Pam Kosanke and I have known each other for years from our time spent reporting to the Olympic Training Center, globetrotting, and playing on the USA Rugby team. Pam is an elite athlete across multiple sports, former USA rugby player, entrepreneur, and the founder of Sport Bigs, which is both a toy company and a movement!
In this interview, we explore her experience as a multi-sport Team USA athlete (softball, rugby, and aquabike) and what it takes to compete in six World Championships. We explore her lessons learned as a female entrepreneur and dig into the reasons why she was inspired to launch her company, Sport Bigs.
Pam launched Sport Bigs in 2021 to be the world’s first plush toy product focused on promoting women athletes and athletics. Using the likenesses and voices of elite women athletes, Pam has created an entirely new toy category that is challenging the entrenched world of sports broadcasting and sponsorship as we know it.
Of course, we also explore what it means to be an Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) Coach and how Pam has risen to be EOS’s Chief Revenue Officer. At its core, EOS is a business operating system that helps entrepreneurs get what they want from their business.
Finally, we discuss tactical ways that we can all be better advocates for women’s sports and how we can make sports environments more inclusive. Whether you identify as an athlete, business owner, entrepreneur, or simply someone who wants to “Be a Champion,” this is an episode that you won’t want to miss.
Podcast with Pam Kosanke, Interviewed by Cade Hildreth
Cade Hildreth: Welcome to the “What You Should Have Been Taught” podcast where we talk about everything you should have been taught in school, but weren’t. In particular, we’ll focus on finances, health, and creating a phenomenal life on your terms.
Pam Kosanke is an elite athlete, a former USA rugby player, entrepreneur, and the founder of Sport Bigs, which is a toy company and a movement. As an athlete, she has captained coached and competed in two World Series, two World Cups, and two World Championships across three different sports— which is unbelievable!
In today’s interview, we’ll explore her experiences as an elite athlete, lessons learned as a female entrepreneur, and why she launched her company Sport Bigs. Pam, welcome!
Pam Kosanke: Thanks for having me. It’s awesome to talk to you now on a podcast as a friend and colleague and all the things. It’s the blending of our worlds.
Cade Hildreth: Exactly. It has certainly been fun to watch you evolve over the years too. So, my first question for you is, who are you? And, how did sports come to play such a major role in your life? From childhood, across every year I’ve seen you evolve, through to today?
Pam Kosanke: Who am I? Such an existential question and I appreciate it. Well, I’m Pam Kosanke and I’d say that first and foremost, I am an athlete. That’s kind of how I’ve always identified myself really, by design. I’m an athlete, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m an inventor, I’d say a marketing pro (loosely) and I’m a mom too now, so lots of changing identities.
And I guess, as I look back, one of the things that I have to kind of reflect on as I think about my athletic career is that I’ve competed in six World Championships across three different sports.
So softball, rugby, and now swimming and biking for Team USA. It’s been this wild journey of exploring my athlete identity, if you will.
Cade Hildreth: That’s incredible! Among those three sports, how did you first get started and then move on to all the other sports?
Pam Kosanke: All the sports? (Laughter)
Cade Hildreth: Yes. (Laughter)
Pam Kosanke: Well, I think maybe your original question about how did sports play such a big role in my life? It kind of starts there. My mom and dad were absolutely incredible athletes. My mom taught herself how to play tennis. She was a tennis pro at a club. She was an incredibly mentally tough athlete who had to create her own athletic opportunities.
My dad was a big golfer, an awesome golfer, and a multi-sport athlete. But both of them taught my brother and I to have a love for sports, a love for competition. Our family vacations literally centered around athletics. We did not relax on vacation. Instead, we took tennis lessons and golf lessons and we did every possible thing you can imagine that was activity-based. We competed in everything. And so “doing your best” was really the phrase that happened as a kid.
So I tried just about every sport. It started with going to my brother’s baseball practices. My dad was the coach and I literally would wait the entire practice, I would fetch balls, and I would do everything I could just for a short chance to have some batting practice at the very end of the practice.
And so softball, well actually I’d say, it kind of started with baseball. I played on a boy’s baseball team until I was about 11 or 12, and then I was begrudgingly forced to switch to softball. Then softball became my “bread and butter sport”. I played soccer my whole life as well. I ended up getting a softball scholarship to Michigan and played third base at the University of Michigan.
Then I discovered rugby at the University of Michigan. I had some friends who played rugby. I thought they were all crazy, by the way, and I would just watch them and get to know them, but I thought they were absolutely nuts. And then after I graduated, I discovered the world of rugby, made the USA National Team relatively quickly and traveled the world. The rest is kind of history.
Then right now, it’s swimming and biking for me. I can’t run anymore. I’ll always love triathlons. In fact, I was signed up for a triathlon after wrapping up college software and that was going to be my big next-life passion. Yeah, this guy Mark Santiago convinced me to go to a rugby tournament instead, and it really decided my fate. But I went back to triathlons essentially. But now I can’t run, so I just do swimming and biking.
Cade Hildreth: Yea, you just do swimming and biking across huge distances and at rapid speed. (Laughter)
Pam Kosanke: Yes, long distances. We do a 75 mile plus bike ride and usually a couple mile swim. This last World Championship was canceled to COVID, but it was structured to be like 112 miles for the biking and then swimming can be up to two and a half miles or so. Yeah, it’s long distances.
Cade Hildreth: That is very long, in my opinion. You touched on this a little bit, but let’s dig a bit deeper. What have sports meant to you? How have they impacted you, whether it’s emotionally spiritually, socially, or physically? What do they mean to you?
Pam Kosanke: I’d say it’s kind of like, how have sports not influenced my life . But maybe most importantly, sports taught me how to compete, and also how to compete to win. And I guess I didn’t totally understand that even those things were even skills at the time. But looking back, the idea of competing, the idea of figuring out how to win, those were big lessons. And frankly, it’s a learned skill over time and it’s just you have to keep re-learning it because the rules of the game change, so how to win, how to lose, how to recover. Those are huge lessons.
I’d also say there’s some lessons in what I would call “relational dynamics”, this idea that sometimes it’s more important about how people, how situations are relating to each other than it is to any one particular perspective or truth. And that is very true on a team. You learn that quickly to understand how one single person, just one person, can dramatically affect an outcome, a situation or dynamic, for good or for bad. And sometimes that person might be…you.
And so understanding your own relation to all the different factors that are going into the sport and the team and the competition. Yeah, that’s a big thing to learn and understand.
I’d say that being an athlete really just meant everything to me. It gave me life, it gave me purpose, it gave me drive. I thought of myself as an athlete, before I ever thought of myself as anything else. Even when I went to school, I was pretty good at the books, but I really just thought of myself as an athlete. I had 12 varsity letters in high school and so it was all that I did.
But it was also the thing that I was taunted and teased for being. So it was just the oddest thing that I was criticized and shunned at the time for excelling in sports, while my fellow peers, the boys, were celebrated even if they weren’t as good as me. That was always a very frustrating dynamic. So if you think about kind of how it affected me, it was this constant “yin and yang” of something I wanted more than ever, but something that the more that I excelled at it, sometimes, the lonelier I got.
