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Episode #49

Changing the System

with Madison Hammond

06 Jul, 2021 · Soccer

Madison Hammond, a professional soccer player for the OL Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League describes her decision to go pro and her journey to becoming the first indigenous and African American player in the league.

Transcript

Episode #49

Athlete: Madison Hammond

“Changing the System & Creating Inclusive Spaces”

(background music starts)

Stef

Today, our guest is Madison Hammond, a professional soccer player in the national women's soccer league for the OL Reign. In her senior year at Wake Forest, Madison was second team, all ACC and also made the all ACC academic team. She was also a four year starter at Wake Forest and a two year captain for the team.

In addition to playing professional soccer, Madison is passionate about social justice and representation in her school. She currently is an intern at Togethxr and is on the leadership committee for the OL Reign. In today's episode, Madison shares with us, her journey to becoming the first native American player in the NWSL and her experience approaching and recognizing privilege within a team.

Madison describes the highs and lows of her journey to becoming a pro athlete and how she deals with the pressure and responsibility that accompany entering a space and establishing your voice where you might not hear or see others like yourself. Madison's name is Shrewaka, which means magpie in her language. She is an indigenous woman part Pueblo, Navajo, and black. And today we will explore her journey as an indigenous woman in sport. Welcome to the Voice in Sport Podcast Madison. We're so excited to have you here with us today.

(background music stops)

Madison

Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited for this.

Stef

You have made incredible history for so many people that it's so exciting to talk to you today about just your journey, because I think it's so inspiring what you have done. And, I'm sure the journey hasn't exactly been easy along the way. And, we're going to kind of unpack that here today.

So, let's start all the way back in your early years.  So you grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and your mom is a member of the San Felipe Pueblo, which is pretty incredible. So, bring us back all the way to where you were born and why you started playing soccer.

Madison

So, I was born in Phoenix, Arizona, and I didn't spend a ton of time there. My whole extended family, we all lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. So I moved there and spent a lot of my really young days there. And for me, that was just really foundational in how my family interacts with each other.

We're all really supportive of one another and very involved in each other's lives. It was a time in my life where I look back now and I had everyone around me and all of that support. And then on top of that, that's when I first started playing soccer.

So, I started playing on the local little Peewee team on the Young Lions. And, I actually played with boys to start and it started with an indoor three vs. three team. And then I would play outdoor with them and we would play basketball in the winter. 

It was just really fun for me because I was super competitive and I knew that about myself and I definitely wasn't technically better than the boys, but I was just as competitive as them and I wanted to beat them at everything. And so, it was just something that was really fun. And, that's what kind of kept me in the game and wanting to be better. Cause I just wanted to be better than the boys.

So, fast forward and my mom's active duty in the military. So, when I was in fifth grade, we moved across the country, away from my family, away from that entire support system to Alexandria, Virginia. And, that was kind of like a new chapter: new school, new friends, less family members, new team, like everything was different.

Stef

I can imagine that was a pretty big shift. So, let's go back to those first moments when you did start playing soccer. Tell us a little bit about your family and who really influenced you inside your family to step out onto the pitch for the first time.

Madison

I would say it'd be a couple people. A lot of people in my family play sports. My uncle played professional golf on the PGA tour for 20 years. And, my other uncle played golf in college as well. And then my sister ran track and played volleyball when she was in high school, which is about when I started playing soccer.

So, I think that it was something where I knew I wanted to be active. And, I knew that that competitive nature within me, like I needed a space for it. And so for me, I wasn't gonna play volleyball. I didn't like it as much as my sister. I didn't want to run track. So, it just seemed like soccer made sense. So, once I played soccer and I realized I liked it and I was kind of good at it just kinda made sense. 

And, I think when you look back on your soccer career, there's just never a day where you're like, “I'm going to keep playing this sport.” It's kind of more like, “why would I have ever stopped?” There was no reason for me to stop because I enjoyed it. It was fun. It was, I mean, I was good at it, and it was something that challenged me. So for me, the environment and the situation were just perfect for me.

Stef

It's incredible. I mean, it's not like that for everybody. Sometimes you don't have that full, like internal motivation or maybe you're in a city or a situation that's not safe or doesn't allow you to have access to sports. So, it's really lucky to have that growing up. And, I want to talk a little bit about that environment that you grew up in.

I mean, your mom's a member of the Sanfilippo Pueblo community and how ingrained were you in that community and did that impact who you are today?

Madison

For me personally, I definitely had access to a lot more opportunity than my sister, my mom, my uncles, my aunts, growing up, all of them at some point in their life, grew up on a reservation. And, the lack of resources and lack of opportunity, particularly in sport, really impact the youth and especially young girls and not being able to see that opportunity.

