Whiteny Douthett & Sarah Bullard
Tenacity Elite Bay Area
Whitney Douthett Masters and Sarah Bullard know how it feels to play lacrosse at the highest possible level. In 2009, they played on the US Team at the FIL World Cup in Prague and brought home a gold medal. Sarah went on to play in the 2013 World Cup, bringing home yet another gold medal for the US. Whitney played in two final fours and a national championship game for Dartmouth University (2007), while Sarah played for Duke University (2011), where she started every game her freshman year, was named an All-American and was twice nominated for the Tewaarton Trophy…. and those skeletal facts hardly skim the surface of their superstardom. I guess you could say they’re kind of intimidating, on paper. If you want proof, Google them.
But both Whitney and Sarah have a tremendous sense of humility and gratitude. They try to channel everything they’ve learned on and off the field into their own coaching, whether that’s a drill or something bigger, an attitude or focus on the little things. Sarah currently works at Wheels Up, a private aviation company, and Whitney works in financial services. Still, they find the time to coach, sharing their lax IQ and showing our Tenacity girls that with a whole lot of grit, determination and positivity, anything is possible.
If you were to tell ninth grade Whitney that she’d eventually play at Dartmouth and then travel to Prague as a member of the US World Cup team, what would she say? Were those conscious goals?
Whitney: I had always been an incredibly competitive kid and absolutely loved playing sports. I started playing soccer and basketball when I was six, but when I went to high school, I had never played lacrosse before. I had no idea what I was doing so my coach put me on defense and told me to be fast and guard specific girls. I ended up LOVING it! I had always wanted to play soccer in college but it wasn’t until later in my high school career that I realized I wanted to play both. But, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would play soccer and lacrosse at an Ivy League school, let alone for the United States National Team. I didn’t think I would make the US World Cup team until the morning that they emailed us!
I am so lucky to have been apart such tremendous programs with a long history of hard work, excellence and tenacity. They have shaped me into the person I am today and have opened so many doors in terms of my education, career and most importantly, lifelong friendships.
What about you, Sarah? Where were you in terms of your lacrosse career when you started high school? What were your goals? Tenacity works with a lot of young, ambitious players, so I’m always curious about the journey and how our perceptions change.
Sarah: I had a similar experience. I was a serious gymnast until I was about ten, and then switched over to team sports to play soccer and ice hockey. I first picked up a lacrosse stick in fifth grade, and absolutely loved it. In high school, just from a time perspective, I really had to focus on one sport outside of school, and there was no question in my mind that lacrosse was the one I wanted to pursue. I did keep playing three sports for my high school all the way through, which I would absolutely encourage all of our girls to do! In 9th, 10th grade, my passion and goals for lacrosse started to grow exponentially in terms of really wanting to be the best player I could be and go as far as I could with the sport. The goals started out more general, and as I got a better sense of what that could look like later on, they became more focused on going to a great academic and athletic university to play, and on one day being part of the U.S. team. To echo Whitney, the sport has been such a tremendous blessing in so many ways and opened so many doors.
You two played together on the 2009 World Cup Team and brought home a gold medal. Whitney, what would you say Sarah brought to that team? Sarah, what would you say Whitney brought?
Whitney: Sarah was one of the younger girls on the ‘09 World Cup Team, so she brought this fresh perspective to the program. She was truly indicative of what the future would bring in college lacrosse: amazing athletes, incredible stick skills and a true sense of the game that us old ladies could barely keep up with :). She was fresh, always worked really hard and made everyone around her better! I am so impressed that she’s continued to participate in the program to this day.
Sarah: Whitney was someone who I really looked up to on the ‘09 team. As she mentioned, I was on the younger side, and Whitney was a seasoned veteran midfielder. She played with amazing tenacity and grit, and truly led by example. She is one of the girls on that team that really paved the way and gave me a tremendous sense of pride and responsibility in carrying out their legacy with the U.S. program.
How do you think those qualities translate into your approach to coaching? You always hear that not every player makes a great coach, and vice versa, but I’d hazard a guess that you guys are awesome coaches. What’s your secret to making a smooth transition?
Whitney: Being a coach was a pretty tough transition for me – I was always so jealous of the girls playing and wanted to be on the field with them! But, I definitely think my experiences at Dartmouth and on the US team have made me a better coach. Amy Patton (coached me at Dartmouth) was one of the best coaches I’ve had and I always try to channel her when I’m coaching. Whether it’s the practice drills I do or the lessons I try to teach through lacrosse, I always think back to what Amy would do. I just want the girls I coach to have the same experience and love of sports that I did.
Sarah: I completely agree! Frankly, since I am lucky enough to still be playing, I sometimes still have a hard time coaching because I want to just get out on the field. I am positive that there are better technical coaches than me, but what I really try to bring to the table to the girls is a focus on the little things that will make you great. That is something I always prided myself on as a player, and learned from the best coaches and teammates at Duke and on the U.S. team. It’s not necessarily the “big play” that is going to make you a champion, but it’s the hustle, the ground balls, the “dirty work,” if you will, on the field that makes you invaluable. That and always being a great teammate.
Sarah, you played at Duke. Whitney, you played at Dartmouth. I imagine that walking on the field wearing those uniforms was a huge source of pride for both of you. How was walking onto the field in a USA uniform different? Is it different? Is it similar?
Sarah: It’s similar and different at the same time. At Duke, and I’m sure on all collegiate teams, you spend so much time with your team that they are absolutely your family. In addition to representing and playing for them, you are representing the legacy of the program, and of the university, and there is certainly a deep sense of pride and ownership in that.
