Sports have always played a big role in Kyla Alvarenga’s life—from kicking a soccer ball with her brother as a kid to playing collegiate soccer at Linfield to choosing athletics as a career path. For our next installment of the Get in the Game blog series, we talked with Kyla—SGS alum class of 2010—about playing sports at SGS, what it’s like to work in sports science and athletic training, her thoughts on the new gym, and successes and challenges with gender equity and sports.
What was your middle school experience like at Seattle Girls’ School (SGS)?
It was a lot different than my other friends’ middle school experiences. We got a lot of freedom [at SGS], and they encouraged creative thinking and group projects and teamwork. Thinking back on it now, I think that was the perfect environment and fit for me. Everyone was very supportive and encouraging and wanted you to explore who you were.
What sports did you play at SGS?
I played soccer, which was my main sport, but I also played basketball and one season of lacrosse. There were also other extracurricular activities that we got to choose from, and one activity I chose many times in a row was called Skate Like A Girl, which was really fun. They would pick us up on Wednesdays and we’d go to the skate park and learn to skate and skateboard—so cool. SGS also had a program in the winter where they would take you to the mountains and teach you to ski and snowboard. That was big for me because I still snowboard and love it.
What was the athletic program at SGS like when you were a student?
There was a lot of community involvement in coaching sports at SGS—sometimes it was a parent and other times a teacher. My basketball coach was Darin, who was also my math teacher, and she was a big role model for me. With the sports programs, the attitude wasn’t that we needed to go out and win every game: It was more about wanting everyone to go outside and be active and have fun, and you could be as competitive as you wanted to be. I am a very competitive person, so I took it seriously, and I also played soccer outside of middle school on the local youth league team. But [sports at SGS] was a good way to interact with your classmates outside of the classroom and do something you enjoy.
What was your journey with athletics after middle school?
I continued playing soccer in high school and club, and then I played in college. College was probably my favorite time, where I played at Linfield University. Linfield had similar vibes to SGS—it is also small and allowed me to have more of a focused education. I think about my college soccer experiences very fondly and have those friends now. I then went back to Linfield for my master’s and was able to work with the soccer program that I played with as a professional sports scientist and athletic trainer.
What made you decide to become an athletic trainer and later study sports science?
I first started thinking about athletic training in high school after I injured my ankle and worked with our school athletic trainer. At the time, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after graduating. I wasn’t trying to go pro in soccer, but I really love sports and the community aspect of it, and I wanted to stay involved in athletics. I also really liked medical things. With athletic training, you get to be involved with sports and work with athletes to help rehab them so they can continue to play. I chose Linfield because I was able to do both at the same time—play soccer and do athletic training—which a lot of schools don’t allow you to do.
After undergrad at Linfield, I came back to Seattle where I worked as the athletic trainer at a soccer academy in Seattle, and I also worked with Seattle Children’s. I knew I wanted to get my master’s, and Linfield happened to offer a relatively new program in sports science, so I thought that would be a good fit combined with my athletic training knowledge.
What kind of work do you do in sports science, and where do you imagine you’ll take your career?
I just graduated in December from the master's program at Linfield. The reason I got my sports science degree is so that I can use both athletic training and sports science together.
While in the master's program, I did a lot of research, working with our women’s soccer team using GPS units. A big moment last November—I got to work with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team as an athletic trainer. That was essentially my 10-year goal, and I was able to experience that in five years since graduating from undergrad. I like thinking back to middle school Kyla, and how wild she would think that was to be in the same room as Alex Morgan. That’s probably the most memorable thing that I’ve recently done.
For the next year or so, I want to enjoy my time working on contract with U.S. Soccer—enjoying the trips I am going on and the people I work with and trying to learn all I can and be the best I can. My goal is to one day work with the National Women’s Soccer League—hopefully in Seattle. And my longer-term plan is to do more research and development work with a company like Nike or Adidas. I would also like to coach at some point because I do love coaching.
We are in the 50th year since the passage of Title IX. What successes and challenges related to gender equity in athletics have you experienced?
I’ll start with a challenge, and this one was specifically at Linfield. Because the football team was so big at Linfield, we were not allowed to cut anyone from the women’s soccer team because it would violate Title IX (this is the case for NCAA Division III schools). This makes it difficult when you get to a collegiate level sport where many want to be competitive, but others are playing more for fun. At the college level, you want everyone on the team to be working toward the same goal, and women’s sports should be allowed to be competitive. So that was something that held us back.
The flip side of that is thinking about 50 years ago when women weren’t really allowed to play sports like they are now. I think it’s always good to expect more and want more, so those rules and guidelines of Title IX were great back then, and now we need to continue to evolve them to where we are now.
Do you have any advice for current students about how to get the most out of their athletic experiences at SGS?
In middle school, I think you tend to do what’s comfortable, because everything is uncomfortable at that time. It’s OK to get out of your comfort zone and push yourself. There will always be your gut intuition that tells you what is right and wrong for you, but if it’s uncomfortable and it feels OK, it’s always good to push your boundaries. Also, it’s easy for an athlete to put yourself in a box. That was the case for me, and being an athlete became my whole identity. It’s OK to not just be an athlete, but to also have different likes and interests and not to box yourself in.