Difference Makers: New NWHL Star Saroya Tinker
President and Quarterback of LeagueApps, Jeremy Goldberg, sat down with recent Yale graduate, NWHL top pic, and Metropolitan Riveter, Saroya Tinker to discuss her experience as black woman in a predominantly white and male sport, advice for youth sports organizations looking to make their programs more inclusive, and commitment supporting girls and women in sports.
“Sports for All” is a critical belief of LeagueApps, and Jeremy calls youth sports organizations to action at the end of the conversation: “If you’re not thinking about these issues, you’re missing an opportunity. People are going to judge and evaluate you on this just the same way they’re going to evaluate you on your ice time, your coaching, your schedule, and level of competition. As organizations take this seriously, they’re going to make a profound impact on and off the ice. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are such critical components.”
We’ve summed up some key takeaways from the conversation, but you can check out the entire interview on IG Live. We hope you’ll continue the conversation with us via Slack or by getting involved in our FundPlay initiatives..
Takeaway #1: Saroya is a difference maker.
Saroya grew up just outside of Toronto and played youth hockey with Durham West Jrs. She went on to play at Yale University for all four years, and has just been drafted into the NWHL to play with the Metropolitan Riveters in New Jersey.
But it wasn’t all a miracle on ice. Saroya shared how she felt excluded on her team, wanted to quit hockey after falling out of love with the sport, and her struggle with mental health challenges as a result of experiencing racism. She says, “It’s as simple as me walking into the rink and feeling like I don’t know what my teammates are talking about. Feeling like I’m not able to join their conversations. It’s things like listening to different music.”
Saroya stuck with it, and now uses her voice and her platform as a professional hockey player to lead and inspire others: “As athletes, we have to show that we’re more than athletes. We have voices, we have opinions, and they should be valued.” For more inspiration, follow her on Twitter.
Takeaway #2 – Saroya’s Advice on Access and Inclusion: “It’s about Listening and Doing.”
Listening: Saroya fell back in love with ice hockey when Yale’s Coach Bolding turned the culture of her team around senior year. How? “Coach Bolding definitely made an effort to get to know each one of his players on a personal level, and I think that that’s what really changed my experience. He was willing to listen and understand where I was coming from and why I was feeling excluded,” says Saroya. “It’s so important that coaches have that understanding and diversity and inclusion training.” They need to talk to their players, communicate, and make their office an open space for their players to come and speak to them when they need it.
Doing:“Organizations should implement programs for low-income neighborhoods and provide them with equipment. Give them that opportunity to try the game.” Each sport has a way to adapt and be accessible – it’s on the organizers to get creative and do it.
Takeaway #3 – Role Models are Important.
Saroya felt the lack of black female role models in her sport – and beyond. It’s important to hire black coaches and coaches of color for young athletes to look up to and connect young people with mentors who look like them.
The lack of mentors throughout her career has inspired Saroya to be a mentor for girls and women in her game and in sports in general. She recently created her own mentorship program. “It’s so important that we support each other and back each other up. I’ve been lucky to connect with other female athletes that have shown their support for me and my sport. I hope to do the same for them just because as women in sport, it’s important that we got each others’ backs and we build each other up. And just continue with that positive energy.” Check out her program here.
Takeaway #4 – To all the Coaches: More inclusion leads to better teams and better results!
During the interview with Saroya, Jeremy harkened back to a recent podcast he listened to that featured Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, and Pete Carroll. These three legendary professional coaches, all white men, sat down to have a conversation about race and equity. They believe that if you don’t understand these issues, then you really can’t be the kind of coach that you want to be.
When Saroya’s coach changed the culture at Yale, got to know his athletes more personally, and created a more inclusive program, he did more than help Saroya and her one other black teammate feel a sense of belonging and love of the game again — he started to WIN! According to Saroya, Yale hockey had always been a bottom to the middle of the pack team, but things turned around her senior year.
“[Coach Bolding] definitely developed a winning atmosphere. In order to win and in order to be successful as a team, your teammates and coaches need to understand you on a deeper level. I know for a fact that it made all the difference for me. I enjoyed going to the rink, I wanted to play for him, I wanted to listen and continue to learn.”
Takeaway #5 – In Saroya’s words: “It’s not enough to be ‘not racist’ anymore. You have to be “anti-racist.”
To make youth sports organizations more inclusive, Saroya and Jeremy agree that it starts with a personal journey and can extend to other parts of your life — including your youth sports organization. It’s work that never ends, but as you start to build your competency in anti-racism, small changes can make a big impact. Saroya says, “Things as simple as talking to your teammates and calling them out. As hard as it is to call people out, it allows for another level of understanding to be implemented with the team. You’ll have that accountability. Coaches can implement that in ways that they see fit for their team.”
Thanks again to Saroya for joining us on Instagram Live, and the NWHL for introducing us to Saroya. Like Jeremy said, “This world needs more Saroya Tinkers. Sports can help contribute to that.” Please join LeagueApps to continue the conversation by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.