with Gabby Reece
02 Nov, 2021 · Beach Volleyball
In this episode, a good listen for parents and athletes alike, we unpack the transitions that Gabby has tackled and she advises us on how to adapt through change with both grit and grace.
Athlete: Gabby Reece
“Tackling Transitions with Confidence”
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Today, our guest is Gabby Reese, a former professional volleyball player, entrepreneur, New York times bestselling author, co-founder of XPT Extreme Performance Training, creator of HIGHX, executive member of Laird Superfood, podcast host of The Gabby Reece Show, wife and mother. Just to name a few. She is an incredible leader and we are so excited to have her here with us today to look back and help us all, as athletes, move through our journey.
Gabby was named the 1989 Dodge national athletics award most inspiring collegiate athlete, along with the Rolling Stones Magazine wonder woman of sport. She was introduced into the Florida State University hall of fame in 1997.
She also modeled in college and worked with El. In her professional career, she competed domestically in the 1999-2000 Olympic four on four challenge series. She also took first in the beach volleyball world championships in 1997 and led in the women's beach volleyball league and kills four years in a row from 1993 to 1996.
In this podcast, we will unpack the many transitions in Gabby's life and how she has adapted to each one. Gabby explains the unique tools and skills that sport gives us and how we can apply them to new situations or other aspects of our lives. With that she dives into the importance of shaping other parts of our personalities and finding value in ourselves outside of sport. Gabby encourages us to find out our own values in order to get through tough transitions and make decisions about balancing multiple passions.
Gabby has such a unique perspective as a mom, a former athlete, and now entrepreneur. Gabby, welcome to the Voice in Sport™ Podcast. We're so excited to have you here with us today.
Thank you for having me.
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You are a legendary professional volleyball player, an entrepreneur, an author, co-founder of XPT, Podcast host, you do it all, and you are a mom of three. So, it's incredible to have your advice and stewardship here with us today. You've also made so many transitions in your life, and we're going to talk about those transitions and how you adapted to those things along the way. It really lines up with your philosophy at XPT about adaptability. It's one of the most powerful human traits that we do have as humans. So, let's get into how you adapted along the way.
Let's start all the way back to when you grew up in St. Thomas on the U.S. Virgin islands, which is a pretty unique upbringing. And, I want to get into just sort of the sports scene there. Tell us a little bit about the sports scene as a young girl in St. Thomas. What was that like?
So, before I go there, I just want to say one thing. Because, I also know that a lot of young people come from all various types of backgrounds and so a lot of times, I think people see where I'm at or my path and they think, oh, there were elements that were very easy. And, I do want to say that when I was two years old, I actually moved in with a separate family, not my own until I was seven. And, during that time, I actually, my father passed away. And then, I moved down to the Caribbean when I was seven, even though my biological father is from Trinidad. And, the reason I bring that up is because I think sometimes we feel alone in our difficulties and our challenges. And, and I don't have a mom or I don't have a dad or my parent left me or what have you.
I just want to remind people, especially when you're younger, and it is already a hard time in life, is that I always say, life will give us sometimes hard things to deal with, but somewhere else, life also has given us either unique tools or skills or attributes that really can help us navigate whatever it is.
So, going back to the sports scene, I was a late bloomer. I sort of dabbled in volleyball a little bit in seventh and eighth grade, you figure I was six feet at 12. And then, in 10th grade, I played a little more, I was 15, I was six foot three, but it wasn't a very big athletic environment, because it wasn't like a lot of athletes at that time thought, “oh, I can move off island and be seen by colleges and get scholarships.”
So, there wasn't that much of a drive, except that it was like, oh, this is kind of fun. I wasn't particularly good. I was awkward. I was coachable. If somebody wants to say, “what is a lot of my career built on?” It's it's sort of like being very coachable. And also, if you talk about my business side is trusting myself.
So, it's these two things where it's knowing who and when to listen. So, you'd see certain coaches and you'd be like, okay, that's my guy. Or that's my, you know, female coach. And then, also in business to be like, yeah, that's not me. So, I have both of those pretty clearly. And, so then, I moved to Florida, my junior year of high school, and I went into a very small high school.
I was very tall. And normally, if you were an athlete of that size, you were at a bigger school to get attention. So, they were thrilled that here I was, and I played basketball and volleyball. I was better in basketball than volleyball because I had a really good coach. And from there, randomly, with no intention of going to college, I didn't love school.
I'm not going to lie. I would more have rather been like in life and working. I got scholarship offers. And, simultaneously I also had gotten offers to model. And, my mother said, I would like you to finish high school. And, I graduated at 17. So, at that time, a for sure thing was the scholarship. I chose Florida state.
And, I then waited until my first full year after Florida state. I was on scholarship in the summer legal working months because of NCAAs. And, I went to New York. And, because I also was looking to become completely independent, I looked at it as a job. This wasn't some dream. This was a job. So, I had taken care of my school and my books and my housing and now I was trying to figure out how to take care of everything else.
Wow. It's so incredible. I mean, your journey is, I think just spectacular. And, what you talked about at the beginning is so important because it doesn't matter really where you come from, but it's what you do with, with everything around you and your attitude towards life that can get you to these incredible places.
Because I think probably many people don't know that about your background. They might not know that you, that you grew up on an island either, and that you didn't really were a little awkward. It sounds like, you know, you didn't really get into sport.
I'm still awkward. Okay. I think, you know, listen, the thing is, we all look at people and we think, oh, she, or he has it easy or what have you. And I've, I've said it very simply. We've been given low cards and we've been given aces and it's like, play the aces, you know, because we could all day long sit and cry about what we don't have and people, unfortunately, you know, there's an expression that fairs at the fairground and there is an element to living to life.
It doesn't mean you shouldn't stand up for things that are unjust. However, there are things that are going to occur to us in our day-to-day lives that are simply unfair. And, I think if I was going to encourage anyone to sort of learn how to be like, oh, okay, so now what I'm going to do is, cause this isn't how I want it, is I'm going to create a strategy about how to then get around it, get over it, go through it. And, not sit here and be like, well, it's not fair. Because, that doesn't change anything. And so, I would say that because I had a little bit of a difficult time growing up, because my mom wasn't really around, I had a lot of generosity of other people.
