasure of speaking with Blake Bolden, the first black player to compete in the National Women's Hockey League, a current ESPN reporter for the NHL, as well as a professional scout and growth and inclusion specialist for the LA Kings. In this episode, Blake dives into her experience of joining ice hockey at a young age and playing as the only black girl on an all boys team:
[00:00:27] Blake: When I was stepping up to these boys, that part really empowered me and that just built my confidence. My skills got better.
[00:00:35] Stef: She discusses the lessons she learned when trying to fit into boarding school:
[00:00:40] Blake: The school was really, really small, but it focused on winter Olympic sports, skiing hockey. And I was like, okay, this is the niche. I'm going there. I'm gonna make a name for myself. And it was a blessing.
[00:00:55] Stef: And the ups and downs she faced in the world of hockey. From winning two national championships to getting cut from the 2014 Olympic team:
[00:01:05] Blake: knowing and feeling that I should be in Sochi representing my country. And then the year after that, we won a champ.
[00:01:15] Stef: Before we get started, if you love this podcast, please give us a rating and review on Apple Podcast and Spotify. Welcome to the Voice and Sport Podcast, Blake. We're so excited to have you here with us today.
[00:01:35] Blake: I'm happy to be here with you. We're having a good time. This is gonna be great.
[00:01:38] Stef: Yeah. Well, you grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and with a single mom, so I am so curious to know, how did you find ice hockey? What was that first moment that you took ice skates in a Cleveland, Ohio, and stepped onto the rink?
[00:01:54] Blake: Oh man. a story that's so beautiful to me. Cuz it's one of those moments where you're just like, if this didn't happen, I wouldn't be here at this exact time. And so my mom all these different jobs, right? She had to keep food on the table, clothes on my back, that sort of thing. So she would bag papers. was a nurse, she would nanny, and one of the days that we would bag papers, we met a police officer on the side of the road at like 5:00 AM and his favorite sport was ice hockey. And they actually began to start dating
and after a while she got comfortable and this police officer Leslie, brought me to a Cleveland Lumberjacks game, which was a pro team that played in the gun arena. I didn't do I was doing like ballet, a little bit karate, like normal kids stuff, right? And then I walk into the gun arena and Leslie, who was a security guard, could go into the locker room. He would go down in the tunnel. Introduced me to the coaches and the general manager, and I just thought that was so that as soon as I saw the players get on the ice, I was like, I need to figure out how to get sticks and skates and get on the ice asap.
So after a while I went to play it against sports, got like all this secondhand stuff and I was six years old and here I am this slow black girl who has no clue what hockey is, just learning how to do it
[00:03:15] Stef: That's so amazing. I just absolutely love that. Well, I grew up in Alaska and hockey was a huge thing up here. And it's such an incredible sport. But it's not a diverse. Even up in Alaska, right? It's primarily men. It's primarily white. And if you look at the statistics in the nhl only 6.8% are black players in the NHL today.
So it's not a diverse sport. So tell us about those earlier years, did you recognize that and did it affect you or were you just so focused on learning the game that it didn't affect you?
[00:03:49] Blake: Yeah. So I think in the beginning years it didn't affect me, right? It took me two years to figure out how to stop on my left side, and hockey was hard. My parents were working all these different jobs just to pay for these coaches to shit me off to.
Camps and clinics in Canada. I was just like, this is so cool. I really wanna learn. And then once I started getting into the really competitive, like triple A boys hockey like where you're the only girl on the ice It was myself and Megan Bok were the only two girls in the entire league that we were playing in.
First, you had to make the team there was checking back then when you were. 9, 10, 11, 12. So they saw you were a girl and they were just like, I'm coming after you girl. I had to switch from forward to defense because my coach was like, Okay, maybe you'll be safer back there. It was nuts. And then you add in the little comments here and there that were given to my mom or myself and just kind of figuring out, Okay, well this doesn't really feel good when I get these comments, but you know what feels good, putting the puck in the back of the net. Hitting back because it's legal in the game. When I was checking and stepping up to these boys, like that part really empowered me and that just built my confidence. My skills got better. I started being utilized more on the ice and I was just like, All right, well you guys could say whatever you want to me.
You could do whatever you want. I'm gonna control what I can control and I'm gonna win this game.
[00:05:16] Stef: and that was like 20 years ago. Right? So have things changed for young girls that wanna get involved in hockey today? You know, you clearly ended up playing on one of the best boys hockey teams in the state. Is that still the path for young women who wanna be at the best level? Or has young women's hockey come a long way since?
[00:05:36] Blake: Oh my goodness. I think young women's hockey has come so far. First and foremost The girls these days don't have to be the only girl on their team. This skill has grown instrumentally. I mean, you talk about 3% to six. Percent PAC players in the NHL for women's hockey. It's one of the fastest growing sports in the country. It's so great. Now I go out to all of these different clubs who have youth girls programs. I didn't have that when I was growing up. So there's different stages. Triple A, a, you know, it goes all the way down from 19 U to like 10 you, and that's really important. And they feel safe, they feel secure.
