Difference Makers: Sophia Lewin
The sporting world has been under siege for the past four months, forcing players, coaches, and organizers completely outside of their comfort zones. The challenges brought on by COVID-19 have been unique, but so to have the responses to those challenges. As a leader in the youth sports industry, we’ve set out to create as much programming as possible to help everyone impacted by the new normal to survive and thrive in the age of COVID. Along the way we’ve gotten to know some truly inspirational people who are redefining what it means to be a difference maker. Bringing these people and their stories to the forefront so that they can share their perspectives and insights is how our “Difference Makers” series was born. Our first installment welcomes Sophia Lewin, a 2019 Monmouth grad who is already shaking up the college football world.
The 23-year-old is an Offensive Quality Control Coach at Princeton University. Her role with the Tigers’ football program is significant for a few reasons. The first is that Lewin and Brown University’s Heather Marini are the only female coaches in all of FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) football. But lost in this trailblazing moment for gender equality is the fact that Lewin is on the coaching staff of a highly prestigious football program at a very young age. Princeton, which played the very first college football game 151 years ago, has produced 93 consensus All-Americans and a Heisman Trophy winner. Recently, Princeton has been linked to cutting edge offensive innovation. To be associated with a storied program at such a young age is an accomplishment unto itself. We sat down with Lewin to learn about her journey, where she’s headed and how the game of football is viewing a new wave of female coaches.
When was it that you fell in love with the game?
I grew up watching football with my Dad. As a Raiders fan, he taught me a lot about the history of the game, because, well, to be frank, they weren’t very good when we were watching them. I really took to it, particularly learning the history and the intricacies of the game itself. So during high school when I realized that I wouldn’t be a professional athlete, I turned my attention to coaching. I applied to be a team manager in high school and Wayne Demiko (Wayne Hills HS Football Coach) let me shadow the coaching staff for two seasons. Being part of a football team is very different from any other sport in my opinion. The sheer number of players, for starters, gives every member of the coaching staff multiple opportunities to make an impact. I’d say I always loved the game, but once I got involved with coaching, it cemented it.
Did you have any expectations before you began coaching that have since been validated?
I always thought of coaching as a profession that required a lot of hard work, and that you’d be evaluated based on your quality of work. That has proven to be true for me so far. I didn’t expect that I’d be treated differently if I met that high standard. And honestly, I’ve been surprised by how welcoming everyone has been thus far. The sport itself is often painted as this macho world, where it’s hard to fit in, but that hasn’t been my experience. To me, it’s a game rooted in teaching and learning. And when people can see my love for the game and my passion for teaching it while being a sponge and learning as much as possible, the fact that I’m a woman isn’t as big a deal. In the end, the team is a large group of people with a common goal, and that bunker mentality actually brings people together.
Who are the people you turn to for advice and inspiration as a female coach?
I’m glad you asked this because I certainly didn’t get here alone and I’ve relied on many people along the way. Callie Brownson of the Cleveland Browns (Chief of Staff) is an inspiration for me from her focus to her work ethic. My third grade basketball coach remains an influential figure in my life. I can call him and have in-depth discussions, because he knew me when I was eight years old and really understands me. I love talking to people with more experience than me because I’m competitive and have a growth mindset and the only way I can get better is by learning from other people. And the great thing about this profession is there exists support from both male and female mentors. I’m very fortunate to work with Bob Surace (Princeton Head Coach), because we’ve developed a great relationship in a short amount of time. He’s another example of someone I can rely on and a person who can help me grow personally and professionally.
Proud to have represented @PrincetonFTBL at the NFL Women’s Careers in Football Forum during the combine this year. Thankful for @CoachBobSurace and the entire staff for this opportunity to work with the best and #BeATiger 🐅🏈🧡 https://t.co/BWzsQXRVuQ
— Sophia Lewin (@sophia_lewin) March 27, 2020
Where does your confidence come from when you’re coaching?
I studied sociology in college and I think that when it comes to successfully relating and reaching your players, they have to know you care about them. And players are really smart, they can pick up on any phoniness. You can have a resume, you could have played in the NFL, but if you don’t show that you love the game, care about your players, and have the capacity to teach them what they need to know, you’ll lose them. For me, my love of the game is on display every day, I radiate that passion for it. And because of my education and personality, they can sense I really want to help them be better players. Having that package of skills and passion gives me confidence.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In a broad sense, I want to be in the same profession 60 years from now as I want to be in 10 years from now. But when it comes to specific opportunities, I want to be in the NFL. The challenge and opportunity of the NFL interests me. When I get older, or have more experience, that may change, but some of the coaches I admire the most have that NFL experience. The success of David Shaw at Stanford, the success of Bob Surace at Princeton, those are guys who have had experience at the NFL, but also enjoy the college game because they found a home and found a situation that really fits them well. I don’t think I’ll really feel settled, from a career perspective, until I see what the NFL is all about firsthand. I was so grateful for the opportunity to go to the NFL forum earlier this year in Indianapolis. Sam Rapoport (NFL’s Sr. Director of Diversity) and Vanessa Hutchinson (NFL’s Senior Manager, Football Development) and their whole team really made it a unique experience for me and validated my interest in someday working in the NFL. I’m also incredibly thankful for Coach McDermott (Buffalo Bills Head Coach) and his family for inviting me. In my opinion, it was another step forward in my career and a tremendous experience.
How have external events, namely COVID-19 and the BLM Movement, impacted your 2020 as a coach?
I studied sociology with a concentration in race and gender, that’s my training, so I didn’t shy away from these issues as a coach. There are some people that aren’t comfortable with topics of equality or inclusivity, so they try to make blanket statements and move on. When we as a society say that gender doesn’t matter, or race doesn’t matter, what do we really mean? Because I would argue in so many ways, it does matter, because it shapes our lived experience and your lived experience matters to me as a person and as a coach. It’s incredibly important because I can’t coach you unless I truly know you and care about you. I don’t believe that I can coach you effectively without understanding what you need. So I think my approach is, “How can I be the best teacher, utilizing the knowledge of my players’ lived experiences to reach them and their preferred form of learning?” Answering those questions for each player is really important to me. This extends beyond football to players’ mental health, emotional stability, etc. I always cared about these topics, but this year has really brought that into focus for me as a strength.
Since interviewing Lewin, the Ivy League has cancelled its fall season due to COVID-19. School and conference officials are exploring the possibility of playing the season during the spring of 2021. If you’d like to keep up with Lewin’s coaching journey you can follow her on Twitter.