And, that's the other thing, sometimes our parents maybe can't give a certain thing, but if we pay attention, a lot of times we're blessed with some alternative supporting adults, whether it's a coach or a teacher or a neighbor. And, we should take that in because that's the power for us to use.
So, who were your role models growing up? Gabby? Were they, were they all in sport? Did you, were they men and women tell us a little bit about the people who motivated you.
I mean, I did look at cereal boxes with Dr. J on it, and I thought that was pretty cool, Julia Supervane, but no, I wasn't, you know, we weren't in a time that we were exposed to a lot of well-known people. You know? Like, I had two TV channels growing up in St. Thomas. So my role models were just some of these, you know, cool real women around me, women that seem comfortable or confident they were somehow loving, but yet, you could feel like you wouldn't really want to mess with them.
I do remember the first two female athletes I was exposed to and I thought, wow, you can act like that. That is cool. Was Babe Didrikson Zaharias who people should look her up. She's probably an original gangster for real. I mean, she played two sports. She was a track and field athlete and a professional tennis player. She was kicking everyone's butt and was not asking for permission or, you know, apologizing for her real power.
And then, the other athlete, I remember thinking that she had swagger and bravado. And, I hadn't really seen that quite as much. She was an incredibly talented USC basketball player. She was so good, so dominant. And, she also was one of the first athletes that had a little bit of like a, “I'm good” attitude.
And, you know, I never felt comfortable acting like that ever in my life, but I certainly appreciated and noticed it when I saw that with her.
I love that. Well, and that's one of the biggest things that we believe will help young girls in sport is access to role models and making sure they have that visibility. It's why we created the mentorship program at VIS™ and why we think it's so important to get visibility to women like you, because there's so much to learn from those experiences you share, and it'll help girls stay in sport.
And, one of the things I really wanted to talk to you about your early childhood was just, you were in a place where there wasn't as much competition. There were fewer tournaments, like less hours put into the day in terms of your sport. And, there's a book out there called Range by David Epstein, where he talks about the longer practice hours that kids play in one sport can actually lead to burnout. And ,there's a lower probability of becoming an elite athlete in that sport by just over training and constantly getting your kids into sport for hours and hours on end. So, do you think that like your early years was actually a factor to your success and the fact that you weren't putting in so many hours as a young athlete?
When I went to Florida state, I was literally learning to play volleyball on the fly and, you know. Listen, I'm 6'3. I was, I'm a good enough athlete for sure. And, like I said, coachable. So I was like playing and learning. I think my teammates were probably thinking like, oh my God, is this chic going to make it?
And, I came in with seven other freshmen. It's about a 12 people on the team. There was eight freshmen. That meant we had to play. The coach couldn't be like, okay, we'll groom her and then bring them along. And so, it was like, oh no, you're gonna, you're gonna figure this out. Right? And so, what I will say is that most of my teammates all played many more years before I did.
There are certain skills that they were way better than I was. However, I was just getting started. And actually, I have records at Florida state, weirdly, and I'm not sure why that still stand. So, I had a level of success while I was there. So, I'm not saying that, but it was not pretty, you know, like I was almost trying to, you're a middle blocker and your job is not to try to stay out of the way. And in a way, there's a part of me and taller athletes or bigger athletes sometimes have this, where it's like, they're trying to stay out of the way.
Is that I was just getting excited about volleyball after my four years. And, I had teammates that were like, listen, I'm over this. I will probably never play this game again. And, I don't know so many athletes after that actually played professionally from my, from my college. And, I think it's because of that. And, I just want to say to young people, because they'll have their parents chirping in their ear. And, by the way, if I didn't have a scholarship to college, I couldn't have afforded to go to college.
So, I'm very well aware and sensitive to that reality. Okay. But, I want to say this. One percent of high school athletes go to college on a scholarship. Okay? And, one percent of those athletes go on and play professionally. And, the only sport for women to make money in really is tennis. Okay. If you're a top five golfer, you might, if you're like Michelle Wie, and a few others great.
So, what I want to say is this. And, I tell my daughters this, who by the way, I have, my youngest daughter is 13 and she's like, “I don't want to be like you.” Okay. So, let's not. I'm not going to pretend that like, you know, I'm considered so cool in my house. I'm not. And I have a daughter who is pursuing, trying to play tennis. And, she goes, “sometimes it's dumb.” Like you're spending all this time and energy and you're hitting a ball over a net. And then you like step back and look at life and be like, “what am I, what is this?” And this is what I believe.
Sport is just a matrix. And, it's just the place to know yourself to test yourself, to lose, to get up. Because, these are the things that when you go into your life, All of these skills that you learned in this particular matrix translate into the next matrix. I mean, you know, whether it's, you know, you're going to pursue being in a business or you're going to work for somebody, or you're going to be in a relationship, or you're going to be under a lot of stress and pressure, and you have to make clear decisions.
And so, when we're in and out of this, it's, the ultimate is knowing yourself and developing yourself in this most intimate way. And, I've seen a lot of athletes after, and they were like, I don't know what I'm going to do after sports. And, I said, really, you've developed yourself in a way, like you're a loaded gun.
And, all you have to do is pick the next target. And so, people have to understand and believe in themselves. And, I heard a great quote by somebody named Ryan Holiday. He wrote a book called Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is Play, I would suggest that for anyone.
Those are both great books.
Yeah. Is that when you don't know how to do something and you learn how to do it, you've developed a body of evidence. So, for young ladies listening to this, it's like, that means you have that little confidence for yourself in your pocket. So, when you go into the next situation, a new situation, you go, well, I don't know how to do this, but you know what? I have been in other situations that I didn't know how to do something.
And, I learned how, and this for me is what is so powerful and important. Not, “I'm a winner. I won, I played pro I played college.” It's not about that. And, I wouldn't mind if my kids played sport.
So, what would you whisper to a parent today that might be, you know, overextending themselves, who might be trying to push their kids to over practice or continue to push push, push? What would you just want to whisper to that parent?