I was almost ostracized in some social groups, because of that. I was kind of a little bit of an odd person out. So it gave me life, and it hurt me. But in both ways, it also just opened up so many countless doors, and I would just never take it back. It gave me some unbelievable opportunities. If you think about all the dynamics of how that affects you, physically, it affected me. Like, I’m still enjoying the “gifts” of rugby, for instance. It’s not if you get hurt, it’s when.
So there’s some physical pain and suffering that goes into playing sports, but that also is a life lesson and the “scars” of your experiences. So yeah, it’s a mixed bag. It’s kind of interesting how all of the things that served me well, like running through brick walls and not stopping when it hurts, I would say, don’t really always serve me now.
So I’m actually unlearning some of the things that I needed to arm myself with back in my really competitive days. So it’s a journey. It’s really a journey.
Cade Hildreth: As you were talking, I was thinking one of the first things you said was learning how to win and of course, it takes that self-awareness. There’s a strategic element of noticing what that sport or that particular competition or that team requires. So as you were talking about unlearning, I actually think there’s an overlap there in the sense that you are learning how to win again, at this stage of your life in the current endeavors you’re undertaking, like you said, as a business owner, as an athlete in any sport, as a mom, etc, etc.
What do you think was behind some of the people that teased or taunted you in that period?
Pam Kosanke: Just, there’s all the classic things of feeling, somehow threatened, status being threatened, norms being threatened, confusion, a lack of knowing, a sense of kind of ignorance, or in some cases, there’s almost … if you really go down into the deep roots, it’s kind of there’s religious roots. So if you’re like, what is the female role in the world?
But there’s also just this idea that women are less than and men are more than when it comes to frankly athletics, especially, there’s a size and strength, there’s a natural capability. There was an assumption at that point that that was the norm. Men are assumed to be athletic, girls are assumed to be unathletic. And so there was just a lot of challenging frameworks that were happening.
And I think just the idea that being strong, being physical, being bigger was not celebrated and I would say, in many ways, it’s still not celebrated, or it’s still challenged.
Cade Hildreth: The changes and the shifts are still happening. And that’s a torch that you’ve taken up. And we’ll get into that a bit more because I like how you’ve taken up that torch. We’re talking about some of the lessons learned and again, I want to go a little bit deeper on this one, particularly in USA rugby, because I know it’s such an unusual sport, so physical, it’s coming of age in the United States. What are some of the biggest lessons you learned during your time as a USA rugby player?
Pam Kosanke: Wow, good question. Let me count the ways. Rugby, I’d say when I first started, the most noticeable thing was the stark contrast between funding resources coaching, respect for the structure of, program and coach and player dynamics. My travel softball league in high school was more put together than some of the rugby things that I joined. And man that was a journey of over 20 years just to get rugby, the structure, the respect for the game, within the national governing body itself, let alone the United States and the world.
So I think, huge challenges in just understanding how much of that affects the ability to play and enjoy the sport, and it’s just beyond distracting just … and it’s an endless timeless battle for I think, all women’s sports, but maybe we’ll talk about that a little bit later. I’d say it was awakened to international culture and sports culture through rugby.
So I think the lessons from just how the world perceives Americans, even as I’m traveling around the world playing rugby was incredible, getting to understand the different sports cultures across the different countries and frankly, experiencing a sense of going back in time in some of those countries that didn’t support women’s rugby.
And I remember playing in Fiji, and we were actually trying to spread the gospel of rugby, especially Rugby Sevens to Fijians at the time. And I accidentally broke a big code, an unspoken code that women were not supposed to run on the pitch while men were playing or even before like they don’t even touch the pitch, it was just crazy. And I ran around the stadium as a warm-up lap, and I had the entire stadium cheering me and it was really like I was causing a ruckus, and I didn’t understand what was happening.
And then afterwards, I found out that I had somehow, like just broken a code, but I had broken it open. And they presented me with this Fijians sport shirt, they call it a “sport shirt.” It was just this like really, this collared shirt that I could tell was a really big deal to them. I still have it, I still kept it because they just said, “You’ve helped change our world here.”
It’s those kinds of moments that you just realize the dramatic impact that athletics, that team sports can have on people, period but certainly minority cultures. The same thing in Brazil, same thing, as we were playing around the world, when we played in Hong Kong, we weren’t allowed on the main pitch for a long time, a long time. We fought our way to play on that pitch for the actual championship game. So big lessons learned on that, just fighting on a whole other level, that felt it was a global fight for women’s sports and certainly recognition and brought the game of rugby.
And it continues, never-ending. I learned how much I could play through pain and I almost to a fault like I’ve said, but I think that’s interesting is just like figuring out how much you could actually endure. There was a challenge to that that was really incredible. The physicality of the game is something that women generally don’t experience in sport.
Certainly, you can exercise, you can train but when you are actually physically confronting another person, there’s a whole other dynamic there that’s really interesting. And then certainly just this idea of like running towards danger, running to help your teammates, throwing your body at something to support your teammates, I just thought I don’t know, these are kind of maybe some different types of things that I would say that were most important lessons in rugby among a lot of other things, but they were different from my other athletic experiences is my point.
Cade Hildreth: I think rugby is incredible. I love seeing more and more girls and women, and of course people of all genders, playing it the sport of rugby. Because the physicality, the aggression, the strength, the endurance, the cooperation— particularly the aggression and physicality— I love those experiences being available for women and girls.
I love seeing girls and people of all genders being able to participate in rugby, because it’s something that, as you said, that hasn’t historically been encouraged. I think that is so empowering.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah. I think not even to use your body, like, what does it mean to use your body that way? Like this physical labor side of things that almost feels like a lost art, and really like letting girls and women just explore that side of themselves and feel what it feels like to use their body, to get through it, to recover, to purposefully go after something. I don’t know, like you said the aggression and the confidence required is really, really amazing.
Cade Hildreth: I’ve seen some interesting studies over the years about how rates of bullying go down with participation in sports. I have not seen a study yet specifically on rugby participation. But I would be very curious to see it because I have a hunch that once you have that level of trust in your physicality and trust in the people that also take the field with you my hunch is that rates of bullying would probably go down and self-confidence would go up.
Pam Kosanke: You know, I think that’s a really good point, I would be interested in that as well. You’re reminding me of my time in Chicago, I had some friends, the rugby girls, we were a crazy bunch— we were a hard-nosed, aggressive, confident, and physical group of people. There was a layer of protection that was happening and forming when you were a part of the team.
And it was highlighted during a period of time where we were experiencing high rates of, frankly, some crime in the city. Late night, people were taking the trains, there were a lot of stories of some pretty violent episodes of people getting attacked late at night or bad things happening. There were several women’s rugby players I knew that had some tough experiences.
And in almost every one of those experiences, there was a physical encounter that the rugby player won. I remember my friend Andrea, she got mugged on a train and she took all of her bags and things she had with her and she fought all the way to the point where the attacker had to run away because she just absolutely just got extremely aggressive and confrontational.
So you just reminded me of this where it’s like. Of course that’s a whole another extreme of bullying but yeah, man in Chicago at that time knowing how to be physical could help to protect you.
These were the adult versions of those things playing out and I was likem thank God that in some ways these issues happen with rugby players, because they knew how to defend themselves.
Cade Hildreth: You used the word “defend” but I was almost thinking as you were describing it, that your rugby teammate “attacked” back. In rugby, we both “defend” and “attack” and she chose to go into attacking back, not defending. She was on the offensive, not on the backfoot.