I have no idea what that would be like, because I didn't grow up on a reservation. The opportunities that I were given is something that took place away from the reservation. However, my experience with my community, with my family and with our culture was very directly linked when I was younger.

And, that's because being an American Indian is a very involved experience and it's very, you have to be present. You have to be with your family on traditional days, ceremonial days, things that are important because our culture is something that's acted out.

It's not something that's just talked about. It's something that you have to participate in. And when I got older and soccer became the priority in my life, I wasn't able to go home as often. Like it wasn't easy to hop on a flight and head back across the country. So for me, when I was younger, it was something that was just a part of like, yeah, we're going up to San Felippe this weekend.

And it's like, oh yeah, that's what we do. But I didn't realize that you can so easily take that for granted. But, it's something that was so deeply a part of who I was. And so, as I got older, things changed.

Stef

So, what are some of those things that being part of that community has really instilled in you as a person and then, has any of those really affected how you play on the field?

Madison

A lot of the values are just driven on a sense of faith and it's a sense of belief that you have to have in yourself. And, it has a lot to do with the type of environment that you allow yourself to be immersed in. And so, if your environment and the people that you're with and the things that you are doing are not benefiting you, then you are setting yourself up for failure.

The way that it is taught to me and explained to me, is creating the best environment for you to feel safe, for you to feel secure, for you to feel confident, for you to feel happy. Those things and those feelings and energies are something that are so important and you don't realize directly impact whatever you're doing.

It might not just be sport, but in my case, it is. And for me, it was also how I approached school. It was how I approached my friendships and things like that. So, It's all very cyclical and that's something that I've had to learn in my soccer career and I'm still learning it now, just like everything is one big cycle.

And so, I think that those values and just making sure that I'm, you know, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically all sound and then things will go much better for me.

Stef

It's so important, what you said, sort of that idea that like everything is connected and that is definitely what we're trying to encourage and educate young girls with on our platform. You have to train your mind just as much as you train your body and all of that is connected to how you perform.

And so, I really loved that and I think it's so interesting how the culture we grow up in really affects like every part of our lives. And so, when you take a look back now, you're now a professional athlete and you think back to like your very early years. So, we were talking, you know, between ages four and nine when you were in Albuquerque playing soccer.

What do you think about that environment really made sure that you stuck with it, with sport at that time?

Madison

I think a large part of it is the opportunity and, I give so much credit to my mom, but also just even my uncles. Just supporting me on that journey. You know, my uncle, when he would travel internationally, he would bring me like a soccer scarf back and he would show me cool videos on YouTube and stuff like that, of different players.

And so, I think it's just, the people around me were, you know, supporting me and wanting me to really just enjoy what my sport brings. There was one part of it that was the opportunity and the support, but also just like my own mental drive and the type of person that I am. I am incapable of giving less than a hundred percent. And so, the sport taught me to keep going. And I think that it just kind of was like a give and take of like, the more I gave back to the sport, the more it gave to me.

And so, that couldn't have happened though without the opportunity. And so, the resource and the opportunity has to come first. And then, what you give to it is just as important.

Stef

I love how you framed that. And it's one of my questions for you. How much of what's gotten you to where you are today has come from luck and natural ability and how much of what you have done and got to today has come from hard work?

Madison

I don't think I've ever counted myself as lucky ever. I don't, I don't have luck in that way. And there are so many people who do. And, there are so many times in my career where I've looked at them and been like, man, like, how come? Like they were so lucky to like, get this opportunity or how come I didn't get called into a national team camp?

How come I didn't get  recruited by this school? And I've had so many moments where I've thought that and I think it's kind of trained me to just put my head down and do the work. And so I would say if I was to like put it in percentages, it'd probably be like 70% of hard work. And, then 30% of luck because I literally have no luck. My mom laughs at me, she's like, that's just not you.

Stef

I was just going to say, wow. So you have like a whole 30% more to increase of your like performance level. If you think it comes from luck.

Madison

Yes, I have been given some physical attributes that have just helped me in my sport, but I've had to work so much harder to increase even a little bit of that. I pride myself in that, in the fact that I did get here with a lot of hard work. I mean, it seems like literally at every step it's like, okay, you made it to this step, but now we're going to put you two rungs lower and you're going to have to go past it. So it's like, okay, I wanted to play professional soccer, but you're not going to get drafted. You're not going to get signed overseas. How are you gonna make it happen for yourself?

Stef

I think that's how a lot of us feel in the moment, you know, and that's where it's hard to keep your confidence. Right? And sometimes keep your motivation. So, we're going to unpack all of those challenges that you had between each one of your transitions. So get ready. Okay. To go back.

Madison

Can't wait.

Stef

And, we can help other girls who are coming up behind us. So let's start with that moment that you moved from Albuquerque to Virginia. You're in fifth grade and your mom is in the military. You're in a predominantly white community. And, soccer is definitely a popular sport in that area.