The skill is growing. It's actually really wonderful to see. And I also see some girls playing on boys hockey teens and still crushing it. I think there's always gonna be some level of adversity, something's gonna happen and you're gonna have to choose how you wanna respond to it.
But I think that's part of the beauty about playing a game as tough and intense as hockey.
[00:06:33] Stef: Well, what advice would you have to young girls out there today who might feel like. They don't belong in the sport. And maybe reflect a little bit back on your own experiences when you were really young, feeling a little bit like you didn't belong because one the fact that you were a girl on a boys team and two, that you were in the minority as a young black woman.
Did you face any bullying, or targets on your back at that time? And how did you work through that adversity?
[00:06:59] Blake: Yeah, I did face a little bit. One because I had to try to make a boys team that really wasn't necessarily for me, right? Like, it seemed like every team, every room, every locker room, every rink that I walked in, it was like people were just unprepared for my presence. And I had to get used to that. what I would say as far as advice to someone like that, honestly, Embrace it because it's so special you can be someone that is going into these positions it seems like it's a lot of pressure, but if you just your why, remember you decided that you wanted to play. like what the feeling that carving edge work in the ice, the sound that it makes, the slap shots and the goals Why you're playing the game Because first and foremost, it should be fun all the time and, you gotta have your allies, you gotta have your homies that are gonna stand up for, you if you do get checked from behind, you gotta have your parents that you can cry to after the game or your coaches that you feel comfortable with.
So it really takes a team and a village. So I would say rely heavily. People that support you and then embrace that you're different because I did have to face myself and I found myself trying to and fit in. And then once I got into an age where it just didn't feel right in my heart, in my body anymore, I had to be like, Okay, Blake, who's.
The Blake that you wanna be. You wanna be the Blake that rocks Jordan's and has porn rolls and comes in and is just like, What's up? It's me you're gonna either accept it or you're not, and that's fine, and just be okay with that.
[00:08:37] Stef: Absolutely. Well, we're doing a session right now with Alison Felix who's one of our mentors at Voice and Sport on belonging and Acceptance because often when you don't feel like. Belong in something and you don't see yourself in that sport or in that space, it's hard to even accept who you are.
When you're thinking about that switch for you, how old were you when you got to that age where you're like, Ooh, I'm gonna step into me here? Because it can be hard. And this is why also I think a lot of young girls are dropping outta sport at that really critical age of 14.
[00:09:11] Blake: Mm-hmm. I would say it honestly took way too long for me. it took me into, my twenties, which I'm almost ashamed to say. And that's why when I speak to these young girls, I'm like, Listen, you're different. Oh my gosh, this is so You should be proud of who you are, how you show up every day, how you present yourself to the world, because there's no one else like you.
Right? And it took me so long. I would go the ranks and I would be and reserved, and I almost had this shell of protection that I didn't wanna show my true self, my true humor. Like anything it. was like, almost like this intimidating rock, right? like wanted to improve myself day in and day out.
And then I got to a point where I was just like, This is exhausting, carrying this weight. Like just let it go. So yeah I just think it's really important to try love yourself before you get to that point where it's so exhausting that you might.
[00:10:10] Stef: I love that. Thank you for sharing that. And I think we all wish those, those moments of acceptance would come a little earlier. We're better for it as human beings and as friends. Right. And, ultimately I think as teammates. So I wanna hear a little bit about your journey to get to college
to get to that year 20 that you're talking about. You had an interesting move there. You went to boarding school, so you ended up getting recruited for a full ride scholarship to Boston College. But let's talk about the boarding school decision. What were you thinking? Was this your decision, your parents' decision, and is this something that, you know, other young girls should consider? We would love to hear kind of what, what happened in that moment in your life that you made that decision.
[00:10:53] Blake: Oh. Goodness, Why did I make that decision? I mean, it was necessary. It was one of the best I made. I for the Cleveland AAA boys team, and the coach is, of the team that I eventually played on in Northwood, in Lake Placid, that boarding school that I went to, saw me playing and called up the coach at the boarding school was like, Hey, I think you might like this girl.
She's incredible. You could pick her out of this group that nobody really knows who she is and bring her up to Lake. Placid I really wanted to go to college and play hockey. And I knew that if I wanted to do that, I had to play girls hockey to get seen, to get exposure. And so went up to Lake Placid with my mom. It was a 10 hour drive from Cleveland, and I like, Oh my gosh, what is this? There's all these and it looks like a beautiful little castle and definitely stuck. More. when I went there, because I was the only person of color that went to that school for four years straight there were like 12 people in my freshman class I think maybe. 10 or 15 in my senior class. The school was really, really small, but it focused on winter Olympic sports, skiing hockey. And I was like, Okay, this is the niche. I'm going there. I'm gonna make a name for myself. And it was a blessing. I got a scholarship to kind of go to that school too, but my parents didn't have.
