Girls Sports Month: Taylor Cummings on finding her footing in sports

Maryland women's lacrosse player Taylor Cummings (Photo: Twitter screen shot)

Girls Sports Month: Taylor Cummings on finding her footing in sports

Girls Sports Month

Girls Sports Month: Taylor Cummings on finding her footing in sports

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Three-time Tewaaraton Award winner Taylor Cummings (Photo: University of Maryland Athletics)

Three-time Tewaaraton Award winner Taylor Cummings (Photo: University of Maryland Athletics)

March is Girls Sports Month, and as part of USA TODAY High School Sports’ third-annual Girls Sports Month celebration, we’re speaking with some of the most influential female athletes, coaches and celebrities in the sports world. Today we’re speaking with women’s lacrosse star Taylor Cummings

Cummings is one of the most accomplished women’s lacrosse players in NCAA history. The former Maryland Terrapin captured an unprecedented three-consecutive Tewaaraton Trophies as the nation’s top lacrosse player in 2014, 2015 and 2016, capturing national titles with the Terps in 2014 and 2015. Her accomplishments earned her a nomination for the Best Female College Athlete ESPY award. 

GIRLS SPORTS MONTH: See more athlete interviews here

USA TODAY: When did you first know that you wanted sports to be a critical part of your life?

Taylor Cummings: My Dad played soccer at William & Mary, so from a really young age sports have been a constant part of my life, whether it was watching him play basketball with other neighborhood Dads or ESPN being on TV. I’m very much a Daddy’s girl so I wanted to connect with him, and I started playing pee wee soccer when I was five and it snowballed from there. I made a ton of friends playing and met so many people. I think I was drawn by having friends and wanting to be with them, and then it got so much more serious.

For me, the path to sports being much more serious was just a natural path. Once I was good the coaches pushed me to try out for travel teams, which snowballed into club teams. I don’t think there was one moment where I definitely wanted to be serious, it was just that as I gradually became better I started to be on more serious teams. Around eighth grade I was playing on seven or eight different teams, a couple of travel teams for each sport (basketball, soccer and lacrosse). That’s when my Mom said that I had to choose one sport I would play after school beyond the three I would play for my school. My Mom could only get me so many places, so they made me pick which one to be really serious about.

USAT: Why is participation in sports so important for girls today

TC: I think it’s super important. We live in a world where girls and women are often confined to a certain box and told they can only do certain things. I found so much empowerment and strength in sports. Whatever outlet a girl chooses, whether it’s sports, or dance, or art, girls need to be around others with the same drive and passion, because that allows them to develop their own drive and passion. Sports helped me learn so many things like communication and teamwork and working toward a goal with other people, all while gaining confidence in myself. Anything that can get girls out there to build that confidence in themselves.

USAT: What was your favorite sport growing up, and why?

TC: I definitely gravitated toward soccer first, which I think had a lot to do with my Dad. Once I started playing soccer, after he stopped coaching our rec league team in elementary school when I played travel. AT that point there wasn’t a ton of organized girls lacrosse, so soccer was available for me to play. Even through middle school I thought I would play soccer in college because I was much better at it than lacrosse. Then once I started to figure out the knack of lacrosse that shift happened, but I almost played soccer and lacrosse in college. My freshman year was really hard for me because it was the first time in 14 years I hadn’t played soccer in the fall.

Maryland women's lacrosse player Taylor Cummings (Photo: Twitter screen shot)

Maryland women’s lacrosse player Taylor Cummings (Photo: Twitter screen shot)

USAT: What is the biggest life lesson you took away from your own competition?

TC: I think the biggest life lesson I’ve learned is how to come back from setbacks. You won’t win every time. There will be challenges and hardship, but there will always be another game and another day. I’ve learned to kind of pass this battle and earn everything I get. Nothing is given. My parents instilled in me when I was little that there will always be people who will work to get what you have, so you have to work for what you get in life. That pushed me in middle school, high school and college. Especially in a world where so much is given to people now, I think that lesson is super important.

USAT: In what was has sports prepared you to become a successful entrepreneur?

TC: Sports gave me the platform to be successful in my business now. Now that chapter has closed, I’ve created a platform for myself to not only do what I love, but also be successful because people know my name. Sports has helped me believe I can do what I want. If I work hard enough I will be successful. I never would have been able to do something like this without the lessons I’ve taken from lacrosse, soccer, even gymnastics and ice skating when I was little. It’s a really cool and fun thing for me, because I can keep sports being an everyday part of my life. Now it helps sustain myself, which is really rewarding.

USAT: Why is being a role model for younger girls so important to you?

TC: I think for me, especially my first couple years at Maryland, it was hard for me to see myself as a role model because I am so young. I didn’t really grasp that experience or understand it. When all these girls would line up against the fences it felt odd when they would freak out when we came over. I now am outside it and can see the impact these college players have on these kids. I am extremely humbled and I do think it helps put everything in perspective. We have so many little eyes watching us, and we set the standards not only for behavior on the field but also off the field. It’s important that you do take the time to give back to people in the sport. Being a role model is such an unbelievable feeling and I think the people in this position throughout the sport feel a lot of pride in that and understand we have a responsibility to set the standard for the next generation, which is pretty cool.

USAT: What should girls do who don’t have access to sports they want to play?

TC: I would say to use your resources however you can. There are so many things online — coaching tools, videos, things like that — which expose people to different sports. That can show where there are things for girls to participate in. You have to use the digital age to your advantage. But if it’s not where a girl needs it to be, and if you have a coach for a different sport, go push the sport you want to that coach because it only takes a couple girls to get things started, and from there it can just steamroll. I was just in Georgia and there’s a school that is likely to have field hockey because they got the lacrosse girls together to be interested in that in the fall, too. You can’t be afraid to try to start something if it isn’t there before.

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USAT: What else do you think is important for girls to know about sports and participating in them?

TC: For me, when I first started playing sports I grew up on a street of all boys. I was one of the boys. Today girls are stigmatized because they think playing sports makes the muscly or manly or a tom boy. You don’t have to fall into any of those things. It is completely ok to be tough, strong, competitive and unafraid of competition. It’s cool to be a bad ass, frankly. Sports has given me and so many people I know the confidence to be strong, tough and be proud to have muscles which give me the opportunity to do the things I do and make me strong. When I was younger I wanted to be a size zero but couldn’t because of my big thighs, and I had a meltdown  before my Mom showed me what they did for me. You have to love your body, yourself and all your abilities, because with sports your body is your vessel.

The first time I ever heard of the Tewaaraton was during my recruiting trip to Maryland. I had no concept of what that award was until the coach Kathy Rees told me about it. It was never spoken of again. That was never a goal. My mindset was always to be the best team player I could be, and fulfill whatever role I needed to fill to have the team be successful, whether it was on the bench or filling any other role. I look back on those three Tewaaratons as the complete result of my team being successful. I would never have even been nominated for them if my team hadn’t accomplished what we had. The goal was never individual. I don’t care if I score zero goals, I just wanted to win a national championship. Luckily I got to win national championships and my team made it to the national championship game every year. I would have traded my Tewaaraton last year and my other two to have won the final game last year. It was always about being successful as a team and accomplishing the team goals we set out to.

The biggest thing is for girls to be confident. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes, and everyones had a bad game or a couple bad games. It’s important to know that won’t stop you from doing anything you want. You just have to see yourself as someone who can achieve what you want and then go and do it.

See more amazing girls and women at women.usatoday.com

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