Repetitive trauma. You know, I have an artificial knee because I jumped. I did all my 80 years of jumping in 40 years. I think parents have to understand, and it's like, I tell my daughters, I'm not your coach. I'm your mother. And, that's different. That's a different role.
I think if you're a kid who has a, if a parent, if I could whisper to a parent, if the kid has said to you, “help me with this,” do it. Cause it is it's hard, right? Practices and all this stuff. But, even if your kid becomes Serena Williams or Michael Jordan, what does that mean? Are they happier people? Are they better people? Do they have more meaningful relationships?
Great. They're, well-known, they're highly celebrated and they have a lot of zeros in the account, but if you're their parents, what is it that you're wishing for them? Are you, are you wishing for them to know how to take care of themselves? To know how to be in great relationships with people who are good for them? Do you know how to pursue something that you feel passionate about? And also even if the kid became this person, do you even really know what that means? Cause, I know a lot of champions and I know a lot of successful CEOs. And, let me tell you, it's not always pretty. And, usually it isn't.
I love what you said about like really, sport can give these young girls so many tools for their toolkit in life. Right? A lot of what you've done in your life and the incredible things that you have built, I'm sure a lot of that came from that sport experience. Similarly, for me, because I was in sport, it has led to so many opportunities to lead, to drive change. So, for a girl who's in high school right now and who might be thinking of quitting, because, it happens a lot at it, actually age 13, and then again at age 17, what would you want to whisper to that girl today and say, “hey, maybe don't quit, but maybe reframe how you're thinking about your journey in sport?”
You know, I think if you're burnt out, you have to be able to identify that first, because maybe you don't really want to quit. Maybe you're just very burnt out and you also need to shift the people around you. So, if your parents are leaning on you too much, you have to sit down and have a real conversation and go, “Hey, listen, this is having the opposite impact.” And if the relationship has too much of the conversation around the sport, instead of a parental and child relationship, I think that that's hard. So, first look at what's going on, really stop. And, don't just, don't do a blanket, “Forget this. I want to quit,” because what does that mean?
Because here's, here's what I know. One, it is a very great honor and gift to be able to be good enough and in the right situation to be able to compete. Not everyone can. They're not talented enough. They don't have the opportunity. So really, to step way back and be reminded that it is such a gift to us if we get to be all the things, all the right ingredients come together that we actually get to play, and that we're healthy enough to do it. Number one. And, number two, what I would remind them and really say, “Hey, slow down on just quittin,” is that once you're done playing sport at that kind of level, you know, with a team and a coach, that'll probably be it.
And so, when you move, like I've moved on from it many years, you feel good about it, you don't feel sad. Maybe it's a little bittersweet in certain things, but you don't have regret. You're not like, “oh, I wish I had,” because once you really move from there, you're done. So it's trying to remember the honor of competing, the gift of the opportunity to compete, but also to know that once you walk away, that will be it.
Love it. It's such good advice. Like take a moment to think about why are you not in a good spot? Right? It might be the environment you're in. It might be the team, the people you're around. It might not be the fact that you're playing sport. It might be something completely different. So, taking that time in that moment to sit back and say, okay, what's going on? I think is so important. And, and you're right. It's like, it's an honor.
So you made it, you're one of those 1% that made it then into college with a scholarship. So let's spend a little bit of time talking about that transition from high school to college. You make it to college. You're, competing at a really high level, but you're also deciding between some other interests of yours, which was modeling. And, I'd love to have a conversation a little bit about, like, how did you balance both? And, was there ever a moment where you were deciding between one or the other? Can you take us back to that moment? Because, I think a lot of women in college they're in athletics, but they're starting to find other passions. And, they know sometimes that there is not that opportunity to play professional sports after college. And so, and I went through it too, you have this moment of like, what am I going to be doing? What should I be focusing on? So can you take us back to that moment, Gabby, for you? And, when you were trying to decide between two things that you were passionate about.
Well, and please know that in that moment, I never ever thought I was going to become a professional athlete that didn't occur to me at all. So I wasn't in that head space. And what happened is I was in a survival mode of, okay, I have this opportunity to model in a real way. See, that's the other thing, is always being realistic.
Like how big of an opportunity, how big of a gamble, what is the upside? So there's this interesting mix of being truly in the moment, evaluating the opportunities in the moment you want to be strategic and think long-term, but sometimes not too long-term because you just, there's too many things unfolding.
Right? And so, I had it first in a very controlled risk, which meant I just went to New York and spent the summer. So, I'm going to explore, I'm going to live the question that doesn't hurt my still my everyday life, my scholarship, my education, all of these things.
And, I was very fortunate at that time. I started legitimately working, not, oh, I did two shoots and they paid me $500. Right? So I was by myself. I go there and I start working and, you know, making significant money. And so what happened is after my sophomore year, and then we went to the NCAA tournament. Again, other coaches were sort of complaining that they thought I was somehow using my athletics for this, but I used to say like, I can't even advertise athletic socks.
Like it was high fashion. That was it. It was a complete separation of church and state for my sport. But after my sophomore year my coach and I really talked about it and this is really important. My coach was a person who is very, who's still a very dear friend of mine, who I think she understood what I was navigating.
I was alone. I had to take care of myself. And so, she made a deal with me. She said, okay, when you're here, you're here. And when you're there, you're there and you better take care of your business. So what we did is after my sophomore year, I gave up my scholarship. She allowed me to go out of spring training.
So, I moved back to New York in January. I would work. I was on a plane and working six days a week, pretty much out of New York. I was home one or two days a week and believe me, it might sound glamorous, it isn't. like, you're alone. You're in foreign cities, you're in hotels. But, it's an incredible job.
So, it is what it is. And, and so then, I would go back to school in May or June. I would jam up on credits. I would do six weeks of summer school, get all the credits I needed to be eligible to play. I'd go back to New York for three more weeks. And then, when I came in August, I did not work until the January again.
So, August to December, I was at Florida state. I was playing. I was with my team. I was at practice. And, things like this would happen. You're 18 or 19, and just to give someone a reference that was like in 1989, I would get a call for a job for two days at 35,000 for the shoot. And, I couldn't do it because we had a deal. And, my teammates by the way, were pissed that I got out of spring training.