It’s hard to describe, because the love and pride I felt for my Duke team was incredible, but there is something about playing on the U.S. team that just feels bigger. Hearing the National Anthem and knowing that you’re representing the country is a feeling that you can’t put into words. It’s an unbelievable honor, first and foremost, but that comes with a deep sense of obligation and responsibility to put your best foot forward, which is a challenge we all cherish on the team. On the 2013 World Cup Team, our goal was to play the “Best Lacrosse Ever Played,” and we took that very seriously because we knew we were setting the standard for younger girls watching us.
Whitney: I couldn’t agree more with everything Sarah said above. Being a part of the Dartmouth Women’s Lacrosse program is something that I am incredibly proud of and it shaped me into the person I’ve become today. Dartmouth has such a powerful alumni network and the tradition and pride that comes with wearing a Big Green jersey is pretty unbeatable. But there is something a little different about playing for your country and wearing Red, White and Blue. Like Sarah mentioned, it is a huge responsibility and something I took on with pride. It has been such an honor to bring that experience to coaching in the Bay Area – I feel like we both have an idea of what it’s like to play at a top level and what it means to be given that opportunity and that’s what I want to bring to the girls playing for the Tenacity Project.
Throughout your lacrosse careers, you’ve gone through quite a few try-outs. I remember getting myself in such a tizzy before tryouts in high school, and I wonder if any of our Tenacity girls, or even the girls who try out for Tenacity and don’t make it, experience the same thing. Any advice for how to handle the pressure of a tryout? How do you prepare? How do you bounce back from a tryout that isn’t going how you want it to?
Whitney: Try outs are always really tough – there’s no way to get around that. The key things I always kept in mind going into a tryout were the basics that I could control: 1) go into the try out in the best shape of your life, and 2) be the hardest working girl out there. In my opinion, stickwork, passing/catching, dodges can all be taught and worked on. Sometimes things don’t go your way, but that’s when you can focus on the things you can control – talking on defense, outworking the girl next to you, getting the groundball. And stay positive – don’t stick on the little mistakes you made but focus on the good things you’ve done. Know that you did the prep and that you are ready!
Sarah: Tryouts are never really any fun, no matter how many times you’ve gone through them! I still get nervous for U.S. tryouts every year, and this year will be my 9th! One great piece of advice I got was to embrace the nerves you get, because they are a sign that you care, which is obviously a great thing. I worked a lot with our sports psychologist at Duke, Greg Dale, and he really helped me to embrace and cherish the opportunity to play, including embracing the pressure. It has helped to approach each tryout with the mentality to use it as a great opportunity to play hard and demonstrate all the practice I have put into it. Especially with the wallball/fitness/mental preparation that Tenacity emphasizes, all of the girls are definitely capable of approaching tryouts confident in their preparation and excited to demonstrate their game!
In terms of bouncing back from a tryout that isn’t going how you want it to – we all go through a drill/scrimmage, or maybe even a whole day of a tryout that we don’t feel is going as we want it to. The best thing to try to do is focus on what you can control, and what you can do well- things like your hustle, your communication, your team play. Finally, focus on keeping your body language and energy positive. Finding ways to contribute and not bring yourself or your team down with any negativity when things aren’t going well shows a lot about your mental toughness, which any coach appreciates. Every player has off days and coaches understand that, but if you can manage yourself through that and still add value to the team, that’s a big asset.
Both of you work full time outside of the lacrosse world. Can you talk a little bit about how your experience as an athlete contributes to your success in the workplace? How do you balance coaching and work?
Sarah: Being an athlete has played a huge role in shaping my approach and ability to contribute to the working world. A working environment is a team environment, and having the skills to put the team/company first, manage different personalities, and ultimately being willing to do what it takes to make the group successful, is always valuable. In addition, the ability to set goals, and seek and accept critical feedback from a boss, just as you would from a coach, contributes to success in the workplace. Finally, being an athlete has created a mental toughness and ability to persevere through times at work that aren’t going exactly how we want them to, and it’s hard to develop that skill set in many other settings.
Whitney: I currently work in the financial industry as an equity research sales person – it’s a sector and position I’ve been in for almost ten years, which is tough to believe! My experience as an athlete has been a huge contributor to my success in my career. There are so many skills I learned as an athlete and a teammate – time management skills, prioritization, hard work, perseverance through tough times, working with different personalities, the will to win, etc – that translate in my day to day.
I’ve absolutely loved coaching on top of my day to day work. It’s given me an avenue to be able to give back to the sport that I love so much and that has given me so much. It’s given me a terrific outlet and gets me outside almost every day! The girls I coach also keep me young – I’m very in the loop on all of the new social media platforms, cool sayings and new singers/rappers! Haha. It’s extremely rewarding to spend time with a group of girls, to teach them what I know and to see them translate it on the field – there isn’t really a better feeling than that!
It’s Saturday and you’ve got zero obligations – no work, no lacrosse. What are you doing for fun? What are your favorite local adventures?
Sarah: I love exploring different hikes in the area — a perfect day is getting up early to beat the traffic, getting across the bridge for a long hike in Marin, then finishing up with a good meal with a view in Sausalito before coming back to the city.
Whitney: Woah – that never happens! I’d sleep in past 4:30am (which is my normal wake up time) and then look to spend the day with my husband, since we don’t get to see each other as much during the week. We love going for runs through the Presidio trails, grabbing a delicious brunch and then getting together for dinner with friends. We also LOVE going up to Sonoma and spending the weekend there. There’s so much to do in the Bay Area, it’s tough to decide!
Written By: Courtney Bird
May 12th, 2016