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On The Whistle Podcast | What I Learned About Management on the Ice Hockey Rink

December 29, 2020

Gary Goldberg

Always a player that played to her strengths, building them to their full capacity, Erika Lawler won 3 national championships and a silver medal in the Olympics for ice hockey.

When you have such a storied athletic career, what coaches and lessons stand out? In this episode of the On the Whistle podcast, I sat across the mic from Erika Lawler who now lives, works, and plays hockey in Brooklyn. We talked about her career on the rink and what she values in a coach. Erika and I discussed:

  • Transitioning from a parent-coach to a coach
  • The qualities of a great coach at all levels
  • What it feels like to win a silver medal in the Olympics

 

 

Listen now

 

 

Full transcript

Gary Goldberg:

Hey, guys. Gary, here. Before we get to the show today, I wanted to highlight our sponsor, SportsEngine. SportsEngine is dedicated to making the life of a youth sports volunteer easier. Through their applications, people are able to save time on administrative tasks, allowing them more time to focus on developing their athletes. More than a million teams, leagues and clubs use SportsEngine every day to run their websites, promote their programs and to collect sign-ups. They also offer an easy solution for getting uniforms delivered directly to their athletes homes. It's called SportsEngine Gear. And you can check it out at sportsengine.com/gear to get started. Great. Now, onto our show.

Announcer:

You're listening to On The Whistle, the podcast that explores the impact that coaches, teachers and mentors from youth sports organizations and schools have on young people's lives. Let's get into the show.

Gary Goldberg:

Welcome, everybody. Super excited to have with us today a phenomenal guest, Erika Lawler. Erika has had a really storied career, as not only an amateur hockey player, but I think as well, professional hockey player. And she had a tremendous career at Cushing Academy, then went on to win some NCAA championships at the University of Wisconsin. And then from there went on to become, not only a national team player, but an Olympic player, which for me, I feel is like the ultimate pinnacle. And as well, has played for the Boston Blades. So, Erika, thanks for joining us for this week's edition of On The Whistle.

Erika Lawler:

Thank you for having me. This is great.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah. It's nice to talk to you. It's nice to see you. Erika, where are you right now? I failed to ask you that in the pre-interview section. So, where are you Zooming in from?

Erika Lawler:

I'm Zooming in from Brooklyn, New York. I'm from Massachusetts, but I'm Zooming in from Brooklyn. I live here now.

Gary Goldberg:

Exciting.

Erika Lawler:

I know.

Gary Goldberg:

So, to kick things off, I'd love to just get a little background for our audience. When did you get exposed to hockey? And I'm assuming at some point you fell in love with hockey, because you sure it did play a lot of it.

Erika Lawler:

Yes, yes, yes.

Gary Goldberg:

So, what was that beginning like?

Erika Lawler:

So, the beginning, really simple. When you're a kid you're just playing and being exposed to different things. And I think my parents, we didn't have a lot of money, but they tried to expose me to as much as they could. So, we'd go down to the local parks and stuff and they'd flood out a rink, a local rink, not even a mile down the street from my house. And my dad would take me and my sister. My sister would lace up figure skates, and I wanted the hockey skates. So, we'd just go on the ice and skate around and just play.

Erika Lawler:

My dad played hockey. My dad knew how to skate. He knew hockey. He's very passionate about it. And I think that kind of energy can rub off on kids a lot. Right? When a parent is really passionate about something. I distinctly remember how happy he would get to take us to do those things. It was like a bonding time to bond with dad. We had fun playing hockey.

Erika Lawler:

And so, I started, I want to say, I don't know, I was probably like four or five when I started skating, but not recreationally. I started in a league when I was seven. But I was introduced to skating first, and that was just on local palms and rinks, and stuff like that, like a cheaper version just to make sure that I liked it before my parents really, signed me up and had me do the learn to hockey and all that stuff. So it was just, yeah, I was lucky cause my dad played, my aunt played. And it was a family thing. And that translated into more of a passion. And yeah, that love that you were talking of about, it's very important.

Gary Goldberg:

Erika, to talk about the elephant in the room, you're little?

Erika Lawler:

Yes, yes. Yes.

Gary Goldberg:

So, for those of you who don't know, Erika, according to Wikipedia is four feet, 11 inches.

Erika Lawler:

Yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

So, you and I share something in common.

Erika Lawler:

Oh, you're little too.

Gary Goldberg:

I was a little guy. I was a late bloomer and a little guy, but I never became a great athlete. You obviously went to the height of the experience, you becoming an Olympic athlete and a professional athlete. But so did the adage work for you, it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight and the dog? I mean, were you just a tenacious little...

