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Episode #08

Draw Control

with Taylor Cummings

02 Aug, 2020 · Lacrosse

Taylor Cummings, Member of Team USA Lacrosse, shares her journey in sport, from the youth level to the WPLL. She emphasizes the importance of a strong mind and body by shedding light on her challenges with self-confidence and body image.

Transcript

(background music starts)

Stef

Welcome to the voice in sport podcast. I'm your host, Steph Strack, the founder of voice and sport as an athlete professional and mom, I have spent the last 20 years advocating for women and innovating across the sports industry. Now I want to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice at voice and sport. We share untold stories from female athletes to inspire us all, to keep playing and change more than just the game.

Today, our guest is Taylor Cummings, a professional lacrosse player in the women's professional lacrosse league team, USA member, and a former division one athlete at the university of Maryland in her college career. Taylor celebrated two national championships and she became the first ever three-time recipient of the Honda sports award for women's lacrosse.

 She's awarded to the top player across the division one schools. In this episode, Taylor shares her journey into the world of the cross and  her unique experiences transitioning from high school to college and college to pro. She emphasizes the importance of body positivity, self-love and confidence.Taylor, Welcome to the Voice in Sport Podcast.

(background music stops)

Taylor

Thanks, so much for having me. Excited to be here.

Stef

Everybody's journey is different so tell us how you started, what sports you played.

Taylor

Growing up, I was a huge sports fan. The first sport I picked up was ice skating. You know, knowing me now, the level of grace they have is minimal. So, it's kind of funny that, that's how my athletic journey began. I ended up moving from Richmond, Virginia to Baltimore when I was five and moved on to the street with all boys.

So, very quickly became a tomboy who came home with scrapes and cuts from roller hockey and playing basketball and soccer in the yard. One of the things that they played in Maryland, which I'd never seen before was lacrosse and so I started playing that with the boys on my street. My parents just wanted to make sure I was exposed to sports.

It wasn't necessarily that I needed to play sports but, wanted to see what caught my eye. So, the last sport I ended up picking up was lacrosse and that was probably when I was eight and just played in a rec league with all my elementary school friends, which was really fun. I kind of understood lacrosse. The goal is to put the ball on the back of the net but having a stick in my hand that was almost as big as I was, was challenging. So, it definitely took me a while to get the hang of it.

I went, made the B team, which was fine for me because I was also playing travel soccer, rec soccer, AAU basketball, or regular basketball. I was in so many different things that B-level across was great. It was a nice, fun atmosphere, but not too competitive when I had so much else going on. I eventually made the transition to club, which is the highest level in lacrosse

Stef 

What age group was that in?

Taylor

Sixth grade is when I made the transition from travel to club. I first made the club team in sixth grade. Right after I got into McDonough in eighth grade, my parents sat me down and were like, you need to choose which sport you're playing outside of high school.

One, because I was on eight different teams, but two McDonough was a half hour away so just driving alone, my mom didn't really need to be driving, you know, three, four extra hours, especially when my dad worked in New York during the week. It was a big commitment for her, and I eventually chose lacrosse.

It was one where I was starting to really develop a passion. I was getting much better every year. I could see physical, visible changes in my play, which was really exciting. It was the one that I was most inspired to play so I ended up choosing lacrosse to play outside of my high school realm.

I was recruited to Maryland my junior year of high school, amongst a bunch of other different places, but eventually chose between UNC and Maryland and came down to Maryland.  Went there and had the most amazing time there. Learned so many life lessons. Won, a lot of games, better friendships and memories. Graduated from there in 2016. Went on to join the first professional lacrosse league , UWLX.

Now, I'm in the second professional lacrosse league, the WPLL. I've been a member of team USA since 2013. We're about to play in our second world cup in 2021 in Towson. So hopefully, you know, still pushing to make that team. I'm a coach at McDonough where I went to high school and I also do camps and clinics so it's been really fun for me that a passion that started when I was seven or eight is now my life and I couldn't be luckier to do what I love every day.

Stef

It's so inspiring to see a female athlete at your level going back into high school to coach. When should you decide if you have dreams to play a sport at a national level? When should you decide to narrow down your sports?

