6 Smart Tips

Check out our 6 Smart Tips to awaken your competitive edge!

Free Evaluation

Take our free evaluation and test your mental toughness, get an assessment of how mentally competitive you are and what you need to improve!

Important Links

BLOG Archives

Marlene Bjornsrud - BAWSI - Female Athletes On The Move

The Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative (BAWSI) was founded in 2005 by Olympic and World Cup soccer stars Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy and Marlene Bjornsrud.  Bjornsrud, BAWSI’s CEO, has over 30 years experience in management and nonprofit work. Bjornsrud was previously general manager of the San Jose CyberRays women’s professional soccer team. Before her role with the CyberRays she was assistant director of athletics at Santa Clara University, where she supervised marketing and media relations as well as eleven sports.

Girls find their comfort zone on the playground

SZ: BAWSI arose from the remnants of the professional Women’s United Soccer Association which ran from 2001-2003. “The rallying point was a consensus that the full aspirations of women in sports are yet to be realized, and that the full benefits of sports in society cannot be achieved without women.” What’s BAWSI’s role in moving this philosophy forward?

MB: Much of that comes from the thought that in our society a little boy can turn on the television and see athletes that look like him competing. ESPN will put on a men’s paintball championship before it will put women’s basketball, soccer, or lacrosse on the television.  So our sense was that due to lack of media coverage how could we set about to make the invisible side of athletics, the female side, visible? We chose to do it in a meaningful way by aligning with female athletes in the community and involving them at the grass roots level to make a change in the lives of young girls who don’t have the opportunity to have women athletic role models in their lives.

SZ: In what way is BAWSI’s approach unique from other community based grass roots community sports programs?

MB: One distinguishing feature about what BAWSI does that sets us apart from everyone else, is not our curriculum because what we teach is common everyday playground games, hula hoops, kickball, a little soccer and basketball, but that’s not where the magic comes from. The magic comes from who is serving those young girls and that is women athletes, hundreds of professional, Olympic, collegiate, and amateur weekend warriors. We have a belief that every women is an athlete and any woman who cares about young girls especially those who live in poverty and have very little opportunity to be involved in sports, they are the ones going on the playgrounds and that is the distinguishing feature. Beyond the bay area I don’t know of any other organization that has focused on mobilizing the women’s sports community to serve young girls and that sets us apart.

SZ: That’s a great defining feature. What is the time commitment asked of the athletes involved with the school programs?

BAWSI has been welcomed onto 19 campuses and is growing

MB: We ask them to make a commitment for a semester. There are some teams that can’t make a semester commitment but will participate for four weeks. We are not interested in athletes who want to attend once, because that doesn’t build an authentic relationship.  Santa Clara University Women’s Basketball is our shining star in terms of level of commitment. Every year they take on two BAWSI schools in the city of Santa Clara. Team members are on the playgrounds two afternoons a week. The women’s softball team at Gavilan College in Gilroy is the same way. They have a deep commitment year round to the girls that they serve.

SZ: What type of feedback are you receiving regarding the benefits of BAWSI in the schools? What type of benchmarks are you noticing where you can say, “This working it’s a good thing.”

MB: Certainly enough that we keep going and we keep expanding. The number of principals who apply for our programs is getting crazy. At this time we can’t accommodate all the requests we receive to be on campuses. The principal at Washington Elementary in San Jose, which is a very poor community in Santa Clara County, has shared with us that BAWSI is the factor that is allowing the school community of young girls to begin to participate not only on the playground, but it’s also allowing them to build their confidence in the classroom where they are raising their hand more. Teachers are telling us at every single school that often they had never heard the girls speak about college until BAWSI came on campus because the girls had never been around college students. As much as we began as a health initiative there have been a number of factors related to self esteem and confidence that principals, teachers, parents and intervention counselors are talking with us about and saying we want you here every year. That’s why we began a program for the mom’s. The girl’s are the anchor of what we do. They are the rallying point for the athletes but we also noticed early on that as we worked with the girls more and more moms’ would come and watch. A friend of mine from the Hispanic Foundation said, “I would be interested in giving you some seed money to see if you could do something for the mom’s.” We were fortunate to find a Latina elite athlete who has begun the program for moms’ and women that is now bursting at the seams.

If you go to a school in the afternoon where BAWSI is there you will see anywhere from 15 to 50 women working out with an athlete who speaks English and Spanish. The program involves fitness, a fifteen minute session on nutrition and making healthy choices for feeding their families and a few minutes of mindfulness training. So you’ll see mom’s out there in one part of the playground and eighty girls on another. It would be the only time of the week that you would see the females owning the playground.

SZ: What type of growth has BAWSI experienced since it’s inception in 2005?

MB:  Brandi Chastain and I began with seven girls in April of 2005. We fast forward to just a few weeks ago in 2011 we’ve just enrolled our 10,000th girl. In six years we’ve given the BAWSI girls experience to more than 10,000 girls.

SZ: To date which BAWSI accomplishments are you most proud of?

MB: Every time I walk on a playground I experience a huge surge of emotion and it’s not ego or pride. It’s a funny sense of being both honored and humbled that this little idea is actually working. Because when this idea was created by the eight women who sat in my living room in 2005 there was a sense of we really need to mobilize the women’s sports community to do something right and do something good. I am amazed and moved as I watch what’s happening out there and my greatest sense of pride is the number of  athlete’s that have said “Yes.” It’s also a huge tribute to Brandi Chastain who in the earliest stage day in and day out was on the playground every afternoon so that the athletes would see her and say, “If she’s out here I’m going to be out here too.”

SZ: You have an amazing history of involvement in women’s sports and it’s a challenging road. Do you have a favorite quote that has guided you on your professional path?

MB: The incredible highs and lows are like a roller coaster ride.  I love quotes and someone gave me one the year BAWSI began and I keep it on my desk in front of me all the time. “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” Robert H. Schuller. I think of that a lot because even though we are almost forty years into Title Nine being passed as a Federal Law everything in the women’s sport world is still on the level of attempting to do something extraordinary so that has been something that guided me not just with BAWSI but beforehand with the CyberRays and while I was working at the collegiate level.

Building confidence on the playground and in the classroom

Marlene, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to explain how BAWSI works and how it’s influence is growing within communities.

Join BAWSI on Wed. May 4th at the Leavey Center on the Santa Clara University campus for “Game On,” a Sportsapalooza to benefit the Bay AreaWomen’s Sports Initiative. For more information: www.bawsi.org/events/gameon.htm

* Photo credits: Kathryn Hetzner

*Guests featured are not former nor current clients of Susan Zaro

Comments are closed.