If you live in Canada, then you also know that TSN SPORTSCENTRE is the channel to tune into for hockey updates. Delivering your daily dose of sports highlights is none other than Natasha Staniszewski.
Natasha completely debunked my assumptions about individuals with TV fame, in the best possible way. We met years ago volunteering for a not-for profit organization (go figure, it had to do with sports!) – without missing a beat, she introduced herself, without assuming that everyone should know who she is, and that was the start of our friendship. Her laid-back attitude and our mutual disinterest to be loud alphas is what made meetings fly by and random week night outings memorable. She is hands down one of the most talented and hardest working people I know, but also humble to the core. People see a talented sports anchor every morning but they don’t know all the hustle, hard-work and detours that took place for her to get to where she is today.
In Canada, you’re synonymous with sports, but not many people know you started your career in business. At what point did you know that business wasn’t for you?
In high school I loved sports and remember thinking I might be a good sports anchor, but it just wasn’t the logical decision to go to school to do it. There weren’t many women in sports on TV at the time and it seemed like a crazy notion, so I did the practical thing and went to university and got a business degree. I graduated and was working in human resources for a few years, 9-5, Monday-Friday, typical desk job, not enjoying it at all. When I was sent to a conference in Calgary, I distinctly remember sitting in the lobby during break, not that happy to be there and there was a TV in the corner – one of the sports networks were on and there was a woman reading the highlights. At that moment, I thought: “If she can do it, I can do it too.”
“I was so unhappy with my current situation, I had to try.”
As soon as I got back to Edmonton, I filled out the college application form and then I got my acceptance letter not long after. When it happened, I remember thinking “Am I actually going to do this? Am I really going to quit all of this and go back to school at the age of 26?”. It was tough for a couple of weeks trying to make a decision. But then I thought about it more and really, I had nothing to lose. I was so unhappy with my current situation, I had to try.
What was it like deciding to go back to school and starting over?
It was crazy hard! It’s funny because at the time, I felt old at 26 and all I could think about was “Am I really going to do two more years of school and give up this good job? Am I really going to borrow money from my parents to go back to school?”. Looking back now, at 26 you’re still a baby! Why wouldn’t you go back to school? You have to take that chance.
It’s easy for me to say maybe because it worked out so well, but to keep doing what I was doing, something I was doing for four years day in and day out, it wasn’t an alternative. I didn’t want that, so screw it, I’m unhappy, I’m going to go.
Did you find going back to school as a mature student was an advantage?
100%. Most of the kids in my class were 17-18, fresh out of high school and the majority of them just wanted to be on TV. They didn’t know what they wanted to do and it’s so hard to know at that age. I had a lot more riding on it and knew exactly what I wanted. I got the marks, went after the scholarships because I was focused enough to apply for them whereas my classmates didn’t even know that they existed. When it came to hiring, a lot of news directors would rather hire a 28 year old over a 20 year old. I was serious about my career, had a lot more life experiences and knew what I wanted.
You didn’t start your career in Toronto, in fact you were in small towns out west bouncing around quite a bit.
I know! It’s funny because I try and think back about how I even got through it. At one point the smallest town I was in was around 20,000 people. I started in Saskatchewan, then did Lloyd Minster, then Regina, Yorkton, Prince Albert, Saskatoon then back to Edmonton.
“That’s how I ended up going to Wal-Mart and buying one of those big air mattresses and literally slept on it for two years because I kept moving so fast from place to place.”
At the time my goal was to just get back to Edmonton. When I first moved, I packed my car and stayed with somebody who had a bed in their basement but the next place I moved to was an unfurnished apartment. I didn’t want to ship everything out where I was because I didn’t know how long I’d be there for and when I would have to leave. That’s how I ended up going to Wal-Mart and buying one of those big air mattresses and literally slept on it for two years because I kept moving so fast from place to place.
Hustling is usually a term used for entrepreneurs but what you did, moving from job to job, sleeping on an air mattress and going after what you wanted is arguably a demonstration of hustling at its best.
I think about it now and it all seems so crazy but it didn’t feel that crazy at the time. That was my life! I was in Yorkton for six months, then got my first sports job in Prince Albert, and I was there for nine months before I moved to Saskatoon for a year and a half before finally moving back to Edmonton. It sounds crazy now but I kinda loved it at the time. You learn everything from the bottom up- how to shoot, honing your reporting and interviewing skills, editing, being responsible for writing your own stuff—you learn EVERYTHING.
You didn’t start off doing sports right away, what was the transition like?
No, my first gig was a news role since I really just wanted to get that first job. A news director that was mentoring me at the time said “Take the news job. Get in there and then work your way into sports.” It worked out perfectly. That only lasted for six months; covering farm stories, stories on garlic etc… and then I landed my first sports job.
What was it like migrating to Toronto?