Taylor

I think there's a lot of pressure on kids these days to specialize really early. In Maryland, I have parents who have nine, ten-year-old’s who are asking me whether they should choose lacrosse right now and I am always the first to say no. I played multiple sports through my senior year of college. They were so much fun for me. I loved competing. I loved being around different people. I loved being coached by different coaches. I think it helps me adapt, especially when I went from Maryland to my U.S. team.  

The biggest thing for me, for multiple sports and why I'm a huge advocate is I think it makes you more excited for the sport that you're more serious about. Soccer and basketball were awesome and they were so much fun, and I had more freedom to make mistakes and not feel as much pressure so it was a great stress reliever for me, and then when I would get to lacrosse season in the spring, I was so excited to play because I hadn't played for, four or five months.

I always stressed to my kids to at least do two, if you can. It's great for your mental health. It's great for your physical health, but I think you learn a lot as well and most of my kids actually end up playing three. It's been great to see them succeed on the basketball court, on the soccer field, a field hockey field, track field, whatever it may be. I think you see them gain confidence in other areas, which in turn helps them gain confidence in the sport that they focus on.

Stef

I love what you said when you were trying to decide which sport to narrow in on, you were inspired by seeing yourself improving. Can you tell us what you think makes a great lacrosse player?

Taylor

You know, that's a great question. The most important one is the passion for the sport. I see so many kids at 14/15 they just don't love it. You have to fight them to go to practice. You have to fight them to go outside and work harder and I think that comes from just not being passionate about it and wanting to do other things.

So if you want to go art, theater, soccer, whatever that may be, if that's where your passion lies, I encourage my kids to go for it and to be fully immersed in that because to make it to the D1, ans the professional U.S. level, you have to love the game and you have to be willing to make sacrifices before the game because you love it. So, passion for the sport I think, is a big one.

I've played in really competitive environments and you have to be willing to work harder than the people next to you in order to keep improving and help your team be successful. That competitive drive, I think definitely needs to be there. The ability to work hard when no one's watching. It's really easy to work hard in games, and national championships when it's sold out seats and there's a title on the line, but it's not as easy when it's the middle of the summer, it's a hundred degrees outside, and you're doing your workout packet that you don't want to do. 

(laughs) 

That’s what you have to be able to make the sacrifices and compete with yourself.

I think the biggest thing is making sure you love what you do, and you love who you do it with. The reason I still play is because I love the people I get to go play with. They motivate me to work out and to train when I'm not with them. So, I think when you find a sport and a community that you enjoy being a part of, that will help you be successful too.

Stef

Let's talk first about moving from high school to college. What is the most important thing to know heading into college to make sure that you have a successful four years?

Taylor

I think the biggest thing is one realizing it's okay to be nervous because everyone's nervous. Even, as a sophomore, junior or senior, you're still nervous about the upcoming year. Freshman year is a big one so it's okay to feel nervous because so much is changing. Where you live, where you go to school, your lacrosse team, social, academics, everything is changing so I think acknowledging the fact that you're going to be nervous and it's okay and very understandable.

I think the biggest thing that helped me was controlling what I can control. There are so many things out of my hands, but what I could control was, what kind of person did I want to be? I tried to be myself and be confident and know that I was there for a reason. Even as intimidating as it was in the first practice, my head was spinning, and I was like, “Oh God, I'm way in over my head.” You know, trying to tell yourself that you belong and that you'll figure it out. 

I think, physically being able to come in and shape, being able to, have had your foot on a soccer ball, your hands on your stick. Coming in with those two things, very tangible, tactical things that you can say, okay, I'm going to work all summer to be in the best shape possible to come in knowing that, I will have touched my stick less than a day ago, I think that helps me. Having a little bit of control in a situation that is so much full of an unknown was very helpful.

Stef

Try to control the controllables. What about the transition from college to pro? What would be your advice on how to do that successfully?

Taylor

I think when you go from college to pro, it's a much smaller pool of players. It's more serious because now, it's the elite of the elite. It's the players who want to play and are willing to sacrifice even more now that they're not in college. Miss weddings and birthday parties and concerts because everything's on the weekend. Drive four or five hours to games. It's not necessarily luxury right now which is fine but, you have to be willing to kind of make those sacrifices.You have national championship champions, players of the years, All Americans, it's the best of the best. So, coming in prepared, ready to compete and play, even though you're mainly playing against your friends because it is such a small pool, is intimidating but, it's also a lot of fun.

