Jan Spence will speak at the Perdido Beach Resort on Oct. 23.By John Mullen

October 20, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL – (OBA®) – Jan Spence found part of her life’s calling in one of the most unlikely of places – on the football field during tryouts for a new women’s football team in Jacksonville, Florida.

“I had always wanted to play women’s professional full-tackle football but there were no women’s teams at the time,” Spence said via phone recently. “As a child mother instilled that in me being from the south and good old SEC college football fan. I had that dream and carried it into my adulthood. Finally, my husband said there’s a women’s full-tackle football team coming to Jacksonville why don’t you go try out.”

At first, she hedged, not sure if she was really ready to take the full plunge.

“Of course, I wasn’t prepared and the tryouts were actually that day,” Spence said. “I said I’m not prepared I shouldn’t go. But my husband used his words to encourage me.”

And her life’s calling was born. On the field that day she learned how powerful words can be, for good and bad. At that first practice in August of 2001. Spence has put to work the lessons she learned on that field to establish herself as a motivational speaker and trainer. On Oct. 23 she’ll bring that motivation as the keynote speaker for the National Association of Educational Procurement meeting at the Perdido Beach Resort.

“The women were mean, they were laughing at each other, they were real competitive and nobody was helping each other,” Spence said. “I was doing bad at tryouts. I finally was coming to the 40-yard dash and thought this is something I can do and I’ve got to perform here. I thought I did great. I gave it everything I had and some women on the sidelines were just cruel and said really, really cruel things to me.”

Eventually, she says, she had to find a way to turn that around and get the team moving in a positive direction.

“While it hurt me and crushed me at the moment, I had to make a decision,” she said. “I could just leave and give up on my dream and just admit defeat. Not only by my performance but by the criticism of the other women there. But I didn’t.”

She recalled the talk she had with her husband and remembered the cooler he’d packed with water and Gatorade. She began spreading refreshments and encouraging words.

“And I started cheering them on, I would applaud for them, I would yell their name and encourage them,” Spence said. “One of the key points is that behavior was contagious. So instead of just me applauding on the sideline, other women started to do that. They started cheering each other on and encouraging each other. As a result of that, the coach noticed that and in about an hour I had turned 80 women, 80 competitors into teammates.”

In the meanwhile, she had found a calling as well.

“It’s on my TEDx talk and how words can tear people down and how they can build them up,” she said. “Words have power and encouraging words can make a difference. Even a small gesture can make a difference in our connecting with people and lifting people up. I think it’s a message that everyone needs to be reminded of.”

It will be at the heart of her keynote address as she explains how “cheer leadership” can turn things around in the workplace.

She doesn’t play football anymore but did last that first year all the way to the championship game. All because of her encouraging words to teammates at that first practice.

“I ended up making the team because the coach saw that,” Spence said. “He saw that what I had was just as valuable as athletic skill. I helped to bring a team together, encourage them, help with cohesion and moving in one direction instead of fighting with each other. We began to move in unison toward a common goal. I played with them the first year, we went to the first-ever Women’s Bowl I in San Diego.”