Boarding school money, So they had to work their butts off to pay for me to go there. And I was like, Mom, I promise you I'll get a full ride to college. Believe me, I swear. And she believed in me and that's why we did it. And looking back and being 30 something now I can be like, wow, my parents really had faith in me and they so much, and I appreciate the things that they did for me to be to be as successful as I am.
[00:12:50] Stef: Wow. I mean, it's really incredible because most young athletes don't get that experience of. Even home like that until they get to college. Right. So you did it much earlier when you're still as we just talked about, finding yourself, finding your own voice. So how hard was that to be away from home and what advice would you have to other young athletes that might consider that?
That might be a great path for them, but they're worried about leaving their home.
[00:13:17] Blake: I think honestly, if it just scares you, just check it out. It's gonna be so worth it. outcome is, you're gonna learn so much about how far you can push yourself.
I was an only child, so I was like, okay, cool. I get to go to boarding school away from my mom who's always telling me what to do, I felt like I was almost going to college or something like that. And I had a really good support up there the coach knew that I was. different. And he was like I got your back I would babysit his kids. It was just a really good experience and the beauty of where I was, I was in the Adirondack the 1980 Winter Olympics, you know, beating U s Sr.
It was just a very historically inspirational place for me to be. And it was a little uncomfortable the first year, but you just blossom and you prove to yourself that you can do all these things and it just helps shape you into the person that you are I should say.
[00:14:14] Stef: I love that. Okay. Well it worked. Ended up getting a full ride. So your mom must have been happy to Boston College. You're like, woo woo. So what was that transition like?
[00:14:23] Blake: have gone bad.
[00:14:25] Stef: could have gone bad for sure, but what was that transition like for you? You know, and reflecting back on it now, was it easier to adjust to, because you had been at the sporting school?
A lot of. Our community members here at Voice and Sport are either about to go to college or they are in college right now trying to take it all in. So would love to know what your advice is for these young women.
[00:14:49] Blake: Oh, I was so excited to go to college. when you get recruited to play any sport when you're going to play for that university first of all, you have a built in family. You have your teammates if you're playing a team sport. So that's locked in. right? You go in there, you're new kid on campus you do all your team building things.
Your coaches are really excited that you're there. So I would just say really embrace that. Like Boston is, my opinion, one of the coolest cities ever in the United States. It just has so much rich history and culture and amazing food, and there's so much to do. So I really just sunk my teeth in like environment and. in that moment when I was there, and then once pop dropped came, I was like, know, my stats. I was so excited. Like I was like rookie beating all the rookies and scoring it was incredible. was just like, let's go ready to play hockey. And then the school part, you're balancing all this stuff, but when you're in college and you play a sport, have all of these like people are there to help you succeed at every single step.
So don't be afraid to use everything, tutors, guidance counselors, your coaches, therapists, whatever you need.
[00:16:01] Stef: That's one of the reasons why I created the platform at Voice and Sport, because most of these schools do have at least one or two. But then that's kind of the problem, is that there's one or two sports psychologists and one or two nutritionists, and a lot of the young women are afraid to go and We wanna be like, No, go.
It's an incredible resource to go to. But what we've also found is that, a lot of people in general wanna find somebody they connect to. And so if that one sports psychologist at your school is not who you connect to, don't give up, come to vis We have 80, we have 80 sports psychologists and nutritionist because.
We want women to have those conversations and not have a stigma around it. So for yourself, what did you utilize the most when you were there in terms of all of the support in college?
[00:16:52] Blake: Well, playing in the national team pool. I was constantly being taken out of school in periods of times. All of my teammates at BC were like going off to Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever. Like I had these camps that were built in all throughout the years.
So I was just grinding nonstop in my head. I was just so anxious too. So I used a lot of school resources for my anxiety then just staying on top of my schoolwork and just helping. Communicate with my professors. Right. And then like making a schedule because I had gone to boring school. But it was, it was different.
It was different. When I got to college, I had five classes in one which is a lot for a university and then practice at 12 in the middle of the day when I should be eating lunch and having class before then in class after, and then lift at 6:00 AM and then potentially a game or I had to go travel and do testing for USA Hockey.
So it was a whirlwind, I think. Anxiety definitely was, churning it helps to have someone to talk to, a teammate that is a really good friend. You just can't be afraid because more you speak on it, think the more you'll find that you're not alone. And those things are what I found to be really true.
[00:18:14] Stef: That's absolutely right. It's so important to talk about it. That's why what we do at VIS all the time, we talk about all the uncom. Things and try to make it, more comfortable to do that right , because otherwise, like you do feel alone, and we don't want anyone feeling alone out there,
[00:18:31] Blake: Yeah, and honestly the people that you think are doing the best and are the happiest looking, could be completely the opposite. So definitely don't compare to what you think you should. Be like, or you know, your mental status or your mental should be like just like yourself and where you're at and then kind of slowly ease into doing is that makes you happy and succeed.
