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Episode #81

Overcoming Adversity

with Kayla Wood

26 Jul, 2022 · Lacrosse

Kayla Wood, a professional lacrosse player in the Athletes Unlimited league, former member of the UNC women’s lacrosse team, and three time ACC champion shares with us her unique college recruitment process.

Voice In Sport
Episode 81. Kayla Wood
00:00 | 00:00

Transcript

Episode # 81

Guest: Kayla Wood

“Overcoming Adversity by Focusing on the Present”

[00:00:00]Stef: this week on the voice and sport podcast, we have the pleasure of speaking with Kayla Wood, a current professional lacrosse player, former member of the UNC women's lacrosse team, and three time ACC champion. Now, as part of the athlete's unlimited professional lacrosse league, she continues her athletic success and is consistently on the top of the leader board as well as a team captain.

In today's episode, Kayla shares her recruitment process that landed her at the university of North Carolina. Unlike the most common pathway for many high school athletes, which is getting recruited through a club team or a showcase series. Kayla was recruited through her high school team. She's not only a standout player who has successfully reminded us that we, as women athletes should let go of comparisons to our teammates.

Instead, she has shifted her focus to being the best version of herself. This isn't how it always was for Kayla though. And she talks about her transition from high school to college. Today, Kayla generously shares with us, how she navigated several personal adversities she faced during her time at UNC, we learned how Kayla sought out support and adapted her mindset.

And she reminds us to stay focused on the things in our lives that we can actually control. Welcome to the voice and sport podcast. Kayla.

[00:01:20]Kayla: Thank you. I'm really excited to be here. And I think we're going to have a great time today, so let's do it.

[00:01:25]Stef: Absolutely. Well, look, our podcast is all about sharing untold stories, talking about things that is a little hard to talk about at first, but help the greater community of women athletes when we do talk about it. So, I want to start with your background a little ,bit, you know, you started your sport at a very young age, but your journey in lacrosse wasn't continuous.

So you know, you also grew up in running track and cross country and then came back to lacrosse. So can you share with us that, that early few years why you stopped playing lacrosse and then what brought you back.

[00:01:58]Kayla: So this may not be like a regular answer, so when I first initially started playing lacrosse my sister was in high school, so I was like, Oh, like she's trying it, let me try it out. But I was at such a young age that they had like all of these little tedious rules. So like for instance, you couldn't really check anyone or you had to pass the ball like three times before you could score a goal.

And it just felt kind of like slow and kind of like restrictive. And I like, remember telling my mom, I was like, Hm, like I just kinda want to wait until I don't have to worry about all these rules anymore. So then when I got a little bit older probably towards like seventh, eighth grade, that's when I really started focusing on it.

[00:02:40]Stef: Well, there's a lot of pressure that comes from young women athletes sometimes to play on the club teams in order to make it to the college level. So did you ever feel that pressure as a young lacrosse player when you were growing up in the sport.

[00:02:51]Kayla: So initially I did just because like, when I ended up trying out for the lacrosse team in high school, and then you know, playing varsity, a lot of the girls that I was already playing with, they were already on club teams and stuff. So, in a sense, I kind of fell behind because before I'd gotten to high school, I was playing on rec teams and everyone else, like I said, was playing on club teams.

Like a lot of people, especially in the area of Maryland are playing like club lacrosse from like sometimes the time they can walk. So it, it was a little bit challenging to one even potentially find a club team, but also just kind of dealing with that pressure. Oh, my gosh, like, am I falling behind because I'm not doing what everyone else is doing.

[00:03:37]Stef: So, what was your experience getting recruited to go to college? And would you share to other girls out there as just like learnings from that experience?

[00:03:46]Kayla: So, the first thing that I'll say is that not everyone's path is going to be the same. So my path to being recruited to go to UNC was much different than everybody else around me especially because I didn't get recruited to play at the college level through club sports. Essentially what happened was, is I made varsity team fresh my freshman year of high school, and then I went to states and then that's how college coaches saw me.

And then the funny thing is, is like my old basketball coach ended up calling me after like, since lacrosse in the spring, during the summertime saying like, Hey, like Danny Levy from UNC wants to recruit you. So, it was just like a completely different experience than what most people experience. And the other thing about it is the fact that a lot of people think I went to like a private school where like this really high top ranked you know, public school, and the fact is I didn't. So I think the best piece of advice I would give would be, there's definitely other ways you can get recruited and it doesn't have to be the same way that everyone else is.

[00:04:54]Stef: I love that. And I think that's such an important message to share with young girls out there because sports in the US is extremely expensive to play. And when you start playing club sports at age, like 11 or 12, and you think about like all of those years in between starting at that young age in club sports, and then going up through high school, a lot of young girls, like if they're fortunate enough, they have the opportunity to be in club and then they don't actually play for their school.

And you know, the system in the United States is set up and so that a lot of like the recruiting happens through those club teams in those big tournaments. But you're a great example of like where you work hard and you get on your, your high school team you can still shine and make it to the top, which I think is just such a powerful message.

And, so looking back now on your experience in high school, you know, what can we do to make the, the lacrosse industry more inclusive so that more women can play at the highest levels in high school.

[00:05:54]Kayla: I think it really just starts with you know, recruiting athletes outside of just these club tournaments and to stop putting so much emphasis on the only way that you're going to be recruited is through club. I mean, there are also other ways like you can go to camps and clinics. I know that, especially at Carolina I would notice whenever we would have camps, we'd have a lot of the same girls coming.

So like that was one thing which that also can get expensive, but it is definitely a better alternative than to just play club, so I think, think it's important to see all of these other players outside of just club, because like you said, everyone may not have the resources in order to play club lacrosse, because it is really expensive to do.

[00:06:37]Stef: And did you for your recruitment journey, was UNC the only school that reached out to you? Or can you share a little bit more about that, that journey for other girls out there, especially for the girls that might not be in club, and they might not have the financial resources to do that. to, I want them to know, like, how did you handle that whole recruitment process and like, advice do you have for those girls? Because I'm sure there's a lot of young women out there are in a

[00:07:01]Kayla: interim.

[00:07:02]Stef: and still want to play in college.

[00:07:04]Kayla: Yeah. So I did have a few other colleges that you know, had reached out to me to be recruited through and a lot of them, luckily were local. So, for instance, one of them was Towson and another one was Loyola and Princeton, so they were all fairly close. UNC was really the only one that was really far from home.

So, I really just went to almost every one of the campuses before I really decided where I wanted to go. Because even though UNC like is a really great school, you know, there are other options out there you don't necessarily have to go to the best school. You got to go to the school that fits you.

So, Like I said, like, the reason I ended up going to Carolina was once I set foot on campus, one, I definitely wanted to be somewhere where it was warm cause I hate the cold. And then two, I just wanted to be somewhere that it really felt like a home away from home. So, I loved all of the girls that I had met when I had gone and visited there.

I loved how it was 70 degrees in January when I visited and everything was green. I also loved how it challenged me, not only as an athlete, but also as a student. And also just the fact that after my four years there, I would also grow and become a better human than I was before I got there.

So it really is just like a checklist and you gotta make that checklist for yourself and don't just say, hey, like the best school is recruiting me. You gotta say, Hey, like what fits me the best.

[00:08:34]Stef: Absolutely. And what are the other interests that you have? Like you mentioned, you wanted to grow as a person sometimes, you know,

[00:08:41]Kayla: You know

[00:08:41]Stef: means different things

[00:08:42]Kayla: differently.

[00:08:43]Stef: What did that mean for.

[00:08:45]Kayla: I mean, so you, when you go into college, you're an 18 year old, you don't really know what you wanna do with your life. And just in my journey at Carolina, when I had first initially got there, I just was like, I'm just a lacrosse flare. Like I'm an athlete. Like I'm here to play lacrosse. Like, that's it. But then after my first year, I realized that there was so many more things that are important than just being an athlete. And over that course of time, I've found things that like, I really became interested in and new hobbies, like, especially during the time that we were in the pandemic and we were at school, I ended up really getting into drawing and art and painting and things like that. So I think being in college it's good to find other ways to define yourself besides just an athlete.

[00:09:36]Stef: Absolutely. It's so important. Well, once you got to UNC you were part of the starting defense unit as a freshmen. what was that transition like playing in high school to starting at one of the top five lacrosse teams.

[00:09:50]Kayla: It was a pretty surreal experience to be quite honest, I don't, I really didn't know what to expect when I went to Carolina. You know, obviously everyone's goal as an athlete is to step on the field on game day and to potentially start. And like that, that was definitely my goal, but I knew that it wasn't just going to happen.

I knew that I was going to have to put in the work for it if I, if I really did want that to happen. And everything that I did, I felt like it was intentional and led me up to that moment. So the transition was pretty challenging, but I did enjoy it for the most part. I would say school was definitely balancing school and lacrosse was definitely a lot harder than being in high school, just because high school is not, not that it's not as serious, but it's just not as rigorous as your courses may be in college.

And when it came to playing, especially at practices, everything was just so much faster paced, but I mean, I think that I adjusted pretty well, just mainly because of the girls I had come in with. And then also, because upperclassmen were really good at leading us. So whenever we had practices or whatever, they would really prepare us for what we should to expect.

[00:11:03]Stef: Well, let's talk about that transition and through the lens of confidence, because you know, when you're in high school you do make it to collegiate sports, especially at the division one level, you're

[00:11:13]Kayla: You're used to sort of

[00:11:14]Stef: absolute best at your high school, and then you head into your new squad and is definitely different.

So how did that transition affect your confidence and how you viewed the game? what advice would you have for other young freshmen that are about to start? And they might not be the best player anymore on the.

[00:11:33]Kayla: So I think the biggest thing that helped me through that was there was kind of like a flip that switch in my head where I like initially when I had gone in, I had kind of like compared myself to other people. And then I had realized that in doing that, it like sucked my confidence away from me because I was like, oh my gosh, all these girls are good at all of these things.

Like, and I was like, how am I even going to measure up to them? And then I was like, wait, but I'm here for a reason too. I am good at a lot of things that they may not be good at. So, when I talk about the switch being flipped, I went more into how can I be the best version and best player of myself rather than how can I be the best person on the team?

Because at the end of the day, everyone there is just really, really good. And everyone just has different skills that make them the best at what they do, because in order to be on a team, everyone has to have a role. And your role means that you are the best at doing that. So, that was really, I think, where my confidence kind of switched because I was like, no, like I'm Kayla, this is what Kayla is good at. Don't worry about what everyone else is good at. You have weaknesses and you'll work on them on your own, but don't sit here and try to compare yourself to other people.

[00:12:52]Stef: Such good advice for any, any young athlete that's heading into college. So, I appreciate you sharing that. you know, the next three years of, of you playing at UNC, you know, you mentioned

[00:13:02]Kayla: mentioned

[00:13:03]Stef: not always on the starting lineup, so you were not consistently starting. I want to talk a little bit about that, you know, how did you deal with that again like that was different than where you were in high school too. Did you ever speak with your coach about playing time how did you navigate, I guess, these potentially difficult conversations with your coach?

[00:13:25]Kayla: Yeah, so it was definitely difficult. It was on, so on the field wise when I didn't earn that starting spot and I wasn't getting the time that I wanted, my like effort didn't change, if anything, I put in a lot more effort because I wanted to show them. Okay. Like, I'm going to earn that spot back.