Tell us about that transition for you. And, is that a point when you realize that soccer was going to be the path that you were going to take?

Madison

So, when I moved to Northern Virginia, I think that everything was just so different, so fast. And, you know, I remember being kind of bratty to my mom about school and being like, well, “I miss my school in New Mexico” and all of these little, like, kind of snide comments as like a ten-year-old brat. But you know, I even, like when I moved to Virginia, I was like expecting to play on a boys team, cause that's what I had done. And then, when I moved, that's when I learned that there were actually really good girls club  travel soccer programs. And, I was like “cool, but I don't want to play on a girls team.” I went and tried out for one of the boys teams and they were so bad. And I was like, I can't play on this boys team.

And so, I got connected with a team in the area. And, I ended up playing there for five years before I switched clubs. And, it was just something like different. And, I was like, okay, I'm gonna play with girls. And then, I played with them and I was like, wow, they're actually really good and they're fast and they're strong and cool. This is a new challenge, like amazing. And so then on top of that, my, this like school and environment I was in was just a lot different. And the school that I went to in high school and middle school was not predominantly white. I would say it was actually a very diverse high school we had. We were right next to a military base.

So we just had so many different people in one area. And I think that those experiences that I had, I thought that that was normal. I thought it was normal to have like friend groups where people were from so many different socioeconomic racial, cultural backgrounds. And, I just did not realize that was not normal for anybody else.

The next transition I would say that was probably the hardest was when I went to college. That one was a big culture shock.

Stef

Going from like an all boys team to an all girls team. What did you notice differently about that experience?

Madison

I think that when I started playing with the girls, it was fast and I didn't realize that there were girls who wanted to play soccer at a high level or like play competitively like that. Cause when I was in New Mexico, I was just around the boys. And so, I think it was just like a good eye-opener and it was also, it was just fun.

Stef

Amazing. So, at what point did you know, okay, I am going to go to college for soccer and, you kind of got that bug where you're like, I'm committed to getting to that next level. Or did you already know when you were like five?

Madison

No, I had no idea. People are like, yeah, I want to be a professional soccer player when I grow up. No I like wanted to go to cinematography school or something creative like that. And it was my freshman year of high school and I got my first mass generic email to come to like a college clinic. And, that one was from Georgetown. And, I also got another email from GW at the time. 

And, it was just like, the interest was there and I hadn't even thought about it. And, I was like, huh. Maybe I could play college soccer. And then, all of a sudden, next thing you knew everybody was committing. This was back when people would, I mean, people were committing really young even before us, but people were committing end of their freshman year, beginning of their sophomore year.

And, I just felt really behind the curve. But, at the same time, my mom had a  conversation very early on with me that the academics were just as important and that was important to me. But, I knew I didn't want to make a rushed decision at 16 years old, 15 years old, and the rules are different now, but you know, a lot of people that, you know, were the next great when we were 14 years old, aren't even playing soccer anymore or didn't finish playing college soccer.

And so, I knew that I wanted to wait as long as possible to commit. And I didn't really, I didn't feel rushed. I wanted to weigh all my options. The school I ended up going to didn't even express interest until the end of my sophomore year. So, it's like, everything works out and I was really glad that I waited and I was really glad that I weighed all of my options because I, the decision I made ended up being the best for me in my soccer career.

Stef

Well, yeah, you went on to kill it. And we're going to talk in a minute, but what did, what advice would you have for the young girls who are like sitting in high school right now? Like stressing out about the recruiting process and trying to figure out, okay, how do I make a decision about where to go? What advice would you give them?

Madison

So the best advice that I received was if you committed somewhere and soccer was taken away from you tomorrow, would you still be happy with your decision? And, it's so annoying that advice, because you're like, “ugh” like, “you don't know anything” like, “soccer's not going to get taken away tomorrow.” That's such an extreme hypothetical, but it's so true.

And you know, even me and my decision, I weighed the options and I asked myself that question and I kind of, in a way I did ignore a good half of what I normally would have decided. And, I decided to go more with, I wanted to play in the ACC and I knew, I mean, I wanted to go to a big school. I wanted to go to an urban school and I ended up at a school with 5,000 students in the middle of North Carolina. But I knew I made an educated decision. And so as long as you're okay with that decision, and however you get there, just ask yourself the question and be honest with yourself because I had to be honest with myself in some parts of it, I had to kind of bite the bullet, but it's worked out.

Stef

Yeah, I would say it definitely worked out because your senior year was your second team, all ACC and all ACC academic team and a four year starter and two-year captain. So, you know, not bad for somebody who in high school was thinking “I don't know.” So, I think that's really encouraging actually for girls to hear that.

