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Rugby Hopeful Naya Tapper On How She Is Staying Focused On The Olympic Dream

by Naya Tapper

Naya Tapper poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympics shoot on Nov. 20, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.


What's Your Why presented by DeVry highlights athlete’s individual motivations that drive them to pursue greatness on their journey to achieve their Olympic & Paralympic dreams.


As a member of the U.S. rugby sevens team, one of the crucial things we talk about during our team culture meetings is why we do what we do. I’ll admit, I never really thought about it much until I reached the professional level and I turned something I use to do for fun into my job. 
When I was playing rugby in college, I picked it up to have something to keep me active and to make friends. I ran fast, but only as fast as I needed to. I dilly daddled through the fitness sessions and looked forward to the rugby socials more than the actual games sometimes. That outlook was flipped upside down once I turned pro. 
Here your fitness actually mattered. I had to run like I was running for my life because girls were just as fast if not faster than me, and I looked forward to games more because it was an opportunity to show my abilities. My goals changed from only wanting to have fun to wanting to become the best rugby player in the world and accomplish my newly found Olympic dream. Life as a professional rugby player is amazing and life changing but boy is it tough - everyday! It is stressful, tiring and more tiring.
I have been working with our sports psychologist, Peter Haberl, about how to deal with the mental aspect of my sport. One tool he provided me with was motivation, my why. What makes me get up early to get my butt kicked all day? What makes me get excited for Tackle Tuesday when I'm still sore from last Tuesday? What makes me want to pursue greatness and my Olympic dream? The answer is simple. I have learned “my why!” 
My first “why” is self-determination I believe I was born with, especially being a Leo! Growing up, I was always self-driven. I was the multitasking queen. From academics to sports to volunteering, there was nothing I couldn't do. I always strived to be the best at whatever I did. It felt innate. I was addicted to being successful and still am. 
I think this has played a big factor in how far I've come in life. I didn't always have this Olympic dream. It wasn't something on my radar until my last year of college when I became aware of my potential. Once I learned I could make it to the Olympics playing rugby, it was game on! I knew that making it to the Olympics was a rare accomplishment and I decided that year that I would do whatever it takes to add it to my resume. That self-drive I have has me currently training for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2002 as you read this!
My second “why” is to make my family and friends proud. They have been with me since I started my rugby journey. My family came to as many of my college games as possible. My mom supported me in playing a sport many of the parents of my teammates didn't and my friends were always rooting for me or bragging about me no matter what. It only feels right to make all their invested time and support worth something. Not saying that getting as far as I have gotten isn't success in itself, but making it to the Olympics will really give all of them something to be proud of. It would be something to set me aside from the rest. 

My third “why” is to create new and better avenues for myself. I truly believe being an Olympian provides opportunities to network with some of the top people in the world. Bringing my resume into any establishment with ‘Olympian’ written on it will for sure be a game changer for me when I start looking for professions outside of rugby. It’ll open doors for me that would have otherwise been shut in my face. I know that becoming an Olympian in addition to my self determination will make success inevitable for me in whatever path I choose. 

My last “why” is to inspire, inspire, inspire! I believe your voice holds more weight when you're an athlete and doing great things in the world. I hope to be able to reach more people with my platform. I want to be able to show young Black girls, like myself, that they can accomplish anything they put their mind to regardless of their skin color, what sport they are playing or where they grew up. I'll be able to show rugby players, female and male, that the Olympic dream is possible no matter when that dream comes to fruition. 

As an athlete, my main goal is to fulfill my purpose and accomplish my dreams. After that, I hope to use those accolades to put myself into amazing and powerful networking opportunities in order to find my next success story. I also hope to use my success to grow rugby in the United States. 

I want to show the world the amazing opportunities and experiences rugby has provided to me. I want to give back to rugby by starting free camps for all ages and skill levels, coaching at the college or professional level and staying involved with rugby as much as I can. 

On my journey to the Olympics, my purpose has become very clear. My purpose in life is to create a great life for myself, my family and for future generations. It is to spread awareness about the sport of rugby. It is to inspire current and future ruggers, and to create opportunities for them that I didn't have. And of course, I want to give back to the sport that gave so much to me already.