Erika Lawler:

Yep. That's exactly what it is. I want to say, playing hockey wasn't always easy for me being the only girl. I went through a lot of... And I'm an emotionally sensitive person. I mean, I go through emotional extremes. And I think when I was a kid, especially struggling with, "What is my place in the world? I'm the only girl playing with boys." I didn't see a lot of women playing hockey back then. I didn't see the future. The Olympics weren't even an option until I was sixth or seventh grade. Right? The '98 Olympics was the first thing to hit that really gave me that long-term goal to go after. But I didn't see women playing anywhere and I really felt alone a lot of the time.

Erika Lawler:

So, the sadness and the anger that came along with that and the fear, that sort of... When people started to be concerned about my height, when I got a little older, I was thinking, I mean, you think height discrimination is hard, but that's nothing compared to the some of the stuff that I've had to deal with in the past. Being the only girl, and some of the feelings of isolation there, and the fear, and the way that you're able to translate all those emotions into your sport, especially when people are telling you that you're not going to make it somewhere because of things you can't control. That always made me more angry than anything.

Erika Lawler:

And anger can work really well on the ice or you can really, you can use sports as an outlet for all that. And I think, I got to a point where I was laughing at the height things, by the time I got there, right? By the time I was in high school, when people started to say, "Oh, she's not going to play in college because of her height. She'll never be able to go to the Olympics because of her height." All that stuff was just making me laugh to be honest, because I was like, "You have no idea where I come from. You have no idea what I feel inside of me when I'm playing."

Erika Lawler:

And I knew that I was an energy player, and I always have been. And I am a high energy person. And that all stems from the hardships I had to go through emotionally. Right? In hockey always being that outlet for me. So, I knew how to use the sport. And I knew what I was feeling inside. And I just was like, for you to just reduce me to what I am on the outside is ignorant, and very short-sighted.

Erika Lawler:

And I think as an athlete in any sport, regardless of what shape or size you are, so it's part of your passion and responsibility to understand that there's also a very specific role for you. If you want to build that out, you can do that. I was a small, quick, really fast player, who was great at shifting momentum and building momentum. My energy was very contagious.

Gary Goldberg:

Even at your height?

Erika Lawler:

Even at my height, exactly. And that's how I got everyone's attention too, right? Is all that. And those were all things that I love to do. So, the height thing really was more of a motivator than anything. It really triggered me. It got me to laugh at the same time as like, I can't wait to put your foot in your mouth type of thing, was really a motivator for me, as much as I like to deny that it was, and pretend I never even thought about it. Oh, I did, I thought about it a lot. And I knew it was stacked against me. Right? I know the way people thought. I knew that height was going to be an issue, regardless of whether it should have been or not. I knew it was going to be an issue.

Erika Lawler:

And I had to eliminate those fears or those concerns that coaches would have. Because in the recruitment process, when you're watching me against all the other kids and all the other girls in a high school setting, their first question in the back of their head is, "Oh, can she play at the college level?" Right? Like that's it. "And is she going to be strong enough? And is this going to translate, all her skillset is going to translate at the college level?"

Erika Lawler:

And to eliminate those fears, I just had to make sure that I was faster and stronger than everybody else. Right? And I had that whole mindset in high school. And that's where I'd be lying, if I said it wasn't on the back of my mind all the time. I knew that that was going to be something that I'd have to face. And I knew I was going to have to eliminate those concerns. And I just had to work. I had to work my tail off. I mean, I was always the hardest worker on the ice.

Erika Lawler:

My work ethic was one of those things that definitely separated me from people who were, maybe more naturally talented or definitely, had the height thing over me, the height advantage or the size advantage over me. Especially in a sport like ice hockey where there definitely are some advantages that a taller person do have. But there're also, I think what people forget about a lot, is that a shorter player also has some height advantages that taller players don't have, like low center of gravity. Right? That's one. And agility in...

Erika Lawler:

So, technical skating was my thing. And I identified that as a strength early on. And I was always a player that played to my strengths, and made sure that I built those out to the best of my capacity, and just managed those weaknesses that weren't really my role as a smaller player.

Gary Goldberg:

What role did coaching have, as you went from middle school to high school, to college? Did you have a strong high school coach?

Erika Lawler:

Yes.

Gary Goldberg:

Because it sounds like it starts off with your dad as your mentor.

Erika Lawler:

Yes, it definitely [inaudible 00:09:42].

