Lynne Roberts: My Job Is To Graduate Confident, Empowered Women

Feb 1, 2023, 4:18 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – February 1 is National Girls and Women In Sports Day and Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts is proud her main job empowering and graduating confident women to be some of our next leaders and innovators.

We often talk about the hurdles to being elite and having a long career in sports for men, but we rarely stop to think about how it is even harder for women.

A lot of progress has been made since Title IX in recognizing, appreciating, and celebrating women’s power and value in sports, but there is still a lot of work left to accomplish. It is Robert’s hope that her work as a head coach helps to continue pushing that progress forward, opening new doors and horizons for women in sports in the future.


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Challenges And Changes For Women In Sports

Roberts has spent her whole life involved in some form or another in sports and athletics. As a college basketball player herself from 1993-1997 at Seattle Pacific and now as a coach, Roberts has experienced every challenge thrown women’s way to climb the ladder, as well as witnessing first-hand the positive changes taking place for women in sports.

“I’ve seen it change, slowly, in terms of it’s not as much of the ‘man’s world’,” Roberts said. “It is harder as a female and I think, sometimes maybe the best way to say it is, as women, sometimes you only get one shot. If you- you know, for circumstances in or out of your control you get fired, or lose your job, not very often do those women get rehired. There is a little added pressure there, if that makes sense, but I think the way that changes is more and more women getting involved in it. The pool just gets bigger, and the success gets more broad.”

One of the biggest hurdles women coming up in any male-dominated arena tend to face is the myth that there can “only be one”.

A few weeks ago, Roberts discussed the importance of having powerhouses like Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer championing working together while still being competitive to create an overall better product for everyone involved.

In her own sphere of control, Roberts has made it a point of teaching her team there is a place for everyone and that it’s a matter of finding what your niche is within the bigger picture. One of the tactics Roberts discussed might even sound a little familiar to Ted Lasso fans.

“I think as a coach, what I do to foster that is to celebrate everybody,” Roberts said. “We give out awards after games- we give out little army men and it goes to people who took a charge, made the extra pass, rebounds, assists so that after games we aren’t just applauding the leading scorer. It’s all about the team. Little micro-things all the time. Anytime we do something well, we celebrate it- whoever it is. Elite teams always have a super-star, but they aren’t just the super-star. You have to get everyone to buy into that and it’s hard.”

Making Something Of Nothing

Roberts took over a women’s basketball program at Utah that had been struggling for a long time back in 2015. The journey to where they are in 2023 (ranked No. 7 in the country) has been anything but linear and far from easy. Reaping the rewards for having a vision and sticking to it has been particularly sweet for Roberts and her staff, though, as she put it, they are far from satisfied.

“It’s very validating. We’ve worked hard,” Roberts said of growing the women’s basketball program at Utah. “Gavin, Kendall, and I have been here the whole time and when we took over, it was pretty flat lined. We’ve had some good years. Last year was a great year. I don’t want good and great; I want to be elite. Part of that is national recognition, fan attendance, buzz, hype- all of that matters. It’s been very validating because the moment I got here it’s been a priority. Now that we are putting a product on the floor that is legit, I think people are getting behind us. It’s awesome.”

Seeing pundits both locally and nationally starting to appreciate her team and athletes as the rock stars that they are has also been rewarding for Roberts.

What makes Roberts most proud, however, is seeing her team rally around their teammates when they are having unprecedented success. That applies to no one more than transfer forward Alissa Pili who recently has been listed on the Late Season Top 20 Watch List for the John R. Wooden Award.

“What I am proud of with that is how the team has embraced her,” Roberts said. “There is not jealousy or ego on this team. You have to have that to maintain improvement and keep getting better and staying connected. You have to have that. It’s a credit to Alissa being just an awesome teammate and all about winning and it’s a credit to the team for the same thing- being all about winning. It’s great for our program for her to get all of these things and it’s great for her. I’m proud of her.”