And sometimes no matter how hard you work, you sometimes may feel like it's not worth it, but you have to, at the end of the day, worry about the things that you can control. So, even if I did go into my coaches and talk to them a million times and nothing was changing at the end of the day, the only thing that I could do was focus on the controllable things for myself.

And that is my attitude. That is my effort that I put in and my mentality of, you know, where I want to be. And it really helped to set goals in. And also at the end of the day, like, If you think about it, realistically for lacrosse, you can only have 11 people play on the field at a time. and on average, there's only going to be about 20 players who really play that day.

So that really means that out of like a 40 person roster, they're still going to be half the team who may not touch the field that day. So, even though I, you know, may not have been on the field and I wanted it to be on the field, there were other people who also felt the same way and something that helped me through that was like bonding through the struggle that we're all experiencing together.

So instead of kind of like fighting it alone, like saying like, oh, like I deserve to be on the field and all these other things. It's like, there are also other people who want to be in that spot too. So it's better to not be selfish about it and just accept your role and to just work really hard and try to better the people next to you and yourself every single day.

[00:15:15]Stef: How did you and your teammates kind of have conversations about that? Cause that's one of the things that Voice in Sport that we really believe in is like building communities that you can lean on and have those harder conversations. And obviously when you're on a team like that, you guys are all fighting for a spot on like the starting lineup.

So sometimes it can create this hard dynamic of competition within the team. So how did you, you know, ensure that you were creating sort of that obviously keeping that amazing competitive between everybody on the team, but still like leaned on each other for conversations and, you know, sharing how you're feeling around either not having playing time or other, other issues or challenges you were facing.

[00:15:53]Kayla: The biggest thing, or just kind of going back to the beginning of like, not comparing yourself to others. It's all really about the mindset about things. So, if you create this relationship with your teammates where it's not like you're comparing each other, but instead like you're climbing a ladder every single day of like, Hey, like you may have beat me in a One V One today.

But like, I'm going to get you tomorrow type thing. So it's better to look at it in a way of where you're building each other up rather than tearing each other down because we are a team at the end of the day, at the end of the day, we want to be competing for a national championship. So if we're not all on the same page and we're all not bought in, then we're not going to get there because the thing is what a lot of people don't realize is especially on game day, like you can feel the presence of everyone out there, whether you're on the field or not. So,, if you don't have that great energy and great comradery, you're not gonna make it nearly as far as you want to be.

So, it's good to have healthy competition, but to not take it to the extent of you comparing yourself to someone else's situation, if that makes sense,

[00:17:03]Stef: Absolutely. And I love that you shared that it's a mindset, right? It's a mindset that you can shift if you're not in a good spot and create that team dynamic, that's going to win you champions because you're a three time ACC champion. So it definitely worked. And you know, you weren't always on the field, right, but you were on the field sometimes. And like you said, there's a role for everybody to play on the team and you can keep that competitive juice, like alive and still remain really great friends. So I love that.

[00:17:33]Kayla: I love that.

[00:17:34]Stef: that. So I want to kind of go a little bit further into some of the adversity that you did face.

Although you had three championships,

[00:17:40]Kayla: a chance,

[00:17:41]Stef: had some really

[00:17:42]Kayla: please,

[00:17:43]Stef: challenges and specifically a personal loss in your junior year that you faced.

[00:17:47]Kayla: please,

[00:17:47]Stef: You know, this is not something that you've spoken out too much about publicly,

[00:17:51]Kayla: please,

[00:17:51]Stef: we did want to talk about today because it really can impact you know, your mental health as athletes

[00:17:57]Kayla: please.

[00:17:57]Stef: somebody in your life.

So, would you mind

[00:18:00]Kayla: Can you find

[00:18:01]Stef: this really hard part of your life and, and just sharing

[00:18:04]Kayla: this year?

[00:18:04]Stef: you know, the direct impact that it had your mental health and how you recovered from it.

[00:18:10]Kayla: Yeah, for sure. I mean this is still something that is a little hard for me to still like put into words or explain, so, I'll try my best to, so just bear with me for a little bit, but essentially what happened my junior year of college in December, during finals week one of my closest friends from home had passed away due to suicide. And this was just incredibly shocking news to me, just because I had just had never experienced anything like this in my life. And to be quite honest, I really had no idea how to react to it.

At first it really didn't seem real. And I was lucky enough that both of my roommates were there, so they were kind of like able to kind of soften the blow a little bit, but it really just was like a like wild experience. Like I've still to this day, I don't even know how to put it into words. Like how in the moment it made me feel, or even kind of like shortly after, because like, there was just so much going on that, like I said, I was in finals week.

And I ended up being able to talk to my professors and getting some of them done early. Some of them, I was able to go home and do. So I ended up leaving in the middle of finals week to go home and then all of our services happen. So just kind of like, I, I was myself, but it was kind of almost like I was just had so much going on that I was just trying to get through that.

And I hadn't really had time to really process my feelings about things. And finally, when everything just slowed down, like everything really just hit me. And like, I, I went through a cycle of sadness and frustration and just like utter grief just from the entire situation. And. It was really hard to navigate because I'm just someone who is just really tries so hard to be positive.

But in those situations, it's really, really hard to be without acknowledging your feelings. And I think a part of the healing process, I knew that I had to acknowledge my feelings and I didn't want to run from them. And I didn't want to hide from them because I knew that in the end it was only gonna make things worse.

So, even if that meant that I was ended up crying in the middle of a workout that I was doing or walking through the grocery store and starting to tear up, I was like, I just gotta just like, feel it. Like, I, I can't ignore it. Like I have to just deal with this right now, because if I don't it's it's gonna just haunt me later down the line.

So I was lucky enough to have a really big support team. And I'm usually the type of person who's always there for other people. And I find it a little difficult for, for people to be here for me. But I knew that I had to be honest with people and tell them like, look like I need help. Especially because of the situation itself, a lot of the times people don't ask for help.

And that's kind of when we start going down this like dark tunnel and we start digging ourselves into a hole and I was like, I can't let that happen to myself. I'm like my friend passed away and like, I'm going to develop everything that I can to my life to make sure that like I'm living in her honor, and I'm like, I need to just accept the things that are going on and I need to accept help from people, no matter how hard it may be for me.

[00:21:35]Stef: And thank you so much for sharing that. I think what you said is so important is like acknowledge your feelings. You know, don't, don't push them out. And especially if you're a positive, always seeing the positive of everything type of person, like it is okay feel the sadness and the grief.

I think what you said is this is so important for girls to hear out there. So when you said you, you asked for help and, know, you took on some of that part of your recovery. What did asking for help look like.

[00:22:10]Kayla: So it's going to look pretty different for everyone. For me, it was just me having an honest conversation with like my family and my friends and saying like, Hey, like right now I am okay, but I am letting you know that there are going to be days are going to be hard for me. And sometimes It's like, I may not want to say it, but, I just kind of like need you to look out for me because I'm going to sometimes struggle a little bit.

But there are gonna be days where I'm gonna need you to pick me up because I won't be able to do it on my own.

[00:22:45]Stef: Absolutely. So in response to such a traumatic, personal experience, how did your coaches handle it? And do you wish it would have been handled differently?

[00:22:53]Kayla: So, my experience, obviously everyone's experiences are going to be differently. But at least the way that I ended it with my coaches was I knew that they were going to be worrying about me. And I knew that they maybe didn't know how to come and talk to me about it. And I think in general in life, sometimes the reason why we don't reach out to people is because we don't know what to say.

So, I went out of my way to go and meet with them and just talk to them and just say like, hey, like over winter break, I was, you know, it was definitely tough and don't get me wrong. I definitely am still struggling, but I am happy to be back at school, and I really want lacrosse to be my safe space.

And if I ever have like a bad day, like, I will be sure to tell you guys, but I do really just want to focus on lacrosse when I step foot on the field at practice games, whatever, I just really want to focus on that because that's going to be my safe space. That's going to be what gets me through the tough days.

So, I think that they were really receptive to that which was really awesome, and especially my coach, like Katrina and Phil were like, cause I'm cause well, one Katrina was like the one that like recruited me, so I was a little closer with her and then Phil, like, he's a defensive coach, so I spent a lot of time with him in general.

So, you know, they kind of just always had their eye on me because I spent so much time with them. And I think that they really were just happy that I went out of my way to come and talk to them about it because it is like a difficult conversation to have.

[00:24:29]Stef: What resources do you wish you had for yourself at the time when you were going through this really challenging moment?

[00:24:35]Kayla: I mean, I feel like I, the one thing that I do wish that maybe would have made it a little bit easier for me would have been to be able to talk to someone who's already been through it because like I had, I did have, you know, people I could talk to who were experiencing the same thing, because they were also friends with her as well, but it's different for someone to have already gone through it.

And then kind of be able to guide you through how you may feel you may be feeling or someone to just tell you like, yeah, there are going to be better days coming, like right now it's just going to be hard. But just because like when you're in the moment it kind of just feels like the end of the world, you know, like it's kind of hard to see, oh, tomorrow is going to be better or the next day is going to be better because right now it just really sucks.

[00:25:26]Stef: Well, and there's a lot of really amazing clinical psychologists out there too can be people that you lean on. Cause sometimes like it's, it's one thing to lean on friends and family that have gone through something similar, but it's really helpful to have somebody to lean on that can help you structure of how you go through the grieving process and like, how do you recognize your feelings more?

Especially if you're, if you're not yet there yet as a person, right. As a human being, we're all in progress, we're all work in progress not always do these moments happen in our lives where we're prepared for them. So know, I think it's also important to ask for, for help. And clinical psychologists are also a really great place to lean on or your sports psychologist.

talk about your, I guess, advice that you would give to other young women in college that might be facing a loss of a teammate or a loved one to suicide. What words would you share with them, I guess, based off of your own experience as they work through this really challenging time themselves

[00:26:28]Kayla: So you know, first as, you know, the person going through it you know, definitely don't suffer in silence about it. You know, go talk to people, ask for help, whether that's asking for help with just a friend, a family member or going and seeking professional help. I think that's incredibly important.

And you know, my biggest thing with everything in life is to always take things one moment at a time. So, don't get too ahead of yourself and try not to live too far in the past. Just try to focus on the present moment. So especially when I was, you know, going through this particular adversity, whenever I would you know go to practice, like I said, I would just focus on lacrosse at, at that given time, if I was doing my schoolwork, I was focusing on that.

And eventually over time, like you can't just stop living your life. You have to keep going. And there are going to be days that you're going to be really sad and you're gonna, you know, want to sit down and do nothing. And honestly, sometimes it's okay to do that. Like a lot of people think that, you know, you have to be this strong person all the time, but if you just need to sit down in your bed and just like cry for a little, or like watch some TV or something, like take care of yourself, like obviously keep doing these things of living your life, but you still do have to focus on your self care for sure.

[00:27:55]Elizabeth: Thank you for listening to the Voice in Sport podcast. My name is Elizabeth Martin, a soccer player at Emory university and producer of this week's episode. Go to voiceinsport.com/join to sign up for a free membership and gain access to exclusive episodes, mentorship sessions, and other weekly content.

Don't forget to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @voiceinsport. Now let's get back to the episode

[00:28:17]Stef: yeah, let's talk about that self care for a little bit, because, you know, I think following tremendous loss for your personal life, you turned obviously to lacrosse as a safe space, like you mentioned, but soon after that in your junior year of college, COVID-19 hit, cut your season short. Which is just another challenging thing, especially if you're, if sport is an outlet for you.

where was your physical and mental state at then? And like, what learnings did you take away from, from that experience that you can pass on to other young women heading into maybe, you know, a situation that doesn't go the way they want it to go. What did you learn, you know, at that moment?