Oh, and by the way, I'll come home from work in New York, scrape off my makeup and go to the gym at, you know, 30 degree weather in January or February in New York and go and try to bang iron and stay in enough shape so that I'd be ready again. And, in modeling, they were already like, “you are giant.” And, I was trying to build muscle. So I was six foot three. I was not a size two or four. And, here I was trying to build enough shrinks so that I could like, you know, do something show up and really be, cause you can't move it in.
And then, somehow, these women are trying to shove me in these closings and my muscles are too big. I have a size 11 and now 12 foot. And so, I was managing both worlds and I did that for the entire rest of my athletic career at Florida state.
So, looking back on that now, would you have done it any differently or would you, what advice would you give to girls that are maybe trying to balance a few things themselves?
Don't be emotional about it. You have to really understand how it all fits together. And, when I say “fits together,” they don't have to compliment each other. They just have to fit together for you in your life and feed you the person. And so, I related to being an athlete.
Modeling was a job. I was so clear on it. The whole time, I felt way more connected to my athletic peers, to my coach, to that environment, to the honesty of it, to like throwing down a real hard day's practice versus like, you go to a shoot, you could show up tired and look like hell. But, if you had a good makeup artist and good lighting, it was sort of like, there was a little bit of smoke and mirrors.
I was like, “oh, this is a little bit shuck and jive.” But, I also understood like, oh, this is an education in itself. So, if a girl is interested in something else, it's like, maybe don't blow up one thing to do another, if you don't have to, because somehow it's all going to work towards bettering something for you that you don't understand.
So, it does take more work. Sometimes not everyone's going to understand. Sometimes not everyone's going to be like, “oh, that's so great.” But, if you have the genuine calling inside yourself, put together a system, put together a strategy, like you do everything else in life.
Like, when you go to practice there's drills, there's timing. You move from point A to B, classes, studying. Same thing with an outside interest where it's like, well, how does this fit? How do I make it fit? And, as long as both things are feeding you, doesn't mean it's not going to get hard, it’s juggling. And, guess what? It's just one more practice for life because life, it's just a series of juggling and redirecting your attention quickly and understanding, like now I have to be here and this is important. Okay, I can push that aside. Now, I need to be there and learning. You know? There's a level of compartmentalizing that is, is really, it becomes a great tool for later.
I love that because you know, it's always one thing I like to always tell girls that are working with me is like, what is filling your bucket? And, what is draining your bucket? And, how many buckets do you have going on right now? And, it's okay to have multiple buckets, but you want to pay attention to like, what's draining you. Is it filling you up? Is it draining you? And, I think that's, it's so important to be thinking about balance, especially in that time where you're, you're still trying to learn who you are as a person.
So, I want to go back and talk a little bit about that experience that you had modeling as an athlete. Because one of the big reasons girls are falling out of sport is because of their body image and confidence. And, I want to talk to you about those two topics. Did you ever face confidence issues with your body and body image issues and how did you handle that?
I just got really tired of people talking about how big I was. I was like, yeah. Okay. Thank you Captain Obvious. Like no kidding.
And, I'm also not a person who's going to fight things. Like the expression "it is what it is," is very important in life. And it's like, “Hey, listen. It is what it is like I'm, I'm six, three I'm whatever, 170, 180 pounds.” Like it is what it is like, I'm not going to be not this. And so, I didn't spend a lot of time torturing myself.
At the level I was modeling, there were girls, they can look them up, you know, I was at the time of like Christy Turlington and there was a girl, Carrie Otis and you know, Cindy Crawford and all these women. Right? And, these are very beautiful women.
These are women that when you go into a studio, when they say, “oh, you can't have it all.” It's like, you go, oh yeah. Well, these girls, somehow they got it all. Right? Like, they're beautiful. Whatever. Anyway, I remember one day I was working with a guy named Albert Watson who was for Italian Vogue, a very, you know, glamorous job.
And, there was a girl there who was really working, a high working girl, worked all the time and she was eating an apple at lunch. Cutting it. And, I could sense also, not only like a form of unhappiness, but also insecurity.
And, I literally got on a plane that night and flew back to Tallahassee. I had to get back and get going. And, I was there with my teammates, maybe a couple had like, you know, maybe a few pimples on their skin. Their butts are kind of bigger because you're banging iroy. You're probably not eating perfect. So, you know, you're in college and the amount of confidence and fun and kind of sense of self that they had, I was like, oh, wait a second, so being perfectly beautiful, defined by the world is not going to make me more confident. It just isn't.
Maybe being good at something, having a skill, maybe being okay with that I'm imperfect or maybe not apologizing for taking up space or being big. And so, at 18 or 19, it was such a perfect juxtaposition put out in front of me that nobody had to tell me it was so clear. If you sat me at the table with the most beautiful girl, but who didn't have these other things. And, by the way, I've met beautiful girls that have, I'm not suggesting that it's like, no, I want to be with that girl over there.
That's like, Hey, I'm, I'm good at something. I know how to do something. I have a skill. It gives me confidence. I might even be, you know, inappropriate and have a sense of humor. And it's like, yo, that's who I want to hang out with. And so, I think girls have to understand the true legs, the value of the aesthetic versus of the spirit.
And, you know, your shoulders might be bigger, your thighs, your butt, whatever. It is what it is. And so, if your body, if you can do something, if it's a tool, if you worked hard at something and you've improved, these are things that give you power that transcend you know any sort of, oh, you're so pretty. It's like, okay, great.
And, by the way, that can be a bonus cartoon. Nobody it's been since the beginning of time, nobody's going to say. And also, I manipulated that in other ways for my job. And, I would never be like, oh, I didn't, I would never BS anyone, but I understand the depths.
Like I'm 51 years old people. People aren't like, you know, young guys, aren't like, Hey, you know, it's like time in your life that like, it doesn't matter who you are at some point that's going to be different. So who do you want to be? Who do you want to love? Who do you want to love you?
And so, at some point it's like, not everybody needs to love you or think you're pretty, it's like you have to bring value to the table. And then as you get older, the hope would be that you actually have some kind of power that's based on your skillset and your life's experience. And, you work with it.