Pam Kosanke: Oh yes. Oh man, she was out swinging. The stories are incredible. It never happened to me, thank God, but I do remember many rugby players protecting themselves. Maybe it’s a Chicago rugby thing too, by the way.
Cade Hildreth: Yes, it is a fascinating story about the benefits of participating in these types of sports and outlets.
Ok, I’m curious, who is an athlete that you’ve always looked up to? And why have you admired them?
Pam Kosanke: I’ll start with, I’ll kind of talk about the most formative type of experience because there’s just like a countless amount of athletes. And I’m actually still learning about athletes who are just really compelling and make me look up to them. But so tennis was always on in our house. My mom and I watched tennis all the time, and it became kind of our thing and my mom still does, she’s totally obsessed.
And I absolutely loved Martina Navratilova, and she battled it out with Chris Evert, it was just always they were just dueling it out back then. And I just loved her toughness and her grit, her athleticism. She introduced physicality and fitness into tennis and it was literally frowned upon, it was like something that people didn’t do, like women didn’t weight train going into tennis. That’s not how they actually improved in their sport, there was no sense that literally, physical training was going to help their performance on the court.
It’s almost kind of like they were as good as they were going to get. There was no sense of like, they can get better if they actually do all the same things that a human body needs to perform. And Martina was gifted, she was beyond just like smart and progressive in how she trained for the sport. And she revolutionized it and the acceptance of weight training and physical fitness for tennis. So I love that.
And then there’s just all these greats back in the day. I remember Annika Sorenstam and she ended up competing on the PGA Tour and it was just fraught with all this controversy. She was unbelievable. All these people that break barriers, they were my mentors, they were the people … and I remember celebrating that with my dad and going wow, this woman is doing something different, she’s breaking the mold, she’s going out there and competing in a “man’s world”.
And it was devastating to watch the world’s reaction to that but also just like equally exciting to watch both of those players confront the sports world. Like if you guys think about this word, attack the sports world. And Martina did that on a few fronts, of course with her sexual identity that was always a big problem back in the day. But I don’t know, I thought her bigness in the sport was just amazing.
And then I will tell you about today and I didn’t realize this. This woman named Lucy Harris, Queen of basketball, she recently passed away, she was 66. So a very kind of a sad story of like that she died prematurely, but I just read her story. She was queen of basketball, they call her, the only woman officially drafted by the NBA and the first black woman inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
So listen to this, her Olympic teammate Pat Summit another unbelievable legend said, the first truly dominant player in modern women’s basketball, six foot three, and 185 hard muscle pounds of pivoting to the rim force. Like what an awesome player and like, we don’t know anything about her. I didn’t know anything about this woman, I just kind of accidentally discovered her recently.
Cade Hildreth: I recently discovered her too. I agree, it’s a shame that we’re discovering her because of her death, but I’m still glad we’re discovering her. I mean, why didn’t she get press during her 66 years of life?
When you’re talking about these limitations, what I’m thinking about and what’s interesting to me, is that many limitations aren’t actually real. Society says, “Don’t do this” and works to creates fear around doing what that “thing” is. But if and when you do something unusual, often nothing happens because you have every right to live your life differently than other people.
So there’s things that we’re told in life, about our behaviors, our beliefs, all these things where we’re told not to do, but if when you test this belief, often you will realize that many limits are mental rather than physical. Meaning, they are projected limitations told to us by someone else.
So what I love about breaking through these limitations, like what Lucy Harris did, is that we’re proving the fragility of them. This can make you curious as to where else you can break down barriers.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, there’s so many of these great stories. Like Annika competing at the men’s tournament. I mean, it’s golf, you hit the ball and it goes in the hole. You can either do that or you can’t do that, in that particular sport, and certainly, physics will help you if you’re a bigger person. Just having her present was such a mind-boggling experience for everybody. She showed people that golf is an outcome based sport and that anyone who can get the ball into the hole has a right to compete in a tournament, even if it’s the PGA. Man can she compete. She was amazing!
I think she recently came back and crushed a Senior Golf Championship. Having said that, I think anyone who does something out of the ordinary and who challenges the status quo takes on risk. So there is risk, but yes, often physical risk is lower that we think and there’s an opportunity to change history. So it’s fun to see people bypass or overcome barriers. But yeah, there’s some real risks too.
Cade Hildreth: There are some real risks for sure, such as strong backlash publicly, socially, physically, etc.
Pam Kosanke: Yes, there can be really big political, physical, and cultural barriers that can be rough to deal with.
Cade Hildreth: Absolutely. That’s why I think much of this type of change tends to be accomplished by people who have an “internal locus” of awareness. Because breaking down boundaries can attract an enormous amount of wrath, externally. But when someone can self-source their validation and approval, then their own personal validation makes that risk worth taking. Because they’re acting true to themselves and their worth is internally sourced.
Pam Kosanke: Right. That’s a great point. I was reading a little bit about Annika’s background, and she said that she actually didn’t set out to beat the men or prove a point. She just wanted to find out how good she could be. She wanted a new challenge. She had been ripping it up in the women’s side of things and just said, I want another barrier to beat. I want to break through something new. I want to be a Champion.
So I think there’s something in that about the ones who are actually going to the next level in many ways are doing it, because they have this internal drive that is beyond anyone else’s. They have a drive that cause them to move beyond any possible “box” that somebody is trying to put them in. So that helps them weather the social storm and navigate all the other stuff that is, frankly, a bunch of distraction and crap.
Champions like Annika are driven by the opportunity to be the best. Thank God for these athletes who can funnel that type of discipline and drive.
Cade Hildreth: You’re describing people that seek ever greater challenges. And, that same strength that they’re practicing within the sports arena is probably why they can deal with the intense social and physical challenges that come with creating historic change. So it’s almost like sports are the training ground for people like Annika to be able to challenge and push society forward in other ways.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, that’s a great point, it’s a really great point. I can imagine just even like today, the type of challenges that are being thrown at athletes, and how they have to figure out ways to keep their focus. You look at social media, the stuff that we didn’t have as kids frankly, distracting people from the reasons why they might be competing in the first place.
So yeah, I think there’s a never-ending amount of challenges that will continue to confront us all. So power to the athlete who is trying to fight through all that and be their best.
Cade Hildreth: What’s funny is that a lot of times I think parents want to protect their children from challenges and keep their life as positive and easy as possible. I think the greatest irony is that the greater and more difficult the challenges you go through, the more strength and resilience you will have as a human being. So it’s almost as if there is a type of reward for having the more difficult path.
I think about that, in my own life and I also think about that sometimes when I’m talking to the parents of kids who are maybe queer or gender expansive or facing other challenges that their parents are scared about. In these cases, I remind parents that challenging situations are inherently what produce strong and resilient people. Meaning, in a way, there can be a blessing there.
Pam Kosanke: That’s a great point. Yet another analogy is like just the idea of building muscle, you have to rip it, it has to bleed, and you actually destroy your muscles, trying to build them to get stronger. And then the rest part of it helps them heal and grow back together, there’s a blood flow that happens and heals the muscles bigger. And sometimes I have to remind myself that there is this balance of training, you have to like go through that difficult side of things to your point.
There’s also a requirement of rest, we can’t be constantly battled and confronted. So there’s this idea of like these periods of riding hard and then like taking that time to heal. And I think there’s, again, that’s the yin and yang of it all I suppose.