The thing is, I never wanted to come to Toronto. That was never my goal. All I wanted was to get back to Edmonton and cover the teams that I grew up watching: the Oilers and the Eskimos. I had zero interest in Toronto. I didn’t want to leave my family and honestly didn’t think I knew enough about sports to work for a national network. It was never part of the plan. I was in Edmonton for two years and kept in touch with the President (VP) of TSN to get feedback on my tapes and when one of the girls went on mat leave, they asked me to fill in. It was another one of those moment where I didn’t want to say no to an opportunity. You kind of have to say yes and just try things and see where it goes.
“You kind of have to say yes and just try things and see where it goes.”
So I came here kind of reluctantly. That made the transition tough- Toronto is such a huge city and I didn’t realize how big it was and I literally didn’t know anyone except for people at work. I made friends there first and then you just try and say yes to everything. Anytime you meet somebody who says “Let’s hangout, let’s do this…” you just say yes to get out there and meet as many people as you can.
Portraits shot by Katy Chan / KTCHN Photography
What is that ‘it’ factor that got you to where you are in a male dominated industry and why do you think it’s difficult for women to get ahead in your industry?
It’s a good question and I don’t even know where to start. The reality is, it’s not actually difficult for women to get ahead anymore. If you look at our network and the other network, we have just as many female anchors and reporters as males, if not more right now. It wasn’t that way when I was in high school watching TV. Today, it feels pretty even.
The biggest thing I learned is that you just have to be yourself up there. You can’t try to be anything you’re not. The best anchors are the ones who are themselves all the time and stay true to their personalities. As a woman you can try and use your sexuality or your looks to get ahead but at the end of the day, if you don’t know what you’re talking about people will see right through you. People can sniff out the fakeness. The best thing you can do is to be genuine, know your stuff and that’s it. There’s so much more to the job than just knowing sports. You have to be able to connect with people. Our boss at TSN always says, “If people at home and feel like they can have a beer with you, and just talk sports, then you’re doing your job”. You want to be personable and be yourself.
“As a woman you can try and use your sexuality or your looks to get ahead but at the end of the day, if you don’t know what you’re talking about people will see right through you.”
Did it ever occur to you that you’d be here? You went from being in Edmonton wanting to talk about the Oilers and now you’re on a national network.
No, never! I never thought that. Like I said, I never wanted to come to Toronto, I never thought I would be good enough to actually make it on TSN. To be here now and to be on one of the most watched time slots at the best network in the country, is really cool.
Feel like you made it? You worked hard to be where you’re at.
People use that phrase all the time but I was never a super ambitious person so to say that “I made it”, I don’t really know what that means. I know people say you made it, but I just found a job that I really love and people pay me to do it. So I guess I made it?
Portraits shot by Katy Chan / KTCHN Photography
But it happened with a lot of hard work.
It’s true, it was hard. Moving away from my family, sleeping on that air mattress, not knowing anybody and moving six times in three years. You don’t know anybody in any city, so it was really lonely and you’re making no money without any assurance that you’re going to make it back to Edmonton or even Toronto. There were sacrifices in the beginning for sure.
You spent 10 years hustling to get to where you are now, what would you tell women who are thinking about a career change?
#1 Hardwork. Hardwork pays off, it paid off for me anyways. All my teachers at school said “Go to the small towns, put your time in there.” A lot of students don’t want to do that, they don’t want to move, let alone to small towns. They want to get with a big network and be on TV right away. 99% of the time it doesn’t work like that. You have to get your legwork in first, get your experience and make those sacrifices. So that’s the route I took and it worked for me. Hardwork usually pays off in some way or another.
“You have to get your legwork in first, get your experience and make those sacrifices…Hardwork usually pays off in some way or another.”
#2: Figure out who you are and just be really good at being you and don’t deviate from that. Especially in this industry where people comment on your looks and how you talk, what you’re wearing. how your hair looks like and on and on and on… you really have to develop thick skin. It takes a while to build it up but you get comments from people and you know that people are you judging you more harshly than men. When a women makes a mistake it’s “Oh she doesn’t know what she’s talking about!”. Men, make a mistake and “Oh he just forgot a stat- He just mixed it up.” There’s more criticism on women so get that thick skin and try to block out all that noise and just remember who you are and get good at being you.
“Figure out who you are, and just be really good at being you. Don’t deviate from that.”
What do you do outside of sports/work?
I try and volunteer a little bit now that I have time off during the days. I am kind of a nerd because I really like baking: cakes, cookies, loafs, any kind of baking. I’m trying to be a healthy baker, experimenting with recipes like a black bean brownie I made. I always bring it into the newsroom and usually the guys will devour it there. They’re like my guinea pigs!
I love going to concerts! That’s one of my favourite things about Toronto that there’s always a concert on somewhere. And obviously I love sporting events,so on the weekends I’ll usually end up at a Leaf’s game, Jays game or Raptors game. Even though the weekend’s are my downtime I still love watching sports.