Yeah. And, it's not all based off of your looks. But, I think it's so hard when you're a young girl and social media is everywhere and you're constantly, these girls are finding themselves constantly comparing themselves to other athletes or other people. And, there's definitely been, I think I feel like more, more women coming forward and talking about like their own confidence issues with their body and, and how, how to really approach staying in a strong, positive space with your own body when you're going through the world of social media today. So you have three young daughters, like what do you tell your young daughters today about, not comparing.
Well, okay. First of all, we're not, we weren't supposed to be in a space with more than 150 people. So, what they have to recognize if they can, is that biologically in our natural selves, we weren't supposed to be able to compare ourselves to the whole world. We were just supposed to have to battle with like the most popular girl in our school.
Right? Like we're supposed to look at her and be like, oh, and so, they are managing something that is so difficult. They've got to cut themselves some slack. They're not supposed to see every person on the planet and how great it is.
And, and to also know, that to go through puberty and to go from a girl to a young woman, to the woman is already a really uncomfortable process. And so, how do we find the ways to support ourselves and be kind to ourselves, not find more ways to punish ourselves during an already difficult time.
And so, I found sports, the right friends, good friends that I could trust that really had my back, that saw what was cool about me. Even if it was like the weird stuff. Cause by the way, the weird stuff ends up being the stuff where it's like later, you're like, wow, they're really interesting. Nobody gets it when you're young, right?
And so I would say to my daughters, I try not to say much because like the young people listening, they don't listen to their parents. Do you think it's different in my house? It is not. All I can do is model and try to be a good example.
I, you know, I'm not going to talk about the size of my thighs or like, are you eating that? Like, I don't do that. I just show them a way. And also, I try to be around women, because that's who I want to be around, that are developing themselves as fully as they can in their kindness in their intelligence and their physical life in their relationships.
And let my daughters navigate and say like, oh, that in that woman there, that aunt or that friend of my mom's, that seems pretty cool. You know? But it doesn't mean I don't have breakdowns, especially with my youngest daughter. She's 13 where I'm like, I'm afraid the telephone social media, it makes me concerned for you. And, I just tell her because she doesn't understand what my psycho attitude is as her mother. And it's like, because I'm afraid.
Yep. I'm the same way. My daughter's seven and I find myself like, whispering to her at night. Like you're kind, you're beautiful, you're strong. And just, I feel like I have to, because I'm so concerned is what she's seeing and how she's interpreting that. And, I think similarly, like these young women in middle school, high school college that are part of Voice in Sport, like, what can we encourage them to be thinking about when they're thinking about their own bodies or their own confidence levels as they're going through life? What, what do we want them to know?
We want them to think about the scale that they're using as themselves. Right? If I am at 6'3 using a girl 5'7, as the example, even numerically what I should weigh, what I should fit into, I'm not, I'm using the wrong scale. I'm using the wrong thing. So, the best scale is, huh, myself, because, that's who I am.
So, the other thing to do that is so helpful is to celebrate other women's, you know, bad-assary. Like you can see a girl she's an athlete and you're like, I will never have that vertical jump. Amazing. Congratulations. Another girl who has like the most beautiful skin or physique and you go, oh, congratulations.
Because what it does, is it liberates you from comparing. There's always going to be a dynamic and beautiful and athletic whatever they're going to be everywhere. And so, if you can celebrate that and be like, wow, I see that right on. Because that isn't meant to torture you. And, it has nothing to do with you.
And, and then try to recognize in a humble way. Okay. What do I have? Because, I could spend my whole life, I could give you the list of the things I don't have, or I could humbly sort of appreciate certain things that I know maybe I have.
I love that. I love it.
Thank you for listening to the Voice in Sport Podcast. My name is Rena Schwartz, a VIS Creator, and a skier at Dartmouth College. And, I'm the producer of this week's episode. If you enjoy hearing from Gabby Reese and would like to get the chance to talk to athletes like her, go to voiceinsport.com/join to sign up for a free membership and gain access to exclusive episodes, mentorship sessions, and other weekly calls.
We'd love your help to grow our community by heading to the join our team page in the header of our website and sending the invitation like two to five of your athlete friends. We'd love to have your entire team join us on the Voice in Sport platform. If you haven't already remember to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @voiceinsport. Now let's get back to the episode.
So you, you have carried a lot of this great experience from college then onto a professional life and then into entrepreneurship. So, I want to touch on both of those quickly, first on your experience as a pro athlete, because a lot of volleyball players in college go from court to then beach. And so, I wanted to talk about what advice would you have for those women that do want to continue their journey from college to pro, but might have to make that transition to beach. What would you, what advice would you give them and how did you handle all that pressure when you were transitioning?
Oh, you mean the pressure of sucking while I was transitioning from...
I wasn't going to frame the question quite like that, but yeah.
Like middle blocker to like, what do you mean I have to pass the ball in the wind? You know, listen, you gotta be kind to yourself. And, there's a learning curve. So I would say that if it's something you really love, it's a day by day process. It isn't, oh, I'm not there yet. It's like, oh, what am I working on today? And, am I better than I was yesterday? Oh, I am, okay. That means something. Not, I'm not where I want to be because most of us aren't, and it's a day by day form of improving.
And don't be afraid to be really good at a game in college and have to relearn it. Cause that's kind of what you do, especially if you go from indoor to the beach. So I would just say, cut yourself some slack. Like, when in life are we supposed to be expected to do something that we know how, that we haven't?
And so, why do we put that expectation for ourselves? S,o the games look similar, the concept is similar, but the games are different. And, don't be afraid to work on the stuff that you are uncomfortable with. Like, it's okay. That's how we get better. And so, just each day, because that's it. And, sometimes we do go backwards to go forwards and that's part of it too.
And again, it's that formula that you know, this from your business, it's the formula in life. It's like, I am progressing, but there are occasions that I go backwards one, so I can actually go forwards three. It just has to happen.
That's a perfect segue into entrepreneurship because you basically just described entrepreneurship. And so, I think any woman out there that's in sports, we hope you get into entrepreneurship because there needs to be more female founders and having that sport background can really set you up for success in building your own business.