[00:28:59]Kayla: So the way that I tried to look at things is within the bad there's going to be good, and within the good there's going to be bad. So even though, you know, our season ending did really suck and, and it was bad, there were good things that came out of it, at least I felt like for myself just because like, there can be a lot of pressure that you experience during the season this pressure to perform this pressure, like as a team in general, collectively to perform the best together and to make it to the championship or have a winning record.

Like it there's a lot of pressure that you experience in that time, so for me, I was already kind of experiencing this like mental adversity and then when our season ended, like, it wasn't a relief, but I was kind of like, this is kind of like good for me to be able to focus on myself because I'm, to be honest, like when I was going through that time, I wasn't doing nearly as much self-care as I should've been, like, I was doing a little bit here and there, but I think once the season ended, it made me realize like, wow, like I wasn't taking care of myself.

Like I thought that I was. And so once I went home, I still went and like played wall ball with my lacrosse stick every now and then, but I did spend time, like I said, trying to find new things to occupy my mind and something like, I mean, I love learning and like, I may not love school, but I do love learning the thing that drives me nuts, about school it was just all of the. 10 page papers and things like that. But once I finished, like when we didn't have our season, I actually kind of enjoyed doing my schoolwork. So I was like, wow, like, I didn't realize I had this in me. Like, I actually like read a lot of the books. I didn't just skim through them.

Like I took my time with them and I was like, wow, like who would've thought that I would have been so interested in this, and then I also just like started drawing. I tried to do things outside of you know, just lacrosse. So I thought it was good. I thought it was a good, you know, part of a personal growth, my personal growth

[00:31:19]Stef: Absolutely. Well, and it sounds like, you know, every, with everything, like start to learn more and more about yourself as you grow. And it's amazing that you know, that you love to learn and that can show up in different ways.

So let's talk about your last year and then we're going to kind of go and dive into your professional life in lacrosse after college, but your senior year we were still in the midst of COVID-19, so you're still, you know, dealing with the stressors of, of, you know, trying to play in a season with COVID-19 you're dealing with the loss of a close friend back home all the while continuing to train.

And then your senior year, you encountered another personal challenge. Would you mind sharing with us what happened at this point in your life, how it impacted you and how you kept self-care, mental health at like the forefront of how you worked through that?

[00:32:13]Kayla: Yeah, for sure. So sure shortly after returning back to school in January after winter break I'd gotten news that my dad had gone into the hospital and it was pretty serious. And between like the months of January and March he was still continuing to be in and out of the hospital and there was kind of like, there's a lot of speculation that he, he may not make it and, at this point, I had no idea what to do. I was like, do I go home? Do I stay into school and play lacrosse? Like, I don't know what to do. I'm like, this could be my last time, like ever seeing my dad. And you know, I talked to my family a lot and I was like, look like, just say the word I'll be home. Like, I wouldn't even hesitate.

And they're like, no, like we really want you to stay. We really want you to, you know, finish out your season and we want you to get your degree. And we really just want you to focus on that. And like everything here will be okay. And that was just really hard for me because like, I, like I said, I'm just someone who always likes to be there for people.

So like in a way I kind of felt like I was kind of failing my family because I wasn't there for them. But like I knew that they wanted me to be here or not here, but in college playing lacrosse. And that was kind of something that I really like struggled with was the fact that I was like, my family is going through this struggle and I'm not there with them experiencing it with them and being there for me, like, I feel like they needed me and I wasn't there.

And like, I ended up like talking to them about this, like a lot later on, because like, I didn't want them to worry about me while I was at school. I was like you guys have so many other things to worry about, like, I, I just need to like put my head down and I just got to grind and I got to, you know, do well in school. I have to graduate and, you know, perform on the lacrosse field, which, so I ended up, you know, putting a lot of pressure on myself. And I think sometimes when you are put in situations like this, you either sink or swim. And I think I was like there was no choice. I have to swim. Like I can't sink.

So that was, that's really how I got through it. And like I said, just really taking things day by day. Cause I didn't, I didn't want to make stories up in my head of like what could have happened or what, you know, my, my dad, you know, may not be here tomorrow. Like I had to just be like, look, he's here today.

You know, you just gotta take it day by day. You can't get too far ahead of yourself. And obviously that's pretty hard because as human beings, we always want to create stories. We always want to fill gaps. And that was just like something that was, you know, something really, really tough for me to get through was just not creating these stories in my head about what could happen.

[00:35:02]Stef: Well in 2021, you graduated with a degree sociology after four years at UNC. So, back now, especially after sharing a lot of these stories where you grew as a person, you dealt with tragedy you also had a lot of amazing wins, right? A lot of amazing moments. So ups and downs

[00:35:21]Kayla: Yeah,

[00:35:21]Stef: life. What would you say is the biggest learning that you would want to pass on to other young women in sport today?

[00:35:31]Kayla: Just like you said like, there's, there's going to be wins and losses. There's going to be downs in life, but you gotta like, hold on to those little good things. You gotta celebrate every single small good thing. Just because we're gonna go through things in life when we're really, really down, we're gonna feel really, really bad about ourselves. And we have to remind ourselves that like, not every single day is going to be like this. Yesterday, we may have, you know, been a little down in the dumps, but tomorrow is full of opportunities. So it really is, like I said, just always going back to that moments part, like, even if you have to break it down in, you know, into seconds, like don't let five seconds ruin your day.

Or even if you have to look at it as your day in quarters, like, oh, like I had a really bad first quarter today, but my second, third and fourth quarter were really good today. So not holding on to those things that may drag us down and really fuel the things that bring us up.

[00:36:39]Stef: I love it. And you said so many amazing and wise things that I'm gonna try to recap because I think it was so incredible. So just listening to your story, going through college, things that really stand out to me that I really want other young women to hear as they listen to your story is that you want to own your feelings, right? The good ones, bad ones, the sad ones, the happy ones, like own your feelings, call them out, recognize them. It's okay to have all of them, right.

Ask for help. Ask for help. Don't suffer in silence was another thing that I think is so critical to. Any situation that we're in. There are a lot of amazing people out there.

And if you don't feel like you have it in your close circle join a community that has it, know but don't suffer in silence. And then lastly, like celebrate those wins. And I, and I think that's so important because you're going to have wins and don't underestimate or undervalue those wins along the way, because of course we're all going to have losses.

I really appreciate you sharing. I really appreciate you sharing those stories. I know they're very personal. And I know it'll help a lot of other young girls.

So transition into, you know, post college, you graduate woo-hoo you are considering to go into professional sports, but the US that looks like the new league Athletes Unlimited.

can you share with us just the process of being drafted or even just considering to go into professional sports at the end of your college.

[00:38:20]Kayla: Yeah. So after we had lost in the final four. Not too long after that. I got a call from someone from Athletes Unlimited, like asking like, hey, like, are you interested in playing? We would really love to have you. And for me, there was no hesitation. I was like, we just lost in the final four like I can't end my lacrosse career on a loss because I'm just way too competitive for that.

So, you know, I, I immediately obviously said yes, and then, you know, the time going into the league was just like so much anticipation. Like I had no idea what to expect. I was going to be playing amongst all of these amazing players.

And I was just kind of like, whoa, like this is happening. And I was just so grateful for it because when I was younger, especially, you know, my in high school, there really wasn't opportunity for women to play professional lacrosse after college. Like it was kinda like college was the peak of your career and that was it. And once you were done, you were done.

So I was just so grateful that I was even able to be a part of the opportunity and help build the future for other, you know, female athletes. So it was just an overall like incredible opportunity that I'm so like happy and proud to be a part of.

[00:39:43]Stef: What is the drafting process look like for, for those that might be considering to go like, and also like, what does an average week now look like for you?

[00:39:52]Kayla: Yeah, so drafting wise it's the top four players from each week end up becoming captains. And then on, usually on Monday nights, we'll have like an actual draft, like a live draft where each player will you know, pick players that they want in order to build a team. And then throughout the week, we, we practice from like Tuesday to Thursday ish and practices are a little bit different compared to colleges in the sense that like, College it's like very structured. like it's going to probably vary from day to day, but the structure of practices was fairly similar from team to team. A lot of the time we played like man up man down drills, and then we did a lot of you know, settled play six V six. So that way, you know, our offense and our defense could like get their flow with each other.

Because like you are switching teams almost every week and you're not guaranteed to play with the same people that you're gonna play within the previous week. So we've just put a lot of time into kind of like bonding and meshing and understanding each other's tendencies with one another, because we really only have four days to be able to do it and everyone wants to come out at the end of the weekend being undefeated.

[00:41:08]Stef: Well, you continue to be in the top players each week within the league, which means you become the team captain and you select your teams. And like coming off of a college season that was impacted by COVID you weren't necessarily consistently starting at UNC. So you know, you look at now you're consistently like top four in women's lacrosse in this league. So what changed, you know, did you, did you change your training? Did you change your approach? What would you say has contributed to your success in the league?

[00:41:38]Kayla: I think that I always had the ability. I think the thing that changed the most was just my confidence. Because like I had gotten to the point where, you know, there's times where you don't necessarily feel like you're good enough or you know, that you haven't earned your spot somewhere. And I had just gotten to the point where I was like, why, why do I feel like I'm not good enough?

Like I have finally breached the top level of lacrosse and I'm sitting here still feeling like I'm not enough. And like, to me, I was just like, but why? And I was like, it has to just be something within myself. Like it I'm, I'm just not giving myself enough credit. And I think part of the reason why I didn't do that in the beginning was because like, that kind of lack of confidence kind of felt like it drove me to be better.

But at the end of the day, I don't think that it did. I think at the end of the day, I just had the drive to want to be better. And I maybe just use that as an excuse for my lack of confidence. Then when I finally got there, I was like, no, like I have earned my place here. I have put in the work to be here and it's, it's time to just let that go.

It's time to not like allow, you know yourself to bring yourself down. So I really, my really biggest thing was just changing my confidence.

[00:43:08]Stef: Okay. So how do you do that? So what's some advice for a young girl out there that might want, might want to like, do exactly what you just did. Like how do I shift my, my perspective on confidence? Cause I think what you said is spot on a lot of it can be within yourself. So what advice would you have for a girl who wants to grow her confidence?

[00:43:28]Kayla: It really just starts with within, and I think you have to stop caring so much about what other people think. Because I think honestly, in general, as human beings, we care too much about what other people think about us. And at the end of the day, other people don't really know us like we know ourselves. So why am I going to listen to somebody who doesn't know me? Like I know me. And then also just you know, I think confidence can also kind of be drained when you're making mistakes or you feel like you're failing. And I think a lot of the time people may think that mistakes are failures and, yes, you did fail at what you're trying to accomplish.

But at the same time, if you change the way that you look at it, it's more of like, you grew like making mistakes as part of the growth process. If you don't make a mistake, then you're not gonna get any better. So you kind of had to be, you had to be okay with making mistakes and you had to be okay with knowing the fact that you're not perfect because I think a lot of my issues came from the fact that I was trying not to make mistakes all the time.

And then I realized like, wait, in order to get better, I have to make these mistakes.

[00:44:48]Stef: I love that. Well, in numerous articles featuring you and your lacrosse achievements, there are several quotes and, you know, both past and present teammates who share how much of an incredible teammate you are on and off the field. And they describe you as someone who always did what needed to be done to help with the team to win.

