This One Is For My Athlete Friends
Mariandl Hufford

Let me come right out and say it: I have never participated in organized sports. Honestly, from a genetic perspective, grace and coordination were not granted to me in abundant supply. Not that I am complaining; I am an able-bodied woman who enjoys long walks and short runs.

Another reason for never having ventured into athletics is my upbringing in parts of the world where, unlike in the U.S., participation in sports was not a foregone conclusion. In Belgium, where I attended middle and upper schools, for example, my academic day did not end until close to 4:30 p.m., and no schools had sports teams. This worked for me; I was always more comfortable reading a book or writing an essay than kicking a ball or swinging a racket.

But, perhaps ironically, I have a deep appreciation for the power of athletics in the lives of young (and old!) people. The commitment, resilience, and the loyalty to teammates that are required to be a student athlete are all traits that anyone would appreciate in friends and colleagues.

In fact, I find myself surrounded by athletes and former athletes on a daily basis. These are the colleagues and friends who are most collaborative. They are strong and determined women (and men) who seek excellence in all endeavors. They love the lessons of athletics that transcend the physical: fair play, honor, and determination are values that guide their interactions and inform their decision-making. A committed athlete is one who must be willing to seek and accept feedback — for a steadfast belief that this and continued hard work will lead to excellence and victory is a hallmark principle of the sports contender.

There are obvious reasons for participation in sports: the physical and mental health benefits to the athlete are clear and well-documented. A big contest harbingers excitement and pride in one’s school or city or country — depending on the venue — and can bring together a community in a way no intellectual endeavor ever has.

For girls, especially, there is robust evidence that participation in team sports increases their confidence and their willingness to take necessary risks. Sports help girls build their resiliency, and their ability to problem-solve. These, and more, are all skills and traits that good leaders need, and sports are one proven way to develop these in girls and women. For example, a recent survey showed that 96% of C-level women were athletes. That is an astounding statistic and one we should not ignore. Women who participated in athletics when they were younger were 25% more likely to be interested in running for elective office. It is clear that the benefits of participation in sports go well beyond the physical.

One of the most interesting initiatives I have had the pleasure to work on this year is one that answers the following question: How might we harness the engagement of our students in athletics in order to further develop their leadership capacity? In collaboration with our Athletics Department, we, at CAG, have set out to design a program that provides for our student athletes a unique, girl-centered leadership development experience. Discussions with various stakeholders, such as the athletes themselves and the coaches that work with them, have shown us where the opportunities lie that will infuse this program with the skill building that our girls, and our future women leaders crave.

For me, the time spent brainstorming and discussing the possible ways in which to develop this new program is energizing and fun; while I may be the least coordinated person in the room, I still get the opportunity to work with athletes. And it doesn’t get any better than that.

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