Cade Hildreth: I completely agree with that. I think there’s so many lessons that we’ve learned from sports and that’s another angle I really wanted to dig into with, which is all these lessons that you’ve learned in the sports arena, you’ve been able to carry them into entrepreneurship and business. So what’s your professional background? And how did you first get involved with entrepreneurship specifically?
Pam Kosanke: Well, I’d say that my professional background is marketing and entrepreneurship, kind of like two bigger buckets. I worked in advertising right out of college, although it was like never an identity I ever claimed, I never stopped wanting to be a professional athlete. So I was actually pretty bitter about it coming out of Michigan, where, I didn’t quite fall into the national team ranks and so then I didn’t know what to do with myself, I was kind of stuck.
And I had gone to business school so I reluctantly got into marketing and advertising, it was kind of the Forrest Gump of advertising, where I just kind of fell into it. But I was always looking at it as my side hustle and it ended up being that everything I did with my sport life was something that I would rather have done. So in some ways, I still kind of practice that mentality.
And then I’d say discovered entrepreneurship, kind of because the sport. I was forced into retirement from Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago, where I worked. I was a VP on the McDonald’s business back then, because I got concussed, like really badly concussed in Dubai, playing with USA rugby. And it really ended my career, I suffered pretty badly and had to go on medical leave and do all that stuff.
So I’d say with, with the help of my now wife, Tracy Call, I started a marketing consultancy from my couch in the dark, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. And then fast forward, I worked a little bit in the nonprofit land, I actually joined USA rugby and helped them start a marketing department. That’s a very entrepreneurial world and business as well.
And then came to Minnesota and joined a Real Estate Group. And I really started to figure out what entrepreneurism was, we built that company to become the largest residential property management company in the country.
And so that was just this really great, incredible ride of learning how real entrepreneurs build businesses versus kind of the corporate America that I’d known. And I’d say that my wife is an entrepreneur, I met her when she had an office in her bedroom. Kind of a single … her single-story house kind of in Minneapolis.
And she was an operation of one and she had just hired somebody else. And just watching her and supporting her on her path to this unbelievable entrepreneurial rocket ship company has been a huge kind of influence in my life and kind of understanding of that world, of that entrepreneurial journey. Her company now is the second largest LGBTQ-owned business in the Twin Cities, the fifth largest ad agency in the Twin Cities, and now the 12th largest women on business of any kind in the Twin City. So like, that’s just been an unbelievable so.
But when I was at the property management company, I learned of this company called EOS, and a system called EOS. It’s the Entrepreneurial Operating System and that really changed… well, it changed everything for me. It changed my life, it’s now part of my professional journey. But that system was suddenly an eye-opener to how people could really grow and scale a business.
So I guess, that’s my introduction to entrepreneurism came through all those experiences
Cade Hildreth: And what is that EOS system? And what does it mean to be a coach or implementer for it?
Pam Kosanke: Yeah. So now I’m a professional EOS implementer, I’m also the head of global marketing for the company. It’s a business operating system that helps leaders and companies set a vision for the company so that everybody’s 100% on the same page with where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there. Achieve traction against that vision, certainly anywhere anybody looks in the company you’re getting the discipline, the accountability, and the focus to achieve that vision.
And then health which is this kind of the third factor that people seem …. that feel like it’s a nice to have but it’s absolutely essential to the scale and success of a company. But health on the standpoint where people are fun-loving, cohesive teams that enjoy spending time together and know how to get through the people issues essentially of a business. And so an operating system that has simple proven practical tools to help people operate the business and achieve vision and traction and health in their company.
Cade Hildreth: Have you ever wondered if the EOS system would have been effective in a team setting, or sports team setting?
Pam Kosanke: Oh my god, honestly, it is like kind of a secret Spidey passion of mine to want to apply it to a team environment. I think especially well kind of all women’s/men’s whatever, I think it could absolutely be a fundamental like some of these components. It’s about team health, it’s about stripping, by the way, ego from influencing too much of how the team is operating.
And so again, not like removing ego, but actually finding a place for it, harnessing the human energy, working to get the right structure for the team to get the most important things done every single time, day in and day out.
In fact, the reason I got certified to be a professional implementer is because of a disastrous sports business experience. And I was called in to be CEO and board chairman of a failing international rugby marketing company overnight and oh my god, it was a disaster. I had to raise expensive capital, fire a lot of people, do the largest rights deal in USA rugby’s history, and restructure the business, it was a complete nightmare. And in seven months, by the way, it was like just this compressed period.
And I thought had they had the EOS system they never would have been in that scenario. And the vision was amazing, the vision was really compelling, and the execution on that vision was a total disaster and failure. So I just don’t think we had the tools and we certainly didn’t have the right people.
Cade Hildreth: Wow, are you able to say what the “rights” deal was? What you negotiated?
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, it was the Flow Sports deal with USA rugby. So for better or worse, we had no choice and we needed to put the game on air, we needed to expose it. And there’s just this totally dynamic changing rights landscape and media channel fragmentation world that was growing back in the time and there was … we carved out rights for broadcast and worked some magic.
And then had Flow Sports take on a lot of the rights for most of the grassroots side of the game while carving out some opportunities for bigger broadcasts.
Cade Hildreth: That’s incredible.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah.
Cade Hildreth: Beautiful, it was well done.
Pam Kosanke: That was a puzzle piece and challenging and look, there’s pros and cons. Like you’ll probably look back and say would you have done the same deal? I think at the time with all the dynamics that were happening, hell yes, there was no other way. And do sports needs something dramatically different today? Absolutely, but that’s how the world of sports and media works.
Cade Hildreth: So what motivated you to start the company and brand Sport Bigs?
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, man. So Sport Bigs was a dream of mine while I was swimming. I was swimming, I was training for some big race. Swimming is amazing, that’s where I take my clarity breaks because there’s no noise. And so I’m by myself in a pool, swimming laps. For some reason, my brain started thinking about the toys that I wish I would have had as a kid. And I think back on all the stupid things that were available to me that I wanted nothing to do with. And then I started to think about what I wanted.
And there was nothing that related to actual athletes in women’s sports. There were GI Joes, there were an endless amount of professional male athlete figures of some sort and sports paraphernalia, and there were Barbies for us. It’s just like there was … and Cabbage Patch Kids.
So I was thinking of this whole new line that would celebrate athletes in women’s sports. And eventually, after many different rounds of iterations and concepts, I landed on 18-inch plush, so big larger than life big toys and plush toys that represented celebrities and soccer, softball, and basketball and then included the voices of the celebrities inside so they have really cool phrases that speak to you about how women talk in the locker room like real phrases. Not stuff like, oh, good luck or try hard today or try your best. It’s like no, you didn’t wake up to be average today go after it.
So it’s aggressive on purpose.
Cade Hildreth: And I love that because they’re not … children or adults who are playing with these flash action figures, they are not just seeing it visually and they’re not just touching it tactically, they are also hearing it and beyond that, experiencing it. Because once you hear someone’s voice and the tonality and the expression and the power and the aggression that’s pretty close to an exposure to the actual person.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, I love it like yeah, it’s a new dynamic, so literally it’s never been done. So even when I Google’d sport toys for girls or women and none of it was even there, there was a token thing or two and even Barbie does a bunch of token Hall of Fame stuff where they all celebrate it for one thing. But most of them they don’t actually sell, so that’s kind of the secret. They do a PR stunt and then they don’t sell most of the toys.