Gary Goldberg:

And that relationship obviously pleased you, because when you said, "It really made me happy to see how happy he was playing with us."

Erika Lawler:

Yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

That's a very common theme that I hear with a lot of people that are on the show, is the beginning is often with a mom or a dad. And the relationship begins by feeling some self-esteem and some sense of purpose in the family unit as, "I understand this gets me closer to them. And seeing them happy makes me feel loved."

Erika Lawler:

Yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

And so, it starts with that little emotional connection. But then good parents and good players, need more.

Erika Lawler:

Yes.

Gary Goldberg:

Right? You need to really, I mean, a dad can only go so far with a kid. And at some point somebody needs to sit you down and say, "Hey, you know what, Erika? Your dad might love you, but I'm your coach and you're not using your left hand properly." You're not, whatever the thing is. Right?

Erika Lawler:

Yep.

Gary Goldberg:

And so, when did that transition happen and how did it affect you? And if you want to give a shout out to any people along the way that really changed your trajectory.

Erika Lawler:

I know. I get very emotional when I talk about mentorship, actually in coaching, because it was, and it is so important. And I have such deep gratitude for those people who stepped in my life when I needed them.

Gary Goldberg:

And Erika, that's the purpose of the show.

Erika Lawler:

Yeah. Oh, really?

Gary Goldberg:

To highlight that and to let the world know, we appreciate those people. And without those people, the fabric of our youth in our communities would be weaker, had it not been for their invisible work that goes into raising so many of us indirectly in their own way. And my wife and I have seen it with our children and their coaches. And so, that's the essence of what we really like to get to with On The Whistle.

Erika Lawler:

I love that. I love it. I remember distinctly I had this moment at the opening ceremonies where I was sitting in the... After we walked in, we sat down and I was just in complete utter shock and awe, and amazement. But I started crying and getting really choked up in that moment, because all I could think of is, "Wow." There were so many important heroes in my journey to get me here, to experience this very special moment. But I'm the one sitting here. I'm the one who gets to do this. So, that I love that you do that. And it's very important.

Erika Lawler:

I mean, to answer your question. Yes, my dad was definitely really important. But I think every kid gets to a point where they're sick of listening to their parent. And because there is that deep bond of love, right? You feel like there's almost, you don't want to lose that. So, if there's ever any criticism and stuff, you get really... I remember getting really defensive with my dad at certain points. And he was hard on me. It was like a tough love kind of thing. But I also loved that because I didn't want him to treat me any differently than he treated my brothers. So, he treated me just like them. And in his mind he knew our potential. And so, he pushed all of us. But there was a line there that I was like, "You know what, dad? We're not crossing this. I'm not going to listen to you, if you keep going here with me."

Erika Lawler:

And I needed a new coach at that point, because I think I hit my threshold with him where I just was like, "You know what? We need to separate our relationship now. I want you to be my dad. I don't want you to be this person in my life." I needed somebody else.

Erika Lawler:

And in high school, especially, it was a really tough time for me. Like I said, I was a very emotional kid and I have really deep emotional extremes. And so, I needed to learn how to manage all of that. Right? That was a really important part in my journey. And I think what I needed to feel was just support by people and love.

Erika Lawler:

Even regardless of sport, because at a really young age, people get really obsessed with kids that are stars. You start to feel a lot of pressure. And I think in high school, I started to feel a lot of pressure. And it wasn't just fun anymore. I could tell there were so much more to it.

Erika Lawler:

And what my high school coach did, was instilled me with a crap load of confidence, and basically put me in control. I'll never forget when he was like, "Erika, you have everything you need. Right? You have it all. And whether or not you want to make it to that level, that's going to be up to you. You're going to have to put in the work. But right now, we have some things to manage." Right? My anger was something to manage. And I think it all stems from a really pure, good place of just wanting to feel loved and respected, and inadequate. And you know what I mean? But I was really struggling with that at the time.

Erika Lawler:

So, I really needed a coach that believed in me, who also put me in my place when I was getting too angry and taking things out on my teammates and not being a good leader. Right? I needed somebody who respected me and loved me, and who I knew who was there for my best interest, not their own. He was very much like, "You are going places, kids. You got to trust me. You've got to listen to me." Right? And he just met me on my level. And I really appreciated that. It was never like he was the boss, and that he was telling me what to do. He's like, "I'm here for you. Right? And I'm going to be here for you, no matter what, whether it's hockey or whether it's your personal life, or you're going through some hard things outside of here." That always gets brought onto the ice with you. That always gets brought onto the field. Whatever you're going through in life, you have to manage that emotionally and then figure out how to play, with all that.