Putting An End To “It’s Just The Nature Of The Business”

If you’re a woman in sports you’ve probably heard the phrase, “it’s just the nature of the business” as a justification for getting less, being treated poorly by colleagues, or any other possible transgression at least once in your career. Other common and similar phrases include, “it is, what it is”, “you need to be patient”, “that’s just the way it is”.

Roberts isn’t here for that defeatist attitude and encourages women and other minorities to not be afraid of standing up for what they feel is right and earned. Roberts also knows that in order for others to have that kind of confidence, that it’s on her to set the example.

“I think you have to advocate for yourself and your program when it’s needed, and it can ruffle feathers,” Roberts said earnestly of ending bad justifications. “It can make people uncomfortable. Women can be labeled as the ‘b-word’ and men are just ‘competitive’, right? You have to really not care about that, which, I don’t. I don’t want to be a jerk to anybody, but I will advocate for myself or the program if it’s needed. I think that’s the only option. If you buy into ‘that’s just the way it is’ then you- it doesn’t matter what minority you are, you’re going to get walked all over. I’ll ruffle feathers if I need to. I won’t do it just walking around cuz I can, but if it’s needed, if it’s justified, then I will for sure advocate. I don’t think there is any other way.”

Representation Matters

Last week news broke that professional women’s soccer will be making its way back to SLC after the Royals departed a few years ago much to the city’s dismay. While not her sport, Roberts feels it’s huge for girls and women across the state to have that representation back in their backyard along with some of the great things that are currently happening in women’s collegiate sports.

“I think it’s huge,” Roberts said. “Little girls- every bit of research shows the value of sports for boys and girls. Whether you play after high school or not- it’s such a small percentage of people who get to do that and are talented enough. If little girls are watching a professional soccer team, or come to our games, whatever, they are seeing representation of themselves and that is powerful. Maybe they go outside and kick a ball when they go home, or maybe they sign up for Jr. Jazz or whatever. It doesn’t matter what- they don’t have to be professional; they don’t have to be as intense about it as I am, but being a part of a team builds self-confidence. Being active builds self-confidence.”

Being a part of the solution by building confidence in women is what Roberts says her true calling actually is. Coaching collegiate basketball just happens to be the vehicle by which she gets to touch lives and make that happen.

“I get to use basketball to do it, but my job is to graduate confident, empowered women,” Roberts said. “That’s my job. If we don’t win games, then I don’t get to do that, so there is a double-edged sword there, but that’s my purpose. We get to use basketball and everything it can teach just like Hideki can use soccer and Beth can use volleyball. It’s all the same stuff and the world needs more confident, educated, empowered women. It really does.”

Building Leaders Outside Of Sports

To that point, playing sports only lasts so long and is such a short window for all athletes regardless of gender or the sport being played. That’s why Roberts has been so passionate about getting her team out in the community and experiencing things outside of basketball that they can having meaningful impacts on with “Beyond the Paint”.

“We live in this glass castle- look at everything we get,” Roberts said. “People tell us how great we are (or not). We get a lot of attention, and this isn’t real life. 99.9% of the world struggles with something. I want to give back to the community and spotlight things that need help, but I also want our players to understand how blessed they are and how lucky they are. As women, to use their power for good. Use their attention for good. Realizing that a bad day playing basketball really isn’t that big of a deal.”

Roberts has already seen incredible growth in her athletes from their experiences so far with “Beyond the Paint”. One such athlete has been Teya Sidberry, who Roberts said has begun to branch out on her own as just a freshman in an effort spread strength and kindness where it’s needed most.

“Teya told me yesterday that she’s volunteering with cancer patients who are homeless and can’t afford care, so they are terminally ill,” Roberts said. “She’s signed up to be a part of this group- a non-profit that spends time with people who are dying of cancer and don’t have any healthcare. I was blown away by that and she said it’s because she wanted some balance outside of basketball to give back and that was on her own. That’s very rewarding and very cool.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports


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Lynne Roberts: My Job Is To Graduate Confident, Empowered Women