So Gabby, let's talk about some of the businesses you've built. I want to talk about XPT. I also want to talk about your podcast and Laird Superfood. So let's start with Laird Superfood because this is a really important one for girls in sport as well. We know that unfortunately many young girls in college are dealing with eating disorders and not fueling their bodies correctly.
And so, it's one of the things we're doing on Voice in Sport as well, offering services for dieticians and nutritionists to meet with the girls. But, you've developed a whole company around these values of really making sure that you create the best products for men and women. So tell us about Laird Superfood and what your mission is at that company.
Well, our mission is first, high-level ingredients. We have no artificial sweeteners and girls are like, whatever. But, it's just that you go, oh, I see that brand. I trust that brand. We're not trying to hide other things inside something that's supposed to appear to be healthy.
We are very interested in trying to make it cost-effective. Both my husband and I didn't grow up with very much. And, the idea that health is, we want this to be, an inclusive offering, not something that's like, you know, too expensive. Of course we want to always consider the environment because that's, if you're going to get into any business, modern business, you have to consider the environment.
And also, besides the ingredients, and this is where I'm the voice of reason compared to my husband, is taste. The experience has to be amazing because nobody's going to do anything that's good for them if it doesn't taste great or they don't enjoy it. And, that's just the way it is.
So, this business happened by accident. We actually took this business public. I would say that this was our gift to us after having, you know, a few businesses that made it into the graveyard. And, sometimes you don't know where it's going to come from. That's the other thing I want to say to somebody who's transitioning. You might be in something that you don't understand is just setting you up for something else and giving you those life lessons or work or professional lessons that you need. So, when somebody says, you know, like the universe is conspiring for you, I really believe that. I really believe that.
And so, sometimes if someone's in the middle of a transition or if they feel upside down or they don't know what's happening, just try to remember that the universe is conspiring for us. We just have to kind of allow it. And, and that doesn't mean every single one is a success. I've had many failures, but it's like the game.
You don't win every game. You don't win every tournament, but, if you have more wins than losses, that's usually the deal. Right? So, I mean, look at baseball. If you hit it three times out of 10, like you get paid a ton. So, I mean three out of 10, it's like really?
I like to be my own boss. I don't want to have somebody telling me what to do quite frankly. But with that, you better be ready because it's not easy. It's not nine to five, Monday through Friday. It's kind of all the time. So it's, it has its ups and it has the other sides, but it's also whatever you value and if someone's listening and they go, actually, no, I'd rather work for someone and turn it off, nothing wrong with that either.
But, it's again, going back, if you said to me, what is the overarching thing, for all of this: Who am I? Ask, who am I really me? Because, this is my life. And, the only way I'm really going to be successful in the terms defined by me is if I'm doing the things that reflect me and even if, when they're hard, I believe in. Not what someone is telling me. Not what my parents think I should be. Not what some girl I'm supposed to look like. Who am I?
I always listened to myself. And, I had an accountant when I was 19 and 20 in New York going, why are you playing volleyball now is your time to make all the money that you can. And, for whatever reason, I knew that that didn't define for me what success was. It still doesn't. It was this idea of expressing myself for real. And, part of that at that time was through athletics.
So, if I could say to young women at whatever stage, all of it, it is your life. It's not your coach's life. It's not your best friend's life. It's not your mom and dad's life. It is really your life, but you have to do the work. So, it's kind of putting that together. And, I really think that that's what helps us get up on the days where you're like, oh, this is brutal.
I feel like you and I can relate on the subject quite a bit, because we both have kids. We're both entrepreneurs, moms, and it is not nine to five, but if you find your why, if you find impact in what you're building, it will continue to drive you. But, if you're also working your heart out and not enjoying what you're doing, then that's also a good signal to take a step back and say, “wait a minute, is this the right thing for me?” And, if anyone's listening here about transitioning, cause I know a lot of our amazing athletes are in college and they're transitioning now into their first career and a lot of them are trying to decide, do I go the passion route or do I go the money route? Which way do you go? You know? How would you answer that question?
Never go the money route. Don't be irresponsible. But, if any of us think we're going to have a real experience, a transcending experience. Yes. Money is important. You need to provide food and shelter. It is not the answer.
I picked things that made sense for who I am. And, that goes back to why you need to know who you are, what you're good at, maybe what you're not good at and, and kind of what excites you so that when you're moving in the direction, it's still steeped in reality, because I like to dream and have dreams, but they're all still there's threads into reality.
And so, I would say to somebody, especially when you're young and you have more runway and sort of less risk , freaking go for it. Go for it because there's people out there that want to help you that want to mentor you and it's so worth it.
So, just always have your life, be sure that your values are lined up with what you're doing and where you're spending your hours and you know, something else that I think is so important is I just want to remind everybody that, whatever is happening, whatever's going on, whatever obstacle, whatever challenges, it all works out. You know? It really does. It seems scary. It seems like it won't, and it really just, it all works out and we just have to keep clear and keep doing the work.
And, keep trying to know ourselves, like, how am I feeling? Where am I at in my life? What is good? What is not good? And, just stay in touch with it. And, that it really all works out and it, by the way, we'll take a ton of work. It's just the way it is. We don't get away from it.
So this is a perfect transition. I feel like into your company with XPT, because you guys have three core principles here, breath work, movement, and recovery that you use to really guide athletes through your program. And, I really love those three: breathe, move, recover. Because, I think it's really important for young girls to actually understand the importance of all three of those things. So, can you explain to young girls listening how important these three core areas are and why you developed the program around these three things?
Well, you know, breathing is essential. It's the most essential part of life and most do it incorrectly. So, for a young girl and like you're sprinting, you, you should nose breathe as often as you can, because what happens is, and we can get into the science of it, is that CO2 rises in your system. And so, when you breathe in oxygen and it's the only way for you to get into your cells and tissue from your bloodstream is with the presence of CO2. So, for mouth breathing, we're scrubbing our CO2. So, we're actually sort of limiting our ability to absorb oxygen. So, if I'm an athlete, I mean, the idea of oxygenating my muscle tissue or my cells is probably pretty appealing.
