Paving the way for unlimited opportunities.
Have you ever dreamt of becoming a football player or a coach in the National Football League (NFL)? Chances are, if you are female, you might have given it a fleeting thought but never believed it could become a reality. Football has traditionally been a man’s sport, played by men, coached by men and officiated by men.
But times are definitely changing.
As a part of its ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion, the NFL hosted its sixth annual Women’s Careers in Football Forum this past March. The forum was created to break down the barriers to inclusion and connect women with leaders in the professional football space to opportunities within coaching, scouting and football operations. According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), women made up about 38.8% of the NFL league office roles, 25.3% of teams’ senior administrations and 1.5% of team assistant coaches last season.
This season, Lakeshore Football broke barriers locally and made history by hiring its first female Assistant Coach, Suze Miller. She proudly posted on her social media feed, “A dream came true. I ran through the Lakeshore Lancer football helmet…not as an alumnus, or a Mom, or a teacher…I ran through the helmet as one of the coaches – the first female coach in the Lakeshore Football Program.”
By day, you’ll find Mrs. Miller in the high school teaching English and serving as the Academic Challenge Coach. During the football season, her days blend into nights as she takes on her second role as one of the Assistant Football Coaches. Miller is in charge of the program’s 11 managers who all just happen to be female as well: Ava Barker, Addison Dale, Emma Muzumara, Azusena Martinez-Gutierrez, Mia Norbey, Anna Roe, Maddie Schmidt, Maya Schmidt, Krystina Smith, Linden Warnock and Grace DeBest. They record practices and games along with helping the equipment managers ensure the team has what they need. Essentially, if the players and coaches need something, this group is on it!
Miller never thought her career would involve football. As a 1999 graduate of Lakeshore High School herself, Miller was a member of the marching band and one of the track captains, competing in shot put. Miller said “Pre-August, I knew little if anything about football. I didn’t think about plays. I usually picked the Super Bowl winners by the team’s colors. I laugh at how naive I was.” Miller loves that this opportunity allows people to be a part of something bigger than themselves. “The managers and I are here because we love being part of the team. We all have our roles and we use our strengths to find our spot within the team,” said Miller.
What happens on the football field isn’t all that different from what happens in the classroom. As an educator, Miller believes that it is her job to find a connection with each student and build a relationship. “Taking on the role as an Assistant Coach, I can see skills learned on the football field helping my students academically in the classroom.” When she originally took the field, Miller was a bit nervous and unsure of herself. She became a student out on the football field. Slowly, they all started gaining confidence. Miller loves that the players, who are her students in the classroom, are also teaching her things. Together, they’ve come a long way.
In a world that is so divisive, this is an opportunity to unite and while working with each other’s strengths, empowering each other, the team, and the community.
Football managers, along with their teammates, are learning real world skills that are critical in the world we live in today. Responsibility, optimism, time management, teamwork, integrity, listening skills, honesty and most important: grit. The perfect “plays” in life don’t always go the right way. It’s at these moments when a person finds out what they are made of.
Coach Miller has a message for everyone, “Do something new. Do something challenging. And do something scary every so often; these are the true secrets to staying young.”
Lakeshore football is breaking down barriers to inclusion. If a coach is qualified, knowledgeable, caring and respected, the important character lessons learned through sports will be taught regardless of whether the coach is a man or a woman. Removing these barriers to inclusion based on old gender roles may help to make more dreams a reality.