INDIANAPOLIS -- As the only full-time female coach in the NFL, 49ers' Katie Sowers knows she’s a pioneer. At the Women's Careers in Football Forum that was held prior to the opening of the NFL Scouting Combine, she became a sounding board and mentor for the select women in attendance who are aspiring coaches, trainers and scouts.
Sowers spoke with NBC Sports Bay area after the forum and expressed that she feels blessed to be heading into her third season in Santa Clara. But she added that she will never rest on her laurels. Her drive to help others find their path might even be stronger than ever.
“Just the energy that I feel from being around these women,” Sowers said, “and knowing that I’m opening doors for them, it definitely is something that gives me my ‘why.’”
Sowers’ wish is to have more full-time positions available to women because providing for oneself, let alone a family while being an intern is impossible.
“I want to get to a day,” Sowers said, “where I’m not hearing women asking how many internships do I have to do because I can’t provide for my family.”
That day may be a little bit closer. After the forum, Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians reported that he will create a full-time coaching position designated for a woman.
“I don’t know that I feel a responsibility,” Sowers said. “I just feel a passion, and that’s not just for women. It’s for anyone who has a dream -- and that can kind of sound like a Miss America answer -- but anyone that has a dream and feels like there’s a barrier because of the societal blinders that we put on.”
Sowers’ advice to aspiring women is not only to find their ‘why’, but to also make themselves irreplaceable.
“Truly find out your ‘why’ because it’s going to be tiring and draining,” Sowers said. “If your ‘why’ doesn’t line up with the path you’re on, it’s not going to feel worth it.
"Don’t try to do everything, find out what you’re good at, and what you’re going to do to be an asset to the team and you’re going to be someone that cannot be replaced.”
Kyle Shanahan and his staff obviously found Sowers irreplaceable. When asked how she accomplished that, she shared what she believes put her ahead of the curve.
“I wanted to make sure that even though I was a woman,” Sowers said, “I was not someone that was changing the dynamics of the team. When the coaches had a staff meeting, I wasn’t changing the way people felt in the meeting. I wanted everyone to be themselves.”
But it wasn’t just about making sure everyone was comfortable. Sowers’ work ethic hasn’t changed since she started as an intern in Atlanta. When she’s on the practice field, young players like receiver Kendrick Bourne approach her, listen, and take her coaching to heart because she’s done the homework.
“I went out of my way to do things that other people weren’t doing,” Sowers said. “Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in the game of football. Coming in, new to the NFL, and just the way the schemes work are completely different than the women’s football that I learned.
“So I created my own document of every single concept. We didn’t have that documentation. We didn’t have the rules. You learned it in the classroom. You’re expected to take notes, but to me, I needed to see everything.”
Sowers explained that she still has the document and has added to it every season. What started out as a tool for her has become a tool for some of the players. When she is on the practice field, receivers work with her as they do all of their coaches, asking questions, and taking advice.
For some that come into contact with Sowers, this apparently seems like an unbelievable dynamic.
“I'm asked all the time,” Sowers said “‘Do the guys respect you?’ That’s a normal question I get. One day, oddly I was watching ballet practice in Kansas City, a field very dominated by women, but there was a male director.
“I was thinking to myself, how weird would it be if I went up to him and said, ‘You are working in a field of a lot of women, do the women listen to you?’ That would be a very weird question. But it just goes to show the power dynamics that we have in society, how men are dominant and women are submissive.”
With all of the doubt and questions about going against the grain, Sowers explained why she chose the path less traveled.
“I’m doing it for that little girl that had a dream of playing football,” Sowers said, “but never thought could play football. I was lucky enough to have a second chance around to follow in my dad’s footsteps of coaching, but coaching a sport that was my first love.”