Book Review: Play BIG – Lessons in being LIMITLESS from the first woman to coach in the NFL

Author: Dr Jen Welter with Stephanie Krikorian
Published by: Seal Press
Reviewer: The Sydney Feminists 

Reviewer comment:  After I volunteered to do this book review, I discovered it was about triumph in American Football! I was reluctant. Not my genre! How wrong I was. Anyone who reads Play BIG will understand how ironic my pre-conceived judgement was. This story is riddled with pre-judgement, prejudice and historic notions of what women can’t do.  

(The review copy was provided courtesy of the publisher).

Play BIG is the trail blazing story of Jen Welter, a sports mad kid who despite being told she couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t make it in sports ....Did!

But Play BIG is far more; it’s a story of an inner burning passion that left Welter open to derision, due to her seemingly disparate interests. Despite outward opposition, she did the hard yards and tapped into her unrelenting drive to follow her dreams. Even when she wasn’t sure what her goals were she followed her instincts and achieved lofty heights beyond anything she ever imagined.

From childhood dreams and youthful mischief to the harsh reality of adult brutality and insecurity - you discover as much about yourself as you do her. The story, at times, retrospectively analyses the experiences and people in her youth that pre-judged her self-assuredness, and how simple misplaced observations can affect an adolescent with attitude. 

Play BIG is a story of Hustle, that extraordinary trait developed by necessity. When you’re poor, and considered unworthy because you are female, you don’t have access to the necessary resources needed to become a Champion in the NFL. So you survive on sweat equity! Jen and her team’s Hustle is real and their ongoing struggle for survival shines a bright light on the not so dark corner of gender bias and pay gap disparity. 

For this woman’s NFL team who broke barriers and won recognition amid staunch prejudice, sometimes the hustle didn’t extend far enough. The struggle was all too real. Stripped back to basics this Elite level team of women got the job of winning games done. Made up of people of many different races and backgrounds, they defied outdated stereotypes. They embraced their differences and weaknesses and made them strengths, forging Champions and lifelong friendships, thereby showcasing that sport thrives on diversity despite gender inequity in funding and acceptance. 
When Welter became the first female to play in men’s professional indoor football, she knew from the core of her spirit it was right.

But throughout her story, her success is met with both praise and criticism, and she disarms her critics with humour. Humour is part of her charm, charm that would win her the respect of the Giants of American Football on their own turf. “When in doubt laugh it out!”.

With a childlike, youthful passion she’s willing to step into chaos and let the people around her be their best by being themselves. She had her feet kicked out from beneath her, was as tough as nails and managed to garner respect within the upper echelons of American Grid Iron. Authenticity became one of her most valuable assets in earning the respect she would need. 

Play BIG shows the absurdity of life and proves perspective is everything. 

Football is a contact sport and as the first female to ever play men’s football she stepped up to take the hits and earn her place on the team. 

As a mentor to juniors she describes an instance where boys were cheating to beat a girl player. Scared a girl might beat them they’d find a way to remove her from the game. She was right. In her first play Jen was blasted by two huge guys at once. She popped right up only to be blasted again, earning the respect she needed (and deserved) and the adulation of the crowd. 

(One of the guys delivering the blows admitted years later he’d questioned his own strength and effectiveness because Welter at 130lbs got up after he’d slammed her with his best.).

Play BIG challenges how men view women and how women view themselves and raises questions about our own preconceived notions of gender and ability.  This story is also peppered with the human plight of inner conflict, sabotage, narcissistic burn, domestic violence and detours from destiny. 

The book gives the reader a glimpse of a Champion as she struggles with indecision, homelessness and distorted perceptions of how she should be in comparison to others. Welter empowers herself when she decides she won’t let her perceived physical inadequacies disadvantage her. 

Play BIG not only weaves through the barriers of resistance and human strength but also its fragility. It has surprising lessons in humility and empathy, as well as harsh truths about labels and being limited by gross assumptions. It gives insight into the doubts confident people have about their abilities yet still finding the fortitude to push through. 

Jen Welter exemplifies through amazing accomplishments to never give up on your dreams, even if you’re ready to break. Don’t give up ... resuscitate.

Despite great success and dominance in US female sporting achievements Jen continues to campaign against the lack of opportunity for women to dedicate solely to their chosen sport as a career, and highlights to the persistent  inequality in gender pay and the lack of recognition that prevails. 
Her success has taken her to the White House, she is a National Ambassador for girls in sport and has campaigned with a slew of celebrities and notable luminaries. 

These football achievements against often formidable conditions are astonishing and inspiring but for Jen Welter would they be enough? Of course not ... As the Play BIG story unfolds it reveals nothing will get in her way as she earns her PhD and takes time out to be a real life Super Hero. 

Play BIG… read it! 


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