Erika Lawler:

And he did a great job of telling like, "It's okay to have all those feelings. But when we're here, we're going to have to do a better job managing them." And he just put it all in my lap and was like, "Really, you have a decision to make. Do you want to be the star that I know you can be? Or, if you don't, that's okay, too." Right? He gave me the control.

Gary Goldberg:

It sounds very empowering.

Erika Lawler:

It was. It was a very empowering experience, because at that point I did feel with hockey that the person inside of me, I was losing that. Right? Like, "Does anyone care about me or do they just care about this really great hockey player, who's going to be in the Olympics someday, if she wants to be?" He was like, "I care about you. And hockey is hockey, right? I care about you. But if you want to do this hockey thing, let's do it." And he got me excited about it. Right? And so, did my teammates and all that.

Erika Lawler:

But he was the coach that helped me put all the pieces together. I didn't have to neglect any parts of me. I could be fully me, but also have this great place to go to express myself and enjoy, and not be shy with. I didn't have to be afraid of it. I could be that person and feel proud of it. I could be that person and go for it, wholeheartedly. And I didn't have to separate being the girl at school anymore with the girl on the ice. I could mesh those worlds and be proud of all of them.

Erika Lawler:

And so, I'd say that he was the guy that really... Yeah, Paul Kennedy is his name. He was my coach at Cushing Academy. And I want to say that he was probably the biggest influence in my life at that time, and one of the most important role players in my career. Yeah. It was a turning point for me, for sure.

Gary Goldberg:

When you wrapped up at Cushing and you went to University of Wisconsin, and then you had-

Erika Lawler:

Mark Johnson.

Gary Goldberg:

I would just call it an amazing run there. I mean, was it two or three national title?

Erika Lawler:

Yeah. Three national championships. And he's another coach, right? Mark Johnson. I remember picking Wisconsin, because I personally wanted to go to a school where I knew I wasn't going to be the best player and where I'd have to chase some other players.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah. Again, channeling into that anger and that dry feet.

Erika Lawler:

Yeah. That's exactly how I was motivated. Right? Was like being challenged a lot in that way. And yeah, it's a very, that theme was this recurring theme over the course of my entire career. And what I loved about Mark, is he's another... Feeling comfortable was always my biggest thing. Right? I needed to feel loved and comfortable by all my coaches, including my dad, which is why I had to cut them off at a certain point.

Erika Lawler:

And Mark was one of those really, he's a well decorated. If you ever seen the movie, Miracle on Ice, he was on the 1980 Olympic team. He scored two goals against the Soviets in that semi-final game. Very well established and we'll accomplished. He played in the NHL for over 10 years. I mean, he was a phenomenal hockey player. But when I met him, he was just so humble. And none of it was about him, again, it was all about just love and passion for the sport.

Gary Goldberg:

When a coach makes a player feel loved and gives them a sense of belonging, what does that look like to the player? Is it a choice of words? Is it a choice of physical motions? Meaning, I go on the ice with them. I play catch with them on the beach. I mean, get a little bit more granular with us.

Erika Lawler:

Yes, I totally will. It's he didn't micromanage us in any way. Right? He respected us as people. He empowered us.

Gary Goldberg:

Did he yell at you?

Erika Lawler:

Never, never, ever. I never heard him yell. When he would yell, it would be because, even his version of yelling would be more like it was just disappointment, right? It was just disappointment. It wasn't yelling. He would just straight up, he come into the locker room and be like, "I expect better. I expect more. You're better than this." And it very simple. Something as simple as that, could really turn around the bench. And it just because he gave us a certain level of respect that it's a two way street, right?

Erika Lawler:

If your coach is going to allow you to be who you are and help fine tune you into the roles that he can see you playing, but allow you do creativity and the flexibility to be who you are on the ice, that's what I was looking for in a coach. Somebody who could develop me, but at the same time, appreciate who I was as a player, and never micromanage us on the ice in a way that crushed our creativity, and didn't allow us to play from our heart in our soul.

Gary Goldberg:

What didn't work for you then, Erika?

Erika Lawler:

What I'd have a tough time with is a coach that over coaches, a coach that is too much co-op on the Xs and Os. And a coach that gives us a bedtime. You know what I mean? Sometimes coaches are like, "You can not see your families before games. You have to do X, Y, and Z. Pre-game skate is not optional, it's required." And you know what I mean? All the details are required and never an option.