[00:18:59] Stef: Love that. Well, you did have some success when you were in college. You became an All American top of the charts. So when you reflect back on that experience, what would you say are kind of some key factors to be a successful hockey player at the top of the league?
[00:19:18] Blake: I think that you have to have a level work ethic. We just have an intention, right? Like some people can get up and like go through the motions. Oh yeah, I got today. I got this, I got that. But for me, every time I stepped into the locker room and lace up my skates, I almost had like something that I wanted to do, something that I wanted to work on.
You know, I went to my coaches and I was like, Listen, I'm trying to make this Olympic team. What is it that I need to do? Do I need to be faster? Do I need to close my gap? Do I need to score more goals? Just be proactive in the things that you wanna be good at and you know, you don't have to overwhelm yourself with it, but just to have something that you're like, Okay, this is what I want to do to be better than I was the day before. I think high performing athletes just have to play these mind games with themselves and When you check off the box, just another form of confidence that enables you to just perform whenever the game or match or whatever starts
[00:20:21] Stef: Well, and then you made the US National team and you won two World. And chips Mike dropped. Kind of nice. So how did that feel? And when you're thinking about making your first national team, how did you approach that experience, right? Because I'm sure it's maybe be a little bit intimidating, but you belong there, so you made it, you deserve that spot.
But for the girls that are out there, maybe about to go into their first camp or the first national team game of practice what's a good mindset to have to show up and be success?
[00:20:57] Blake: Well, just like you said, stuff I. To yourself why you're there. We'll get into the real, like when I got to the team pool and I was coming in with all of my skill and all of the assets that I thought I brought, I was kind of trying to change my game in order to fit something. That I just physically couldn't do.
Right? And I would go back to my university, I would go back to PC and I'd talk to my coaches and I'd be like, This isn't working. Like this is creating friction. And they're like, Blake, are you kidding me? Like, do what you do best. You don't have to just overwhelm with all the, Oh, well this person's doing this and this person's doing that.
And am I gonna make the team and comparing myself to, someone else that you're competing for a spot with. Just focus on. Because like you said, stuff, you're there for a reason. They wouldn't have given you a call if you weren't good enough. you just have to, you knowI easily affirm to yourself on a daily basis.
You stand in the front of that mirror and be like, I'm good at this, I'm good at this, I'm good at this, I'm good at that, I'm gonna go up there and crush it. And if everybody tells me otherwise, I'm gonna let that slide off of me. And I'm. Keep one day at a time, one practice at a time, one exhibition at a time, one tournament at a time, and then you'll start to kind of build this sustainable
like confidence that is unshakable
[00:22:21] Stef: Well, we know one of your mottos is be bold. So I'm assuming that's like, there's some affirmations behind that kind of motto that you say to yourself when you, you're getting on the ice. What does it mean to you and what do you want it to mean to others?
[00:22:37] Blake: Being bold to me just, again, it is an affirmation because sometimes there are things that are presented in front of you that scare you, right? Like going to a boarding school or the nwhl and going and playing overseas, Switzerland, 9,000 miles away from home or Anything that you're like, Ooh, I'm a little shaky in the knees. No, just tell yourself you can do this you can be bold and face whatever fear, whatever doubt just face it, head on. And when you go through it, you're gonna see all of this light, all of this positivity, and you're gonna be like, I got this.
Like, I'm bold, right? Like even in the. As a pro scout, I'm in rooms full of men that have been doing it for years, and I've been scouting for, this is my third season. Two of those were in a pandemic. Right. And not as in it. So I still consider myself a rookie and sometimes I get myself tongue tied, like, do I deserve to be here?
And then I'm like, Wait, be bold. Like let's go.
[00:23:42] Stef: Yeah.
[00:23:43] Blake: say what? You gotta say, your opinion matters. And just embody that
[00:23:49] Stef: I love that. So important too. We're gonna get into a little bit of your work experience, but before we do that, I wanna talk about the professional league and the experience because after college, you did get drafted in the first round of the Canadian Women's Hockey League and then played for the Boston Blades.
Then you move to Switzerland in 2017 and you got cut basically in 2018 by the Olympic team. So between those different leagues and those different countries, like, walk me through that experience for you because going pro can be tough, you know, it's also a really big decision for girls that are in college.
Are they gonna do it? Should they do it? So what was that transition like to you and walk us through kind of that experience.