And I want to talk about that transition, I guess. So you fell in love with Wake Forest and you decided to go to college there, but tell us how that experience of that transition really was. I mean, clearly you went on to succeed, but let's talk about that rough time when you're like you're in your first year and you're like, away from home away from your mom and your, and your family, what was that experience like, like your biggest challenge that you face.

Madison

I would say freshman year was definitely an adjustment period. You know, on the field everything you could say was good for me. I started in my first game and I didn't step off the field for the entire year of my freshman year. You know, that's not normal, that's not the standard. That's not what happens to everybody.

And I recognize that, but also we didn't make the NCAA tournament that year. We didn't make the ACC. We didn't have a post-season. And so, it didn't feel that successful. And, on top of that, you know, off the field, I was having a complete culture shock in terms of this was the first time I was in a predominantly white space.

And, at the time, I couldn't put my finger on what was like off and why I felt so, you know, in my head and not confident . It was because the people I was hanging out with, looked nothing like me and knew nothing about my experiences. I came from a single parent household from the suburbs of Northern Virginia and people from the top 1% go to my school.

And it's like, how are they ever going to understand me? Where I come from? How to ask questions about race, about, you know, identity, culture, things like that? These weren't things that they had experienced talking about. And so, it definitely was a shock, but I just felt grateful. You know, I felt grateful for being there and I felt like you're at a top 25, like university academically, you're playing every minute, like what is there to complain about?

And, I think I look back on that time now, and those feelings I had were definitely valid and I wish that I had either reached out to different people and hung out with like different crowds or I wish that I had, voiced those concerns to the people that were in my circle and see like what their reactions would have been. But I was also like 18 and knew nothing about the world, so.

Stef

Well, you know, you're also in an environment, like you said, where you didn't see yourself or you didn't see other people like you, and that can be intimidating and it can then be really hard to speak up. So, let's talk about like what advice you would give to yourself if you were to whisper back to Madison freshman year?

Okay. You're about to go into this environment where you're not going to see very many people like yourself. What would you whisper to her? So that your head is straight and you feel like that first year it can be a bit better.

Madison

If I knew then what I know now, I think I would have told myself to, you know, trust my gut and, speak up about the things I was passionate about. You know, my junior senior year, I really found my voice. I felt like a leader on campus. People from other teams knew who I was and just the influence that the athletic community have at Wake Forest, I don't think that the athletes individually realize how much of an influence that they can have on the university, the administration, the staff. 

And, I would have encouraged myself to speak up about things that I cared about and that I thought maybe weren't right. I think that giving your athletes that platform is really important as well. But I think I would have told myself, “the thoughts that you have  you're feeling them for a reason.” So do something about them.

Stef

I think it's great advice. I mean, it just talks about like the power of representation, which I know you're also really passionate about. Right? I mean, I read some of the articles that you've been quoted in and we're a big believer about seeing things in the world. We want to see more female athletes.

We want to see more representation of women in leadership roles. But, we also want to see more diversity in sports. So, I guess if you take a look back at your journey in sport, did you see yourself represented across the landscape of the industry? 

So, I'm talking about not just your team, but coaches, general managers and staff at Wake Forest. Like, what was that experience for you, I guess. And then, if there was a lack of representation there, how did that affect you?

Madison

The first thought I had was so last year here at the OL Reign, we actually participated in a privilege walk. And, as I've mentioned, you know, just even in this discussion, I've always felt that I've had the access, the resources, the support, the opportunity. And, the way the privilege walks works is there are 10 statements and if the statement applies to you, you take a step forward. If it doesn't apply to you, you remain where you are in those 10 steps. And, all of the statements had to do with only soccer. But, their first question is “take a step forward if you were raised in a two-parent household,” and then there was, “take a step forward if you've had a coach the same race as you. Take a step forward if you could have gone to college without an athletic scholarship.” And again, I felt all of those things growing up and I felt so great about my journey.

And, I had only taken three steps forward and to see that and to see that everyone around me that was either behind me or right next to me, was a person of color or a black soccer player. It's so disheartening. And, it speaks a lot to not only our personal experiences, but I did not realize I had to endure so much more than my white teammates, then people with more access than me. Like I was grateful for the opportunity I had, but it wasn't good enough.

And, for a lot of other young girls, it's just not good enough. And like, my mom's resilient, I'm resilient. So, we pushed through those experiences. But, not everybody's like that. Someone else might have one challenge presented to them and not push through that.

But, why are they having that challenge presented to them? It's not their fault. It's not the player's fault. It's not the young girl's fault. it's the system like we have to change systems. We’ve got a lot of symptoms to dismantle.

Stef

We have a lot of systems to break down. We won't be able to talk about all of them in this episode. But, I promise you, we will, together, do that. But let's go back to then how eye opening was and how powerful that must've been to do that as a team. So after that experience, you know, I can't, I can't imagine. But, if you're on the field and you're doing that, and then afterwards, what was the discussion amongst the players?