 For me, the biggest contrast for me was with college, you're with your team every single day. So, you're in the weight room, you're on the field, you're running, you're sweating together, you're struggling together, you have a bad practice, you're in it together, you're always there. And then for pro in the U.S., you're training probably 95% of the time by yourself. Finding that motivation to work out by yourself and train by yourself so when you finally get with your team, you're playing at your highest level. 

Stef

What's interesting is that you are one of the best athletes in lacrosse, having confidence challenges during some of these transitions. I think it is important for everyone to hear because you are having doubts. Talk to us about those moments where you lost confidence and how did you pull yourself through those moments.

Taylor

My whole freshman year I struggled with confidence in multiple areas. you're trying to figure it out and I think by the end of fall, beginning of spring that kind of worked itself out but, being around 22, 23 year old’s, as an 18 year old, they're in a different spot in their life, even though you're on the same team so, it was definitely intimidating.

 My freshman year we were in double overtime with UNC, and I had the opportunity to take an eight meter, which is basically like a free-throw and win the game or pass it to my senior, and I passed it to her instead of taking it and we ended up losing. In my senior year of high school, I would have taken it and I didn't take it in college, and I didn't really know how to handle that because I was so upset after the game. To be honest, I didn't even really think about it and it wasn't until I went into my coach's office in August when I came back and Kathy sat me down and she said, “You will never do that again. You will never step up on an eight-meter shot in that kind of game and pass it to somebody else. You are good enough to take that shot. It's never happening again.” She was like, “I hate to say that to you, but like you can't do that and you're not going to anymore.” I think a lot of people would have taken that as, “Oh God, she's blaming the national championship on you”, which she wasn't at all. It was her trying to show me she was confident in me and that I need to be confident myself. 

So, my sophomore year on, my confidence was steady. It took a big punch to be able to realize that I'm good enough to be there and good enough to put myself in those situations. But body image was something that I struggled with the whole time.

Stef

Let’s talk a little bit more about that, because I also played Division One soccer. I had the same experience coming in, weightlifting. It took me a long time to work through that strength, it is beautiful. So, we've all been there, we all have these thoughts. How do we rise above that?

Taylor

For me, I had the same exact problem growing up. It was my legs playing soccer. I’ve twigs for arms and just thick, muscular thighs. So, for me, I think my first issue with body image came when I couldn't fit into zeros in jeans because they were too tight on my thighs.

I think that was a little bit difficult, but then once I got into wearing shorts or sweats to school it was on the back burner. I grew into my body a little bit in high school. Didn't really struggle with image, eating, confidence until college.

My freshman year. I ended up lifting a ton, gained probably 15 pounds of muscle and couldn't fit into my ski pants that winter when I went skiing. I was sobbing. It was just not great and, I think on top of lifting was eating like Chipotle and Panda express within two hours of each other. I think for me that freshman year I learned the balance of like, okay, well I still need to work out. 

Junior year I swung to the other extreme where I was over exercising and under eating. I lost a lot of weight noticeably to where my friends were like, “what's going on?” I was still eating though, so I didn't really think I had a problem. I just thought I was being better than my freshman year.

It wasn't until my junior fall where I sucked. I was so bad I was getting knocked off the ball. I didn't have the stamina. I didn't have the energy, I was just not performing on the field I went home, and I was like, okay, what do I care about more? Do I care about my teammates and playing and loving myself and loving the game, or do I care about the fact that I'm now a size two or four?  I didn't go to therapy even though I probably should have, but it was for me, a real awakening of like, okay, I'm about to lose something that I care about more than anything. That's why I need to change. So, it was sad looking back that it took that point of like, okay, you're about to lose something that was really important to me to try to make the decision. There are always negative thoughts that pop into your head and for me it happens less and less frequently.

