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How Pregnancy Made Me a Better CEO

I am pregnant. I am actually very pregnant — 39 weeks as we speak. I’m also the founder and CEO of an early stage company, and for the first time in my life, I’m wondering if I bit off more than I can chew.

For the last four years, I have poured my whole self into Just Women’s Sports. It’s been a wild, unpredictable ride, one that’s been both incredibly fulfilling and incredibly hard.

When I started JWS, no one wanted to bet on women’s sports, media, or a 26 year old with only one year of actual work experience under her belt. People didn’t think women’s sports could work as sports, and even stakeholders in the space talked about these leagues like they were charities — something nice to have, but not anything that would ever make real money. And that was from the people who "believed" in women’s sports — you don’t want to know what the doubters had to say.

In the early days, it was all heart and hustle. There was no playbook. We had a vision, but that was about it — no real money, connections, or media experience. To keep the lights on and get JWS off the ground, all I did was work. I ran from fundraising meetings to posting on social, to listening to and editing our first podcast with Kelley O’Hara. I designed graphics. I sold to brands. I worked all the time. 

At one point, I even hospitalized myself from working too much. But even that wasn’t enough to tell me to chill out — I closed our first big deal sitting in a hospital bed, with a virtual background so they couldn’t tell where I was. For better and for worse, I was willing to sacrifice myself in order to win.

Slowly but surely, we started stacking wins and building some real momentum. But even as we grew and found our footing, I still had the same existential paranoia and grind-it-out mentality that had been there from the beginning. Every win, every new milestone, felt like a reason to push even harder.

But getting pregnant changed that.

I’m fortunate to say this has been a healthy pregnancy, but even then… it’s been tough. I’ve been nauseous the whole time. I can’t sleep. I never knew my back and hips could feel this bad. And in these final stages of my pregnancy, I’ve been more emotional than I’ve ever felt in my life — which is just not ideal when the bulk of your job is to stay level-headed, decisive, and be able to make unemotional decisions.

For the first time in my professional career, I physically cannot just grind it out and push through. Being pregnant has forced me to do something not even a week in the hospital could do: recalibrate my work habits and take time off. 

The idea of stepping away for maternity leave is anxiety-inducing. I’ve poured my entire self into getting JWS to this point, women’s sports are taking off like never before, and now I’m supposed to just detach from it for an extended period of time? What will that mean for the company? Will I be able to balance being a CEO and a mom when I come back? Can we keep the momentum we worked so hard to achieve?

I have so many people asking me if I'm ready. And I can say with unequivocal confidence: No, I am absolutely not. My only expectation is that I’m about to get smacked in the face with a brand new version of my life any day now. 

But this pregnancy and impending leave have had an unexpected side effect — being forced to "take it easy" and think about not being here has actually improved my leadership.

I’ve had to learn how to get out of the weeds. I’ve had to empower other leaders at the company and build systems where they can step up and take ownership. I’ve also gotten better at saying no and being ruthless about what matters.

Ultimately, I’ve had to learn how to let go a little bit and trust the people around me to a greater degree than I’ve ever felt comfortable doing.

And so far, the wheels haven’t fallen off. In fact, it’s been the opposite — people have stepped up in big ways across the board, traveling for me when I can’t go to events, driving initiatives that I usually would have been leading, and taking things off my plate to help ease the transition. We’re actually growing faster than we ever have before, and the team has collectively taken on a whole new level of ownership.

I’m definitely not the first pregnant CEO, but the fact is, there just aren’t many places where women can lead and grow a family. There isn’t a tried and true blueprint for how to balance being both a mother and a founder. And I won’t lie — that scares me. There’s no way to know what this future will look like. But to be able to build a company and culture where that is possible is, I think, really special.

As we all step into this next chapter, my overwhelming feeling is gratitude. For my family and for a healthy pregnancy, but also for everyone I get to work with everyday building this company and changing women’s sports. For my leadership team, who were the first people I told about my pregnancy after my immediate family. For the whole JWS team that has been unbelievably empathetic, thoughtful, and simply human during this time. And for our investors, advisors, and partners, who never made me feel like I was neglecting the company by starting my family.