Madison

You know we had a talk right after the privilege walk. And, you know, there were some people in tears. There were some people absolutely quiet,. But, the resounding message was through all of that, we're at the same point, we all are here together. And so from this point on, we need to carry each other, carry each other with each other.

We need to go with each other and be a team in that way. And so, I was really grateful to be given that space. You know, at the end of the day we're professional athletes, we play for our owners. We play for our fans, we play for each other. But, the team that makes up the locker room is so important to how you just approach anything.

Like how I approach my individual problems. I go to a teammate. If I have a concern or something's bothering me, I go to a teammate. And so, if you're able to talk about systemic racism and the racial structures that need to be dismantled, you can talk about anything together. So, I don't think that everybody realizes how powerful that demonstration was and going through that exercise together. But, I think that we're just so much better off for it.

Stef

It's amazing. I love it. That your leadership team like encouraged you to do that. That right there is a, is a great step forward. So, let's talk about then dismantling the system. Let's just break it down. Okay, if you could dismantle a few things right now to make the journey more equitable in sport for these young girls and we can keep it to soccer, what would you want to dismantle?

Madison

You know, I just think it's such a buzzword, but the Pay-to-play system is just like the worst. And you know, the question that's often asked is “why are girls of color not playing soccer?” And it's like, the question doesn't bother me, but they are playing soccer.

They're just not making it to the highest level because we live in this really linear system where you have to play on the best club team to get scouted by the best colleges. And, if you don't, you miss that step, and if you don't play at the best college, your chances of making it to the NWSL or abroad just diminish so much, you know, if you're playing at a Stanford or UNC or a Wake Forest or UCLA, the chances of you being in an environment, that's going to cultivate your interest and desire to play professionally is so much higher than if you're at a school that, you know, might be a great program and a great fit for you, but isn't challenging you in the way you want to be challenged.

And so, if you miss one of those steps, like, “sorry, looks like you can't”, if you want to be a professional soccer player just don't know, you kinda missed playing for the best club in the area. But I mean, these club teams are so expensive. It's like, do you want braces? Or do you want to play good soccer? It's like, are you going to have, what are you going to have to start choosing between?  

There are a lot of professional teams, especially on the men's side that have a lot of the extra money, like sponsor kids, pay for their club fees. And, sometimes the club fees are literally just like the uniforms.How are they going to get to the tournaments? How are they going to get to and from practice? Another part of it is, a lot of club soccer is in the suburbs. What about all of the city kids?  If I was to dismantle anything, it would be having to pay exorbitant fees for club soccer.

Stef

Love it. I think it's one area that you call out as super important, but you also mentioned visibility because they are playing and then they drop and that visibility is so important.

That's why we named the company VIS, Voice in Sport™. Yup. It also means power and force in Latin, which we believe the longer you stay in sport, the more powerful you will be. And, that's really at the heart of it, what we're doing here and why we're sponsoring young girls to have access to our platform.

So, brands can support young girls in sport by sponsoring them for a year to gain access to the Voice in Sport™ products, which is, you know, our products, they're not physical products, their mentorship, their access to experts. And, those are the things we think will keep girls in sports. So, I kind of want to, I guess, unpack a little bit more about your experience in college.

Then you went on to be super successful, even though you'd had like a rough sort of first start to like finding your voice and feeling comfortable on your team. But then, you went on to go pro. So, tell us about that like decision point. What point in time in your college years were you like “yes, I definitely want to go pro” and how did you decide to go pro? Because, we know the reality, not a lot of visibility on women's sports at the professional level, pay is still unfortunately a huge gap between the men's league and the women's league. But, what was your decision process when you were like, “yep, I'm going for it?”

Madison

So, if I had to pick a time, it was probably the end of my sophomore season. So, it was 2017. And, you know, I got to the end of the season and I had a good year and the team had a good year, one of the best years that we had had in X amount of years. And, I think I made the decision more from an academic standpoint of, okay, if you want to go pro, then my mom was like, “you need to graduate first. There's no, if ands or buts.” Like “you're graduating before you decide to go pro.” And so, end of that sophomore season, you know, I just made the mental decision of if in two years time, If you want to go pro the opportunity is available and you're not going to cause your mom any extra stress.

And, I think in that moment, the decision that I made was you've come this far. Why would you stop? Why would you put a cap on the end? Like, why would you say, “okay, in two years time, like, that'll be it.” And, I think it's just back to my personality of like, I've worked so hard for something. I don't want that hard work to stop  the joy that I get from the grind and from the hard work and from the ups, the downs, the fun moments of my teammates and stuff like that, I wasn't ready to give that up. And, I knew that as soon as my sophomore year ended, so I was like, okay, now you have to get better at soccer and keep going. But yeah. Yeah. So, then when I got to the end of my senior season, my senior year was the complete opposite. We did terribly, didn't make the postseason, all of that.