Erika Lawler:

I love that Mark Johnson, gave us choice and freedom. A lot of other coaches can get really, they try to manage it in a way that they have full control. And that basically takes our decision and our power away from us in ways.

Erika Lawler:

So, I think I was really sensitive to coaches that allowed us to make decisions and respected us as professionals who know how to take care of themselves and who know what they're doing and how to prepare for a game, mentally, physically, and all of it. He just trusted us. And trust looks like, like I said, the ability, he let us make decisions. He let us prepare how we needed to. He didn't force us to wake up at a certain time to go for a team walk. Those were all things that we were able to play around with in our college years to figure out what's best for us as individuals, and what's best for us as performers. And I think that that's really the huge difference between Mark, and other coaches that I had the opportunity to play under in my later years. So yeah, I think that was really important for me.

Gary Goldberg:

Talk about the Olympic experience and the coach for that team.

Erika Lawler:

It was Mark, actually.

Gary Goldberg:

Oh, it was Mark.

Erika Lawler:

I lucked out big time. I mean, I felt so comfortable with him and it was a huge advantage for me, for sure. I mean, I knew all of his drills. I knew what he expected of me. I knew what my role was. I knew how to communicate with him. He knew how to communicate with me. And all that stuff really, really helps a lot.

Erika Lawler:

But there were coaches within the process of that US team that just had a different style. And I could tell that it was adjustment that I had to make. And that's just energy that you burn up a lot of energy, trying to figure out, "Where does this coach see me? How does this coach see me? What kind of role am I playing under this coach versus what kind of role I will play under a different coach?"

Erika Lawler:

Every coach has a different way of execution and sees different players in different places. And you're constantly adjusting to that as a player on the US national team when coaches are coming in and out, right? Coaches are trying out just like players are. And during that year though, or during those four years, the 2006 to 2010 years, there were four different coaches. And every single time, it was such an energy drain to have to go through the motions of like figuring out where this coach sees me. It's a mental game, right? And that can be exhausting, if you're overthinking it, and then trying to please, and all that stuff. But ultimately you have to figure that out, because they're the ones picking the teams.

Gary Goldberg:

And Erika, it's not just on that team, it's in life.

Erika Lawler:

It's in life. Exactly.

Gary Goldberg:

So, when you leave sports from a full-time job or recreational job, or a semi amateur job, and you do enter the workforce, you are going to report to somebody, and that person reports to somebody. And around you, you have peers, you can call them teammates, or you can call them colleagues. But the dynamic that you're talking about remains for all of us in life, because we built big tribes, we've built small tribes, we've worked in different groups. And figuring out where you sit with the person you report to and how they see you, and how you want to be seen, it's a constant dynamic in life.

Erika Lawler:

Oh, yeah. How you want to be versus what you think the reality of how somebody is perceiving you is just, it can be a vicious cycle if you're thinking about it too much.

Gary Goldberg:

Well, the piece that you talked about in high school, where your coach allowed you to combine the two personalities that you thought about yourself, you were both a hockey player, but you were also Erika.

Erika Lawler:

Yes.

Gary Goldberg:

And that, it sounds like there was a little bit of a struggle about those two different things, but this high school person allowed you to combine those. So, that's a really valuable lesson early on.

Erika Lawler:

Yes.

Gary Goldberg:

So, that you can go forward as one person.

Erika Lawler:

Yes. Right.

Gary Goldberg:

Right? And then when you're trying to figure out, "Well, how do I want them to see me?" I believe that kids who have enough self-esteem to know, "See me for who I am. I am who I am. And I have self-esteem because my coach taught it to me or my teacher taught it to me." Right?

Erika Lawler:

Yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

Or whoever it was, my mentor taught it to me.

Erika Lawler:

Yep.

Gary Goldberg:

That allows that interaction to be so much more effective later on in life.

Erika Lawler:

Absolutely. It is, it's so important because I mean, even in later on in life, I've had to go back, right? In my adult, I'm in 10 years removed from sport, but I've had those struggles, and I have to dive back into those days of hockey to really like, "How did I handle this when I was there and then?" Right? It was hard for me there and then. If I have a manager that really just misunderstands me, or like for some reason, we can't connect because our communication style is different or this or that, how did I manage it back then? Oh, I had to have a really hard conversation of like, "Look, I'm not this..." You know what I mean? Communication is key to everything.

Gary Goldberg:

Key to everything.

