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Jill Costanza on NFL Women's Forum: 'It's powerful to see us all together'

INDIANAPOLIS – Jill Costanza never dreamed of working and coaching in the NFL.

"When I grew up, I didn't see women (in the NFL)," Costanza told at the NFL Scouting Combine this week. "I had no desire to work in the NFL or in male sports until I saw Maral Javadifar with the Buccaneers when I was 40. It was like, 'Holy moly, I can be a strength and conditioning coach in the NFL?'"

Costanza just finished her third season as the Detroit Lions Director of Sports Science.

This week at the NFL Scouting Combine Costanza took part in the NFL Women's Forum as a panel speaker alongside the 11 other female coaches across the league. The NFL leads all major male sports leagues with the most women in coaching roles.

"It's powerful to see us all together," Costanza said of all 12 women on the stage together this week looking to inspire young women to follow their path to the NFL. "I know the Lions, especially with Mrs. Sheila (Hamp) and Mr. Steve (Hamp) they have created an environment where even the men in the organization are great allies. I've been in some [crappy] environments, and I must say this is the best I've ever been a part of. We have such a great environment. I feel like I belong.

"Talking about the NFL brotherhood, now we have an NFL sisterhood and unless you're in it you really don't get it. I try to tell my family and friends, but they don't get it. You have to be in it. And being able to share those experiences with other women is very powerful."

Prior to joining Detroit, Costanza spent two years with Guardian Premier Solutions (GPS), a professional training and coaching company, at the Lackland (Texas) Air Force Base. She served as the unit's program manager and focused on utilizing science and technology to optimize human performance, reduce injury and expedite rehabilitation with the Air Force Special Warfare Program (AFSW).

Costanza developed Detroit's data and technology programs within strength and conditioning, and works directly with the players and coaching staff on all training, rehab and injury prevention with an analytical approach. She is a certified strength and conditioning specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA).

She's become an integral part of head coach Dan Campbell's staff.

"Jill brings versatility and a different coaching style to our team, and really a different knowledge to sports science in regard to training," Campbell said. "Really, a lot of the players gravitate to her because she has a different kind of viewpoint and approach that's her own.

"Philosophy-wise, we're all the same and we're aligned with Mike Clark (Director of Sports Performance). But she's her own woman and I think our coaches and players really appreciate that. She gets her hands dirty in the weight room with our players and we're very fortunate to have her."

Costanza's ability to use technology and data to enhance performance is cutting edge, but it's her infectious energy and ability to relate to players that really stands out. She specializes in three-dimensional movement in all planks of motion. When players move better, they feel better, and Costanza has a movement-based approach.

"Understanding how the foot and ankle impacts the hip and impacts the shoulder and being able to look at the body from a holistic view," Costanza said. "How your hormones and testosterone impacts your training and nutrition and bringing in (Director of Performance Nutrition) Katherine (Hopkins) and sleep and emotional and spiritual well-being. How that plays a role."

Costanza's information helps guide others in the organization to make better decisions with the goal of players reaching peak performance.

She said one of the best parts about her job is when she sits down with a player and the light bulb goes off for them and they start to feel stronger and sleep better, and the aches and pains aren't as intense or persistent.

One player who has really bought into Costanza's and Clark's approach has been third-year defensive lineman Alim McNeill, who trimmed body fat and improved his movement skills last offseason and had a career year in 2023.

"He's all about Kinesiology," Costanza said of McNeill. "So, I talk to him, 'OK, Alim, you've got to take a little longer in recovery in your power cleans because you have to rephosphorylate. He's like, 'what?' He wants to take it all in and the next thing I hear him telling me, 'OK coach, I'm rephosphorylating.' They want to learn, and the ultimate goal is that some point in time their football career is going to be over, but I want them to have the tools and knowledge to continue leading a healthy lifestyle."

This week's Women's Forum was the eighth annual as part of the league's ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It was designed to educate and connect women candidates currently working in college football to grow their network and learn industry insights.

Costanza enjoyed being on the panel and embraces her role as a pioneer in this league. She's an important part of what goes on behind the scenes in Detroit.

"It's so rewarding because it's such a sacrifice," she said. "It's like a constant agitation, 'I should be doing more for them. I should know more.' Then to be able to see the success and they come back to you and say, 'thank you,' it just makes it all worth it. It really does. It makes all the hard work and sacrifice worth it."

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