So yeah, this was kind of a first of its kind, they stand on their own two feet, they’re big, they’re chunky, they actually figured out how to make them cotton look like muscles, which was, that’s a whole other podcast episode of just literally how to craft muscles within cotton and kind of the available resources for toy making.
And yeah, it’s just kind of that’s the whole drive behind Sport Bigs is about making frankly, selfishly things I wanted as a kid, that I would have loved to play with.
Cade Hildreth: And if this company and brand could become anything that you wanted, what would be your long-term vision or goals for the company?
Pam Kosanke: Well, we exist to celebrate all athletes in women’s sports. So ideally, there’s a range of athletes, non-binary, trans, able-bodied, non-able-bodied, just all different types of athletes so that everybody can see themselves in sport, period no matter what.
But ultimately, we want to become the number one sponsor of women’s sports on the planet, that’s the ultimate goal. So just really to actually even disrupt sports sponsorship, to create a whole new model and way of funding women’s sports, to pay women’s athletes to promote, Sport Bigs, to actually be part of that economic circle to make money for women’s sports period and women’s athletes.
Cade Hildreth: I love that you also said make money and support at the end, I think that there’s so many things that we don’t necessarily as easily own, strength, physicality, but also creating revenue to support these things that you care about is it’s awesome to be able to voice. And I think it’s a neat way to be able to get these toys into the hands of people that can be impacted by them, but also use it for a larger mission.
Pam Kosanke: Thank you. Yeah, it’s funny, it’s like money, money, money, man money like sometimes I literally wear money, socks, I want money, I think money, there’s nothing to be afraid of there, it’s like money is super helpful and critical in the power dynamic and it changes the game, money talks. These women need … the athletes in women’s sports need money to play, they need money for the facilities, they need money to be produced.
There needs to be a whole broadcast that’s high quality and something that people want to watch, that’s entertaining. We need their stories told, they need to be playing on great pitches, they need to have awesome swag, they need to be sponsored by companies that are trying to do the right things. And we need to not be shy about saying that the way for these athletes and for sports to grow is to create the funding models to fund them, to unlock the economic viability of the commercialization of women and women’s sports period.
And it’s literally mission-critical. And I’m constantly reminded by this, as I am the basketball coach for my son’s 12-year-old basketball team. And, also he’s heavily involved with football. And I saw every time we go to one of his practices, or we go to one of his events, there are more coaches, there are more teams, there are more points of like gear and swag than you could possibly imagine in youth, boys sports, it’s endless. I’ve never seen so many coaches and support people on the field ever.
And then you go, you turn around the corner and you go to like the parallel on the youth girls side and you’ve got to like beg people to go out and coach. It’s just it’s very different and it’s evident at the very, very beginning in US sports.
Cade Hildreth: I think equality can be measured across a lot of different variables. And as we’re talking about, it’s money, it’s also quality of fields, it’s access to supportive coaching, it’s gear and swag, it’s so many of these things. And the conversations are starting to be had around equal pay, but a lot of these other conversations aren’t being had. I love the conversation around the quality of the field access and the competition and the coaching and the gear. It’s a huge point and they’re all measurables we could look at them
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, I remember like one of the most influential experiences I’ve ever had and I’d say props to St. Louis, Missouri, it’s a huge sports town for girls and boys. And I was sponsored by Coca-Cola, our team, our entire league had Coca-Cola, everything and we felt like rock stars. And we were kind of an elite All-Star group, but that was huge and it was part of the Olympic development program. And Coke was a sponsor and they drove it all the way down to the youth level.
And then, of course, Busch beer also sponsored us, that wouldn’t be the games [inaudible 00:40:11]. But it was about brands taking on that type of level of involvement. And just imagine a world in which where we’re so used to the corporations putting mega dollars into, front and jersey sponsors in men’s sports. We don’t even blink an eye at a $50 million jersey deal anymore.
But you never think about, well, where’s the parallel for the women’s game? Like what is what are you doing to help grow that potential side of frankly, the economic engine? Lest we forget 50% of the world, especially the United States, it’s like, who controls the buying power? It’s like women can put their money where their mouth is too, and buy tickets to the right things and buy women’s sports gear and swag. Like, let’s show them the money.
Cade Hildreth: What are some ways that you do think that people either it’s, like girls, moms, women, or people of all genders, and of course men, what are some actual ways that we can support women’s sports? And again, participation in women’s sports by people of all genders
Pam Kosanke: Of all genders? Yeah, 100% buy a ticket to women’s sporting event, buy women’s sports merchandise, watch a women’s sporting event on TV or over the top, like, wherever it’s been supported. Support brands and companies who do sponsor women’s sports, and tell them that you care. Tell them that you will literally will buy their product because of what they did, that makes the money go round right there. We don’t want to feel like this is a social cause, we’ve got to get out of that nonprofit social cause model and get into unlocking the commercial potential. That actually sponsors, look at these types of deals as lucrative to selling their goods or services.
That’s how it works, money begets money. Ask companies who sponsor men’s sports, what they’re going to do to sponsor and support women’s sports too. Don’t fall for this argument where, oh, that no one cares, there’s no money there. It doesn’t matter like it’s all crap, find the stats that … go do the research, find the stats, like figure out new ways of showing them the type of economic value and power there like, get creative about it.
So even if the stats were true, let’s get creative about the fact that here’s how we can expose, here’s how we can benefit the sponsor. Volunteer to coach or ref women’s sports, apply for paid positions, to coach or ref any sport of any kind, and especially if you identify as trans or non-binary we want people representing and participating in the women’s sports machine. Post about women’s sports events and celebrities on social media.
Celebritize that, get more information out there and share this, use the power of social media, and use the power of the fragmented media market to create the type of energy and viral power around educating and supporting women athletes. And just frankly, get involved yourself, encourage everybody you can around you to be a part of, to see themselves as an athlete. Whether that’s, they enjoy a ride on a peloton bike, they go for a walk or a jog, or they do a couple of push-ups, it doesn’t matter, like help encourage people to see themselves as athletes. I think there’s just countless ways of doing it, but being conscious of that is important. So put your money where your mouth is.
Cade Hildreth: I love that you gave so many answers there because there’s really not any excuse not to take at least one of those actions. And dollars are definitely votes but I also love that you put on that list attention, posting on social media, celebritizing, viewing, those are all things that are free or nearly free, so great action list there.
What’s an empowering belief that you’ve come to embrace that you think has helped you during your lifetime?
Pam Kosanke: I would say and this is from day one, live and play like a champion. And even when I got to Michigan, there was a sign on the locker rooms that said, those who stay will be champions. And it automatically suggests that you’re about to battle more than you’ve ever thought possible in your world, but stay, push through it, become a champion.
And here’s the trick of that is to revisit the definition of what being a champion is and means. Turns out it changes over time. And sometimes the journey is physical, sometimes it’s mental, and sometimes it’s spiritual. And there’s always new experiences and people to learn from. So it’s what does it mean to be a champion today, now, in this moment?