[00:24:32] Blake: Yeah, so for me my Olympic year that I wanted to make was Sochi 2014. It was the year after I graduated bc, which was 2013. So there's that centralization year that I thought, Oh good, Perfect. I'm an all I'm a captain. I'm a three frozen, four appearances, like I'm doing all the things hockey's defense from the player of the year. Like, I got this I don't got this. that and I got my degree. I went back home to Cleveland and I was like, Well, shoot. Like they cut me from this team. They didn't just cut me from the team, they cut me from all of USA hockey player pool. And I was really sad because. I was like, Well dang. I told my mom I was gonna be an Olympian all of my parents put all of this time and effort and sacrifice into me being who I told them I was gonna be. And I failed. I literally was like, I am a failure. I don't have a job. I don't know what I wanna do college. I put all my eggs in this one basket and it didn't happen.
So I went whole, I cried. I felt sorry for myself for like three months and actually got a phone call from a woman named Digit Murphy, and she was the coach of the Boston Blades of the cwhl, and she was the coach of Brown years prior, and she saw me play and she was like, Dude, like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You're still one of the best players in the world. You're not gonna give. you need to pack your bags and come back to Boston. And so I molded on it a bit and I was like, Well, Boston, like it's kind of embarrassing, I gotta go back to where I just came and I don't have a plan and I don't have a job in Boston cuz they don't pay you money like they pay you and the nhl. So I was like, what am I gonna. I got three jobs that summer, saved up enough to pay for rent for like four months, and then I knew I needed to get a job. When I got to Boston, my coach, ding Murphy said, I'm drafting you first overall. Just come and play. So those first two seasons in the cwhl, my other teammates were playing and soci.
So I had like this pit in my stomach when I was playing. I was just like, I'm still a failure. I don't even know what I'm doing here. And this is really hard playing. And then knowing and feeling that I should be in Sochi representing my country. And then the year after that, we won a champ. which was amazing.
So I started feeling better and then, I started seeing young black girls come to me in these games and saying, Blake, you're the reason why I started playing hockey. Or Blake, I grew up playing hockey and I never saw anybody that looked like me until you, and I was like, Hold up. This is huge. To me, it meant more than any medal, any Olympics. It. That I saw myself in these young girls because I was that young girl who was looking up to seeing that looks like me. There is a Will re, there's a Jerome McKinna. There were all these people, a grand fear, but there was no Blake Bolden.
There was no, I mean, I found out about Angela James, but she was long gone, unfortunately, at that time. so I just decided that this was gonna be who I wanted to become. And then I just continued to play it because it gave me joy. And that was just this reciprocal thing that now we're here
[00:27:56] Stef: It's so important, right, to see yourself in sport and then when you have those moments, You understand now that you're the inspiration for so many other young women, it hits you pretty hard, right? What do you think that did for you in terms of the impact that you wanted to have in sport?
[00:28:14] Blake: Mm-hmm. Well, I would say that it saved me, like my mental health, that saved me. The young girl that came. And had my name on a poster, had wanted my autograph in my photo, and told me that. I was just like, Wow. I just had no clue. And that's a part of the being bold. It's like you don't even know people that you could be inspiring just by being Right. Just be and you just imit all of this positivity. So for me I decided that I wanted to take on this, this if you will, and there is this slogan that USA Hockey would always say, and they would say, Pressure is a privilege and. I really thought that was such a great slogan because I'm like, Give me this pressure.
Give me this challenge of trying to grow this game that has very little diversity in it. if you guys need a champion, I'll be that and. It just fulfilled me I really honestly can't believe that I was born in this day and age to be this person And I will never take it for granted.
And it's been so cool to see people like Sarah, Nurse and Soray Tinker, and all the other girls of color. That came up a little bit after me or were playing, but you know, we're now like in this network and we're all working together in our own little way to help expand our game. And it's really special.
[00:29:48] Stef: I love that. Well, we need to get all three of you guys on the platform to be mentors at the cause. We need to get you guys on. I mean, I think it's so amazing. What you also have done transitioned into is a whole nother world that is also not diverse, which is the world of sport leadership and management
So I have been there with you, my friend, slightly. In slightly different place, but where I was at in the corporate brand world for sports, also not very many women in those leadership positions. So you went from one space of not seeing a lot of people like yourself into another space.
Where you are now a reporter for the NHL on espn. And you are a specialist for inclusion and growth at the Los Angeles Kings. So tell us about the two different roles you're doing today and how your experience as a young black woman in hockey where you didn't see yourself very often reflected in the sport.
How has that helped prepare you for what you're doing on your professional life?
[00:30:54] Blake: Oh man. It just gives me so much fuel. Like honestly, the biggest gift to me as a growth and inclusion specialist working with the Los Angeles Kings is seeing these young kids that have never ever. Thought about playing ice hockey, putting on skates and seeing their faces light up. When they figure out that they can turn, that they could stop that.
