Canadian Olympic bronze medallist Joey Lye hopes to empower young female athletes as coach, speaker

As Olympic bronze medallist Joey Lye steps into the next phase of her life, the Canadian softball star hopes the younger generation heeds one message.

“They matter. Their voice matters. And to use their platform to not just continue fighting the fight, but also to be authentically themselves,” Lye said in an interview with CBC Sports.

After competing at every world championship since 2010, Lye and Team Canada finally got back to the Olympics at Tokyo 2020, landing on the podium with a third-place finish.

A few months later, the 35-year-old from Toronto announced her retirement, switching her focus to burgeoning coaching and speaking careers.

To that end, Lye served as team leader for Canada at the World Games in Birmingham, Ala., where the softball players placed sixth earlier this week. Her TedTalk in honour of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark U.S. law which many credit for accelerating the growth of women’s sports, was also recently released with the support of Athletes Unlimited, a player-focused women’s sports league.

In both coaching and speaking, Lye’s main aim is empowerment.

“As individuals we don’t often feel like our voice is heard. But the reality is the more we speak up, the more females and males advocate for equity, the louder our voices are,” Lye said. “So just continuing to speak up when we see things that aren’t as they should be and to encourage others to do the same.”

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Impact of Title IX

Title IX was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972, prohibiting sex-based discrimination in schools which receive federal funding. It increased women’s sports programs across U.S. college campuses and served as a basis for protection against sexual harassment.

U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe told The Athletic that Title IX helped pave her path to the national team.

“It created an opportunity that my family wouldn’t have been able to do for me, especially having twins and wanting to put us both through college. We wouldn’t have been able to pay for that,” Rapinoe said.

Lye said she didn’t know much about Title IX while growing up in Canada, but it later benefited her as she competed on both the softball and hockey teams at Division II Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.

“It was just such an amazing, fulfilling experience for me, and I’m a huge advocate of athletes following their dreams and ensuring that they’re checking their boxes and nobody else’s,” said Lye, who prioritized both sports along with a solid education and achieved those goals at Williams.

Aims to foster ‘safe environment’

In Canada, there’s been a reckoning among Olympic athletes who have spoken out about bullying and harassment within several national sport organizations (NSO) including Rugby Canada, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton and Gymnastics Canada.

Softball Canada is not among those NSOs. Lye said her experience as an athlete improved by the end of her 12 years with the program.

“It has become an amazing kind of stepping stone for young women to find their voices,” Lye said.

Now as a coach, she hopes to foster an environment where players aren’t afraid to make mistakes.

“The coaches jump right in and teach what our Softball Canada way is and allow the athletes to understand that we’re there to help them grow and to support them, and that we’re going to sail forward or we’re going to make mistakes, but we’re going to learn from them and we’re in a safe environment to do so,” Lye said.

Off the field, Lye, who is openly lesbian, is encouraging players to live truly to themselves — a coaching element she says can improve the lives of Canadian Olympic athletes.

“Being that example, living what we preach and also the empowerment of our athletes to play free and to grow into more confident women. And it’s amazing to see how much of that in a sports world translates into life,” Lye said.

Now, after a hard-fought battle just to get to Tokyo, and another to earn a medal, Lye has hung up her cleats. She’s hoping to gain exposure as a speaker and get gigs at college campuses throughout the U.S.

But first, some family time.

“Just reconnecting after dedicating my life to sport for so long. And it’s amazing to be able to spend time with my wife and my parents and my sister and her husband.”

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