For me, it's my legs. It's the hot button that will just be for the rest of my life. I started to be like, you know what? My legs allow me to run fast and they allow me to push myself beyond the limits. They allow me to go run five, six, seven miles, play at the level I want to play at, enjoy competing. I just started trying to turn my negatives into positives and that has really helped me. So, that's what I would suggest is any time a negative thought creeps in your head. Acknowledge it's there. Yeah, you might have larger thighs but, look at what you've accomplished, so I think that was really helpful for me.  

Stef

Yeah and I think there's power in positive affirmations and making sure you surround yourself with the people who are going to support you. When you're playing a sport, you’re more aware of your body one thing that I think that I've learned throughout the years is being able to connect your performance, your body and nutrition. You can't perform at your best if you're not fueling your body.

Taylor

I think that's the thing I learned. Your body's your vehicle and we use our bodies to play and to perform, and you have to fuel it right. You have to put good things in, in order to have good things come out of it. For a while I was either operating on way too much, or I wasn't operating on enough. In both of those scenarios, not only was I not performing, I just wasn't happy because I was either hungry or feeling nasty. I think finding a healthy relationship with food and still eating healthy for the most part, but then not also feeling guilty for eating cookie skillet that my mom made two days ago.  

Stef

I was just listening to LeBron speak about how he’s obsessed with vanilla ice cream and chocolate chip cookies. The best athletes in the world and know how to indulge so that you're not totally. sacrificing everything. You can have it in moderation.  

(laughs)

Taylor

Exactly.

Stef

Well, thank you for sharing that with us. I think it's very inspiring. I think there's a power in knowing that we all go through this. When you take a step back and look at your whole journey, in sport so far, what has been the biggest challenge that you have faced and how have you overcome it?

Taylor

I think one of the biggest challenges for me was dealing with pressure at every different level. In high school, academics, and all the sports I played. So, there is a consistent pressure to perform well in the classroom and on the field.

Then, when I was getting recruited, I was the number one recruit and so that was  difficult, as a 15/16 year old, you're going through a lot of stuff and you're worried if you have one bad game that people are going to be like, Oh, she sucks. It's hard when you're 15 and 16 years old to not be happy or sad by what the media reports. So, that was definitely difficult. 

I think in college, early on coming in with that, “She's the number one recruit and the number one class she should have done X, Y, Z” and all the expectations, I think it could have been really hard for me but I was so fortunate to have coaches who didn't care about that and were like, “You came here to win national championships and to help us succeed and being on a team with a team first mentality”, shut down any doubts I had. At the end of the day, it didn't matter what I did, it mattered what our team did and that was very reassuring and the environment I wanted to be in.

Later in college, especially my senior year, we had five returning players who played all the time and then everyone else was new. It was either sophomores and juniors and seniors who hadn't gotten significant playing time or freshmen. I think we started five freshmen my senior year and like eight regularly got in, I want to say. At that point, we'd been to three national championships. Every single one of us in that five who returned had individual awards, and we just wanted to be able to go back to the national championship. 

I remember my senior fall, we lost Notre Dame, like 16 to 3 in fall ball, which I can't ever remember losing like that. I remember me and my other senior captain came off the field and our coach was like, “Listen, this is it. It's going to be bad right now and you need to wrap your head around the fact that it's not going to be perfect. We need this right now so that comes spring, these freshmen can grow, and they can be confident.”

I think her saying, It's not all this pressure on you. She took a lot of the pressure that we did feel and kind of put it on herself, which is a great sacrifice and for as a player, it was so helpful to hear her calm, our worries. 

I think that pressure once you get to the top, you want to get back, that was always tough to deal with. Anything less than a national championship, you're like, well. Hmm, that's a failure, that sucks. So, I think that was difficult. you know, after college, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. having been really successful in college to come out with no game plan, that was almost a different kind of pressure of like, okay, well I need to do something.

This next phase of my life needs to be just as good. That was a really vulnerable time where I was like, Oh God, I don't know. I did not do what I needed to do to secure a job and be successful. So, that was tough to kind of work through. But, you know, starting my own company, getting my feet wet, figuring it out day by day, I think helped me with pressure. What's gotten me through it every single time is having a core group of people that I rely on that I know have my back and support me.