Oh my gosh, wait. Whoa. Hockey is really cool. Right, and there's this NHL slogan that's like, hockey is for everyone. We have our kings slogan, We are all kings. And it's just this inclusivity part and aspect that. Really just brings me joy every time I get to hand a stick or hand any sort of equipment over and pass it on to the next generation. Going from that 3% when I was beginning to play in the NHL to the 6%, can only imagine how. Much of a gap. It's gonna be in the next like five, 10 years. And shout out to my kings who just won Stanley Award for social growth and impact for creativity and getting out in the community. I mean, that's the stuff that keeps us, me going. And then as a reporter for espn I have to pinch myself in those moments I remember watching ESPN when I was a young girl and my favorite player at the time, Jerome McGinly, and my dad, or my mom's boyfriend, Leslie at the time, who I called my dad. Forcing me to sit down listening to that theme song and being like, You need to watch this game because it's gonna make you a better player.
And just like these full circle moments, right where you're just like in perfect alignment with where you're supposed to be. And. TV is hard for me and I'm learning and I'm very new and very green. But again, I have a really good base and really good support. Yeah I'm just so grateful.
I'm in a time in my life where I'm just like, Oh my God, is going on?
[00:32:58] Stef: Well, that's amazing and it's so cool to see what space you're in now, and let's reflect real quick, what was your degree in college and does it have anything to do with what you're doing now?
[00:33:09] Blake: That's a great question. I have a double major in psychology and human development, and I feel like I went to BC and I was like, Oh, psychology, human brain, like, whatever. thought it was really cool. And, you know my fiance teases me and who's like, That's a cop out that was just an easy degree to get.
I'm like, Nah. Like, on. But I do think it taught me a lot of people skills. The human development part. What motivates people? How to communicate? I think I'm a very empathetic person, so I really like to connect with whoever, interested. I'm like, Yeah, let's connect, right? Cuz when I grew up I was like, this kid, and then I just broke through that and I was like, That's not serving me anymore. Let's connect, Let's network. Let's all work together because that's what makes any product great.
[00:34:01] Stef: So that moment, we talked about it earlier, you were 20, and then you had this moment where you're like, I'm gonna step more into who I am. So the girls that are maybe struggling right now with that moment, you know, and again, it could be any age, it's a different age for every person until they get so comfortable in their skin, they're like, This is me and I'm gonna be bold about it.
If there's girls out there that are feeling like they're. Quite yet there. With their confidence or acceptance in themselves, what advice would you give them now being on the other side where you're living? And not to say we're, we're never all perfect, we're all still in progress
[00:34:37] Blake: Oh my
[00:34:38] Stef: what advice would you give to the girls if they feel like they're in that moment of like, Ah, I'm not being myself.
[00:34:46] Blake: Mm-hmm. Oh man. I mean, the moment still come and go. They will always continue to come and go when I'm, like I said, when I'm. Those meetings and I'm like, Oh my God, what do I have this like feeling in my throat and this anxiety in my chest and my heart? Just say something, Gosh darn it that it happens and it's so natural. I think what I would say to a young Blake who is conforming, I would just say, Breathe into that. sit with it because it's completely normal. it's okay. Like the most amazing part about being in a position where you think, this is low. Like this is ugly. This doesn't feel good, is just know that this is gonna pass no matter what.
Like you are going to come out of and you're going to learn from this, you have to be gentle with with this, and to to yourself. Honestly, try to speak to yourself how you need to be spoken to. Like I literally to this day, but I'm like, Okay, Blake, what do you need to do right now? I'm feeling overwhelmed, because I'm a highly anxious person, I'll get overwhelmed. I'll get an email. I'll be like, Okay, what do you need to do? Whew. let's just chill out for a second. What is going to make you feel good inside in this moment? Not people pleasing, right? Not rushing to go do something that doesn't serve you in this moment. Just in it. Be gentle with yourself and know that you're gonna come out of it, and when you do, you're gonna appreciate it. the not so fun.
[00:36:24] Stef: Such good advice. What other techniques do you do that we can pass on to the girls like this could either be sport performance related or related to like the moments now as an ex. Is somebody who's about to go on live TV as a reporter,
[00:36:41] Blake: Oh my I literally have a YouTube nine minute meditation that I do time I go and do anything that involves a lot of energy. If, if you see me at home, like I feel like I'm trying to give guys the nuggets that voice in sport needs, and I'm trying to be high energy, but as soon as this calls off, I'm gonna be like, Oh gosh, that was hard, So like, you have to have different Blakes or different, like, you know, Sasha Fierce is right. I need to be Blake fierce right now. I need to be Blake at home. Or whoever. Have those different people that you can pick out and bring to whatever situation you're in. I need to be athletic. and so right now. So I have different alter egos, I guess and I definitely am heavy into the breath work. I think breathing into the spaces of discomfort really helps me, like I said, my chest and my throat sometimes get a little bit tense. and just moving your body, not necessarily in a high intense way, but just moving and breathing into your body.