So if you've just had a long rally or you run up and down the basketball court eight times, yeah, great, mouth breathe, get it out. Let's go, you know, three times the opening the out from the nostrils, but then try to get back into the nose. And, also what happens by nose breathing is you down regulate you go back more into your parasympathetic you're not so stressed out, you calm down. So there's ways to use the breath also athletically that are really, really important and powerful.
Movement, because we need to move. We need to be stronger. We need to be dynamic. Recover because overtraining is the kiss of death. And, a lot of times we think more is more and more, is not more. And, when you hear smarter, not harder, there is something to be said for that. And, if you're a really young athlete like 13 or 14, if your growth plates are not shut, you don't need to be banging a bunch of iron just quite yet. That would actually be the time to be working on technique and skill.
And so, when we compare boys and girls at 13 and 14 and 15, and boys are getting this insurgence of testosterone and all this muscle at that exact same time, girls actually need to be working on skill. So, I think it's important and pivotal to it. It's oh, it's a whole story. It isn't just like training it's it's “Hey, I'm, I'm learning how to breathe correctly, to calm myself down, to ramp myself up, to recover. I'm moving just enough that I'm improving in my sport. I'm competitive. Let's say I'm staying healthy, but also I'm being mindful.” So recovery doesn't mean I laid on the couch. Recovery means, oh, I foam rolled and stretched that day. So, recovery means the participation in your recovery. It's sort of taking a more proactive approach to recovery.
So, now that you've built this program and so many amazing athletes have gone through it, you know, men and women, all ages, what, what would you take from that program that you wish you would have had in highschool or in college?
Definitely the breathing for recovery. And, I think for me, and you will hear this over and over, especially if you're a jumping athlete or running athlete, I would definitely stretch more often. But, we don't give enough credit to recovery and the things that we can do, so eating a certain way to support our healing and recovery and having less chronic inflammation. So, for example, we'll just keep it really simple. If you're in the competition, don't drink a sugary drink during the competition because it suppresses your immune system. That's not what you want. Have some water, maybe some water with salt. So you really do get minerals. So you aren't going to get dehydrated or cramp or do anything like that.
Good advice. So, what other advice would you have to girls on how to have a healthy relationship with food? Because, you guys recently also bought, Picky Bars, which is really exciting. So, what do you hope to accomplish with that new purchase, but then also just in more general, like how do we ensure these young girls have a healthy relationship with food?
You know, I just look at food as fuel and the thing is, you can't be afraid of it. Food is not the enemy. And, by the way, starving yourself isn't going to take you to the longterm of where you want to be. And, that's the thing is that the bounce back or the payback on that sometimes is a lot bigger than we realize.
So, what I would encourage is there, first of all, there are healthy foods that taste good. And, if they could maybe play around with how they feel, cause I could tell you, but like, I will say, this is one thing with my daughters. Cause I, I don't make any food taboo. None. I don't have like soda or stuff like that in my house. But, what you want to buy this or chips or whatever, knock yourself out because I don't want to turn anything into like, you can't have it.
But what I see is that they'll get it. They, oh, it's the novelty of it. They eat it, but they know the difference of how good real food makes them feel. And so, on their own, they're like, oh, I'd rather eat this stuff over here. That's important. But it's also, again, going back to comparing yourself, like, everybody's built so differently, you know, like certain things you're not going to not eat yourself to smaller shoulders. Like that's not right.
You can't even see my shoulders because in this video, because I'm, that is what I was born with. And to your point.
If we saw your skeleton, you would still have those shoulders. Take up space, you know, don't apologize for who you are. And, support each other.
Well, and I love what you said about fuel because as part of the Voice in Sport community and all the nutritionists we bring in house, we don't use the word diet as an example that is not the right way to be thinking about food. Instead, it should be fuel. And, how do you use fuel, use food to really drive that great feeling that you have when you do eat whole foods? And, you do fuel your body enough. So, I love that you talked about that and I think it's so important. So, I'd like to kind of end on something that I heard you say on another podcast, which, which was something about being unapologetic. So, you've made it really clear before that if you were to do one thing differently in your journey that you would be less unapologetic. So can you unpack that for girls out there in the sport world and how that might apply to them?
Well, listen, sometimes some of the meanest people were my teammates, you know, it's like maybe if you had to start with somebody who doesn't or, or just whatever. And, I always felt like I just wanted all of my teammates and even my opponents, which is weird to know that I was like, just like them or that I was like a nice person, whatever that means.
And then, I realized, like, I can't control how people react towards me. I can only control myself. And so, let's say for example, you're in a situation where you're just trying to appease everybody in your team or your environment. It's pretty impossible anyway. And so, if you're showing up and you're working hard and you're being kind, and you are being humble, you're not walking around like a rooster, but you want to have enough confidence that you're like, I can get this done because if you're in the last 30 seconds of a game or 15 seconds of a game, and you're the one taking the shot, you better be confident enough that it's like, you know what? I can do this. So it's, it's somewhere in this weird in between. But, no matter what, someone's going to be unhappy or frustrated about something.
So, it's like, do your best answer to yourself. And, maybe like one or two indicators. Maybe it's a coach and a really close friend that'll tell you like, “yo, what's going on.” Like, those people respect their opinion and everybody else don't apologize. Don't try to make them happy, cause it's not possible. And also, when you feel like it's unfair or you're mad or angry about it, just feel, have empathy for them, because that means they're really having some kind of struggle in their own life. That is actually not your problem.
And so it's easier to say than to do, but if we can separate ourselves that like, you know, that expression, not my monkey, not my circus. It's like they might be trying to direct it at you, but it's actually not your problem. And, if you feel comfortable with the way you're walking through your life and how you're treating people, that's good enough.
What if Gabby you've lost your confidence? You know, you're, you're in your journey and you just completely lost it, whether that's on the field or off the field. How do you gain it back after you lose it?
You just keep at it. I think you look at it though. Don't try to hide from it. I've been there, you know, there's days I've gone in tournaments as a professional being like, well, I hope I can do it today. it's just, it's part, it's all part of the cycle.