So seek to challenge and challenge yourself. And I’d say that I always thought the hardest thing in the world to do is to win a championship of some sort, a national or World Championship. But guess what, turns out, it’s even harder to repeat it. So don’t stop it’s never won and done, it’s just this constant endless journey to repeat championship victories in yourself and certainly on the field.
Cade Hildreth: That’s such a great empowering belief because it can shift with you over your lifetime, can be taken to different contexts, and can be interpreted differently and it can be applied differently by different people. So I love that answer.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah. I remember teaching Lincoln this, like, I remember, it was a little bit …
Cade Hildreth: Lincoln is Pam’s son, for those who don’t know.
Pam Kosanke: Sorry, Lincoln is my 12-year-old, and he’s kind of a … he’s a feminist in the making, he’s just an amazing guy. And he, I remember at a very early age, having him recite, like, what do you want to be when you grow up? And he’s like, I want to be a champion. So just this idea of like, whatever that means I want to be that, it doesn’t matter. You can be a champion dentist, you can be a champion, like, I don’t know, like lawn mowing person, whatever it is, like be a champion at that, be the best you can possibly be. And man.
Cade Hildreth: A champion at relationships, a champion at following your own personal ethics system, you can be a champion in all these areas that are worthy of focus. So I just love the flexibility.
Pam Kosanke: Champion to others, yeah, and guess what? It’s going to change, sometimes you needed to champion for yourself, sometimes you need to be champion for somebody else and it’s just this it never stops, never stops being the number one thing you got to do, just be that it.
Cade Hildreth: It really takes us full circle to when you were talking about the people you admire in sport, they were not just a champion on the field, but they were really a champion for others, and they were a champion for breaking through barriers, and social change and inclusion, that is champion behavior.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah. There was a moment when I was listening to one of the former commissioners for the WNBA, which is that league has really been revolutionary, and all the ways. Not just in the sport itself, and how they’ve come together, but just their passion and entrepreneurship, frankly, in the social justice movement for athletes.
And one of the things that they talked about, was helping the women in the league become global citizens. And I thought, wow, how about that as part of the code of conduct, the code of ethics for the league? That it was about doing something beyond yourself and beyond the sport, but to become great global citizens beyond the court, beyond basketball. What men’s sports league was putting that front and center and you can feel it, you can feel it in everything they do, that that is just part of that model and just really inspiring.
Cade Hildreth: I love that too because elite sports performance often is what puts you on the stage. And then the question is, what do you do once you’re on the global stage as that global citizen?
Pam Kosanke: There you go, yeah. They’re mavericks, just the WNBA, I think is just a big mover and shaker in that and all the athletes that have helped shape that league and what they stand for, and they’ve changed the face of sports period. I think that’s been the Women’s Soccer League, of course, too. But I’d say there’s just a lot of incredible lessons learned in the WNBA that has applied to global sports now. Now more than ever, frankly, and they don’t get enough credit for it but I’d say, man, there’s a lot of roots there.
Cade Hildreth: And I don’t know as much about that league, so correct me if this isn’t true. But from my perception, they’ve done a great job of the commercial aspect, which means that you can actually pay athletes, you can get visibility and create the swag we talked about, do those things we were speaking to earlier. Is that true?
Pam Kosanke: Great question. Yes, they’ve done an awesome job. Now, clearly, they’ve had the partnership of the NBA, so there’s alliances there that I think will never stop being critical. And frankly, there is no group, there is no sport, there’s no one that has ever done it on their own really, they’ve always kind of helped create the levers that they needed to get to advance.
But I’d say if you look, if you compare the WNBA to the NBA, they sold more tickets in their first 20 years of league existence than the NBA did, more average tickets per game than the NBA did at the same amount of time. So you also have to remember that WNBA is a zygote in the sports landscape. And it’s about time, it’s about money to kind of catch up and keep advancing. And they’ve exceeded expectations in that way.
They have all the same dynamics that the NBA did from leagues, from certain teams having to fold or certain things, teams not being profitable to others being very remarkably profitable. So it’s a mixed bag, but they’re incredibly powerful, relatively speaking.
And what I think the oldest trick in the book is to hold down a person, a culture, or a group of people and stop them from getting the type of support the type of financing, the type of resources that the others do. And then when you take your hand off of them, tell them how behind they are.
Like it’s the stupidest thing you can possibly imagine but it happens all the time.
Cade Hildreth: You’re describing systemic oppression.
Pam Kosanke: Oh, hands down. Think about it used to be my mom wasn’t allowed to play … she had to play half-court basketball, and you weren’t allowed to play because they’re afraid you’re going to like hurt your lady parts. It’s just these stupid things that artificially held everybody down, while the rest were given the opportunity to thrive. And now we have this huge chasm, we do, we have a chasm.
We have a chasm of billions, hundreds of billions of dollars difference between men’s and women’s sports. We have less than 4% of media being a part of women’s sports, we have less than 1% of sponsorship dollars being included in women’s sports. That is insanity, there is actually no way to get caught up, and there is not a way in our lifetime to get caught up. But we can change the dynamics and we can also change the understanding and the context around these things.
Cade Hildreth: And you know this from your background in marketing, but it’s just an interesting, cyclical situation where the more marketing funding that you put into a company, the more visibility you get, the more visibility, the more they’re worthy of funding, marketing dollars.
Pam Kosanke: So the chicken or egg kind of thing. Like, here’s the most maddening argument that ever gets positioned out there is well, I used to be the old USA rugby news [00:51:10], oh, well, only 30% of the membership are women, so they should get 30% of the funding. That’s not how it works, because they’ve had nothing to help get them where they need to go.
So number one, you have to fundamentally believe that there is value in women’s sports, and there’s value, there’s untapped value, and in fact, massive, like big X factor, delta value, and that it’s worth the investment. But we all have short, term lives in sports, we have short-term memories, this stuff takes time, it takes decades to see some of the ROI that you need. So the real visionaries in sports are going to put dollars down in women’s sports now, because 15/20 years later, not for this year’s game, necessarily.
It’s all speeding up, we’re accelerating, but it’s because of all the endeavors and the champions of the past and the ceiling breakers and the people putting the chips down and, its people playing and it’s Annika playing in a PGA event. It’s all of those micro-moments in time that are finally getting us to the ball, the dominoes kind of falling a little bit.
But yeah, it’s going to take time, you have to fundamentally believe and care about the value of women’s sports. We’re past some of those things but we have to keep fighting some of those battles of like, how do we support each other holistically? I am here, I got the experiences I did because of the people before me. If you want to talk about mentors, frankly, think about all the women that you never saw, that you’ll never know about that. You never saw a media release for, you never saw them on TV.
I met a woman at the … remember the Twin Cities Pride festival that I saw you at?
Cade Hildreth: That was so much fun.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, it was so fun. I met a woman, she must have been in her 70s, she’s one of the oldest like full-season ticket holders of the Lynx, she’s a black woman. I’m sorry, I’m forgetting her name, she was telling me that she’s had season tickets forever, she was a track athlete. Her story about battling for the ability to literally just be in the weight room, like even having access to the weight room.
Cade Hildreth: Unreal.
Pam Kosanke: It was insane. I was like, “Look, you’re the reason why I created this, you need to have this.” And, I gave her a Sports Big. She was in tears saying like, that she couldn’t believe she saw a black female basketball, athlete toy–after all she had done to battle for that representation and support that. Now that woman is a hero, that woman is a mentor. But, we’ll never hear that.
