A lesson from one of the best receivers in the game

More than Football, Profiles

Adrienne Smith’s advice for girls and women who love football is simple.

P L A Y.

Number 10 for the Boston Renegades has compiled one of the most decorated careers in tackle and flag football in the game. The receiver’s resume and stats go back more than 10 years:

She is a FIVE-time Team USA flag football competitor who won THREE silver medals.

She won THREE Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) national tackle championships with Boston. In SEVEN of her eight seasons, she led the league as a top-16 overall receiver – compiling 3,272 yards and 37 touchdowns.

Smith was the WFA’s No. 1 overall player in 2016 as a receiver (54 catches, 742 yards and 12 TDs) and kick returner (14 returns, 292 yards and one TD).

She won TWO gold medals from Team USA’s national teams (2010, 2013) and scored the FIRST touchdown in the history of women’s national tackle in 2010: on a 54-yard reception.

“When opportunities are made available and restrictions removed: girls and women flourish. It brings me joy.”

This week, and especially in the last year, women in football have gained national attention.

Coaches Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar will work alongside Sarah Thomas, the first female official to work the Super Bowl. Jennifer King recently became the first Black woman to earn a full-time assistant coach title for the Washington Football Team.

All three coaches appeared in this week’s Nike and NFL announcement around adding girls’ competitive flag opportunities to high schools.

The tides are turning. More sponsorship. More opportunities. More support. More girls competing in high school.

Haley Van Voorhis, a junior defensive back from Virginia is being recruited by Division III programs. She may become the first woman to play at the NCAA level not as a kicker or punter. As the work is unpaid, Van Vorrhis may also compete for the D.C. Divas, scheduled to play Smith’s team April 18, before she begins college. Free safety Toni Harris became the first woman to sign and play NAIA football in 2019.

Most women – especially those who’ve built as robust a reputation as Smith – started from a much different path.

As a kid, she tackled her stuffed animals. Her dad taught her to throw a perfect spiral. Her mom taught her to fish. Still, Smith put in the work to become a multisport athlete: softball from third grade to graduation. She added basketball in high school and went on to compete overseas in Japan.

Her first exposure to playing football was in high school, when she broke a ring finger grabbing a guy’s flag.

The story includes her disclaimer: “come on, we’re ballers… I was still a champ.”

Of course she finished the game.
Naturally, her team won the championship.

She never looked back.

When we talked on the 35th anniversary of National Women and Girls in Sports Day, Smith was plotting training ideas to prepare for the upcoming WFA season. COVID cancelled what would’ve been her 15th playing tackle in 2020.

The Columbia Business School MBA grad and entrepreneur lives in New York City, recently snowed under. Amid the pandemic, she’s not comfortable visiting a commercial gym, but is pining to get under a barbell to knock out squats and deadlifts.

Make no mistake, no challenge will stop her. After all, she’s an athlete – sprints, jumping rope, flag tournaments, biking, boxing, whatever it takes, it takes.

But if there’s anything Adrienne Smith knows after a truly legendary career spanning football, acting (big flex: she appeared in the Netflix blockbuster Orange is the New Black), media, and building a number of successful businesses, it’s this:

If you want it, you’ll figure it out.

In 2010, 45 women assembled from all over the country to compete in the first-ever International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Women’s World Championships. Sweden hosted the first global gathering of women’s tackle football.

The rallying cry for the Americans: one team, mission gold.

In three games versus Austria, Germany and Canada: Team USA 201 – The World 0. Team USA’s defense gave up an average of 1.5 rushing yards / carry.

“We came back to silence. We did a momentous thing. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a ticker-tape parade but I felt like the moment needed some type of recognition. We killed it. No one scored. We got zero coverage.”

Smith is a less caption, more action woman.

She asked college friends in the foreign service and Department of Justice to lay out the process for visiting the White House – a traditional ceremony for national history-makers.

For three years she wrote letters petitioning to have Team USA invited to celebrate.

In that time, Smith also repeated as a gold medalist on the second Team USA squad.

In 2013, the IFAF Women’s World Championships were hosted in Finland. The Americans defeated Germany, Sweden and Canada to set a new scoring benchmark: Team USA 255, The World 7.

Smith was one of six USA players to score in the championship game (again versus Canada) and scored in each of the other two victories. Team USA created an apt 13 turnovers in its three games, three returned for touchdowns.

Keeping with the theme, 13 women (including now-renown coaches Cleveland’s Chief of Staff Callie Brownson and former Arizona intern and NFL’s first female coach Dr. Jen Welter) accepted the White House invitation.

Few women in football are “just” one thing.