Erika Lawler:

It really is. And I forget. It's like, "Oh, I'm so sick." Right? I get so frustrated still as an adult. Like, "I'm so sick of always to have to explain." That I'm always having to explain myself. But it's just, that's what [inaudible 00:25:36]

Gary Goldberg:

Part of the process.

Erika Lawler:

It's a part of the process.

Gary Goldberg:

You're never done. It's never done. I looked at some of your Twitter posts and your Instagram posts, and I get a sense that you use kindness as a method to your practices in life. There's posts about equality. There's posts about a lot of reposting positive things that other people have said in order for you to support them on Twitter. And so, I'd love to learn a little bit about what your motivation is or what your instincts are around that characteristic. And where do they come from? Is this just like, "Hey, I'm a nice person and you get along by life by being nice to people. So, why not continue it?" Or is it a little bit more thoughtful and strategic?

Erika Lawler:

I think it's-

Gary Goldberg:

And I'm glad that made you laugh.

Erika Lawler:

Yeah. I actually think that that was a really nice read on your end. Kudos to you for that. I think that kindness now, and it was something I learned really. I grew up in a tough place. I think it was all tough love. Right?

Gary Goldberg:

What do you mean you grew up in a tough place, like a tough town? Was it a lousy-

Erika Lawler:

Yeah. A tough town is like a low income town where-

Gary Goldberg:

What town was it?

Erika Lawler:

It was called Fitchburg, Massachusetts.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah. I know. Well, I grew up in Fall River.

Erika Lawler:

Okay.

Gary Goldberg:

No, it's like Fitchburg but probably just lousier.

Erika Lawler:

I hate saying lousy, because I feel like-

Gary Goldberg:

Oh, they're tough towns. They're mill towns. They're New England towns.

Erika Lawler:

Exactly. It's like a tough love town. It's a tough [inaudible 00:27:04] really. It is. And tough love, it can be tough. It's tough. You're always trying to prove something. But I always saw that as a very positive thing as much as I really lacked gratitude as a kid. I think it's because I was growing up in this area that I was seeing like so many really hard things happening. I mean, I went to school with a lot of really low income kids. And some of this, I had to figure out a way to cope with all that sadness. And I think I just tried to push it away and ignore it, and grow numb to it.

Erika Lawler:

And now, as an adult, as I reflect on these things, that there are things that I... I was always a really empathetic kid, I think. And I had to figure out how to manage that in ways that weren't going to really drag me down every single day.

Erika Lawler:

I remember feeling very sad sometimes driving home or driving to school, watching all the kids who didn't have the privilege of getting a ride to school from their parents, walking, and just little things like that. And even the interactions at school where kids would constantly just picking on each other, constantly. It's all a survival game when you're there. So, I think it was more selfish than anything. Right?

Erika Lawler:

I grew up very much protective, only caring about myself because that's what you have to do to get through. So, I think the kindness now is like, that's where joy comes from really, for me.

Erika Lawler:

And in the later half of my career, I want to say college on, I found so much inspiration and motivation in my teammates really. They were the bulk of my motivation at that point. The pressure could get really hard. The self-talk, wasn't always constructive. It could be disruptive at times. Right? I wasn't always very kind to myself. But I found that as a way to push myself. I think it was this backwards process of pain and pleasure. I had this really negative self-talk thing going on to like, I don't know, I learned this weird backwards way of motivating myself with it.

Erika Lawler:

But I think what my teammates did was provide me with that joy, and got me out of my own head a lot. My teammates did. And when I would watch them, I really felt so empowered by them. And I mean, when you're surrounded by that many women who are so passionate and driven, just like you are, I mean, that elevated me to a level that I can't even put into words. It really is, that the whole teamwork, as cliche as those teamwork, motivational quotes sound, they truly are the sixth player, or whatever you want to call it. I don't even know. But they just needed that.

Gary Goldberg:

Erika, what is it like standing on the podium for the Olympics when you guys got the silver?

Erika Lawler:

Yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

But just share with our listeners, just the feelings around that time. I mean, you're the first Olympian I ever talked to that won a medal in real person.

Erika Lawler:

I had to grab a sip of water for that before I start talking about that one. We catch a lot of heat, the women's [inaudible 00:30:22].

Gary Goldberg:

You guys still?

Erika Lawler:

What's that?

Gary Goldberg:

You guys do, because you didn't win the gold?

Erika Lawler:

Well, no, not because we didn't win the gold, but because we cry when we lose the gold. Because we cry, we got a silver.

Gary Goldberg:

I don't know. I cry at everything. I couldn't take my kids to Kung Fu Panda. I cried at the end of the Kung Fu Panda, and all those Disney movies with my kids. I mean, I cried everything.