Like just wake up and make sure you're getting that hydration right away. Make sure you're being in your body and letting your system know that it's time to great Like you're great. It's just time and it's your time. So don't know if they're tricks, but that's what I
[00:38:11] Stef: I love those pieces of advice. I think it's so, so important. Breath work. It can be so magical. I don't do enough of it myself. And like just watching you on this podcast episode, I'm like, all right, I need to breathe more. Breathing actually can do so much for you. It's like one of the most under underestimated tools we all have.
You know, and you can go throughout your whole day and realize you didn't even take a deep breath. So, It's so important to kind of find those moments somewhere in your day, whether it's for these young girls like walking to and from their classes, maybe that's your meditation breathing moment versus looking at a TikTok or doing a TikTok
[00:38:48] Blake: Don't even, I noticed too, like the shallow breathing, that's where the tension comes from. You. Like you said, sometimes you're just like, Dang, I really didn't take a full breath because my mind was in this fight or flight system and activation all day. Oh my God, I gotta run a class. Oh my God, I have this assignment.
Oh my God, I have practice. Oh my goodness. I have to be to, I'm gonna be late. Like when you're in school and you have all those hormones going on, and you've got a lot of stuff to do, like you are all the time.
[00:39:18] Stef: Yes.
[00:39:18] Blake: So you need to just take a second a screen and just slow it down.
Slow your body down. You are an engine. Your engine cannot be, All the time. It's impossible.
[00:39:31] Stef: a good advice. Well, I wanna talk about another engine that's like very important to women's sports, which is exposure and visibility. I mean, you are a reporter for espn. We know the facts out there, right about the lack of reporting and exposure around women's sports in general. And definitely I think if we went down to hockey, I'd be like, I rarely see women's hockey on tv.
So one thing I wanna ask you is What is the path forward to bringing more visibility to women's sports? I mean, you're kind of on the inside here, so from what you see, what do you think are the big moves that we need to make as a sports industry to make sure we bring more visibility to women's sports?
[00:40:17] Blake: Absolutely. That's such a good point, Steph. I think we have been shown that women's sports can be successful if we just give it that opportunity, give it that I remember they're the opposition to the kings. But I the Anaheim Ducks hosted Team USA and Team Canada in. Stadium rivalry series and that had a record number of 13,000 plus that attended the game and basically sold out Honda Center Anaheim. And it was And you saw so many families there and people being brought and you're like, Well dang, this is the best hockey for females in the world. Right, And every time, every four years, these women go out and play in the Olympics. It's the number one rated game, an event in the Winter Olympics like you said, these are stats, so we don't have to prove this stuff works. We just have to have leadership, put it on television vision. Get the people to buy in. Everything starts from a little seed and then blossoms into something bigger. I know ESPN has a partnership with the phf, the Premier Hockey League now, and I think that's doing wonders for the game I just think the game is in a good place, quite from where I started. I think people on the other side of the spectrum where they wanna go, they're like, It's still crap. But like it has grown. And I think that there are a lot of engines and so many that will not shut up and dribble the game is where it needs to be.
[00:42:07] Stef: I think you said a very important call out. Right? I think it's the leaders at the top that have to make these decisions to put more women's sports on tv and like a flower, if you don't water it, it's not gonna grow. So giving it the opportunity is absolutely one of the most important things we can do.
So when you take a reflection on like women's sports in general, what. One thing that you would like to see changed for the future of women's sports?
[00:42:35] Blake: Ooh, well, I would like little bit more paper in their pockets. You know, I just think women are so patient and and the things that we. Do to right? Like you were talking about Alison Felix and her being a trailblazer and her having a beautiful child and having to put certain things on the back burner and then coming back around and being like, Okay, well I wasn't supported in this stage of my life, so now I'm gonna go do my own thing, like, These things, these that we're doing, like in the W N B A, these very important documents and, legal forms, whatever you wanna call it, agreements are imperative for women to be able to be comfortable, Right?
I've heard horror stories about women breastfeeding and doing this and taking their baby and having a roommate like it. Come on, people. We need to support our women they are literally the foundation and the of life. Like let's give them resources that they need that they can return or recover or just be great, right?
And. Man, there are so many people out there that are doing way more than I am in that aspect. I don't have a child. I don't know what it's like. But I just would love to see that make sense, Things that, and I'm not really talking about like but like things that make sense in situations, Because we're so talented. You see it, you go to a game, the fans are there, the product is there, women are strong, and you. Taken play for a long time. I'm in my thirties and I'm pretty much still in my prime,
[00:44:28] Stef: It's amazing. Yeah. Well, and it's not just hockey, right? It's also running. I mean, some of the best runners in the world don't hit their prime until their mid thirties. So I think there's so much potential for women's sports and there's this huge ecosystem in which everybody does have a role.
So I wanna talk about the role of the man or the ally. You know, in your own experience Do you feel like male allies have helped you throughout your career and how do we get more, more men, more male athletes involved in supporting women's sports?