And even a former college teammate mentioned that you're a fierce competitor, but first to crack a joke, to make you laugh which I think is just amazing. Like, I love that. I love that you have sort of both of those things but you have a huge commitment to supporting your teammates and competing, not for individual stats, but for the whole team, which is just so amazing.

So some athletes are, as we know, really driven and they lose sight of the importance of comradery and team support. But for you, that's really been at the core of who you are and how you play. So why do you think that you are so committed to being a great teammate and a support system? Like where did these traits come from and how do you inspire other young girls to think of it the same way on a team?

[00:45:53]Kayla: I think it mostly just came from the fact that I just wanted to be the teammate that I wanted. Like if I was someone else I would want to like, say like, Hey, I want her as my teammate. I kind of thought about it that way, where I was like, if I would want someone else to treat me this way and be there for me and always have my back, I'm going to do that for other people. And then when you start doing that, you'd be surprised at like how many people end up giving you the same energy that you give back. So you know, something in college that my coach would always say is like, your influence is never neutral. So if you're, you're gonna get the energy that you put into everything.

So if you're kind of out here being this selfless, selfish, you know, teammate who only cares about stats and kind of has this like negative energy and really only focuses on themselves, then you're gonna have people who support you, but they're going to support you way more if you have a different energy about you.

So. Like I said, I really just wanted to do what I could do to be the best teammate and help uplift others because of the struggles that I had experienced within myself, because I know how lonely a journey can be. And I know how tough not having confidence can be. And I really wanted to help people along their journey with that, because like, that's what I would have wanted.

Like, I kind of wish that like, I would have had someone who would help have helped me more through the journey and been like, Hey, like I'm here for you. And like telling me what I need to know.

[00:47:30]Stef: What advice would you give to a girl who maybe is like on a team where there's not a good team dynamic and like, there is not support for each other and it's super competitive, but competitive in a bad way where it's affecting the team dynamic as an individual person on that team. How can you kind of step up to try to drive some change in there in that that could be really hard if you're the person maybe getting bullied or the person that's kind of consistently being pushed down.

But sometimes, you know, you can be the person that, know, maybe you're not being the person that's being pushed down, but you're seeing it happen. what advice would you give to girls to speak up about that and really try to ensure that you have a great team dynamic?

[00:48:09]Kayla: I would say the biggest thing is like accountability. So in situations like this, where you may be the only person who, you know, is wants to uplift the team and like wants to have a better environment on the team. You kind of have to not care what people think in the sense that like, if you're going to stick up for people and you're going to call people out on stuff, you're gonna sometimes have to deal with the fact that they may be like, oh, she's being so bossy or she's being this or that.

And you might have to deal with that for a little bit because some people would just may not respond to it very well. But I think that if you have these conversations with each other saying like, hey, like, I'm just trying to hold you accountable. I want what's best from you. I'm not trying to sit here and act like I know everything. I just really want us to be successful. And the only way that we're going to do that is if I hold you accountable and we all hold each other accountable, and for you to see it in a positive light, rather than seeing it as me being nitpicky or me being bossy or whatever. You like have to just sit down, whether you have to do it like individually with each teammate and kind of like start creating a group together.

Or just like somehow bringing your whole team together, talking to your coaches, like you have to be willing to go above and beyond and don't get me wrong, it's gonna be tiring, but at the end of the day, it is going to be worth it. And just because you don't see the results right away, that doesn't mean that you can't stop trying because if you really, really want you and your team to be successful, you have to put in the work for it.

[00:49:48]Stef: I love that. something else it's not just going to happen on its own is creating a more diverse and inclusive environment. The lacrosse industry in the US we know that it's predominantly a white sport. It's something that that we're very passionate about at Voice in Sport is to help change that and advocate for more diversity within the sport.

in addition to playing professionally, you also work with Harlem lacrosse we are especially excited to talk to you about this experience because Harlem lacrosse is one of our non-profits that have been onboarded to the Voice in Sport platform. the girls at Harlem lacrosse can be gifted or funded Voice in Sport memberships for free when anybody, an individual or an organization decides to donate memberships to our program.

So we love Harlem lacrosse. And we want to know a little bit about your experience working at that organization and the impact you aim to have by being involved.

[00:50:44]Kayla: Yeah. So the way that I was initially introduced to Harlem lacrosse was probably my sophomore year of college. We had ended up going to, to Baltimore to do a fall ball, like our fall ball games that we do every single year. And that year in particular, we had decided to do like a clinic with Harlem lacrosse.

So that was my first time being introduced to it. And then once I got to the league we had the option to be able to partner with a You know, a non-profit and organization. And immediately, I just wanted to do this one just because like, one I had already, you know, been introduced to it. And the other reason being that it stood for a lot of things that I thought that were really important.

And in my time at Carolina and studying in my major of sociology, I'd gone through like a number of classes, just kind of learning about disparities and inequalities within our society. And one of them being like the achievement gap among young kids. And I just feel like this is something that's so important that a lot of the time people think can just be easily fixed by adding more funding to schools or providing kids with, you know, these tangible resources.

But what Harlem lacrosse does is they provide more than just that. Like they realize that a lot of the reason why kids aren't always successful in the future is because they don't have the support that they need at home because often times their parents are always working. Sometimes they're raised by their grandparents, so it really provides kids with this opportunity to establish relationships with people and get further resources to really help them excel and reach their fullest potential. So that was ultimately the main reason why I wanted to do it just because I feel like it's something that is really, really important within our society is making sure that we're closing that achievement gap amongst kids and providing everyone with equal opportunities.

[00:52:50]Stef: Well, I think it's so amazing that you're involved in this incredible company. So what is the impact that you hope to have with your current role at Harlem lacrosse?

[00:53:00]Kayla: So kind of going back to, you know, what you had mentioned earlier about how lacrosse is a predominantly white sport. My hope is that when young athletes see me, they'll see that there is a path to success. And that there also are people who look like them, who represent them in the sport of lacrosse, and that you don't have to necessarily fit a mold in order to be successful in the sport or play the sport in general.

It should include people from multiple different backgrounds and you know, diverse experiences. Like you, shouldn't just all be about, you know, how you look or where, you know, everyone coming from the same place, everyone has different journeys. And that's really what I hope to you know, be able to portray to these younger kids.

[00:53:48]Stef: Well, you're living it right now, your inspiration, for sure. Because even how you started and how you got recruited into one of the best college sports teams was playing at your high school you didn't play at one of these really expensive club teams. Right. So I think just that in and of itself is inspiring story.

how you manage through adversity during your time college, and then went on to just crush it in the current league professionally is, is amazing, but you know, you've talked a lot about it today as a professional athlete, but also a collegiate athlete, like health resources are just so important along the way in that journey.

So what are some of the resources that, you know, you use today that you would encourage girls to really lean into during their time at college and then onto the professional career?

[00:54:39]Kayla: Yeah. So one major thing, which I think that sometimes can have a negative connotation is going and talking to a sport psychologist. I did this a few times just within my career at Carolina, where I did talk about, you know, the things I was struggling with you know, with my family, with my friend, but I did also end up going and talking to them even just about, you know, my sport in general.

And it kind of helped me break down these like performance barriers that I would have and kind of, and it helped me a lot with like my anxieties that I would feel when I had come to my sport. Because especially when you're, you know, this a young player, you experienced a lot of anxiety of like the pressure that you feel and that you need to perform a certain way or play a certain way or you can't make mistakes and things like that.

So it really helped me work through all of the feelings that I, you know, experienced while I was in college. And even now I'm considering even going and talking to someone just because I'm at a whole different place in my career? And I just kind of want to like further understand myself as an, as an athlete. And I want to, I'm doing it more in a positive way than like, you know, not necessarily just because I'm going through something, but because I do, like I said, just want to continue to you know, improve my performance.

And then another thing, you know, outside of the physical training that you put in is to also work on your your mentality of things. So, I ended up reading a few books a little bit ago, just kind of talking about like your journey as an athlete and just kind of working through different mental spaces and improving your confidence and even improving your physical performance on, on the field as well.

[00:56:24]Stef: I love it. I think both are so important and there is a stigma around sports psychologists, and we want to break that Voice in Sport. Like we think it's the coolest thing ever. We want everybody to feel like that because only bettering yourself as a human and helping you be a better person, but also recognizing that not everything is something you see, right?

Not everything is physical. Like a lot of your performance can be based on your mindset and how you approach things and how you show up everyday. So we think it's like the coolest thing ever at Voice in Sport and we're just trying to like support more women like yourself and even younger women to really, you know, ask for the support and, and try going to one, or try going to like 80. Cause we have like 80 at Voice in

[00:57:05]Kayla: Yeah,

[00:57:05]Stef: until you find someone you connect with.

So I really appreciate just all the incredible stories you shared with us today, Kayla, and really inspiring to see what you're going to be doing for the sport of lacrosse. We love to end on our two signature questions at Voice in Sport because you know, at the end of the day, we're here to build this community, this platform for all the young girls out there who might feel like they're alone, who might feel like their confidence is like a little shaky at the time.

So what would be one piece of advice that you would tell a younger girl in sport today?

[00:57:36]Kayla: So I couldn't really come up with just one, so I have to, so I hope that's okay. But the first thing would be that you're so much more capable of things than you realize, and it kind of ties into the next thing, which is like, although you may not be where you want to be yet, appreciate how far you've come.

I think that at times, especially as females, we kind of put all this you know, pressure on ourself to you know, meet our goals. And like, if we don't meet our goals in a specific amount of time, we kind of tend to be hard on ourselves. So, even though you may not be where you want to be today, you further than you were yesterday, so just appreciate you know, how far you've come in your journey all together.

[00:58:19]Stef: I love that. And what is one thing you'd like to see changed for the future of women's sports?

[00:58:25]Kayla: To be as visible as our male counterparts. I think that male sports are definitely more visible than women's sports in the sense that like in college over the course of four years, men's lacrosse would be played on ESPN way more often than our games would be.

And it's starting to get better, we're starting to have like an equal amount of games on ESPN and things like that, but initially it wasn't always like that. So, hopefully we can continue to build off of that and be just as visible as they are.

[00:58:57]Stef: More VIS that's what we like to say here. Some more VIS please. Well, Kayla, thank you so much for joining us. We're so excited to have you part of our community and have you on the podcast today. So, excited to see what you do next. Thank you for coming.

[00:59:13]Kayla: Thanks for having me.

[00:59:16]Stef: This week's episode was produced and edited by viz creator. Elizabeth Martin, a soccer player from Emory university hearing Kayla's journey in lacrosse is truly inspiring from both an athletic and a personal perspective. Watching her grow into her confidence as a player and leader to Excel in her sport at the highest level displays, immense strength and mental toughness, learning about how to work through tough times, as well as fostering support and resources for the people around us is so important.

And we wanna thank Kayla for sharing her advice with us. We are so thankful for all the stories that she shared with us today. You can follow Kayla on Instagram. Underscore K underscore wood head to the feed on the voice and sport platform and filter by lacrosse or by journey and spend some time diving into the incredible free resources we have at vis you can check out the sessions page and filter by professional athlete.

Look for lacrosse players and sign up for one of the free or paid sessions with our viz league or our viz experts. Please click on the share button in this episode and send it to another athlete that you think might. The conversation. And if you're interested in more lacrosse content, you might also wanna check out episode number 35, featuring Michelle TLO, a former member of the national team titled BU your unapologetic self.