Cade Hildreth: No, that story wouldn’t have been told unless you just told it. And that type of heroic activity of being the first person to walk in the weight room that doesn’t look like you, that gives me chills, that is a heroic breakthrough activity. And then it has to happen in weight rooms across the country and then the world. I think that so much of the time fear and misinformation is used to manipulate and a lot of that has been around strength training that we still to this day, so many people will say to girls and women and people with a more feminine presentation that you’ll get too muscular or you’ll look like a boy and fear and misinformation, it’s just that’s always a tool of oppression.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah. So you think about like CrossFit like this CrossFit craze and seeing women compete in CrossFit and seeing them, the muscles and the power, to do those types of things, incredible. But it’s like showing that over and over and over again. So the good news is there’s more and more an expectation or awareness or respect for that. But lest we forget the days where there was actual people like I got shunned for it. And there’s still people that actually almost shun themselves like the shaming and social media is just criminal and sick. So yeah, we’ve got a long way to go.
And it’s like even things like one of the guys made a joke of ladies first as if like the weak link. It’s like God, it’s just still something we have to battle, so yeah.
Cade Hildreth: One of my favorite approaches for looking at this situation is to reason from first principles. And what that means is if you’re a newborn baby looking at a situation with fresh eyes, how would you reason, and would what you’re hearing actually makes sense? So we’ve been so conditioned, we’ve heard that phrase, like, ladies first enough times, you’re like, does that make sense? No, if you came into the world, with no prior information, you’d be like, there are two human beings that look differently, but there’s no intrinsic reason why one or the other would go first.
But it’s true of so many situations, how we should appear for reason, from first principles we should do …we should appear how we internally feel most aligned and most confident. So I think it’s really important to try to shed the cultural shifting that’s been happening to us over time. And my favorite framework is just if I had no prior knowledge, how would I approach a situation? If I was a newborn baby, how would I approach a situation? If I came from outer space and was dropping in on the situation how would I approach it?
Because it helps you get rid of so many things that almost start to make sense for no reason. There’s this great study, it’s done by social psychologists where they found that the word because was very powerful that you didn’t even have to have a rational reason after because to get people to shift their behavior.
So the test was, they had a line of people at a photocopier back when people actually made photocopies at a college campus. And they asked if they could skip the line for no reason. And of course, most people were like, no. Then they’re like, can I skip the line because I have to make a copy, which is not actually a valid reason. It’s like they know you have to make a copy and they let him go in front of them.
And then they gave a valid reason like, can I skip the line because I’m in a hurry and I have another person I need to meet shortly who needs my assistance? I’m maybe not getting it perfectly but the point was, even if you had no reason after, because, because worked as a reason that you thought there was a rationale there. So I think that same cognitive, like just your brain (?fritzes) off, I think we do that with social conditioning. So I try to remind myself to go back to first principles, turn it off, so you’re not just kind of like fritzing when you hear something enough times, you can believe it.
Pam Kosanke: That’s so good point. And, women have to also watch themselves and kind of how their own self-beliefs have been influenced by what they’ve been told. And it’s just look, that’s a human battle, no matter what gender you are, by the way, I’m trying to right now it’s funny, I’m having conversations with my brother and getting him to unwind from his own gendered societal pressures that, frankly, are not serving him and have never served him. And wow, is he waking up to a whole other layer of stuff that frankly, he doesn’t want anymore, he doesn’t need and it’s good for us to have these kinds of discussions of who would you be if you weren’t told to be that?
Cade Hildreth: Absolutely. The oppression happens for all genders. And I think that female athletes and people in women’s sports, maybe … well, I’ll just say all athletes, maybe the best-positioned people to break down these barriers, because they’re more physically aware, more aware of what’s going on in their body more, more somatically aware. And when the internal awareness of how you actually want to present it, that comes internally and that comes physically, it’s a cue, it’s like when you feel confident, when you find yourself standing upright, when you find yourself, projecting your voice a little more.
So I think the awareness that comes from doing sport, one of the best things is you can come back to your own self awareness about how you actually want to physically present to the world. And of course, socially, emotionally, etcetera too but in this case physically.
Pam Kosanke: I love it, I love that, that’s a really good point.
Cade Hildreth: Our bodies are sensitive meters, they give us great feedback on what feels best. One last question for you here has been LGBTQ or queer in sport impacted your experience? Or do you think it would have been similar regardless of that?
Pam Kosanke: Oh, I mean, like, you can’t unwind it, you can’t take … it’s like it’s inextricably linked throughout the experience there. From the very beginning, I was the girl with two … or I was the boy with two earrings when I was pitching on baseball, I was certainly looked at as some … there was the gay thing, you’re good because you’re gay, that was also very interesting. Or there was just this … like, it was an unfair advantage or something.
And then you’re kind of different, a little scary. I don’t know if we want our kids around you. And then there’s the discovery of others. And there was a lot of discrimination, being part of Michigan, the first … it was hell when the team didn’t quite know how to absorb gay athletes. It was a very, very challenging time for a lot of athletes to feel okay being open in that environment. And then every year it got a little bit better, a little bit more open.
And then even the team’s balance had to change around even the idea that we didn’t want that to be a focus anymore, it was almost distracting, so. Oh, my God, it’s just a never-ending part of it. And then I’d say that it almost became a safe haven in some ways when I found the rugby world, there was a big portion of the rugby community that were gay and I think or lesbian or whatever the identification would be, queer. And it felt a place of kind of safety.
So rugby in particular welcoming and inclusive, which makes, by the way, everything that’s happening with trans athlete bans right now beyond devastating it’s ruining the sport, it’s ruining all sports, these stupid, horrible, hateful, oppressive laws.
Cade Hildreth: Exclusionary.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, and just stupid, unnecessary, horrible. And yeah, I think sadly, a lot of those the balls are kind of rolling on some of the bands, but I think the repercussions we have yet to feel, it’s decades, decades, and decades. So I don’t know, that feels like one of those fights that …
Cade Hildreth: It’s really important.
Pam Kosanke: Just, it’s so important and there’s just not enough people fighting and being, have the awareness and attention and focus on it. I know, there’s a big, dedicated group of women’s rugby players right now that are trying to fight it, but it’s too few right now. And now the NCAA, my understanding is that there’s been some new bands put down there too. So oh, this is a runaway train that is deadly, literally deadly.
Cade Hildreth: No, it’s a historic moment in history. And I think it’s one of those moments where do you stand up. Do you stand up and, and share your voice and share your perspective on it? And I’d encourage everyone to do that. I don’t have all the answers either. But I thought like just on a practical level, how do you in addition to posting on social media, having conversations doing podcast writing to legislators, it’s all those actions you can do.
But for all the kids out there who are gender expansive, non-binary, trans, or other identification in that area and their parents, I thought like, should we just have meet-ups in the park where it’s like all genders are welcome or all genders expressions are welcome, let’s come play some Frisbee, some soccer, some rugby. I think that sometimes there’s some grassroots approaches like that, too. So that’s something that I’ve been thinking about personally.
Pam Kosanke: I love that. It’s almost like you remember the list that I set out to you [inaudible 01:02:11] sports like that same list goes on for athletes of all genders and identities and trans athletes, it’s more important than ever, and there’s not enough people speaking out. And I think the first and foremost, it’s like, get educated, get involved, don’t let it be out of sight out of mind, fight, let’s take some action. But you’re right, it’s like just creating welcoming, inclusive safe space environments at the grassroots level is just critical.