We’re all nervous, to some degree. Inevitably, something will happen while I’m away that will be intense. There will be decisions that I would have made differently. Something will slip through the cracks.

But I’m also hopeful — this pregnancy forced us to empower the team to steer the ship and make decisions autonomously, and we’re already seeing the payoff.

There wasn’t a playbook when we started and there isn’t one now. But as has been the story of JWS since day one: We believe in our vision, and we’re taking the leap.

Haley Rosen is the CEO and Founder of Just Women's Sports. Follower her on X @haleyrosen.

‘UNINTERRUPTED’s Top Class Tennis’ Debuts on Prime 

Still from tennis docuseries UNINTERRUPTED'S Top Class Tennis
'UNINTERRUPTED'S Top Class Tennis' follows four junior players as they prep for the Orange Bowl. (Amazon MGM Studios)

Prime Video is hitting the tennis court with Thursday's streaming premiere of UNINTERRUPTED's Top Class Tennis.

After four seasons of the men's high school basketball-focused Top Class: The Life and Times of The Sierra Canyon Trailblazers, athlete empowerment brand UNINTERRUPTED is expanding its purview to tennis with a new four-episode mixed-gender docuseries.

Junior tennis stars take centerstage

Behind the concept is 2017 US Open champion and world No. 45 pro Sloane Stephens, who co-executive produced the series alongside LeBron James and Maverick Carter, co-founders of UNINTERRUPTED and its production and entertainment development arm, The SpringHill Company.

Top Class Tennis follows four players on their journeys to the Orange Bowl, arguably the junior circuit’s Grand Slam equivalent. The Florida-based international tournament was established in 1947 and has crowned a long list of future pros as champions, from retired great Steffi Graf to current star Coco Gauff.

Stealing the spotlight this season is rising Harvard sophomore and 2022-23 USA Today Girls Tennis Player of the Year Stephanie Yakoff, as well as five-time junior title winner and incoming Texas freshman Ariana Anazagasty-Pursoo. Both already have WTA creds, with Yakoff featuring at the 2023 BNP Paribas Open while Anazagasty-Pursoo competed on three Grand Slam courts.

Kamilla Cardoso, Kiki Rice, Caitlin Clark, Holly Rowe and Kristen Lappas at the ESPN+ 'Full Court Press' premiere
ESPN+'s Full Court Press is one of several women's sports docs hitting the screen this year. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Women's sports storms the big screen

Top Class Tennis is just the latest in what's shaping up to be a women’s sports documentary boom.

From Max's LFG about the USWNT's fight for equal pay and Netflix's Under Pressure chronicling the 2023 World Cup to ESPN+’s 2023-24 NCAA basketball series Full Court Press, athletes in women’s sports have taken streamers by storm.

UNINTERRUPTED's Top Class Tennis is available for streaming now on Prime Video

JWS Launches ‘The Gold Standard’ Hosted by Olympians Kelley O’Hara & Lisa Leslie

the gold standard logo
'The Gold Standard' is just one of three new JWS shows tackling the Summer Olympics.

Just Women's Sports announced three new digital series on Thursday, headlined by The Gold Standard, a new studio show hosted by Olympic gold medalists and women's sports icons Kelley O'Hara and Lisa Leslie.

USWNT and NWSL great O'Hara, a two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold and bronze medalist, is teaming up with three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie, herself a four-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, to bring viewers inside the world of Olympic women's sports. The pair will record each episode in-studio, with a series of special guests joining them throughout the show's run.

An insider's view of the Summer Games

The Gold Standard will debut on July 27th and cover the biggest women's sports stories from the Paris Olympics, giving fans a unique perspective by tapping into the insights and opinions of two legendary Olympians. 

"I know first-hand just how exciting and intense the Olympic Games can be," Leslie told JWS. "This show gives us a chance as athletes to bring fans closer to the experience, by sharing our unique insights into the Games. And with all the momentum we're seeing in women's sports, now is the perfect time to have a show dedicated to the biggest women's sports moments at the Olympic Games." 

"I can still remember watching the '96 Olympics and knowing that I wanted to be on that stage one day," says O'Hara. "Having the chance to compete in the Olympics and win gold was one of the highlights of my career. I'm looking forward to being a fan this time around and getting the chance to share my own perspective on the Games' biggest stories. Having teamed with Just Women's Sports before, I know this will be content that resonates with fans." 