See you next week on the voice and sport podcast.Episode # 81

Guest: Kayla Wood

“Overcoming Adversity by Focusing on the Present”

[00:00:00]Stef: this week on the voice and sport podcast, we have the pleasure of speaking with Kayla Wood, a current professional lacrosse player, former member of the UNC women's lacrosse team, and three time ACC champion. Now, as part of the athlete's unlimited professional lacrosse league, she continues her athletic success and is consistently on the top of the leader board as well as a team captain.

In today's episode, Kayla shares her recruitment process that landed her at the university of North Carolina. Unlike the most common pathway for many high school athletes, which is getting recruited through a club team or a showcase series. Kayla was recruited through her high school team. She's not only a standout player who has successfully reminded us that we, as women athletes should let go of comparisons to our teammates.

Instead, she has shifted her focus to being the best version of herself. This isn't how it always was for Kayla though. And she talks about her transition from high school to college. Today, Kayla generously shares with us, how she navigated several personal adversities she faced during her time at UNC, we learned how Kayla sought out support and adapted her mindset.

And she reminds us to stay focused on the things in our lives that we can actually control. Welcome to the voice and sport podcast. Kayla.

[00:01:20]Kayla: Thank you. I'm really excited to be here. And I think we're going to have a great time today, so let's do it.

[00:01:25]Stef: Absolutely. Well, look, our podcast is all about sharing untold stories, talking about things that is a little hard to talk about at first, but help the greater community of women athletes when we do talk about it. So, I want to start with your background a little ,bit, you know, you started your sport at a very young age, but your journey in lacrosse wasn't continuous.

So you know, you also grew up in running track and cross country and then came back to lacrosse. So can you share with us that, that early few years why you stopped playing lacrosse and then what brought you back.

[00:01:58]Kayla: So this may not be like a regular answer, so when I first initially started playing lacrosse my sister was in high school, so I was like, Oh, like she's trying it, let me try it out. But I was at such a young age that they had like all of these little tedious rules. So like for instance, you couldn't really check anyone or you had to pass the ball like three times before you could score a goal.

And it just felt kind of like slow and kind of like restrictive. And I like, remember telling my mom, I was like, Hm, like I just kinda want to wait until I don't have to worry about all these rules anymore. So then when I got a little bit older probably towards like seventh, eighth grade, that's when I really started focusing on it.

[00:02:40]Stef: Well, there's a lot of pressure that comes from young women athletes sometimes to play on the club teams in order to make it to the college level. So did you ever feel that pressure as a young lacrosse player when you were growing up in the sport.

[00:02:51]Kayla: So initially I did just because like, when I ended up trying out for the lacrosse team in high school, and then you know, playing varsity, a lot of the girls that I was already playing with, they were already on club teams and stuff. So, in a sense, I kind of fell behind because before I'd gotten to high school, I was playing on rec teams and everyone else, like I said, was playing on club teams.

Like a lot of people, especially in the area of Maryland are playing like club lacrosse from like sometimes the time they can walk. So it, it was a little bit challenging to one even potentially find a club team, but also just kind of dealing with that pressure. Oh, my gosh, like, am I falling behind because I'm not doing what everyone else is doing.

[00:03:37]Stef: So, what was your experience getting recruited to go to college? And would you share to other girls out there as just like learnings from that experience?

[00:03:46]Kayla: So, the first thing that I'll say is that not everyone's path is going to be the same. So my path to being recruited to go to UNC was much different than everybody else around me especially because I didn't get recruited to play at the college level through club sports. Essentially what happened was, is I made varsity team fresh my freshman year of high school, and then I went to states and then that's how college coaches saw me.

And then the funny thing is, is like my old basketball coach ended up calling me after like, since lacrosse in the spring, during the summertime saying like, Hey, like Danny Levy from UNC wants to recruit you. So, it was just like a completely different experience than what most people experience. And the other thing about it is the fact that a lot of people think I went to like a private school where like this really high top ranked you know, public school, and the fact is I didn't. So I think the best piece of advice I would give would be, there's definitely other ways you can get recruited and it doesn't have to be the same way that everyone else is.

[00:04:54]Stef: I love that. And I think that's such an important message to share with young girls out there because sports in the US is extremely expensive to play. And when you start playing club sports at age, like 11 or 12, and you think about like all of those years in between starting at that young age in club sports, and then going up through high school, a lot of young girls, like if they're fortunate enough, they have the opportunity to be in club and then they don't actually play for their school.

And you know, the system in the United States is set up and so that a lot of like the recruiting happens through those club teams in those big tournaments. But you're a great example of like where you work hard and you get on your, your high school team you can still shine and make it to the top, which I think is just such a powerful message.

And, so looking back now on your experience in high school, you know, what can we do to make the, the lacrosse industry more inclusive so that more women can play at the highest levels in high school.

[00:05:54]Kayla: I think it really just starts with you know, recruiting athletes outside of just these club tournaments and to stop putting so much emphasis on the only way that you're going to be recruited is through club. I mean, there are also other ways like you can go to camps and clinics. I know that, especially at Carolina I would notice whenever we would have camps, we'd have a lot of the same girls coming.

So like that was one thing which that also can get expensive, but it is definitely a better alternative than to just play club, so I think, think it's important to see all of these other players outside of just club, because like you said, everyone may not have the resources in order to play club lacrosse, because it is really expensive to do.

[00:06:37]Stef: And did you for your recruitment journey, was UNC the only school that reached out to you? Or can you share a little bit more about that, that journey for other girls out there, especially for the girls that might not be in club, and they might not have the financial resources to do that. to, I want them to know, like, how did you handle that whole recruitment process and like, advice do you have for those girls? Because I'm sure there's a lot of young women out there are in a

[00:07:01]Kayla: interim.

[00:07:02]Stef: and still want to play in college.

[00:07:04]Kayla: Yeah. So I did have a few other colleges that you know, had reached out to me to be recruited through and a lot of them, luckily were local. So, for instance, one of them was Towson and another one was Loyola and Princeton, so they were all fairly close. UNC was really the only one that was really far from home.

So, I really just went to almost every one of the campuses before I really decided where I wanted to go. Because even though UNC like is a really great school, you know, there are other options out there you don't necessarily have to go to the best school. You got to go to the school that fits you.

So, Like I said, like, the reason I ended up going to Carolina was once I set foot on campus, one, I definitely wanted to be somewhere where it was warm cause I hate the cold. And then two, I just wanted to be somewhere that it really felt like a home away from home. So, I loved all of the girls that I had met when I had gone and visited there.

I loved how it was 70 degrees in January when I visited and everything was green. I also loved how it challenged me, not only as an athlete, but also as a student. And also just the fact that after my four years there, I would also grow and become a better human than I was before I got there.

So it really is just like a checklist and you gotta make that checklist for yourself and don't just say, hey, like the best school is recruiting me. You gotta say, Hey, like what fits me the best.

[00:08:34]Stef: Absolutely. And what are the other interests that you have? Like you mentioned, you wanted to grow as a person sometimes, you know,

[00:08:41]Kayla: You know

[00:08:41]Stef: means different things

[00:08:42]Kayla: differently.

[00:08:43]Stef: What did that mean for.

[00:08:45]Kayla: I mean, so you, when you go into college, you're an 18 year old, you don't really know what you wanna do with your life. And just in my journey at Carolina, when I had first initially got there, I just was like, I'm just a lacrosse flare. Like I'm an athlete. Like I'm here to play lacrosse. Like, that's it. But then after my first year, I realized that there was so many more things that are important than just being an athlete. And over that course of time, I've found things that like, I really became interested in and new hobbies, like, especially during the time that we were in the pandemic and we were at school, I ended up really getting into drawing and art and painting and things like that. So I think being in college it's good to find other ways to define yourself besides just an athlete.

[00:09:36]Stef: Absolutely. It's so important. Well, once you got to UNC you were part of the starting defense unit as a freshmen. what was that transition like playing in high school to starting at one of the top five lacrosse teams.

[00:09:50]Kayla: It was a pretty surreal experience to be quite honest, I don't, I really didn't know what to expect when I went to Carolina. You know, obviously everyone's goal as an athlete is to step on the field on game day and to potentially start. And like that, that was definitely my goal, but I knew that it wasn't just going to happen.

I knew that I was going to have to put in the work for it if I, if I really did want that to happen. And everything that I did, I felt like it was intentional and led me up to that moment. So the transition was pretty challenging, but I did enjoy it for the most part. I would say school was definitely balancing school and lacrosse was definitely a lot harder than being in high school, just because high school is not, not that it's not as serious, but it's just not as rigorous as your courses may be in college.

And when it came to playing, especially at practices, everything was just so much faster paced, but I mean, I think that I adjusted pretty well, just mainly because of the girls I had come in with. And then also, because upperclassmen were really good at leading us. So whenever we had practices or whatever, they would really prepare us for what we should to expect.

[00:11:03]Stef: Well, let's talk about that transition and through the lens of confidence, because you know, when you're in high school you do make it to collegiate sports, especially at the division one level, you're

[00:11:13]Kayla: You're used to sort of

[00:11:14]Stef: absolute best at your high school, and then you head into your new squad and is definitely different.

So how did that transition affect your confidence and how you viewed the game? what advice would you have for other young freshmen that are about to start? And they might not be the best player anymore on the.

[00:11:33]Kayla: So I think the biggest thing that helped me through that was there was kind of like a flip that switch in my head where I like initially when I had gone in, I had kind of like compared myself to other people. And then I had realized that in doing that, it like sucked my confidence away from me because I was like, oh my gosh, all these girls are good at all of these things.

Like, and I was like, how am I even going to measure up to them? And then I was like, wait, but I'm here for a reason too. I am good at a lot of things that they may not be good at. So, when I talk about the switch being flipped, I went more into how can I be the best version and best player of myself rather than how can I be the best person on the team?

Because at the end of the day, everyone there is just really, really good. And everyone just has different skills that make them the best at what they do, because in order to be on a team, everyone has to have a role. And your role means that you are the best at doing that. So, that was really, I think, where my confidence kind of switched because I was like, no, like I'm Kayla, this is what Kayla is good at. Don't worry about what everyone else is good at. You have weaknesses and you'll work on them on your own, but don't sit here and try to compare yourself to other people.

[00:12:52]Stef: Such good advice for any, any young athlete that's heading into college. So, I appreciate you sharing that. you know, the next three years of, of you playing at UNC, you know, you mentioned

[00:13:02]Kayla: mentioned

[00:13:03]Stef: not always on the starting lineup, so you were not consistently starting. I want to talk a little bit about that, you know, how did you deal with that again like that was different than where you were in high school too. Did you ever speak with your coach about playing time how did you navigate, I guess, these potentially difficult conversations with your coach?

[00:13:25]Kayla: Yeah, so it was definitely difficult. It was on, so on the field wise when I didn't earn that starting spot and I wasn't getting the time that I wanted, my like effort didn't change, if anything, I put in a lot more effort because I wanted to show them. Okay. Like, I'm going to earn that spot back.

And sometimes no matter how hard you work, you sometimes may feel like it's not worth it, but you have to, at the end of the day, worry about the things that you can control. So, even if I did go into my coaches and talk to them a million times and nothing was changing at the end of the day, the only thing that I could do was focus on the controllable things for myself.