Erika Lawler:

Yeah. It makes sense people, if it's out of context, right? If you're watching it like on television, it's this amazing production. And you see these incredibly, well accomplished athletes getting a silver medal. And for us, it's a little bit more black and white. It's like, we were trained to beat Canada, right? As in women's ice hockey, there's two powerhouses, and it's the US and Canada. And our whole mindset and our whole training, all the mental skills sessions that we have are all surrounded by like, "How are we going to feel confident when we get on the ice, so that we can beat this one team?" And it's one game that matters. And in that moment, we're on the blue line, we just lost that game. And that's like the symbol of failure really. Right?

Erika Lawler:

We almost learn the silver medal as like a symbol of, "Oh crap, we failed and we have a lot of work to do." And that's the pinnacle. The Olympics is the pinnacle. That's the one tournament that matters most. We won world championships in between that time. But the Olympic gold is the one that's most important.

Gary Goldberg:

Are you able to turn it into gratitude?

Erika Lawler:

Absolutely. It took me a lot of time, really. I mean, I think I've just found that, really. And it's sad and I'm not proud of that. I'm not proud that it took me so long to feel good with it. But that's just what we learn. And as bad as it looks from the outside sometimes, and as ungrateful and as discouraging and off-putting, as that must make a lot of people feel when they're watching the Olympics, and they're so proud of their athletes. And they're like, "What? You're silver or what?" What they also don't understand is how many more opportunities come out of a gold medal than a silver, really.

Erika Lawler:

I mean, the girls in 2018 that won gold, the media is all over that. And you're able to spread the game a lot more. You're able to make some money after. You don't make money training. You're able to make a couple dollars after you win a gold medal. You don't get those opportunities with a silver.

Erika Lawler:

So, there's a lot that goes into it. But I think mostly it's just the emotion of, look, it's a very polarizing process when you're in women's ice hockey. And that silver medal is, it's success, if you win. It's failure, if you lose. And in that moment, we're struggling with all sorts of emotions. It's like, it's not just success and failure. And we had just failed. It's also whole, wow, we just had such an emotional experience with this amazing group of women. And that's where the gratitude comes from in that moment of getting the medal. And that gratitude also makes me cry. Right?

Erika Lawler:

So, people are seeing it on camera, in the moment I was feeling grateful for my teammates. I also felt a sense of, "Wow, I let these guys down." Right? So, there's so many emotions that are playing into that, that people don't really understand, because you don't live that life. But you're like a whole career... I mean, I was having like flashbacks in the blue line. I had to disassociate in certain moments because it was so much emotionally that I didn't know how to manage it all. Right?

Erika Lawler:

And there was a moment there where I just went completely numb and I'm like, "Why don't I feel anything right now? I have to feel. I mean, I'm so emotional. I should be feeling this. I should be crying. I should be throwing my arms up in the air. I should be feeling all of the things." But I remember not being able to even wrap my mind around what was happening. It was just very loud in there. And it felt like a millions of screaming, Canadian fans. So, excited for the other team that had just beat us. You know what? I'm standing there like, "Yay." This is, I feel humiliated and ashamed in ways because I couldn't... All these things that I used as motivation, like my hometown, I let down my hometown. I let down my parents. I let down my high school. I let down my college.

Erika Lawler:

No, I'm just projecting all the thing onto all of these things. That's what I used as my motivation. That's what I took with me. That was my heart and soul. It was all of those people and all of those experiences that got me there. And so, when I'm in that moment, I was just like, "I let everyone down." I was really, in ways it was mostly just letting myself down. But because I had used that as motivation, then you have the fallout of that when it doesn't work out.

Gary Goldberg:

Is there a gratitude today?

Erika Lawler:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

And how do you frame that up now? So, the things that motivated you, whether it's your town or your family, or whatever, do you think back on those and say, "Boy, I'm so lucky to have those and I still have them."

Erika Lawler:

Yeah, I do. It is. And right now it's, I'd say after it, you have so much gratitude for anything and anyone involved in the process, but you forget to feel proud of yourself. And so, as gratitude for others is easy for me, but giving myself grace and allowing myself love, and allowing myself respect and pride, it has been mentally the hardest thing for me to undo inside my brain. Right?

Gary Goldberg:

Got it.