The Gold Standard will live on Just Women's Sports' YouTube page, with select social cuts distributed across JWS digital platforms. The six-episode show will run through August 13th.

uswnt stars kelley o'hara and jaedyn shaw on jws digital series 1v1
1v1 with Kelley O'Hara will focus on USWNT players as they prep for the 2024 Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

Additional series focus on USWNT's Olympic run

The Gold Standard is just one of three upcoming JWS series designed to invite fans to experience the Summer Games from an Olympian's point of view, with additional series zeroing in on the USWNT's 2024 Olympic run.

Ahead of the opening ceremony, JWS will launch the latest edition of 1v1, with host Kelley O'Hara interviewing three of her USWNT teammates: Emily Sonnett, Jaedyn Shaw, and Rose Lavelle. These peer-to-peer interviews provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the USWNT's preparation for their first major tournament under new manager Emma Hayes.

To round things out, JWS is also bringing back its award-winning series, The 91st. This tournament's edition will be hosted by retired USWNT star and World Cup champion Jessica McDonald alongside noted soccer personalities Jordan Angeli and Duda Pavão. The 91st will follow the USWNT as it looks to go for gold against a stacked international field at the Paris Olympics — including reigning World Cup winners Spain.

Each new digital series leans on the expertise of its accomplished hosts and special guest stars, providing fans with candid, personality-driven commentary surrounding this summer's biggest event.

Costa Rica Holds USWNT to 0-0 Draw in Frustrating Olympic Send-Off

USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan dribbles the ball by Costa Rica forward Melissa Herrera and midfielder Gloriana Villalobos
The USWNT had 12 shots on goal on Tuesday despite failing to find the back of the net. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

The USWNT didn't quite get the going away party they were hoping for, settling for a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica on Tuesday in their final tune-up match before the 2024 Olympics kick off next week.

The US produced 26 shots — 12 on target — alongside 67 touches in the box, the most in any match where they failed to convert a single goal since at least 2015, per Opta. Yet they also faced a heroic performance from Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermúdez, who tallied 12 saves on the night.

USWNT starters remained mostly intact

After Saturday's win over Mexico, USWNT manager Emma Hayes opted for a very similar starting XI, only swapping Crystal Dunn in for Jenna Nighswonger due to load management.

Named starter Rose Lavelle was a late scratch from the lineup after team warmups, with US Soccer attributing her last-minute absence to "leg tightness." Lavelle was replaced by midfielder Korbin Albert, giving the US a slightly less aggressive attacking edge throughout the match.

Casey Krueger, Lynn Williams, Jaedyn Shaw, Emily Sonnett, and rookie Croix Bethune all got minutes in the second half, coming off the bench to contend with Washington, DC's brutally hot conditions.

USWNT forward Sophia Smith and Costa Rica midfielder Gloriana Villalobos battle for the ball
Costa Rica managed to fend off the USWNT with a strong defensive low-block. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY)

Costa Rica's low-block spelled trouble

"Listen, if you play a game of percentages or law of averages, we're creating more and more high-quality chances, and we're getting numbers into key areas — we're getting touches in the key areas," Hayes told reporters after the match, calling attention to Costa Rica's strong defensive low-block.

"The last part's the hardest part. And I'm really patient, because I've coached teams that have to break blocks down, and it's the hardest thing to do in coaching," she continued.

Hayes also noted the team's lack of training time under her management: The decorated coach officially joined the US in early June after finishing the WSL season with her previous club, league champs Chelsea FC.

USWNT pose for a picture after their send-off friendly against costa rica at Audi Field
The USWNT's Olympic group stage run kicks off on July 25th. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Where to watch the USWNT's Olympic games

Tuesday's draw is just the second time the USWNT has entered a major tournament off a non-win. Back in 2015, the US embarked on their legendary World Cup campaign after a 0-0 send-off draw with South Korea.

The next time the USWNT takes the pitch will be at the Paris Olympics, where they'll play Zambia on Thursday, July 25th at 3 PM ET. The match will be broadcast live on USA, with streaming options available on Peacock.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

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