I have known Shelley Russi since I was in elementary school when I babysat her daughters at times when she was refereeing. During that time, I got to know Shelley well and ever since, I have admired her ability to bring out the best in others. In early 2020, I graduated from Washington State University with my master’s degree in Sport Management and found myself living at my parents’ house in Northern California; trying to figure out what to do next. While I was always involved in sport (swimming, water polo or rowing crew) I was constantly focused on performing at an elite level. Growing up in Alameda, California, I was blessed with many opportunities to play different sports; whatever was being played, I was playing it. For 15+ years I was on elite club swim teams and eventually walked-on at a Division 1 institution as a dual sport athlete. However, this led me to only view sport from one side – the athlete.
During the COVID Pandemic, I started working with Shelley and ref-ology.com. Shelley challenged me to view sport (specifically basketball) from a new perspective. This opportunity to see sport from a neutral, third side view has opened my learning experience in ways I had not previously considered. In addition to helping prepare presentations to help teams and players also adjust the narrative they carry about officiating; I facilitated the three discussions: Embodying Equality through Officiating. I realized that part of the reason I love sport so much - and why I can relate to it so easily - is because regardless of my point of view, I am able to use sport as my lens for viewing social issues and change. Even the referee/officiating perspective pushed me understand multiple party frustrations, to connect with others’ experiences and to work to provide inspiration to others. For the group who is tasked with providing fairness and integrity to have to also experience the same systemic inequities as the rest of society spoke to me to continue to work hard to help others have a more consistent “free” experience in their attempts to perform at their personal best. Like the ‘Elf on the Shelf’, a Christmas tradition that describes the “scout” elf experience, I found that by facilitating the Embodying Equality through Officiating discussions, I was able to ‘observe more and listen with the intent to learn’ (Scott Bennet’s slogan). While the participants varied in age, gender, region, ability, race, ethnicity, and experience, I was able to learn from each member simply by shifting my lens in how I viewed each experience and situation.
In the chaos of the coronavirus world we live in, it is easy for people to get frustrated and focus on what is not happening currently in life or to ruminate on missed opportunities. Through this work experience, I am now more skilled to offer to those who are in a “stuck position” a simple suggestion to pivot. Try on a new lens to view a current situation. At the end of the day, change is hard, takes practice and forced or not, it is difficult for many to adapt. However, when we make a conscious and intentional effort as a group to try on different lenses, it will allow us each to grow, for sport to grow and for the system to be more inclusive encouraging collaborative dialogue. Hopefully, sport will continue to be used as a platform for making positive change in society where all voices are freely heard.