And that is my attitude. That is my effort that I put in and my mentality of, you know, where I want to be. And it really helped to set goals in. And also at the end of the day, like, If you think about it, realistically for lacrosse, you can only have 11 people play on the field at a time. and on average, there's only going to be about 20 players who really play that day.

So that really means that out of like a 40 person roster, they're still going to be half the team who may not touch the field that day. So, even though I, you know, may not have been on the field and I wanted it to be on the field, there were other people who also felt the same way and something that helped me through that was like bonding through the struggle that we're all experiencing together.

So instead of kind of like fighting it alone, like saying like, oh, like I deserve to be on the field and all these other things. It's like, there are also other people who want to be in that spot too. So it's better to not be selfish about it and just accept your role and to just work really hard and try to better the people next to you and yourself every single day.

[00:15:15]Stef: How did you and your teammates kind of have conversations about that? Cause that's one of the things that Voice in Sport that we really believe in is like building communities that you can lean on and have those harder conversations. And obviously when you're on a team like that, you guys are all fighting for a spot on like the starting lineup.

So sometimes it can create this hard dynamic of competition within the team. So how did you, you know, ensure that you were creating sort of that obviously keeping that amazing competitive between everybody on the team, but still like leaned on each other for conversations and, you know, sharing how you're feeling around either not having playing time or other, other issues or challenges you were facing.

[00:15:53]Kayla: The biggest thing, or just kind of going back to the beginning of like, not comparing yourself to others. It's all really about the mindset about things. So, if you create this relationship with your teammates where it's not like you're comparing each other, but instead like you're climbing a ladder every single day of like, Hey, like you may have beat me in a One V One today.

But like, I'm going to get you tomorrow type thing. So it's better to look at it in a way of where you're building each other up rather than tearing each other down because we are a team at the end of the day, at the end of the day, we want to be competing for a national championship. So if we're not all on the same page and we're all not bought in, then we're not going to get there because the thing is what a lot of people don't realize is especially on game day, like you can feel the presence of everyone out there, whether you're on the field or not. So,, if you don't have that great energy and great comradery, you're not gonna make it nearly as far as you want to be.

So, it's good to have healthy competition, but to not take it to the extent of you comparing yourself to someone else's situation, if that makes sense,

[00:17:03]Stef: Absolutely. And I love that you shared that it's a mindset, right? It's a mindset that you can shift if you're not in a good spot and create that team dynamic, that's going to win you champions because you're a three time ACC champion. So it definitely worked. And you know, you weren't always on the field, right, but you were on the field sometimes. And like you said, there's a role for everybody to play on the team and you can keep that competitive juice, like alive and still remain really great friends. So I love that.

[00:17:33]Kayla: I love that.

[00:17:34]Stef: that. So I want to kind of go a little bit further into some of the adversity that you did face.

Although you had three championships,

[00:17:40]Kayla: a chance,

[00:17:41]Stef: had some really

[00:17:42]Kayla: please,

[00:17:43]Stef: challenges and specifically a personal loss in your junior year that you faced.

[00:17:47]Kayla: please,

[00:17:47]Stef: You know, this is not something that you've spoken out too much about publicly,

[00:17:51]Kayla: please,

[00:17:51]Stef: we did want to talk about today because it really can impact you know, your mental health as athletes

[00:17:57]Kayla: please.

[00:17:57]Stef: somebody in your life.

So, would you mind

[00:18:00]Kayla: Can you find

[00:18:01]Stef: this really hard part of your life and, and just sharing

[00:18:04]Kayla: this year?

[00:18:04]Stef: you know, the direct impact that it had your mental health and how you recovered from it.

[00:18:10]Kayla: Yeah, for sure. I mean this is still something that is a little hard for me to still like put into words or explain, so, I'll try my best to, so just bear with me for a little bit, but essentially what happened my junior year of college in December, during finals week one of my closest friends from home had passed away due to suicide. And this was just incredibly shocking news to me, just because I had just had never experienced anything like this in my life. And to be quite honest, I really had no idea how to react to it.

At first it really didn't seem real. And I was lucky enough that both of my roommates were there, so they were kind of like able to kind of soften the blow a little bit, but it really just was like a like wild experience. Like I've still to this day, I don't even know how to put it into words. Like how in the moment it made me feel, or even kind of like shortly after, because like, there was just so much going on that, like I said, I was in finals week.

And I ended up being able to talk to my professors and getting some of them done early. Some of them, I was able to go home and do. So I ended up leaving in the middle of finals week to go home and then all of our services happen. So just kind of like, I, I was myself, but it was kind of almost like I was just had so much going on that I was just trying to get through that.

And I hadn't really had time to really process my feelings about things. And finally, when everything just slowed down, like everything really just hit me. And like, I, I went through a cycle of sadness and frustration and just like utter grief just from the entire situation. And. It was really hard to navigate because I'm just someone who is just really tries so hard to be positive.

But in those situations, it's really, really hard to be without acknowledging your feelings. And I think a part of the healing process, I knew that I had to acknowledge my feelings and I didn't want to run from them. And I didn't want to hide from them because I knew that in the end it was only gonna make things worse.

So, even if that meant that I was ended up crying in the middle of a workout that I was doing or walking through the grocery store and starting to tear up, I was like, I just gotta just like, feel it. Like, I, I can't ignore it. Like I have to just deal with this right now, because if I don't it's it's gonna just haunt me later down the line.

So I was lucky enough to have a really big support team. And I'm usually the type of person who's always there for other people. And I find it a little difficult for, for people to be here for me. But I knew that I had to be honest with people and tell them like, look like I need help. Especially because of the situation itself, a lot of the times people don't ask for help.

And that's kind of when we start going down this like dark tunnel and we start digging ourselves into a hole and I was like, I can't let that happen to myself. I'm like my friend passed away and like, I'm going to develop everything that I can to my life to make sure that like I'm living in her honor, and I'm like, I need to just accept the things that are going on and I need to accept help from people, no matter how hard it may be for me.

[00:21:35]Stef: And thank you so much for sharing that. I think what you said is so important is like acknowledge your feelings. You know, don't, don't push them out. And especially if you're a positive, always seeing the positive of everything type of person, like it is okay feel the sadness and the grief.

I think what you said is this is so important for girls to hear out there. So when you said you, you asked for help and, know, you took on some of that part of your recovery. What did asking for help look like.

[00:22:10]Kayla: So it's going to look pretty different for everyone. For me, it was just me having an honest conversation with like my family and my friends and saying like, Hey, like right now I am okay, but I am letting you know that there are going to be days are going to be hard for me. And sometimes It's like, I may not want to say it, but, I just kind of like need you to look out for me because I'm going to sometimes struggle a little bit.

But there are gonna be days where I'm gonna need you to pick me up because I won't be able to do it on my own.

[00:22:45]Stef: Absolutely. So in response to such a traumatic, personal experience, how did your coaches handle it? And do you wish it would have been handled differently?

[00:22:53]Kayla: So, my experience, obviously everyone's experiences are going to be differently. But at least the way that I ended it with my coaches was I knew that they were going to be worrying about me. And I knew that they maybe didn't know how to come and talk to me about it. And I think in general in life, sometimes the reason why we don't reach out to people is because we don't know what to say.

So, I went out of my way to go and meet with them and just talk to them and just say like, hey, like over winter break, I was, you know, it was definitely tough and don't get me wrong. I definitely am still struggling, but I am happy to be back at school, and I really want lacrosse to be my safe space.

And if I ever have like a bad day, like, I will be sure to tell you guys, but I do really just want to focus on lacrosse when I step foot on the field at practice games, whatever, I just really want to focus on that because that's going to be my safe space. That's going to be what gets me through the tough days.

So, I think that they were really receptive to that which was really awesome, and especially my coach, like Katrina and Phil were like, cause I'm cause well, one Katrina was like the one that like recruited me, so I was a little closer with her and then Phil, like, he's a defensive coach, so I spent a lot of time with him in general.

So, you know, they kind of just always had their eye on me because I spent so much time with them. And I think that they really were just happy that I went out of my way to come and talk to them about it because it is like a difficult conversation to have.

[00:24:29]Stef: What resources do you wish you had for yourself at the time when you were going through this really challenging moment?

[00:24:35]Kayla: I mean, I feel like I, the one thing that I do wish that maybe would have made it a little bit easier for me would have been to be able to talk to someone who's already been through it because like I had, I did have, you know, people I could talk to who were experiencing the same thing, because they were also friends with her as well, but it's different for someone to have already gone through it.

And then kind of be able to guide you through how you may feel you may be feeling or someone to just tell you like, yeah, there are going to be better days coming, like right now it's just going to be hard. But just because like when you're in the moment it kind of just feels like the end of the world, you know, like it's kind of hard to see, oh, tomorrow is going to be better or the next day is going to be better because right now it just really sucks.

[00:25:26]Stef: Well, and there's a lot of really amazing clinical psychologists out there too can be people that you lean on. Cause sometimes like it's, it's one thing to lean on friends and family that have gone through something similar, but it's really helpful to have somebody to lean on that can help you structure of how you go through the grieving process and like, how do you recognize your feelings more?

Especially if you're, if you're not yet there yet as a person, right. As a human being, we're all in progress, we're all work in progress not always do these moments happen in our lives where we're prepared for them. So know, I think it's also important to ask for, for help. And clinical psychologists are also a really great place to lean on or your sports psychologist.

talk about your, I guess, advice that you would give to other young women in college that might be facing a loss of a teammate or a loved one to suicide. What words would you share with them, I guess, based off of your own experience as they work through this really challenging time themselves

[00:26:28]Kayla: So you know, first as, you know, the person going through it you know, definitely don't suffer in silence about it. You know, go talk to people, ask for help, whether that's asking for help with just a friend, a family member or going and seeking professional help. I think that's incredibly important.

And you know, my biggest thing with everything in life is to always take things one moment at a time. So, don't get too ahead of yourself and try not to live too far in the past. Just try to focus on the present moment. So especially when I was, you know, going through this particular adversity, whenever I would you know go to practice, like I said, I would just focus on lacrosse at, at that given time, if I was doing my schoolwork, I was focusing on that.

And eventually over time, like you can't just stop living your life. You have to keep going. And there are going to be days that you're going to be really sad and you're gonna, you know, want to sit down and do nothing. And honestly, sometimes it's okay to do that. Like a lot of people think that, you know, you have to be this strong person all the time, but if you just need to sit down in your bed and just like cry for a little, or like watch some TV or something, like take care of yourself, like obviously keep doing these things of living your life, but you still do have to focus on your self care for sure.

[00:27:55]Elizabeth: Thank you for listening to the Voice in Sport podcast. My name is Elizabeth Martin, a soccer player at Emory university and producer of this week's episode. Go to voiceinsport.com/join to sign up for a free membership and gain access to exclusive episodes, mentorship sessions, and other weekly content.

Don't forget to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @voiceinsport. Now let's get back to the episode

[00:28:17]Stef: yeah, let's talk about that self care for a little bit, because, you know, I think following tremendous loss for your personal life, you turned obviously to lacrosse as a safe space, like you mentioned, but soon after that in your junior year of college, COVID-19 hit, cut your season short. Which is just another challenging thing, especially if you're, if sport is an outlet for you.

where was your physical and mental state at then? And like, what learnings did you take away from, from that experience that you can pass on to other young women heading into maybe, you know, a situation that doesn't go the way they want it to go. What did you learn, you know, at that moment?

