Sisterhood in Sports — Interview with Author Dr. Joan Steidinger (California Writers Club Marin President)

On Sunday, April 26, Dr. Joan Steidinger, president of the California Writers Club–Marin, will discuss her book, Sisterhood in Sports: How Female Athletes Collaborate and Compete. Her focus will be on the journey from idea to publication. Below is a brief preview. (Come to Book Passage on Sunday to hear more.)

Interview with Joan Steidinger

by John Byrne Barry

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Dr. Joan Steidinger interviewed by Frank Mallicot on KPIX Bay Sunday

Q: Tell me about the book.

Sisterhood in Sports is about what drives the female athlete: emotional and intimate relationships, detailed and verbal communication, a sense of community, and applying the principles of female collaborative competition.

In the last chapter of the book, I create and describe a model of female collaborative competition. Women are different in their minds and brains than men. They will perform their best if they use their brain’s strengths—emotional-focus on relationships, verbal and detailed communications,  empathic, worrying a little bit, but not too much, relying on their intuition.

Women are not just small men.

Q: Might not men benefit from this approach? I know from my own experience when I was a kid how unempathetic, even cruel boys could be when it came to competitive sports.

Women and men are different. It doesn’t mean male athletes might not do adopt some of these principles, but my approach is aimed at women.

Q: How did the book came to be?

The idea showed up in 1994 — spurred on by the book Women Who Love Too Much, how it said to women that their emphasis on emotion in relationships was a problematic behavior. The author contended that women needed to quit having this focus.

What I started seeing in my practice as a psychologist was that most women were emotionally focused on their relationships and empathic. This just comes naturally to them, even in competitive sports.

I’ve been writing about this for years — I’ve written 60 articles on women in sports, before the book came to fruition.

In 1997, I wrote my first book proposal. Every publisher that I gave it to rejected it. Then I got sidetracked with cycling double centuries with my soon-to-be husband, John, and had a terrible bike wreck in 2003. 

In 2009, I got back to the book. My husband suggested joining a writing group. This was an important turning point in the development of the current book.  I interviewed 85 women and a few male coaches, including Olympians, pros, elite amateurs, and a few recreational, competitive female athletes. The age range was from teens to women in their 80s.

Q: Was there a pivotal moment along this journey?

When Linda Watanabe invited to be in her advanced writers group, that provided me the confidence to continue working on my book. As a lifelong athlete, one of the reasons that  I became a sports psychologist was the sense that it was important to give permission to women athletes to be who they are.

One evening, I went to San Rafael to work with a basketball team that had lost every game that season. Now they had a slim chance to win a game. When I spoke with them, the team’s energy was low.  I asked about their motivation. Most said 5 or 6, on a scale of 1-10 and one girl said 8. Surprisingly, one girl yelled out 25. I asked what would it take to get all of the team to 25? The girls started repeating things I had said. To be determined. To be persistent. To never give up! 

The next day, the girls won their game by 35 points. The coach said she’d never seen anything like it. All I did was allow the girls to be themselves. That’s the whole reason.

That gave me the motivation to keep doing this kind of work. To give women permission to be themselves as athletes and women.

Q: Tell me about promoting your book. You’ve been busy.

Thus far, I’ve appeared in 45 different types of venues, including in person, on panels, radio, and TV.

 Most of my in-person interviews I set up myself. It took hours and hours of phone work. Emailing back and forth. I had a publicist last spring, and then another one who got me a lot of radio interviews. The sports psychology world opened a lot of doors. I’ve ended up talking about domestic violence, among other things.

(Joan’s 46th venue will be as the feature presentation at the April California Writers Club-Marin meeting. At 2 pm, Sunday, April 26, at Book Passage. She’ll be talking more about the process than the book topic — the fits and stops and spurts. The how more than the what.)

Q: You’re the president of California Writers Club Marin. What is your vision for the branch?

We were just talking about that a week ago. I’d like to get a solid board again and get all the positions filled. I’d like the board to provide more opportunities for social interactions between members, plan a once-a-year conference,  and continue offering craft presentations. A major priority is to provide an active, monthly newsletter helping us all get to know, keep up and share with our members.

John Byrne Barry is a member of the CWC-Marin board and author of Bones in the Wash: Politics is Tough. Family is Tougher.

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