They are CEOs. Intellects. College-educated and streetwise. Business owners and leaders. Police officers and teachers. Moms. Lawyers. Janitors. Every job and title between.

They deftly juggle demands: family, career, and an absolutely burning passion to find their own space.

“Girl. Play Football” is Smith’s rallying cry for Gridiron Queendom – a safe and supportive community for girls and women.

“Football is like math or music. It’s a universal language. I’ve met women from around the world who had the same love and passion I did for the game. I want a little girl in Japan, or a woman in Moscow, who wants to be a football player to not feel alone or weird. I wanted this to be a place where – flag or tackle – they can find community, see images, and read about peers doing the same things.”

In 2018, Smith took a year off from playing tackle in Boston to building BLITZ CHAMPZ, a card game of her own invention.

She pitched for national distribution at Wal-Mart and has big goals for its long-term success. She wants to make the game, which teaches critical math and reasoning in a fun way, a universal favorite – used by millions of elementary school children.

This seeming leap to education isn’t a new one – Smith created Harlem Hip Hop Tours as a unique workshop and field trip platform for grades 3-12 in her backyard.

“We are not a number. We’re here to put up numbers. [Women and girls] make football better.”

Nike commercial aired Feb. 2, 2021

For the past nine years, Smith has commuted five hours a day, three days per week from New York City to Boston in the name of tackle football. She recognizes, however, this pursuit isn’t just her. Not even close.

She most admires Lynn Lewis – her 2008 Team USA flag football coach and a pioneer for the game in New York (where she got her tackle start) – and Molly Goodwin – fellow 2010 Team USA gold medalist, and now owner and coach of the Renegades.

Lewis died after a longtime battle with breast cancer. Her legacy lives on in the work of her Foundation dedicated to helping the families of women also battling the disease. It is funded by the biggest annual women’s flag tournament in the sport. A longtime decorated tackle player in her own right, Goodwin took over as Boston’s owner in 2014 and advocated for the creation of the recently-aired ESPN movie, Born to Play.

Smith considers the selfless leadership of Lewis and Goodwin to be the goal for all role models:

“They created a smoother and broader path for the girls and women behind to follow.”

Girls and women: play football. The message couldn’t be more clear.

Follow Adrienne Smith on Twitter and Instagram.

January recruiting tips from #AFCA19

More than Football, Recruiting Tips & Tricks

For a second year, I had the opportunity to go to the AFCA’s annual convention – a gathering of some of the top high school, college and professional football minds – to expand my knowledge, network and reflect on my passion for the game.

Between my conversations with coaches in San Antonio and my experience with athletes who’ve been part of the process and moved on to huge college / pro careers, I put together a few good recruiting tips that build on – surprise – things football teaches:

Always present yourself to the best of your ability and follow up with polite persistence and gratitude. Do the little things better than anyone.

One of those is to use social media for recruiting. Most players know they should have an account with their actual name, which can help coaches find out more about them. Most programs and coaches now have social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Follow ones of interest as a first step.

One coach told me using direct messages can be effective in recruiting. While sliding into DM’s on social media have proven risky for some, NCAA D1 and D2 coaches can direct message recruits during a prospect’s junior year. This may also give you another opportunity to contact a coach or program and for them to see your pitch.

As with texting, if you send a few messages and you don’t hear anything … re-evaluate your strategy. Send an email, call the recruiting office, text, mail a letter, google and find someone you know who knows someone on the coaching staff, go on an unofficial visit.

Assuming you are a good fit (or could be) for that program and school, your PERSISTENCE might pay off. I got my first coaching job simply by making the effort to follow up with a guy who told me to call him. Who knows how this will pay off for you.

Directly from FBS coaches at AFCA … here are three other gems: 

  1. Pin your best one play from a varsity game, not your full hudl recruiting link, to your twitter account and send coaches a link to this one play.  Demand their attention. Keep it short. Make those seconds count.Use this link in emails, texts, DM’s, Instagram stories, Facebook, Twitter … present your case fast.
  2. Use photos and quick quality videos to capture measurables.We are a “see to believe” society and in recruiting that’s because anyone can and does try to get an advantage … and coaches have been burned.

    Examples could be: height, weight, weightroom big lifts or achivements, transcript, test scores, 40 time. You don’t have to post everything publicly, but think about using these assets to pitch yourself in a DM or put them together in a short YouTube link in your profile.

    Showcase on your social account or find ways to pitch to coaches what otherwise makes you unique – volunteer work, leadership, hobbies, personal stories, references who might vouch for you and know them well, etc. Keep it short, but often, you can catch a break by going the extra mile. Sound familiar?