[00:28:59]Kayla: So the way that I tried to look at things is within the bad there's going to be good, and within the good there's going to be bad. So even though, you know, our season ending did really suck and, and it was bad, there were good things that came out of it, at least I felt like for myself just because like, there can be a lot of pressure that you experience during the season this pressure to perform this pressure, like as a team in general, collectively to perform the best together and to make it to the championship or have a winning record.

Like it there's a lot of pressure that you experience in that time, so for me, I was already kind of experiencing this like mental adversity and then when our season ended, like, it wasn't a relief, but I was kind of like, this is kind of like good for me to be able to focus on myself because I'm, to be honest, like when I was going through that time, I wasn't doing nearly as much self-care as I should've been, like, I was doing a little bit here and there, but I think once the season ended, it made me realize like, wow, like I wasn't taking care of myself.

Like I thought that I was. And so once I went home, I still went and like played wall ball with my lacrosse stick every now and then, but I did spend time, like I said, trying to find new things to occupy my mind and something like, I mean, I love learning and like, I may not love school, but I do love learning the thing that drives me nuts, about school it was just all of the. 10 page papers and things like that. But once I finished, like when we didn't have our season, I actually kind of enjoyed doing my schoolwork. So I was like, wow, like, I didn't realize I had this in me. Like, I actually like read a lot of the books. I didn't just skim through them.

Like I took my time with them and I was like, wow, like who would've thought that I would have been so interested in this, and then I also just like started drawing. I tried to do things outside of you know, just lacrosse. So I thought it was good. I thought it was a good, you know, part of a personal growth, my personal growth

[00:31:19]Stef: Absolutely. Well, and it sounds like, you know, every, with everything, like start to learn more and more about yourself as you grow. And it's amazing that you know, that you love to learn and that can show up in different ways.

So let's talk about your last year and then we're going to kind of go and dive into your professional life in lacrosse after college, but your senior year we were still in the midst of COVID-19, so you're still, you know, dealing with the stressors of, of, you know, trying to play in a season with COVID-19 you're dealing with the loss of a close friend back home all the while continuing to train.

And then your senior year, you encountered another personal challenge. Would you mind sharing with us what happened at this point in your life, how it impacted you and how you kept self-care, mental health at like the forefront of how you worked through that?

[00:32:13]Kayla: Yeah, for sure. So sure shortly after returning back to school in January after winter break I'd gotten news that my dad had gone into the hospital and it was pretty serious. And between like the months of January and March he was still continuing to be in and out of the hospital and there was kind of like, there's a lot of speculation that he, he may not make it and, at this point, I had no idea what to do. I was like, do I go home? Do I stay into school and play lacrosse? Like, I don't know what to do. I'm like, this could be my last time, like ever seeing my dad. And you know, I talked to my family a lot and I was like, look like, just say the word I'll be home. Like, I wouldn't even hesitate.

And they're like, no, like we really want you to stay. We really want you to, you know, finish out your season and we want you to get your degree. And we really just want you to focus on that. And like everything here will be okay. And that was just really hard for me because like, I, like I said, I'm just someone who always likes to be there for people.

So like in a way I kind of felt like I was kind of failing my family because I wasn't there for them. But like I knew that they wanted me to be here or not here, but in college playing lacrosse. And that was kind of something that I really like struggled with was the fact that I was like, my family is going through this struggle and I'm not there with them experiencing it with them and being there for me, like, I feel like they needed me and I wasn't there.

And like, I ended up like talking to them about this, like a lot later on, because like, I didn't want them to worry about me while I was at school. I was like you guys have so many other things to worry about, like, I, I just need to like put my head down and I just got to grind and I got to, you know, do well in school. I have to graduate and, you know, perform on the lacrosse field, which, so I ended up, you know, putting a lot of pressure on myself. And I think sometimes when you are put in situations like this, you either sink or swim. And I think I was like there was no choice. I have to swim. Like I can't sink.

So that was, that's really how I got through it. And like I said, just really taking things day by day. Cause I didn't, I didn't want to make stories up in my head of like what could have happened or what, you know, my, my dad, you know, may not be here tomorrow. Like I had to just be like, look, he's here today.

You know, you just gotta take it day by day. You can't get too far ahead of yourself. And obviously that's pretty hard because as human beings, we always want to create stories. We always want to fill gaps. And that was just like something that was, you know, something really, really tough for me to get through was just not creating these stories in my head about what could happen.

[00:35:02]Stef: Well in 2021, you graduated with a degree sociology after four years at UNC. So, back now, especially after sharing a lot of these stories where you grew as a person, you dealt with tragedy you also had a lot of amazing wins, right? A lot of amazing moments. So ups and downs

[00:35:21]Kayla: Yeah,

[00:35:21]Stef: life. What would you say is the biggest learning that you would want to pass on to other young women in sport today?

[00:35:31]Kayla: Just like you said like, there's, there's going to be wins and losses. There's going to be downs in life, but you gotta like, hold on to those little good things. You gotta celebrate every single small good thing. Just because we're gonna go through things in life when we're really, really down, we're gonna feel really, really bad about ourselves. And we have to remind ourselves that like, not every single day is going to be like this. Yesterday, we may have, you know, been a little down in the dumps, but tomorrow is full of opportunities. So it really is, like I said, just always going back to that moments part, like, even if you have to break it down in, you know, into seconds, like don't let five seconds ruin your day.

Or even if you have to look at it as your day in quarters, like, oh, like I had a really bad first quarter today, but my second, third and fourth quarter were really good today. So not holding on to those things that may drag us down and really fuel the things that bring us up.

[00:36:39]Stef: I love it. And you said so many amazing and wise things that I'm gonna try to recap because I think it was so incredible. So just listening to your story, going through college, things that really stand out to me that I really want other young women to hear as they listen to your story is that you want to own your feelings, right? The good ones, bad ones, the sad ones, the happy ones, like own your feelings, call them out, recognize them. It's okay to have all of them, right.

Ask for help. Ask for help. Don't suffer in silence was another thing that I think is so critical to. Any situation that we're in. There are a lot of amazing people out there.

And if you don't feel like you have it in your close circle join a community that has it, know but don't suffer in silence. And then lastly, like celebrate those wins. And I, and I think that's so important because you're going to have wins and don't underestimate or undervalue those wins along the way, because of course we're all going to have losses.

I really appreciate you sharing. I really appreciate you sharing those stories. I know they're very personal. And I know it'll help a lot of other young girls.

So transition into, you know, post college, you graduate woo-hoo you are considering to go into professional sports, but the US that looks like the new league Athletes Unlimited.

can you share with us just the process of being drafted or even just considering to go into professional sports at the end of your college.

[00:38:20]Kayla: Yeah. So after we had lost in the final four. Not too long after that. I got a call from someone from Athletes Unlimited, like asking like, hey, like, are you interested in playing? We would really love to have you. And for me, there was no hesitation. I was like, we just lost in the final four like I can't end my lacrosse career on a loss because I'm just way too competitive for that.

So, you know, I, I immediately obviously said yes, and then, you know, the time going into the league was just like so much anticipation. Like I had no idea what to expect. I was going to be playing amongst all of these amazing players.

And I was just kind of like, whoa, like this is happening. And I was just so grateful for it because when I was younger, especially, you know, my in high school, there really wasn't opportunity for women to play professional lacrosse after college. Like it was kinda like college was the peak of your career and that was it. And once you were done, you were done.

So I was just so grateful that I was even able to be a part of the opportunity and help build the future for other, you know, female athletes. So it was just an overall like incredible opportunity that I'm so like happy and proud to be a part of.

[00:39:43]Stef: What is the drafting process look like for, for those that might be considering to go like, and also like, what does an average week now look like for you?

[00:39:52]Kayla: Yeah, so drafting wise it's the top four players from each week end up becoming captains. And then on, usually on Monday nights, we'll have like an actual draft, like a live draft where each player will you know, pick players that they want in order to build a team. And then throughout the week, we, we practice from like Tuesday to Thursday ish and practices are a little bit different compared to colleges in the sense that like, College it's like very structured. like it's going to probably vary from day to day, but the structure of practices was fairly similar from team to team. A lot of the time we played like man up man down drills, and then we did a lot of you know, settled play six V six. So that way, you know, our offense and our defense could like get their flow with each other.

Because like you are switching teams almost every week and you're not guaranteed to play with the same people that you're gonna play within the previous week. So we've just put a lot of time into kind of like bonding and meshing and understanding each other's tendencies with one another, because we really only have four days to be able to do it and everyone wants to come out at the end of the weekend being undefeated.

[00:41:08]Stef: Well, you continue to be in the top players each week within the league, which means you become the team captain and you select your teams. And like coming off of a college season that was impacted by COVID you weren't necessarily consistently starting at UNC. So you know, you look at now you're consistently like top four in women's lacrosse in this league. So what changed, you know, did you, did you change your training? Did you change your approach? What would you say has contributed to your success in the league?

[00:41:38]Kayla: I think that I always had the ability. I think the thing that changed the most was just my confidence. Because like I had gotten to the point where, you know, there's times where you don't necessarily feel like you're good enough or you know, that you haven't earned your spot somewhere. And I had just gotten to the point where I was like, why, why do I feel like I'm not good enough?

Like I have finally breached the top level of lacrosse and I'm sitting here still feeling like I'm not enough. And like, to me, I was just like, but why? And I was like, it has to just be something within myself. Like it I'm, I'm just not giving myself enough credit. And I think part of the reason why I didn't do that in the beginning was because like, that kind of lack of confidence kind of felt like it drove me to be better.

But at the end of the day, I don't think that it did. I think at the end of the day, I just had the drive to want to be better. And I maybe just use that as an excuse for my lack of confidence. Then when I finally got there, I was like, no, like I have earned my place here. I have put in the work to be here and it's, it's time to just let that go.

It's time to not like allow, you know yourself to bring yourself down. So I really, my really biggest thing was just changing my confidence.

[00:43:08]Stef: Okay. So how do you do that? So what's some advice for a young girl out there that might want, might want to like, do exactly what you just did. Like how do I shift my, my perspective on confidence? Cause I think what you said is spot on a lot of it can be within yourself. So what advice would you have for a girl who wants to grow her confidence?

[00:43:28]Kayla: It really just starts with within, and I think you have to stop caring so much about what other people think. Because I think honestly, in general, as human beings, we care too much about what other people think about us. And at the end of the day, other people don't really know us like we know ourselves. So why am I going to listen to somebody who doesn't know me? Like I know me. And then also just you know, I think confidence can also kind of be drained when you're making mistakes or you feel like you're failing. And I think a lot of the time people may think that mistakes are failures and, yes, you did fail at what you're trying to accomplish.

But at the same time, if you change the way that you look at it, it's more of like, you grew like making mistakes as part of the growth process. If you don't make a mistake, then you're not gonna get any better. So you kind of had to be, you had to be okay with making mistakes and you had to be okay with knowing the fact that you're not perfect because I think a lot of my issues came from the fact that I was trying not to make mistakes all the time.

And then I realized like, wait, in order to get better, I have to make these mistakes.

[00:44:48]Stef: I love that. Well, in numerous articles featuring you and your lacrosse achievements, there are several quotes and, you know, both past and present teammates who share how much of an incredible teammate you are on and off the field. And they describe you as someone who always did what needed to be done to help with the team to win.

And even a former college teammate mentioned that you're a fierce competitor, but first to crack a joke, to make you laugh which I think is just amazing. Like, I love that. I love that you have sort of both of those things but you have a huge commitment to supporting your teammates and competing, not for individual stats, but for the whole team, which is just so amazing.