So, there were times where I'd call my parents and I'd cry or I'd scream, or I'd just be like, I can't do this anymore and they talked me through it, or I had, one of my best friends. She was the best cheerleader you could ever imagine. She was the person I called when I couldn't talk to somebody in lacrosse and I just needed somebody to just vent to and she was great. Then, I had my best friend who played at Georgetown, who I would call for all lacrosse specific things because I knew she'd get it. So, I think having that core group that for me, I knew had my back. I knew I could be vulnerable or upset or like, I needed that.

Stef

That's so important to surround yourself with people who believe in you more than maybe even yourself.  What superpower do you gain from sport and how are you going to use that to drive positive change?

Taylor

I feel like when I'm on the field I'm invincible in the sense that  nothing can bring me down. I make mistakes. I screw up all the time. You know, my mom used to say like, I live and die by the risks I take and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't but, I feel my strongest and my happiest when I'm on the field. It could be practice, it could be a game, it could be me watching my high school team play and I think that is something that comes  from me just loving the game but also being around such amazing teammates and coaches who have built me up and who have built that passion.

So, I encourage everybody to find their happy place and find their spot where they feel invincible, like they can take on the world. For me on the field, boyfriend problems, homework issues, fights, self-doubt for the most part they go away and I just get to play and be happy and that's the ultimate, superpower for me is finding a place where nothing can bring me down.

Stef

I love that and you're now helping others find their invincible force in all the things that you do, which is awesome. What are three words you would use to describe your journey in sport as a female athlete?

Taylor

I think the first one would be fulfilling. I fulfilled my dream of playing college lacrosse, fulfilled a competitive drive and that that need to compete. I'd fulfilled my goal as of post-graduation to grow the sport and inspire young girls to keep playing and push for more.

As female athletes, it's not always the easiest road, and you watch, NFL and NBA and you're like, I enjoy watching men's sports, but I also love watching female sports, and I don't understand why they're not on TV. So that's been hard to deal with, but it's also been hard in terms of the sacrifices that you have to make to compete in the game you love.

You know, lots of missed weddings and family events and things with friends, so it's hard in that sense. I'm grateful for my lacrosse journey so the adjective I would use is inspiring. I think mainly because of the people I've met. I'm so appreciative of the people I've met, both coaches and players, but also the parents of my teammates. I feel like I have a second family that's massive and we've been brought together by sport, but we've connected on different levels and things away from sports. So I think my lacrosse journey has been about growth and I think the biggest thing I’ve grown is my family and the people I love.

Stef

Love that. It's a very honest answer about being a female athlete. What is one single piece of advice you would give to all the girls out there in sport?

(background music starts) 

Taylor

I think the biggest thing is have fun and enjoy the moment. You know, I spent a lot of my high school career hoping for college. I spent a lot of hoping for game day and hoping for the next thing. And then, you know, May 30th, 2016 it was over. I would encourage you guys to be as present as possible in the moment.

If it's recruiting, don't wish recruiting away. If it's high school sports, don't wish your high school sport away. If it's senior spring I think it is the big one, especially in high school where you're like, I just can't wait to get out of here.  I think, seniors now are realizing they wish they didn't wish it away because now it's actually gone.

So, I would say enjoy the moment, be present, embrace every high, embrace every low because especially in college, you only get four years and it flies by quicker than you can imagine.  

Stef

Thank you so much Taylor for being with us on the Voice in Sport Podcast. Your story is very inspiring.

Taylor

Of course. Thank you so much for having me.

Stef

Thank you, Taylor, for sharing your lacrosse journey with us. Your insight into how to cultivate self-love and fuel our bodies are invaluable. As women, we are strong and we must continue to share our stories, especially the ones we don't normally talk about so that together we can have a better journey in sport.You can follow Taylor on Instagram at @taylorcummings_, and on Twitter at @tcummings_21. Please subscribe to the Voice in Sport Podcast and give us a rating. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok @voiceinsport and if you are interested in advocating for female athletes check out voiceinsport.com and voiceinsporfoundation.org.

Host: Stef Strack

Proudcer: VIS Creators™ Arielle Schafer & Anya Miller

Taylor Cummings, Member of Team USA Lacrosse, shares her journey in sport, from the youth level to the WPLL. She emphasizes the importance of a strong mind and body by shedding light on her challenges with self-confidence and body image.