Dr. Jen Welter is many things – the first woman to coach in the NFL, and the first to play running back in professional football. An author, speaker, TV producer and fashion designer. And also a PhD psychologist.
For much of Psychology Month, we have been putting the spotlight on one job at a time, showcasing the variety of careers populated by people who have advanced degrees in psychology. But what if you didn’t have to pick just one thing? What if you could use your psychology PhD to do everything? Dr. Jen Welter is doing as many things with her psychology PhD (from Capella University) as she possibly can.
She runs girls-only football camps, as well as football-and-tech camps called KickGlass with her partner Mike Brown (former NFL player turned tech entrepreneur). She’s just coming back from being the keynote speaker at VISA’s pitch competition for female founders doing great things in technology and commerce during New York Fashion Week. She’s working on a project with Ryerson University’s Experiential Sports Lab to reach for gender equality in sports media. She’s the executive producer of a TV show called Fangirl, set to debut soon about two superfans who get a chance to run their favourite college football team. She’s even talking about collaborating on a project with high-fashion designer Vivienne Hu, something more street-savvy than high-end.
Before getting to this point, Jen did a whole lot more. Things no one else had ever done, and that most would never consider doing. She was the first female professional football player in a contact position (running back for the Texas Revolution of the Champions Indoor Football League). The first female head football coach in international competition (Team Australia for the 2017 World Championships). And the first female coach in the NFL (2015 with the Arizona Cardinals). She also played on Team USA twice at the world championships, winning gold medals in both 2010 and 2013 (both times defeating Canada).
She tells us that her psychology training and background has come into play throughout all of this. As a football player and coach, she says
“Even as I was learning things in school I would try them out in my own games. Something as simple as sitting on the bench and looking up at people. Your body posture says a lot, and you would never find me with my head down. That was something I learned in psychology – the way we interpret the behaviour of other people, and realizing that the impact you have on your competition is just as relevant between the plays as it is during the plays you make. I still work with athletes on a lot of that to this day, in both big and small ways.”
Jen, in addition to producing TV, breaking barriers for women in sport, collaborating on fashion projects and encouraging young girls to break through preconceptions, is currently working on a follow-up to her book Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL. The follow-up will focus a lot more on the lowlights of her career than the highlights. She says it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t get spoken about very often, since we all tend to talk about the highs without truly examining disappointments and struggles. For example,
“My first book got turned down by everyone because they said ‘women in football doesn’t sell’. I mean…I’m pretty sure I was the first – how many times have you tried? I’ve done it on the field, and now I have to do it in literature?”
Then, she sums up her entire post-psychology-PhD career in one sentence.
“It’s constantly answering questions that other people have not even known should be, or could be, asked.”