So some athletes are, as we know, really driven and they lose sight of the importance of comradery and team support. But for you, that's really been at the core of who you are and how you play. So why do you think that you are so committed to being a great teammate and a support system? Like where did these traits come from and how do you inspire other young girls to think of it the same way on a team?

[00:45:53]Kayla: I think it mostly just came from the fact that I just wanted to be the teammate that I wanted. Like if I was someone else I would want to like, say like, Hey, I want her as my teammate. I kind of thought about it that way, where I was like, if I would want someone else to treat me this way and be there for me and always have my back, I'm going to do that for other people. And then when you start doing that, you'd be surprised at like how many people end up giving you the same energy that you give back. So you know, something in college that my coach would always say is like, your influence is never neutral. So if you're, you're gonna get the energy that you put into everything.

So if you're kind of out here being this selfless, selfish, you know, teammate who only cares about stats and kind of has this like negative energy and really only focuses on themselves, then you're gonna have people who support you, but they're going to support you way more if you have a different energy about you.

So. Like I said, I really just wanted to do what I could do to be the best teammate and help uplift others because of the struggles that I had experienced within myself, because I know how lonely a journey can be. And I know how tough not having confidence can be. And I really wanted to help people along their journey with that, because like, that's what I would have wanted.

Like, I kind of wish that like, I would have had someone who would help have helped me more through the journey and been like, Hey, like I'm here for you. And like telling me what I need to know.

[00:47:30]Stef: What advice would you give to a girl who maybe is like on a team where there's not a good team dynamic and like, there is not support for each other and it's super competitive, but competitive in a bad way where it's affecting the team dynamic as an individual person on that team. How can you kind of step up to try to drive some change in there in that that could be really hard if you're the person maybe getting bullied or the person that's kind of consistently being pushed down.

But sometimes, you know, you can be the person that, know, maybe you're not being the person that's being pushed down, but you're seeing it happen. what advice would you give to girls to speak up about that and really try to ensure that you have a great team dynamic?

[00:48:09]Kayla: I would say the biggest thing is like accountability. So in situations like this, where you may be the only person who, you know, is wants to uplift the team and like wants to have a better environment on the team. You kind of have to not care what people think in the sense that like, if you're going to stick up for people and you're going to call people out on stuff, you're gonna sometimes have to deal with the fact that they may be like, oh, she's being so bossy or she's being this or that.

And you might have to deal with that for a little bit because some people would just may not respond to it very well. But I think that if you have these conversations with each other saying like, hey, like, I'm just trying to hold you accountable. I want what's best from you. I'm not trying to sit here and act like I know everything. I just really want us to be successful. And the only way that we're going to do that is if I hold you accountable and we all hold each other accountable, and for you to see it in a positive light, rather than seeing it as me being nitpicky or me being bossy or whatever. You like have to just sit down, whether you have to do it like individually with each teammate and kind of like start creating a group together.

Or just like somehow bringing your whole team together, talking to your coaches, like you have to be willing to go above and beyond and don't get me wrong, it's gonna be tiring, but at the end of the day, it is going to be worth it. And just because you don't see the results right away, that doesn't mean that you can't stop trying because if you really, really want you and your team to be successful, you have to put in the work for it.

[00:49:48]Stef: I love that. something else it's not just going to happen on its own is creating a more diverse and inclusive environment. The lacrosse industry in the US we know that it's predominantly a white sport. It's something that that we're very passionate about at Voice in Sport is to help change that and advocate for more diversity within the sport.

in addition to playing professionally, you also work with Harlem lacrosse we are especially excited to talk to you about this experience because Harlem lacrosse is one of our non-profits that have been onboarded to the Voice in Sport platform. the girls at Harlem lacrosse can be gifted or funded Voice in Sport memberships for free when anybody, an individual or an organization decides to donate memberships to our program.

So we love Harlem lacrosse. And we want to know a little bit about your experience working at that organization and the impact you aim to have by being involved.

[00:50:44]Kayla: Yeah. So the way that I was initially introduced to Harlem lacrosse was probably my sophomore year of college. We had ended up going to, to Baltimore to do a fall ball, like our fall ball games that we do every single year. And that year in particular, we had decided to do like a clinic with Harlem lacrosse.

So that was my first time being introduced to it. And then once I got to the league we had the option to be able to partner with a You know, a non-profit and organization. And immediately, I just wanted to do this one just because like, one I had already, you know, been introduced to it. And the other reason being that it stood for a lot of things that I thought that were really important.

And in my time at Carolina and studying in my major of sociology, I'd gone through like a number of classes, just kind of learning about disparities and inequalities within our society. And one of them being like the achievement gap among young kids. And I just feel like this is something that's so important that a lot of the time people think can just be easily fixed by adding more funding to schools or providing kids with, you know, these tangible resources.

But what Harlem lacrosse does is they provide more than just that. Like they realize that a lot of the reason why kids aren't always successful in the future is because they don't have the support that they need at home because often times their parents are always working. Sometimes they're raised by their grandparents, so it really provides kids with this opportunity to establish relationships with people and get further resources to really help them excel and reach their fullest potential. So that was ultimately the main reason why I wanted to do it just because I feel like it's something that is really, really important within our society is making sure that we're closing that achievement gap amongst kids and providing everyone with equal opportunities.

[00:52:50]Stef: Well, I think it's so amazing that you're involved in this incredible company. So what is the impact that you hope to have with your current role at Harlem lacrosse?

[00:53:00]Kayla: So kind of going back to, you know, what you had mentioned earlier about how lacrosse is a predominantly white sport. My hope is that when young athletes see me, they'll see that there is a path to success. And that there also are people who look like them, who represent them in the sport of lacrosse, and that you don't have to necessarily fit a mold in order to be successful in the sport or play the sport in general.

It should include people from multiple different backgrounds and you know, diverse experiences. Like you, shouldn't just all be about, you know, how you look or where, you know, everyone coming from the same place, everyone has different journeys. And that's really what I hope to you know, be able to portray to these younger kids.

[00:53:48]Stef: Well, you're living it right now, your inspiration, for sure. Because even how you started and how you got recruited into one of the best college sports teams was playing at your high school you didn't play at one of these really expensive club teams. Right. So I think just that in and of itself is inspiring story.

how you manage through adversity during your time college, and then went on to just crush it in the current league professionally is, is amazing, but you know, you've talked a lot about it today as a professional athlete, but also a collegiate athlete, like health resources are just so important along the way in that journey.

So what are some of the resources that, you know, you use today that you would encourage girls to really lean into during their time at college and then onto the professional career?

[00:54:39]Kayla: Yeah. So one major thing, which I think that sometimes can have a negative connotation is going and talking to a sport psychologist. I did this a few times just within my career at Carolina, where I did talk about, you know, the things I was struggling with you know, with my family, with my friend, but I did also end up going and talking to them even just about, you know, my sport in general.

And it kind of helped me break down these like performance barriers that I would have and kind of, and it helped me a lot with like my anxieties that I would feel when I had come to my sport. Because especially when you're, you know, this a young player, you experienced a lot of anxiety of like the pressure that you feel and that you need to perform a certain way or play a certain way or you can't make mistakes and things like that.

So it really helped me work through all of the feelings that I, you know, experienced while I was in college. And even now I'm considering even going and talking to someone just because I'm at a whole different place in my career? And I just kind of want to like further understand myself as an, as an athlete. And I want to, I'm doing it more in a positive way than like, you know, not necessarily just because I'm going through something, but because I do, like I said, just want to continue to you know, improve my performance.

And then another thing, you know, outside of the physical training that you put in is to also work on your your mentality of things. So, I ended up reading a few books a little bit ago, just kind of talking about like your journey as an athlete and just kind of working through different mental spaces and improving your confidence and even improving your physical performance on, on the field as well.

[00:56:24]Stef: I love it. I think both are so important and there is a stigma around sports psychologists, and we want to break that Voice in Sport. Like we think it's the coolest thing ever. We want everybody to feel like that because only bettering yourself as a human and helping you be a better person, but also recognizing that not everything is something you see, right?

Not everything is physical. Like a lot of your performance can be based on your mindset and how you approach things and how you show up everyday. So we think it's like the coolest thing ever at Voice in Sport and we're just trying to like support more women like yourself and even younger women to really, you know, ask for the support and, and try going to one, or try going to like 80. Cause we have like 80 at Voice in

[00:57:05]Kayla: Yeah,

[00:57:05]Stef: until you find someone you connect with.

So I really appreciate just all the incredible stories you shared with us today, Kayla, and really inspiring to see what you're going to be doing for the sport of lacrosse. We love to end on our two signature questions at Voice in Sport because you know, at the end of the day, we're here to build this community, this platform for all the young girls out there who might feel like they're alone, who might feel like their confidence is like a little shaky at the time.

So what would be one piece of advice that you would tell a younger girl in sport today?

[00:57:36]Kayla: So I couldn't really come up with just one, so I have to, so I hope that's okay. But the first thing would be that you're so much more capable of things than you realize, and it kind of ties into the next thing, which is like, although you may not be where you want to be yet, appreciate how far you've come.

I think that at times, especially as females, we kind of put all this you know, pressure on ourself to you know, meet our goals. And like, if we don't meet our goals in a specific amount of time, we kind of tend to be hard on ourselves. So, even though you may not be where you want to be today, you further than you were yesterday, so just appreciate you know, how far you've come in your journey all together.

[00:58:19]Stef: I love that. And what is one thing you'd like to see changed for the future of women's sports?

[00:58:25]Kayla: To be as visible as our male counterparts. I think that male sports are definitely more visible than women's sports in the sense that like in college over the course of four years, men's lacrosse would be played on ESPN way more often than our games would be.

And it's starting to get better, we're starting to have like an equal amount of games on ESPN and things like that, but initially it wasn't always like that. So, hopefully we can continue to build off of that and be just as visible as they are.

[00:58:57]Stef: More VIS that's what we like to say here. Some more VIS please. Well, Kayla, thank you so much for joining us. We're so excited to have you part of our community and have you on the podcast today. So, excited to see what you do next. Thank you for coming.

[00:59:13]Kayla: Thanks for having me.

[00:59:16]Stef: This week's episode was produced and edited by viz creator. Elizabeth Martin, a soccer player from Emory university hearing Kayla's journey in lacrosse is truly inspiring from both an athletic and a personal perspective. Watching her grow into her confidence as a player and leader to Excel in her sport at the highest level displays, immense strength and mental toughness, learning about how to work through tough times, as well as fostering support and resources for the people around us is so important.

And we wanna thank Kayla for sharing her advice with us. We are so thankful for all the stories that she shared with us today. You can follow Kayla on Instagram. Underscore K underscore wood head to the feed on the voice and sport platform and filter by lacrosse or by journey and spend some time diving into the incredible free resources we have at vis you can check out the sessions page and filter by professional athlete.

Look for lacrosse players and sign up for one of the free or paid sessions with our viz league or our viz experts. Please click on the share button in this episode and send it to another athlete that you think might. The conversation. And if you're interested in more lacrosse content, you might also wanna check out episode number 35, featuring Michelle TLO, a former member of the national team titled BU your unapologetic self.

See you next week on the voice and sport podcast.

Kayla Wood, a professional lacrosse player in the Athletes Unlimited league, former member of the UNC women’s lacrosse team, and three time ACC champion shares with us her unique college recruitment process.