I was very worried. I was like, the team didn't do well. You didn't have a chance to individually showcase yourself because the team did poorly. It was like, you're probably not going to get drafted. So, I was like okay, I need to have a backup plan then. So, I decided to go abroad to Spain and try to make a couple of rosters there.

And you know, the thing that I'm learning so quickly about professional soccer is, you just have no control over a lot of things. And, the things that you can control are the only things that you can worry about. And so I went to Spain. Under the presumption that I was signing a contract and I was going to stay in Spain and I love Spain. I love everything about it. 

And so, to get there and realize the situation was something different was really surprising to me. You know, my whole life I've been told, you're such a good player. And my whole college career, I played almost every single game for 90 minutes. And so, it's like to finally have someone be like, “oh, maybe not” like what?

Stef

So what happened? Did you not make the team in Spain?

Madison

It was more complicated than that. It turned out that they needed a forward and I never advertise myself as a forward. And so, I was like, okay, we'll pivot. I'll go try out for another team. So, I got on the train in Spain, by myself, and as I'm on the train, the NWSL draft is happening and I'm watching each round go by one, two, and then we get to the third and fourth round and my name's just not called. And, I lost it. I broke down in tears. That was the moment where I was like, “am I not gonna be able to play professional soccer?” Like, I just had to leave this one team I'm not drafted anywhere in the NWSL. This last place is the last option.

Stef

What were you doing in that moment? You were sitting on the train, just balling, right?

Madison

Balling, like how they do in the sitcoms. It was terrible. It was so bad. 

And, that I had a pounding headache and then I had to find my hotel. I didn't want to speak in Spanish anymore. And, people were only talking in Spanish and, yeah. So I go to the other tryout and things were great again, but they were like, we don't, we don't have a contract right now. Like we're full. And I was like, “okay, well I'm going back home.”

Stef

Let's pause right there for a minute. So you just got told no by two teams, actually three, because you got told no by all of the NWSL. So, in those moments, where you like really struggling with your confidence? I mean, you have pulled through it, right? Cause we know where you ended up. But, in that moment, if you could turn back and like give yourself advice in that moment. What would you say to girls? Because I'm sure there's a lot of girls out there right now that are getting told, no. So what would you say to her?

Madison

One, I would say it's okay to cry. Sometimes you feel better afterwards.

Stef

Even ugly cries. That's okay.

Madison

Yes. Ugly cries are acceptable. I think the second part was, looking back, that there's always another option. And it might not feel like it. And it might feel like the weight of the world is just like crushing you.

But in reality, I had only reached out to two teams and I would tell that person, your confidence it's not going to be a linear thing. You know, you're not always going to feel great, and you're going to have ups, and you're gonna have downs, and you're gonna have really deep downs but, you have to know that it's going to come back up.

And if it's something that you really want to do, there is an option. There is a way to make it happen. There is a phone call that will get you to your next step. And, you have to be willing to put all hands on deck and just make it happen. And, that's really tough. And, it ended up where the second team told me no.

And then, the day of the draft, I got a call from a team in the end. And, they were like, “hey, come into camp.” I was like, “okay, cool.” Like, I'll come into camp. And then, I found out that the OL Reign actually had my rights and I was like, “I don't know what that means, but, okay.” So cI ame back to the states, went to the west coast, stayed with my sister for a bit.

And then, I came up here to try out last year and COVID hit one week into preseason.  And so, I went back home and, you know, that was for everybody really uncertain, really scary times. And, I was like, I still have to train. No gyms are open.

We would go to soccer fields and police would tell us, “get off.” And, we would go to another field and that same police officer would be like, “get off.” And, it was just like, you had to make it happen. And, there was a group about four or five of us we would just go out and train every day.

I don't even think they were like great training sessions, but I was like, I just have to touch a ball if I don't touch a ball and OL Reign calls me back, I'm not gonna be ready. And so they did call me back and it was really actually really crazy because I went from passing the ball to myself in the garage of my condo building to getting a phone call. It's like, we need you in Seattle tomorrow. I'm like, Okay. Cool. I'll go pack my bags really quick.

Stef

Amazing. Well, so when you found that out were you surprised?

Madison

I don't think I was surprised as in, “oh, I can't believe that they called me back.” I think I was more surprised, like, “oh, it's go time.” Like, you gotta turn it on now.

Stef

Well, you turned it on, and then you became the first Native American player in the NWSL. We all know, we don't want you just to be the first. We don't want you to be the last. And, it's so important I think for women like you, that are leading the charge and changing the game, for women to see you.

