“There is no force more powerful than a woman determined to rise.” Women today have the unique opportunity to pave the road to success whatever direction they decide without having to compromise who they are and what they stand for. Not saying the paved road won’t be bumpy, or better yet, even paved during her journey. However, a woman today doesn’t have to wait for someone’s permission to walk confidently in their God-given purpose.
When a woman knows she’s meant for greatness and knows she’s built for something bigger, there’s nothing that can stop her ambition to grab it, get it, & keep it. This year I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with some fabulous women who understand their lives are meant for just more than the status quo. Every part of the journey is a story & every story must be shared.
To wrap up 2016, I had the pleasure of chatting with the tall, 6’2″ beauty, powerhouse, & ESPN Analyst of the SEC Network, Maria Taylor, to get her story. It’s a story of ambition, grit, and how she’s using her platforms of her award-winning tenure playing volleyball & basketball at the University of Georgia to influence the masses.
LG of BB: Thank you so much for choosing to be a part of Hustle, Honey! You have such a unique story to share. The first thing I want to know is what is your mantra in life?
MT: “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”
A lot of times we can get so caught up in the goals we have for ourselves and places that we want to go that we forget to be grateful for the lessons that we are learning and how much we are growing in our current situation. This quote is just a gentle reminder to enjoy every stop on the journey.
LG of BB: Take me back to the first time you knew you had a passion for basketball & volleyball. When did that occur and who encouraged you to pursue these sports?
MT: I started playing basketball when I was in the 6th grade. My next door neighbor encouraged me to join a local church league with her because I was so tall. My dad played basketball in college but he never forced me to play. My parents have always wanted their children to find their own path. During one of our games I hit a 3-pointer and I just remember how good and natural it felt to be on the court. I was hooked after that first season and played basketball whenever I had free time. I would go around the corner to the parks and play with the guys and go to as many basketball camps as my parents would pay for. I picked up volleyball in 9th grade and it was really just a way to get out of preseason basketball conditioning, but it was another sport that came very naturally to me. After I started playing club or summer league volleyball, I knew I wanted to play both sports in college.
LG of BB: I’m a firm believer playing sports and extracurricular activities truly help with self-confidence. However, life can be a rollercoaster at times. Do you ever doubt yourself?
MT: I deal with self-doubt. And sometimes my doubt goes from internal to external when I wonder if people doubt my abilities or believe I can’t handle the shows or games that I am working. But I try to make those thoughts fleeting because I don’t want to be consumed by negativity. I think action cures my doubt. The moment I begin studying for work or a show goes live I no longer doubt myself because I have to be in the moment and focused on the business at hand. But if I’m really struggling all I have to do is call the people that love me most to get filled right back up with self-love and confidence.
LG of BB: So, how did your tenure at UGA, playing basketball & volleyball prepare you for a career with ESPN?
MT: Playing collegiate sports at Georgia paved the way for me to work at ESPN. The first on-air job I had was working as an analyst for Comcast Sports South’s broadcast of SEC volleyball matches. My background as a student-athlete at a Power 5 school gave me access to positions and roles that I’m not sure I would have had if I didn’t play at the University of Georgia. Everyone from my basketball coach to the UGA Athletic Association was supportive and helpful in helping me achieve my goals. Being a collegiate athlete lights a hunger and drive inside of you that can only be quenched by success. I was taught that you’re only as good as your last performance, and that if you don’t prepare to be great then you will never achieve greatness.
LG of BB: The key to success is consistency. What are one or two things you do consistently daily that you would say is the key to your success?
MT: I always try to get a full 6-8 hours of rest. Sleep is really important to me. I can always tell when I haven’t given my body enough sleep because I find myself catching a cold or feeling sick. It can get tough to get a full night’s sleep with travel and work but I try to keep it high on the priority list!
I also breathe prayers. I can’t remember what book or person I pulled this practice from. But saying little prayers throughout the day along with a deep breath help me to stay grounded and not feel overwhelmed by what’s going on around me. I might say “Thank you for waking me up today Lord,” “Lord let me be a light today,” or “Lord fill me with gratitude.” Breathing prayers allow me to have an ongoing conversation with God that helps guide me throughout the day.
LG of BB: What do you love most about what you do?
MT: What I love most about what I do is meeting people from all different walks of life. I am fascinated by people. Everyone has a unique story that informs the way they think and interact. I love that one of my jobs is to be a people person and tell the stories of athletes and coaches off the court.
LG of BB: You’ve lived your life as an athlete. Your job is focused on athletes. Tell me: who is your favorite athlete & why?
MT: My favorite athlete is Serena Williams. She doesn’t apologize for her greatness, in fact she demands respect. I have always admired her fierce and powerful approach she has on the court and during competition, and the incredible grace she shows as soon as her match is over.
LG of BB: What are some of your hobbies & passions?
MT: My passion is using my platform to elevate others. I have a nonprofit called The Winning Edge Leadership Academy that is dedicated to helping women and minorities find job opportunities in the sports industry. We provide undergraduate students with a yearlong mentor, and pay for unique experiences. For example, we have had students work SEC Women’s Basketball tournaments, ESPN’s X Games, and shadow UNC football coaches in Chapel Hill. We pay for travel and lodging and other expenses that most of our students would not be able to afford on their own. As a black woman, I know how difficult it is to break into sports and I want to help promote diversity as much as I can. I let students shadow me when I am on college campuses for games and shows. My goal is to expose as many students as I can to the possibilities. I want every young woman and black youth to truly believe that there is a place for them in the sports industry, and that the place does not have to be defined by or restricted to the field of play.
LG of BB: What is the best advice you could give a little girl out there who may have dreams & aspirations of going to college and becoming a basketball or volleyball athlete like yourself?
MT: My advice for girls hoping to play sports in college is to find a great summer or travel team and reach out to your favorite colleges. You can find coach’s emails on the university websites and there is usually a link for prospects interested in playing. I would also advise students to make sure that they have maintained good grades and are in good standing with the NCAA Clearinghouse. And also just make sure that the sport is your passion. In college there are times that playing a sport can feel like a job. If you don’t truly love it then you will lose the joy of playing.
LG of BB: Maria Taylor is an award-winning athlete on the court & ESPN College Analyst & Reporter. What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
MT: I really enjoy decorating. I like looking through magazines and watching HGTV to see different design ideas and one of my favorite stores is Homegoods. I can just walk through that store all day especially during the holidays and find trinkets for my house. I just like to see rooms that start out empty gain a whole new personality with different furniture and design ideas.
LG of BB: How do you define success?
MT: I used to define success by climbing the proverbial ladder. But you can climb your whole life and never feel successful.
Now I define success by the number of people that I positively influence during my lifetime. I don’t have to report on all of the biggest games and anchor the top shows, or have the biggest social media following. I just want to know that I’ve positively impacted someone at every turn that life throws at me.
LG of BB: I see you girl. Keep hustlin’.