Cade Hildreth: And I don’t think sport is just about … I think all the focus in this conversation is on the competition, what’s going to happen in the competition, and what … tell me if you agree with this. But for me, in my experience, across the board, some of my favorite moments, yes, there are some great ones in competition. But by gosh, do I love that moment, cleaning up next to a teammate before taking the pitch, just laughing and chatting and catching up on the night before and joking with each other.
When you’re sweaty afterward, you’re taking those cleats off, when you’ve got the bag over your shoulder, and you’re walking to where we’re going to stay that night as a team, when you’re watching game tape in the dark together. Like there’s so many things around sport that are not the competition and I think that’s what gets lost in this conversation.
So for me on the grassroots level, I’m like how can I just sit on the side the field (?digging) up next to a gender-expansive kid, then yeah, play the game, have some really good time. But all those things around sport that they may not get to do and I wouldn’t want them to lose, like to provide some of those opportunities. And so the parents that are thinking about this, please open your mind too and realize it’s not just the competition, sports is a really far-reaching experience.
Pam Kosanke: I love that you’ve brought it there and it’s so true. I was just having this memory, I was telling Tracy about this the other night. I was coming back from … look coaching 12-year-old boys basketball rec league has been a quite a journey experience for me. And we’ve had our ups and downs.
But there was this moment in the car the other night where we had at a silly practice, the attention spans are very, very small, so you learn something, but you’re pretty much scrimmaging and having fun all the time. And it’s just kind of a mess and we’re not the best. Alright, we’ve won one game, and we … still the team is having still a lot of fun.
But we’re in the car and I was playing Lauryn Hill, and I was just like playing in the car and the kids were … three boys were back, they were laughing, and they were playing some of their phone games and stuff but they all started singing one of the songs. And it was this reminder to me of like being in the backseat of my mom’s minivan with my softball pals and my soccer pals singing and dancing and saying stupid stuff and like reminiscing about the game and the practice.
Like you said, none of it was about on-the-field stuff. Those moments in the backseat of that car laughing and singing …
Cade Hildreth: That’s sport.
Pam Kosanke: That’s sport. That’s my … and I just was like so proud of the boys in the back and I was excited for them and it was not winning or losing, it was about the experience, it was the teamness. And they were just … they have each other’s backs and I just … you’re right, like, that’s what we’re missing. And it’s life and death, it really is truly life or death. To exclude these kids from athletics is criminal and it’s horrible, it’s awful.
Cade Hildreth: And we’ve done a lot of this before, we’ve excluded women from sports, just women, don’t go across the half-court line when we do let you play basketball and it’s … we can look over history, it was around race. So we’ve exclusion is part of how we oppress groups of people.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah.
Cade Hildreth: And I remember, on my industry that I remember, because rugby is interesting, it is … you explained it as a safe haven. And I think part of it is that it’s nonconformist, people aren’t immediately drawn to rugby, something gets them there. It’s very physical, it’s very nonconformist, it’s very powerful.
So I was driving to a rugby game and there were three of us. And all of us in the car, who are rugby players had moms who are lawyers. Now you’ve got to go back a generation, so they were all … one of the only women they knew, like a generation where there were not female lawyers and all of us had moms who were lawyers. And what’s the chance of that?
So what I think it does is it shows that the nonconformist parent gives freedom to the nonconformist child who is now is able to self-express and hopefully be an advocate for the next generation of people who can go be themselves and express in the ways they want. It doesn’t have to be rugby if it’s not that, but it was a moment that brought a lot of clarity in my mind that I was like, wow, this started before us, there’s a reason we’re in this car.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah. I love that. One the roots, like getting into the rugby world, in some cases, I used to think rugby felt like you’re in a land of misfit toys, where we all kind of landed together. And there’s something about us that’s just really unifying, but it’s all of those kinds of puzzle pieces.
One of my favorite things recently is this idea that there’s actually multiple astronauts, like members of NASA in women’s rugby.
Cade Hildreth: Really?
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, like two astronauts that I know of that I played rugby with. And I’m thinking, what are the stats on that one?
Cade Hildreth: It’s just below odds.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, like the odds of that, like as a feeding ground, women’s rugby feeding ground into NASA, like what an interesting recruiting space. And another one’s like a neuroscientist, somebody or the other, some name I can’t even pronounce.
Cade Hildreth: That’s the thing once you practice breaking down boundaries, you apply in other areas.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, like so, you’re right. It’s just so yeah, the rule breakers, the barrier breakers, the shapeshifters, all that stuff, that is rugby, so yeah. Going back to the previous part of the conversation about this experience in rugby that was wow, just this idea of home, something there that we’re all just commonly linked to and this idea that just, I don’t know, a place for everybody.
Like I didn’t … I’ve got to tell you, I didn’t realize how probably gendered, sexist and I’d even say like, I don’t know, all of the isms like that I was, as a female athlete in like the pretty blonde ponytail world of softball, and soccer. And then getting into rugby, and you’re thinking shapes and sizes and smalls and bigs and oh my god. It was a different world for me even to challenge my own perceptions of what beauty was, what an athlete look like.
And I realized how biased I was. We’re all biased, but I didn’t realize how much I was, even though I was “this feminist”, I really realized the world of … I was not exposed to that world, and taught me a lot.
Cade Hildreth: Exposure and proximity matter and that’s part of why we need it as much inclusion as possible in sport. All the good religious texts and all the good spiritual texts talk about communion with other people, sharing meals, and getting in proximity, because when we’re in proximity with people, we see them as human.
Pam Kosanke: Oh proximity, that’s a great point.
Cade Hildreth: It’s when we see them as human, then we see them as equals for the first time. And so I think for breaking down bias for me, it’s always as much proximity as possible. And so sport is a great venue where there’s something else that gets people to come together. So I just think it’s really important to keep it as inclusive as possible.
So how can people support you, partner with you, grab a sports big? Get to know more about you or generally stay in touch?
Pam Kosanke: Awesome. Well, SportBigs.com is my jam, so you can always get me there. @SportBigs is also a social handle for us. Pam@sportbigs.com, that’s my email. So we’d love to hear from anyone that is interested or wants to carry the conversation forward or share something cool. And yeah, that’s how it works. I’ve got a couple other, well, I’ve got five other email handles, but that one’s the best one.
Cade Hildreth: We’ll stick with that one because it’s easy to remember. Well, this was so much fun and a really important conversation. And I just appreciate the time you took today. It was so great to connect.
Pam Kosanke: Okay, I really appreciate you reaching out and certainly taking the time to expose stories like mine and just have this conversation. And I can’t wait to hear how other people are, what they’re thinking, and what they’re feeling and get other stories shared about experiences in women’s sports. And thanks for everything you’re doing, I appreciate the time.
Cade Hildreth: I appreciate it too and hopefully it propagates conversations about this all over the world.
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, let’s do it. Alright, final words: Buy women’s sports stuff!
Cade Hildreth: Yes. Let’s end with that, “Buy women’s sports stuff!”
Pam Kosanke: Yeah, put your money where your mouth is. You’ve got the power to support women’s sports. Money, money, money!