Locker Rooms and Leadership: Why sports are the best foundation for a better life for girls.
Unless you work on Wall Street, you might be unfamiliar with the so-called “Lacrosse Mafia”. This unusual name refers to a group of former NCAA All-American lacrosse players, including a large squad of women, who have continued to work as a team long after the end of their days on the field. Contrary to their namesakes in organized crime, these competitors do not enforce their will through physical muscle, a scarcity of formal education, and cheap pinstripe suits. Rather, the team’s female lineup are among the best and brightest stars on Wall Street, claiming their power and influence from training at some of America's best colleges and universities. Although their formal education is impressive, they would say the training which has contributed most to their success wasn’t learned in a classroom. Instead, these women attribute their success in the business world to the physical and mental lessons, as well as critical teamwork skills they learned playing sports. I couldn't agree more!
As a varsity rower working hard to achieve my dream of becoming a top level Division-I collegiate rower, I have had the opportunity to experience first-hand the enormous impact that sports have on a person’s life. Not only are sports a foundation for lifelong fitness and improved mental health, but they also teach many other valuable lessons that aren’t learned in a classroom. These lessons are significant in terms of both developing maturity and achieving long-term success, but they are also key to the early development of important leadership and relationship skills. These skills ultimately serve to empower girls to live healthier and more rewarding lives, validating the need to support and encourage girls to participate in sports and to maintain equal access to sports programs for females of all ages.
I have participated in some form of team sports since I was four years old, beginning with swimming and soccer. Over the next 13 years, my interest in sports only grew. I added basketball and volleyball to my first loves of swimming and soccer, sometimes playing on more than one team in a single season. Clearly, there was something positive about these varied sports and teams that not only drew me to them, but also kept me coming back for more! In thinking about what attracted me to these sports, and lacking any kind of underwater soccer league, I eventually picked rowing crew as my exclusive, year-round sport.
Rowing is often called the “ultimate team sport” because teamwork is absolutely indispensable to any kind of success. Rowing does not have an MVP or “team standout” like you see in other sports. In fact, if one of the rowers in a boat tries to outshine the others, it causes the entire boat to go slower! This is because every stroke from every rower directly affects the boat's success. This makes rowing unique in the sense that each rower must always be willing to sacrifice their personal goals for the goals of the team. When you think about that concept in terms of success, both in sports and in life, you will see how critical the concept of matching the talent, commitment, determination, and resilience of individuals into your team is if you want to succeed.
Sports in general, including rowing, teaches the critical skills of teamwork and leadership. However, rowing is unique in that it teaches the critical-but-often-forgotten concept of being present. Although the total effort for each member of an eight person boat may be a small portion of the total, without even the weakest link giving their maximum focus and effort to achieve the team’s goals, the boat stands no chance. In rowing, you learn not only how to depend upon others, but also how others depend upon you. This is perhaps the most critical, and potentially least appreciated, skill gained from sports.
Another valuable skill I have learned in sports that is key to the success of the ”Lacrosse Mafia” is the ability to get along with others in a high-stress situation, while simultaneously maintaining a sharp focus on team goals rather than individual ones. Wall Street is notoriously known as a dog-eat-dog world, but a focus on overall goals is ultimately responsible for the most success. In the modern world of social media, a nanosecond news cycle, and curated lives, a background in sports has taught me and others that success is measured as a group toward long-term goals, not how many likes a post on Instagram received.
Of course, there are more obvious lessons learned from sports that sometimes get overlooked. Sports help with mental fitness and self-confidence by rewarding incremental success, teaching the power of delayed gratification through achieving long-term goals. This also teaches determination and the invaluable concept of always challenging yourself and others to improve.
Likewise, there is no better place than sports to learn punctuality, school/work life balance, and time-management. Any athlete who’s ever been sidelined for being late or not keeping up their grades will confirm those lessons are etched on your brain’s hard drive — forever.
Finally, sports teach the courage to be unafraid of competition, both from your own teammates but also from challenges to your team as a whole. Once that fear of failure is lifted, you learn to accept yourself and your best efforts. Equally important, you gain the selflessness needed to lift others up and celebrate the success of your teammates and others. From this skill, not only do you learn to accept decisions out of your control, but also the creativity to try new or different things.
Rowing is a critical part of my life that has taught me a multitude of crucial skills skills that help me in every part of my life, even pageants! I can only hope that after a fulfilling rowing career in college, I will be able to join the “Lacrosse Mafia” and put the valuable lessons learned in sports to use with another kind of team.