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The Difference Between Success and Failure is a Great Team: Lessons from the Office of WSF

Just as a firm handshake can determine a person’s initial confidence, an introduction is also key for establishing that strong initial connection. Today I introduce myself as Emma Dunleavy, a D1 collegiate track athlete at Loyola University Maryland. Why do I include my sport background? Sports have played an enormous role in shaping who I am today and therefore I have fallen into a natural habit of including it  in my title; track & field is not just a sport I participate in, it is also a true part of who I am.

From a very young age, I can remember participating in every physical activity and sport that was available. My parents have always encouraged my siblings and I to try anything and to give it our all. Although I have not always found success, I take pride in trying all available recreational activities from ballet to soccer. I am grateful to my parents for keeping my best interest in mind for without their encouragement, I would not have found my true passions in specific sports.

My dreams of being a ballerina quickly faded when I realized I could not even touch my toes. Although this was hard to accept, it became clear that playing soccer came more naturally. Soccer was continuously something that I found to be very enjoyable. From that day on I laced up my cleats and kicked a ball every day until my sophomore year in high school.

In sports, as you move up in age group, so does the level of competiveness. Therefore, if you want to succeed in your sport it is not just enough to do the same thing over and over again. As I soon learned, you need to push yourself mentally and physically to new heights. To me this meant participating in both a premier soccer club as well as my high school team.  To keep myself at my best shape possible my parents recommended I try track to cross train. In my head this was not my favorite option, but it seemed to be the necessary choice in order to obtain my future goals.

The spring of sophomore year I added Asics to my daily shoe collection and attended my first track practice. My high school did not have a proper track; however, we did have a have a mile-long driveway that soon took on that role. After countless workouts running around the driveway and competing at meets, I found that track was not just an activity to cross train but rather, it developed into a new passion. I found lasting relationships with girls both older and younger than me on my team, developed a new confidence from within, and remained competitive for the next three years.

By participating on my high school track team, it ultimately pushed me to pursue the sport beyond high school and at the collegiate level. Prior to the start of my track career, I never would have thought about the idea of running in college. In all honesty, I would have laughed because beforehand soccer was my life and everything I did revolved around the idea of being able to play soccer in college. However, by having the opportunities to participate in numerous sports at such a young age, I have become a dynamic athlete, making me into the track athlete and person I am today.

I am grateful to have grown up with proud supporters of female athletes. From coaches to parents, I developed an understanding that my participation in sports will not only help my physical abilities on the field, but also in the classroom and in the workforce. It has been said that sports help build teamwork and develop communication skills. Additionally, it allows others to understand the idea of winning and losing, learn how to play fair and generate new confidence. At all times we must be pushing ourselves beyond the comfortable limits. As much as we let this go through one ear and out the other, we need to grasp that all of these lessons are true and not just clichés.

As a rising junior in college, the importance of excelling in the classroom is evident -especially as internships are highly stressed. After a brief encounter with a member of the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), I started to pursue an internship at the WSF. I happily accepted the position and then shortly after realized this would be my first professional internship. As my first day approached, my nerves began to grow because I was soon going to be entering a workforce that would have me commuting over an hour on Metro North and navigating the streets of New York City: a major concern for a girl that relies on her GPS for everything. I was going to be meeting a new team of co-workers and was to be assigned projects that I would be fully responsible for. The internship opened my eyes to showing me how sports are applicable to professions.

The office can be viewed as a working team, relying on each other, where all individuals have a role that directly affects one another. In order for the “team” to succeed there has to be communication, confidence, compatibility, and compassion. In the eyes of an athlete, there is not a difference between a team on the field or in the workplace. For some, this may be a hard concept to grasp but to athletes, it makes complete sense. The only differentiating factor is where these skills and lessons are being adapted.

At the Women’s Sports Foundation, I quickly became aware that communication between co-workers is needed because each department depends on each other. Each member of the WSF team does not single handedly tackle an individual department but rather, they work together to help each specific department grow. I also found that my fellow co-workers mean more than that to each other and should be described more as a family. They know when to help each other out and care for each other’s well-being.

When I began my internship, I was immediately welcomed and made sure my presence was well known. It was stressed that I was not there for busy work but, instead, all my work was genuinely appreciated. They took the time to show me where the work for each project was going to and how I was adding to the completion of each future goal. I was also given opportunities to meet with the head of each department to understand their roles at the Foundation. This gave me a better insight of how interrelated the departments are, especially within a non-profit organization.

I was treated as a team member and not just an intern. A key takeaway from this internship that I am so appreciative of is that it has solidified my understanding that sport is for life and not just for the playing field. Each day a strong work ethic is shown through the sheer determination to finish a specific project.  It was clear that this work environment displays many similarities that I see on the track and at school. At school not only do our coaches encourage us to go the extra mile, but we push ourselves as well by doing an extra rep in the weight room, spending an extra hour in the study, and even pushing ourselves to run faster in the next workout. This connection has made my time at the Women’s Sports Foundation an unforgettable experience because I was able to naturally take on and adapt to each challenge and task I was asked to tackle. I took each assignment head on and as time progressed, my confidence level increased as well. When challenged with a new task, I did what was naturally fitting from my time in sports which was to persevere and put in 100% of my effort and know that was good enough.

My internship opportunity at the Women’s Sports Foundation was an unforgettable journey because it not only utilized my knowledge of sports and business, but also gave me a first-hand insight on how an organization should be run. The lessons I have developed from my participation in sports have allowed me to participate in this internship at my fullest potential, which I hope will only better me in the future.

The work that the Women’s Sports Foundation does and participates in is so admirable and commendable that I have a gained a new respect for my fellow co-workers- or should I say “team.” I have come to the conclusion that lessons taught in sport are major factors for success in the future and, therefore, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to develop these skills at the WSF, which I will forever foster to help better myself, as well as the society I participate in.