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Marissa Young Embraces Role Model Role At Duke

(Photo by Duke)

Being a coach during the first pandemic in 100 years is difficult. Being one of two Black Power Five head softball coaches is difficult. Doing either of those things—combined with what happened on May 25 is enough to overwhelm most people.

But Marissa Young couldn’t afford to be most people.

Young, heading into her fourth season at the helm of Duke's softball program, was with her family when the video made its way across her screen.

On May 25, an eight minute and 46 second video showing the death of George Floyd surfaced on social media.

“We were apart, and that was really difficult to deal with,” Young said. “What happened with George Floyd and not being able to be with our kids and wrap your arms around them (was difficult).”

Young, a mother of four, feels she has 29 children, not just four to look after. And when she saw the video, she knew it had to be addressed.

“We decided to take what would have been our first (practice) together as a full team and really talk about it and be there for one another,” Young said.

“I'm a mom of four and I have to balance that at home, too—making sure that my kids feel like they're equipped to go out into this world and be successful regardless of how people may look at you or view you because of the color of your skin,” Young said.

Along with Young speaking, the team’s five Black athletes were given the floor to address their team—sharing life experiences in the wake of tragedy was just what Young said her team needed.

“It was really eye-opening for us as coaches,” Young said. “But also (for) their teammates to see that, you know, life isn't always the same experience for those around you and not to take it for granted.”

While being a mom to four kids and a coach to 25 women can be stressful at times, it is a life that Young said she wouldn’t change a single aspect of.

“(Being a mom and a coach) is definitely a stress, but it's also the beauty of being in a leadership role,” Young said. “I think that you're not a leader until you're able to lead a group through some difficult times, and I'll be the first to say, I don't always, you know, have the right answer, the right response.

“I think my children and my team have really taught me a lot about empathy and having the ability to step back and look at things through other people's eyes.”

When Young made the 30-minute move northeast from Chapel Hill, N.C. after two years as an assistant with UNC, she had a key goal for her time at Duke: To show young women of color that they can be where she is.

“I carry a lot of responsibility that I've been given this wonderful opportunity, and people are looking to see what you do with that,” Young said. “I want to do so well with this opportunity that it opens doors for others to have those opportunities in the future and I don't think I should necessarily feel that sense of obligation or responsibility. But it definitely motivates me to stay at the top of my game and know that my success could open doors for other people and other opportunities and that's really, you know, a motivating force for me.”

Young is one of three Black coaches at Duke, which is a fact that she takes pride in and uses to set an example for her athletes.

“Duke, in itself, is a place where even in getting a job I felt like people looked at me and asked me questions like I didn't belong here running this program, and I know a lot of our athletes have experienced similar experiences and people are like, ‘You, Duke? How did you get in? How did you get there?’” Young added. “Duke is an incredible place with a lot of prestige, and I think just opening the door for minority women to say, ‘I belong there, I can do this,’ then I can be a role model for other women. It is really important.”

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