Erika Lawler:

Because a lot of it, like I said, it was always a struggle between self and sport, and the identity piece, what was more important. Right? Because you sacrifice so much of yourself for the game. And so, that got really confusing to me at times. And I would have given anything for it. That's how much I cared really. And I went to the extremes. I always felt like the path to the Olympics did like walk a fine line with self-destruction anyways. Right? So, but you can't, it's extreme highs and lows, and you have to figure out how to do both.

Gary Goldberg:

Erika?

Erika Lawler:

Yep.

Gary Goldberg:

I know you've played a thousand games, 2000 games, 10,000 games. You've played for some of the most competitive teams globally in the world. You've represented the United States. So, you represented effectively me.

Erika Lawler:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gary Goldberg:

Right?

Erika Lawler:

Yep.

Gary Goldberg:

It's really exciting. And all that stuff, it's very empowering. And I can tell your passion and energy. Like you said, you're an energetic player. I think you're an energetic interview. I'm curious, with all the wins and losses, what did you gain more from, the wins or the losses?

Erika Lawler:

I would say is neither. I think I gained from realizing that I shouldn't be so attached to outcome really. It's really not about either of those things. I've gained the most from having wild success and wild failures, and learning that that's at the end of the day, ultimately not what's most important, right? That it's actually, it's unlearning that that's not the thing that matters most, is probably what I've taken away, that's most important. It's as much as you've, it's probably been beaten into everybody, it's about the process and what you learn on the way, that you have to figure out how to appreciate and be resilient from, and everything, all the ups and the downs, and everything in between.

Erika Lawler:

It's about finding a way to have gratitude in moments where you're in extreme lows. And to get you out of it in a way to also be humble when you're experiencing these highs, and realizing that grounding yourself inside of all those people, right? Grounding yourself inside of all the stuff that really matters. And that's just love and support, and care, and concern, and just respecting people around you and your teammates. And really just, I want to say rallying around those really core beliefs. That core belief system is really, always needs to be the center of everything you do. And because, I don't know, like I said, you get high and you get low. And neither of those things are going to be good, if you're not grounded in ways, right?

Gary Goldberg:

They can both be very unhealthy and very dangerous.

Erika Lawler:

Exactly, very dangerous and very [inaudible 00:38:34].

Gary Goldberg:

Do you still play hockey?

Erika Lawler:

I play roller hockey more often because I'm in Brooklyn. There's not a lot of ice. I actually, I have an Instagram account with one of my best friends, Kelly Nash, who I met in college. It's called the Brooklyn Bladers. We've been playing at local, like basketball courts, once a weekend. We get like a group of girls or anyone actually. We've got a few guys going too. Just a group of us that play every once a week. And we have now a little small group of lessons to do with some kids on the weekend. So, it's been fun. There's unfortunately not a lot of ice though.

Gary Goldberg:

Erika, if people want to talk to you or learn about you, what are some of your social media handles and how do they connect with you?

Erika Lawler:

Instagram is probably the best one. I'm not great with Twitter. I want to get into TikTok, but I'm not quite there yet.

Gary Goldberg:

Good luck.

Erika Lawler:

Yeah. It seems like there's some real cool-

Gary Goldberg:

If I'm too old for that, well, you're too old. I'm way too old. I don't know, that's too edgy.

Erika Lawler:

I know. I feel like I need to be more adaptable. But I'd say Instagram, definitely.

Gary Goldberg:

So, what's your Instagram handle?

Erika Lawler:

It's Erika Lawler too at whatever, just Erika Lawler.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, right.

Erika Lawler:

I was going to say at gmail.com, but that's not even...

Gary Goldberg:

Erika, it's super cool to talk to you.

Erika Lawler:

Great to talk to you.

Gary Goldberg:

And you're an awesome inspiration. And I hope people do take the opportunity to reach out to you and connect with you. And I think if you're listening to this and listening to Erika, tell her story about the impact our coaches had, and you too feel that there was a coach or mentor, or a teacher in your life that made you feel similarly, that made you feel loved and confident, we'd love for you to reach out to your coach.

Erika Lawler:

Yeah, yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

So, one of the things I always like to try and close with is, just call your coach, because he or she may want to hear from you.

Erika Lawler:

Yeah, absolutely. Write them a letter or call them.

Gary Goldberg:

Write them a letter, give them a ring, shoot them a text, "Hey, coach, thinking about you. Love you. Thanks for everything."

Erika Lawler:

Yeah, absolutely. Definitely.

Gary Goldberg:

Cool. Thanks, Erika.

Erika Lawler:

Awesome. Thank you so much. This is great.

Announcer:

You've been listening to On The Whistle. For more, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player, or visit us at onthewhistle.com.

 


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