[00:45:02] Blake: Yeah, I can give like the quickest story on how I even got this job with the LA Kings. It came from the best male ILI period, in my opinion, my professional growth. Luke Robi, the La Kings president, he literally came up to me in the tunnel while I was watching my first Kings game and was just talking to me as. understood women in their plight and the struggles that they've faced while playing ice hockey. I mean, Luke, Rob Robotize, a legend, a hall of famer really like will go down as one of the greatest. And he just quietly asked me, Hey, have you ever thought about being a scout? At that time there was only one pro scout that was a woman and me came into number two and the first woman of color to ever do. for an NHL team, and that was just because I was in the right place at the wrong time. I didn't send in an application, didn't call anybody. It was luck. Literally, meets opportunity equals luck.
That's all that was. And. More people have to start asking engage with people that are qualified, But are different. bring something totally different from someone who's been scouting for 30 plus years and played maybe 20 years ago, or however you wanna say it. I don't know what that is yet, but I know I'm different.
I know, I know the game. I know I see it. So I just think if we have that open mind, As the males or the men and the allies you're only gonna get greater if you have different recipes and ingredients to the sauce. Like you don't want the same ingredient. It's gonna be super
[00:46:46] Stef: Yeah, same slot's gonna be boring.
[00:46:48] Blake: Let. Right? So like, let's spice it up, know? So just
thought process is really important. And then now got so many women being hired, and I'm just talking about hockey. so many women being hired as assistant, general managers, assistant coaches, you know, and that's almost like a natural competition for these teams to be like, Oh, okay, well we're gonna go find our. over here that knows what she's talking about. And I said, I think it's really empowering to be a woman right now. And it's a really good time, so don't hold back and just go for it.
[00:47:25] Stef: Such good advice. Well, as we think about kind of why we exist here at vis, right? Which is all about keeping young girls in sport and hopefully inspiring them to kind of follow your path, follow the path into some of these leadership positions in sport. What would be one piece of advice you would have for a younger girl in.
That might not see her self reflected either in her sport or in the career position that she wants. What advice would you give her?
[00:47:55] Blake: Oh man. Well, honestly, I feel like. I was put in whatever time and place to, you know, we're all put in these times in, in these positions so we can make room for other people. So I would say connect anybody that is in the position that you think that you wanna hold. Just do some research, right?
There's so many incredible program. Voice in sport tech companies, mentorship programs, we are out here it's just sometimes and even scary to find what fits for you. So just go out there and be brave, be bold, whatever it is. You're just gonna have to put your head down and do the work just know that someone is going to see your light and your value, and you have to see it within But door might be cracked open. And you're just gonna run right through that thing, and you're gonna keep opening the doors from behind you. So it's a little bit easier, you know, knock over some hurdles here or there for some other people. And that feels really good when you can do that. So have that in your mind as full food for thought and just know that the, the harder it is, it's almost like, it's almost like the more rewarding. So don't be discouraged, just. Be appreciative of where you're at and where you're gonna go. And you're gonna be like, Dang younger bb. Like, we did that. Like, that was awesome. Congrats girl. proud of you,
[00:49:29] Stef: I love it. Well, you're so inspiring. I love to see what you have accomplished and what you're gonna accomplish in the next several years. So we will be cheering for you and I will definitely be watching more of the NHL now so I can hear you commentate But thank you so much for joining us on the Voice and Support Podcast.
[00:49:48] Blake: Of course, Steph, this was awesome and good luck to all of you out there who have a dream. Keep going. You've got this.
[00:49:55] Stef: This week's episode was produced and edited by Kate Tuman, a cross country and track runner for ucla. Blake inspires us to be bold, as she says, and embrace who you are every day without shame, both on and off the field. We are so thankful that we got to sit down and chat with Blake today about her journey in sport and look forward to all the strides she'll continue to make in her future.
You can follow Blake on Instagram at Sport Blake. Please subscribe to the Voice and Sport Podcast. Give us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts, and definitely send this episode to a friend that you think might enjoy our conversation. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok App, Voice and Sport.
Head to the feed on Voice and Sport, and filter by hockey or by journey, and spend some time diving into the incredible free resources that we have here at Be. If you're interested in other athletes fighting for equality in sports, Take a look at our article about Wisconsin Player Chanel Bram Schreiber and why the NCAA won't let her.
check out the sessions page and filter by professional athlete and sign up for one of our free or paid sessions with our VIS League or VIS experts. Please click on the share button in this episode and send it to another athlete that you think might enjoy the conversation. And if you wanna hear more stories of women athletes breaking down racial barriers, tune into episode number 85, titled "Diversity in Triathlons the first black woman to become a pro triathlete", with Sika Henry. See you next week on The Voice and Sport Podcast.
Blake Bolden is a professional Ice Hockey player for the Boston Blades, where she won two national titles and works to pave the way in the sport for young black girls such as herself!