And so, let's talk about that. Cause Challenge Cup actually had like amazing viewership thanks to the CBS deal that was done by the NWSL, which is amazing. So, you guys got more views, which is incredible and you were on the stage where more girls could see you. And so now, like thinking about what that means for all of those young girls out there, especially in the Native American community, who might not think that's ever possible, what would you say to those girls out there that feel like they're not represented in the sport that they're in and they feel a little bit alone right now?

Madison

Hmm, for me personally, it's like, this journey has been so long and yet it's just begun. And, you know, just looking at some of my teammates now, they've been in the league for 10 years. And it's like, I could have a 10 year career and there's so many things I can do with that time.

But the one thing that I really want my legacy to carry in 10, if you're, if we're doing this interview in 10 years, I would just hope that I've influenced at least one person. And it doesn't even have to be a little girl. It can be a little boy. And just, you know, just inspire them to enter spaces where they might not think they belong.

And to be the first in a space is scary. And it comes with a lot of pressure because all of a sudden, I went from Madison Hammond, the undrafted free agent to Madison Hammond, the first Native American in the NWSL. And, you know, people are gonna want to see me play. People are going to want to see, like, what, what does that look like?

And so, it does come with a bit of pressure. And, I think at first, I was new nervous about that pressure and about having that responsibility. But, it's something that can be so powerful and positive and we need so much more positivity in our world. And, if I can contribute to just one person seeing, wow, that is so amazing that she's doing that and that she's representing her people, her family, her culture, and tell themselves that they can do it, then that'll be a great career legacy.

Stef

Well, I'm sure it's going to be more than one girl, especially if we continue to fight for visibility to watch women's sports, which is a big priority for us as well. We're part of the fan project as with, as is the WMBA and we're trying to get more data to prove that women's sports is an amazing investment, and that's ultimately what it comes down to, you have to invest in something if you want to see it grow. 

So, let's talk about the NWSL itself. Like, you know, not just about from an investment perspective, but also from a diversity perspective. You look at the numbers and you look at college athletes, and then you look at the NWSL and the percentage of black female athletes is still very, very low. So what would you like to see the NWSL work on in order to help improve diversity and inclusion?

Madison

It's just like, I think of the steps and I'm like, oh, it goes all the way back. And I, you know, I think it's amazing though. Cause like a lot of NWSL teams, I mean, look at us, we have the OL Reign Academy. So it starts there. Why give girls from other communities the opportunity to play for the OL Reign Academy and sponsor them.

And, I mean, disclaimer, we do, we have started a sponsorship scholarship program, thanks to our Boeing sponsor. And you know, even just that opportunity, if other NWSL teams are willing and able to do that, just giving girls even the opportunity to see, wow, there's a Native American girl on that team and I'm Native American and that could be me in 10 years.

And, maybe it's not also on the field. Maybe it's through community outreach. How is your team really cultivating a relationship with your community and who is that impacting?

Thankfully here at the OL Reign, we are very player driven. And, a lot of the projects that we work on are things that we're passionate about and want to see change. And so, how can we spread that message to all the teams in the NWSL?

Stef

I love it. And, it also ties back to just, again, like some of those values you were talking about in the beginning about how everything is connected and it's circular. And, I also agree you got to start young, we got to help these young girls have access, get them inspired, keep them in the sport. And all of that is so important and we all have a role to play in that.

So, I want to talk a little bit about like your life now. I mean, you're a pro athlete. You're out of college. But you're still young. You're 23, like you said, you have like a 10 year career, but for those of us that haven't quite transitioned to pro-life yet, what are the biggest changes that you've had to make in your life?

Madison

I would say the biggest one is working on my mental toughness and learning how to deal with the highs and deal with the lows. And, I think that a lot of the times, especially in female athletes, we have a tendency, at least I know I personally do, of blowing things up that don't need to be blown up and kind of making things a bigger deal than they need to be. If you have a bad training session, it's just one bad training session. That's all it is in your life. It's nothing bigger. It's just teaching yourself that is so much harder than you think. Especially for athletes, we're so competitive. We want to be the best at everything all the time. And, I think, you know, just transitioning, especially this 2021 season. This preseason was so long and the mental fatigue and the mental drain was so much more than the physical one.

And so, I would say that has been the biggest change and challenge for me. And, the positive side is that it's not abnormal. It's not weird. It's something that everybody experiences and it's something that you have total control over. And so, if I have control over it, I'm going to be as good as I can at it.

Stef

I love it. So when you were in college, did you ever go see a sports psych or sports nutrition at that point? Did you do that in college?

Madison

No.

Stef

And now, are you like fully engaged in that and believe that that's going to help drive your performance?