Don't try to run from it and maybe even tell, talk to somebody and be like, wow, I am feeling very shaky right now. And, then you just keep at it in practice and you, you focus on where you're going, not where you are. I find that that can be a really helpful thing to sort of move, keep moving towards where we are. And, know that it happens to almost every athlete.
Wow. Well, honestly, I mean, it's such great advice, Gabby, and I really appreciate just your vulnerability and being really open and honest with these girls because had I had role models like you to talk to or listen to growing up? I know I would have been better for it probably would have gotten through some of these questions a little sooner in my life. So, I appreciate you opening up and sharing for everybody here. So, just two final questions to wrap it up that we always ask. What would be one single piece of advice you would tell your younger self in sports?
Don't worry about what everyone thinks. Focus on what you're trying to do, because I was so concerned with looking foolish or not getting it. That became almost as important as like, you know, let me hit the ball down or pass the ball to my, you know, point guard or whatever, rebound the ball. And so, sometimes our ego of like how it looks really gets so much in the way, and it's such a colossal waste of time.
So, I think I would say that and I would remind myself it is part of it is fun. Lik,e the more you can have that like hard intensity and fun wound together, then you get into probably the flow a lot easier.
And, for all of the women athletes out there that want to start their own companies, what would be one piece of advice you would give them today?
First of all, have a real why. Do you really want to do it? Ask yourself that and ask yourself what you would be willing to give up five or 10 years of your life to pursue that you could believe in when it was, or wasn't popular and that something that you could see yourself fitting into and connecting it as somehow there was something in it that really made sense as to why you were going to be the one to start it.
Why are you doing it? And, and to be careful about telling too many people, because people will be like, oh, that's hard. Like sometimes you want to have people that will tell you the truth, of course, but you want to have people to be like, that's great. And, how do you plan to do that? Seek out information, seek out mentors. That's imperative.
And, and just understand. It was like when you walk through the doors of going into practice, Nobody has ever walked through the doors, going to practice thinking this is going to be easy. You walk in and you smell whatever the gym or the pool or whatever the field it smells like. And, you go up, here we go. And, there's a little bit of that, that it's like, it's hard, but it's redefining. What that is, is that hard is part of losing is part of winning hard is part of being successful and not being like, oh, this is hard. It's like, oh yeah, no, this is part of the whole thing.
But, the other thing is you might be in it two, three years in your mind, like, oh, wait a second I see something over here that maybe this is really better. So, don't be afraid even if you've invested time or you told people to be like, I'm going to shut it down. That's not a failure. That's not what that is. That's that led me to point B, which led me to C and so forth.
I love it. It's a pivot and it always leads to something. And, it's your journey, which is why I think that's such an incredible piece of advice. Okay. Our last question, Gabby, we have just launched our nine global goals for girls and women in sport. And, those global goals are really meant to be a framework to help the industry, help brands really get after improving the environment for women's sports. So, from your perspective, what would be the most important thing for the sports industry to think about when they think about changing things for the positive for girls and women in sport?
I always feel like it's the celebration of greatness, not the comparison of sameness. And so, I think what it is, is it's telling the stories and the industry around the athletes and the pursuit of greatness and excellence, not somehow trying to make women's sports the same as male sports. And, vice-versa, I think women are as guilty of it too. Like we're the same, it's like, well, no, we're not actually. So, what is great about women's sports? And, there's a lot to it.
You know, sports is, it is, it's an aggressive thing which then can be inherently masculine. So, then women sometimes feel like, oh, they have to do it the masculine way, even though there's a masculinity in it. And, that is my masculine side, but it's like no, but we're different. And so, how do we celebrate the way we do it and tell those stories and stop trying to fit into the model of how the men do it and not being frustrated with them.
First of all, they, they built that infrastructure long before we did, great. And, it's different, right? Like don't spend energy on, like, that's not fair. It goes back to that. No. Cool. What do you want to do? And, how can you build that? And, I think that that is in the magic of what women are. And, and again, the focus on excellence, you know being the best that you can be and and being really fun and compelling to watch.
Well, we're about to head into the Olympics where we're going to be celebrating so many amazing women and their stories on the Voice in Sport platform. So we hope you continue to check that out Gabby, and we can't wait to share your story and all your advice with our community. So, thank you for joining us today, and we're excited to continue to see you crush it in all of your journeys in your, and all of your companies
Well, thank you. I just want to say whatever phase these, these young women and women are in is just, you know, surround yourself with the right mentors and people. Yeah. Kick your own butt and be kind to yourself at the same time, because it's, it's a constant calibration of loving yourself and being really truthful with yourself. And, and just kind of keeping that in check. Don't get too hard on yourself and don't like, you know, take it easy too much on yourself. Just find the balance.
I love it. And, I love that you're bringing up mentorship because that I think is one of the things I missed the most in my journey. And, if I would've had more strong women around me to help support me, I know I would have been better for it. And, that's what we're hoping to build with VIS and having access like that to women that will really share their stories, I think is so important.
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This episode was produced by VIS Creator, Rena Schwartz, a skier at Dartmouth college. Thank you, Gabby for sharing the many transitions you have had along your journey, both on and off the court change can be tough, but it is something that we all face. It is comforting to hear how many skills we learned from sport that can help us adapt to more situations.
Gabby's advice to create a strategy, just as you might in sport, in order to get through tough transitions is incredibly helpful. It is so important for women and girls to hear her advice on finding confidence and surrounding yourself with individuals who will encourage and support. She reminds us, also, of the power and liberation that comes from celebrating the achievements of other women, explaining that it is important to appreciate others while also recognizing the special qualities that we might possess.
Gabby encourages us to take up space and not to apologize for who we are. 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're interested in joining our community @voiceandsport.com, you will have access to exclusive content mentorship from pro and collegiate athletes. Access to the top VIS Experts in sports psychology and nutrition and advocacy tools to drive change. Checkout voiceinsport.com to join us. We hope you enjoyed this episode and for similar content, please check out episode number 38 with softball star AJ Andrews, “Dare to Dream: Love Yourself and Find your Power.”
See you next week on the Voice in Sport Podcast.
Host: Stef Strack
Producer: VIS Creators™ Rena Schwartz