    Even if you’re the prototypical recruit on the field, remember academics MUST stay a priority. Often, just a few points difference in your GPA is thousands of dollars in scholarships … or the difference between you and someone else with better grades even being evaluated.

  3. Be careful with social media. We all know the horror stories, but there are subtle things to keep in mind to make social work for you.As you post as a prospective college football player, think about these questions:

    What is your personal brand as a recruit? How does your social media reflect it?
    How can you be authentic, but positive, with what you post, like and share?
    What would help coaches / future teammates determine if you were a good fit?
    How does your account make you a better teammate / leader to your current team?
    How does what you post add value to the world and tell your story?

    In this vein, the smartest observation from a college football coach I heard was about time of day for recruits to post.  If you are up on Twitter or Instagram in the wee hours of the morning or during school … what does that say about your commitment to rest / recover? What does that say about your commitment to your grades and ability to focus?

    As Coach Derek Jones so aptly points out: “Everything you do in life is an interview … you never know who is watching or what they are looking for.” 

Share your recruiting tips … everyone wins when dreams come true in the form of college scholarships, playing opportunities, expanded worldviews, and the love of the game. Best of luck to all!


Family ties

Gratitude Improves Attitude, More than Football

I started coaching football in 2010.

As with many things in life, it was a headfirst leap. I was hired at the end of the week and reported to practice on Monday.

That year was full of highlights: great kids, important mentors and stories I’ll never forget, but one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned was off the field.

We were fortunate to have a booster club who wanted to provide team meals on Wednesday nights after practice. Like clockwork, a spread of hot lasagna and garlic bread and cold salad, drinks and dessert appeared in the field house. Just as quickly, it disappeared.

During this time, I learned that the same stupid fart jokes that were funny 20 years ago were still pretty relevant. I tried to keep conversation more productive as I met with the offensive line to look at plays or quiz them on assignments.


One day, one conversation ended with an off-handed comment from a freshman: “Thanks mom.”

Taken a bit by surprise, I fired back: “You know I’m not your mom, and I’m sure she’d be disappointed to hear you said that.”

I’ll never forget his response: “Well, she died … so I’m not really sure what she’d think.”


Talk about a gut punch.


I’m not sure what weak apology I managed to blurt out, but I felt like I ran the jerk store.

I still do when I think about moment.


Football creates a family for all of us, in different ways.

As a young coach, I fought the idea that kids would look at me like a parent.

Now I understand that they need it sometimes … for different reasons. All of us come from different circumstances and start with a unique mix of support, dynamics, resources and challenges.

Our job as coaches varies … but rarely is it just how to play a game. We give advice, create relationships, help set standards, build a leadership mindset, share in tough times, celebrate big life moments, and many crazy and wonderful things in between.

The educators I work with do the same thing for hundreds daily.


I could never apologize enough for my flippant remark, but I have used that experience to get to know my players, by listening more and talking less.

This moment helped crystallize the great advice I saw once on a church billboard: “be kind, for everyone is fighting a tough battle.”

Football is family, after all.

Lessons in Gratitude

Gratitude Improves Attitude, More than Football


In October, I spoke during a morning character education class about gratitude and why I’m grateful to coach (catch up on the story in my post about this website).

At the end of class, I asked the players to write a thank-you note to someone who has influenced their lives, and include what the opportunity to play football has meant to them.

Early this week, I picked these notes up and am again moved by their contents.


We absolutely must stay focused on the critical developmental role we have in our players’ lives — as coaches, and as a community. Here are just a few of the most powerful player sentiments:

“I’m the first one in my family to play football. I will remember all the coaches. Each has impacted me in some way – I don’t think I can ever pay them back, other than becoming the football player and the man they hope I will be.”

“Without football, I feel like I would be with the wrong people, going down the wrong road in life. This team is my life.”

“What I love about the game is that I can escape from everything. I go through a lot, and the few hours I have of football makes me forget everything else.”

“Football is a release. It give me a chance to leave all my problems behind, and to just go have fun. This team has given me more than I imagined I would ever receive. It has given me a family I can trust, and that means so much to me.”

“Playing football this year has given me an experience I didn’t have before in my life. I’ve never felt so close to a group of people in my life – where we grew together to better ourselves.”

Feel free to use the idea to get to know your players better, or by making cards available to help players spread the love by giving cards to teachers, parents, supporters, program sponsors, other coaches.

In my experience, sharing our gratitude can be our most powerful opportunity to connect.

(On that note …. Email me if you need help with a thank-you note template. Pro tip: print on heavy cardstock and cut with a paper cutter. No need to buy retail cards, and you can do something great for your community while continuing to build programs that support life skills and a closer family culture.)