Madison

I definitely think so. I mean, I can be a stubborn person. And so it's something where, you know, you're like, “I'm fine.” Like, “I'm good.” Like, “I feel great.” It's like, “no Madison, you came from an environment in college where you played every game and you played 90 minutes every game. And you were the big fish on campus. And now you're playing against world cup champions, international superstars, like, really great soccer players and great people.” That doesn't make you any less. It's just, you need to rise up. And so I think it's exciting and it just, it makes me, you know, really pumped to be in this environment now.

And like, season's about to start, we're going to be so good this year.  Everything's positive.

Stef

I'm so excited to see you play. And, it's exciting also what you're doing off the field. So, you're a part of the Black Women's Player collective you're currently interning at Togethxr and you're doing a lot of incredible things are also on the leadership committee at OL Reign. So, what really drives you off the field? What is your purpose off the field? 

Madison

I think that my purpose off the field is I've just always, I've known that I'm just more than a soccer player, and I've also learned that you can do both. You just have to be willing to put in the time. And me, I'm also somebody that's really future thinking and future oriented. And so, I'm already thinking about what, what's my life after soccer, you know, I'm a creative person. I've always loved marketing. I've always loved creative strategy and working on narrative and things like that. 

And so if I can play professional soccer and also have an amazing internship at Togethxr, why not do both? Why not be involved in making connections as I'm growing, as I'm going forward in my career? Like the two don't have to happen at separate times. 

And so, I credit a lot of that to, you know, my family. My mom being like, “what else are you going to do?” And I think a lot of it too is the pay gap. I don't have the privilege of not having a second job. Like, if I want to buy the clothes I want, if I want to go to all the coffee shops that I want to go to, unfortunately, that pay gap between the men and women's side is just something that makes it where the things I do off the field, some of them are driven by passion and some of it is driven by necessity. And, that's just kind of what it is.

Stef

That's the reality right now for women's sports, right? So, we have to invest more. We need to get these brands to step up and do bigger sponsorship deals for female athletes. And, we need to see TV deals, broadcasting deals, both at the college level and the pro level be treated like men's programs. And that is one thing that I'm very passionate about that we hope to continue to influence over the next couple years is you got to put them on at the right time.

You got to show the amazing capabilities of these women's teams in order for people to engage. You can't see it again. Like how are you supposed to watch it? Sometimes you have to dig really far into whether it is online streaming services or off, you know, channel to find these games. And it's extremely frustrating. So we've got a lot of work to advocate for change there. And we're right there with you guys. 

So, let's talk about two final questions to kind of end the podcast. These are questions that we ask all of our guests on Voice in Sport™, because it really hits home at what we're trying to do. So what is one single piece of advice that you would tell a younger girl in sport today that does not see herself in sport?

Madison

I think the advice that I would give would be the advice that my mom always gives me.  It takes a lot of courage to fail. And, it's something that I worked so hard to bring to every part of my life. But, having that courage is what allows us to succeed. And so, if you're not seeing yourself in a certain space, be the person, be the person that enters the space and don't be afraid of it. Instead, just embrace it because somebody might be coming after you.

Stef

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

Madison

Oh, one thing. I think one thing that I would just love to see continue to change is for women's sports to be taken as seriously as men's sports. That comes into, where are you playing our games? How often are you playing our games? Are we on a streaming service that requires four extra steps? Or are we just on ESPN? We're not female athletes. We are athletes. We are good at what we do. We are sometimes better than what the men do. And, I just want us to be taken seriously at that value.

Stef

So good. And it is such a pleasure to have you on the Voice in Sport™ podcast. You are an inspiration to so many people, Madison, and I'm just excited to see what you're going to do the next 10 years of your professional career. Yeah, it's only getting started.

Madison

We're scheduling the interview in 10 years.

Stef

Yes, that is a great idea.  Well, thank you so much for joining us.

Madison

Thank you so much for having me.

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Stef

This episode was produced by VIS creator, Rena Schwartz, a skier at Dartmouth University. Thank you, Madison Hammond for joining us today and for sharing your story on finding confidence in yourself and persevering, when you don't see yourself in a space. We appreciate your thoughtful words of advice on what to do when you're told no or when you feel like you're out of options. Understanding that there are highs and lows in our journey is so important for women and girls to hear as we navigate our own career. 

Please subscribe to the Voice in Sport™ Podcast and give us a rating. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik ToK @voiceinsport. And, if you're interested in joining our community as a VIS™ Athlete, you will have access to exclusive content mentorship from women professional athletes, advocacy tools, and expert sessions on sports, psychology and nutrition and dietetics from VIS™ Experts. Check out voiceinsport.com to sign up. And, if you're passionate about accelerating sports, science and research on the female athletic body, check out voiceinsportfoundation.org and get involved.

See you next week on the Voice in Sport™ podcast.

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Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creators™ Rena Schwartz

Madison Hammond, a professional soccer player for the OL Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League describes her decision to go pro and her journey to becoming the first indigenous and African American player in the league.