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Andrea Travelstead speaks at Women in the Game

Women in the Game in Fifth Year of Providing Educational Opportunities for Women in Sports

  • Author:
    Steve Drumwright, Red Line Editorial
  • Date:
    Mar 24, 2022

Originating in 2017, Women in the Game is a twice yearly conference that is an educational opportunity for young women — high school, college and professionals — about the different types of careers in the sports industry and how to pursue those paths.

USA Basketball also organized coach development and player skill development programs.

“What we found in those first few years of programming in 2015 and 2016, is every time we would put together a camp — any program — we always look for a diverse range of speakers and coaches to work with the kids, serve as clinicians or speak to the coaches at clinics,” said Andrea Travelstead, USA Basketball’s associate director for youth and sport development. “And the pool was just drastically one-sided, where the number of females coaching the game and working in sport just wasn’t there in comparison to the male counterparts.”

This year, Women in the Game is being held in conjunction with the Women’s Final Four in Minneapolis for the first time. The conference will be held March 31, the day before the national semifinals on April 1. A second Women in the Game will be held this fall in Las Vegas. After missing both conferences in 2020 and one in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Women in the Game resumed last fall.

The first Women in the Game was held in Santa Barbara, California, and was paired with a training session and had about 40 attendees.

“That first one, it was really well-received,” said Jay Demings, USA Basketball’s director of youth and sport development. “We had media personalities, we had our head coach at the time Dawn Staley for the Women’s National Team and we had the first-ever woman to officiate in an NBA game (Violet Palmer). We had a robust panel of speakers. The problem was, we didn't really have a lot of participants at the conference.”

As with any new endeavor, it takes a grassroots effort to bring the information to the target audience. In this case, Women in the Game depends on coaches and other professionals to get the word out to these young females.

Now, a typical conference gets about 70 participants for each session, although about 100 are expected in Minneapolis.

“I would definitely say that’s the biggest (challenge) is how to drive awareness so more women and girls are aware of the opportunity,” Travelstead said. “We’ve really had a huge success in the lineup and the diversity and the range of speakers and presenters that we have.”

Finding the right people to talk about their experiences is crucial, too. Among the speakers in Minneapolis is Cheryl Reeve, the coach and general manager of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx and the USA Basketball Women’s National Team coach for this Olympic cycle. She has coached the Lynx to four WNBA titles in addition to being named 2019 Executive of the Year.

“I think we’ve been able to connect people doing things the right way, in terms of their leadership positions, who are willing to share with people who, quite frankly, may be looking to replace them in their job at some point — and that’s not always easy to find, right?” Demings said. “You have to find people who are willing to serve, and we’ve just been very fortunate to find great women who are willing to share their experiences with a community that needs it.”

Another key part to the program is mentorship. In addition to having time to talk individually with speakers at the conference, there is follow-up with attendees about how to put what they learned into action.

“It’s a six-week program where attendees are paired with a woman who’s working in sports — could be someone that was involved in a conference or not — and get to have some dedicated ongoing discussion really catered towards that girl's interests and potential dreams and goals and helping them to evolve that and also gain some different professional skills for the industry,” said Travelstead, who noted that USA Basketball is putting more resources and structure toward the mentorship aspect this year.

Expansion of Women in the Game also is in the thought process for Demings and Travelstead. Having up to 70 attendees seems to be an ideal number, so the next step would be adding a third conference to the calendar as well as making sure to hit more areas of the nation. Also, while the ticket for the conference in Minneapolis is $55, there are other costs associated that can make it tough to attend. The USA Basketball Foundation offers scholarships to Women in the Game that cover hotels and other base expenses, raising money through a new campaign called #WinWithHer.

While basketball is popular and represented, USA Basketball doesn’t limit Women in the Game to just hoops talk when it comes to future professions.

“I think most girls and women at these conferences have their eyes opened to the different avenues and career paths that are out there,” Travelstead said. “A lot of women who attend are current players, and I think when you’re a player, you’re really in a bubble where you just kind of see what’s immediately around you, which is your coaches and maybe the officials.

“You don’t realize there is an ops crew that sets up a venue, you don’t realize there is a communications team that’s handling media relations, you don't see the marketing group that's promoting that event. In general, we’re bringing to the forefront some different career paths to offer a full sense of what goes into putting teams on a court.”

Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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