9 Successful Women On How Sports Helped Shape Their Success

As a kid, my parents signed me up for every sport imaginable. From taking gymnastics classes at our town’s recreation center to playing basketball on my church’s youth league, my weekends were often spent on a court, atop a balance beam, or outside on the soccer field. When I got older and started high school, my athletic priorities shifted from trying everything under the sun to a specific set of sports I discovered I was good at: field hockey, basketball, and track.

Being a year-round student-athlete was tough at times, especially when I had to juggle SATs and track meets, or college applications and the height of basketball season. Yet looking back, I can’t imagine a high school experience without these sports. Through athletics, I forged friendships with teammates I may not have otherwise met, learned how to work as part of a cohesive group, developed essential time management skills, and gained invaluable insight from my coaches. To highlight how sports can help shape future success, we partnered with the United States Marine Corps to share how athletics have impacted nine women’s lives.

1. "Rowing Gave Me Confidence"

“I rowed competitively in high school, which — it turns out — is not an easy sport. There were practices that made me feel as though I was going to throw up and races that left me practically incapable of breathing by the finish line. And though that sounds sort of miserable (I think we all took pride in our misery sometimes), I learned pretty quickly that I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. When I first started rowing, I would go into a race or a challenging practice not believing that I would be able to do what was asked of me, but eventually my outlook changed. I wasn’t always sure how I was going to accomplish the task at hand, but I knew I’d get through it somehow. That outlook has stuck with me off the water, too. I’m not always sure how I’m going to meet a deadline, cope with an emotionally painful situation, or make it through final exams, but I am confident that somehow I will. That confidence saves me a lot of panic.” —Willa, 20

2. "Sports Helped Me Become Reliable"

"[During one particular softball game I remember], we had last bat and were down by some crazy amount of runs. I just remember my teammates and I screaming, 'Rally on two' over and over again at the top of our lungs. We stayed engaged, we supported whoever was up to bat, and that batter had our full attention! We came back and won that game! I learned that no matter how lost the game may seem, it’s not hopeless unless you lose hope. I learned to stay engaged and keep fighting for the win! With four brothers (I was the only girl), I feel like I was 'born' onto a team. I absolutely know that learning how to be a productive, engaged, dependable part of a team has impacted my journey and helped me get to where I am today." —Vernice, 42

3. "I Learned How To Keep Moving Forward, Despite Setbacks"

"From middle school all throughout high school, I was a competitive cheerleader. (Translation: We didn't cheer for football teams, we crafted acrobatic, stunt-y, artful, athletic routines to showcase how badass we were). Our performances were so short and so multifaceted — from dancing, to tumbling, to stunts — that one mistake could totally ruin our chances of winning. However, the cardinal rule that my coaches stressed above all, and still sticks with me today, is that even if you make a mistake, you have to pick yourself up and keep going. It didn't matter if you fell on your face, forgot a dance move, or did a backflip into your teammate (true story, I did that once). You got back up and finished your routine. Even after floundering about a lot in my twenties — working in jobs I didn't like and making bad decisions — I remember the words of my coach. Even if you stumble, you can get back up and finish your job." —Arielle, 27

4. "Leading A Team Forced Me To Be A Better Collaborator"

"Participating in a high school sport helped teach me the importance of collaboration. I played on the soccer team with a bunch of girls and two coaches. We had to find a way to work together to play effectively and reach our ultimate goal: to win. This took effort from everyone including the coaching staff, captains, and team as a whole. Having been a team member and captain, I had the privilege of experiencing what it was to be led and what it took to lead. Collaboration was key. Today, my job requires me to be part of a team (made up of teachers, therapists, case managers, administrators, etc.), and we have to constantly work together to achieve goals for our students. This can be challenging due to the number of different areas of expertise and opinions that everyone has. I believe having played on a high school sport and having learned about the importance of collaboration has helped me during these particular situations. Generally, the more collaborative the team of professionals, the more success our students have." —Sarah S., 27

5. "Sports Taught Me How To Appreciate My Body"

"Sports created the framework my entire adolescence was built around. I spent most of my free time playing sports, and it gave me structure, taught me teamwork, and most importantly, sports taught me the power of hard work. Athletics also instilled a love of being active and appreciating the amazing things my body is capable of, something I continue to appreciate to this day. I made lifelong friends doing sports and would encourage every young adult to join a team, whether competitively or just for fun, and discover something they love." —Sarah M., 28

6. "My Coaches Taught Me Discipline"

"At the beginning of high school, I joined the third-string tennis team and eventually worked my way up to varsity. There have been many life lessons learned on the court that I feel have contributed to my success today, but discipline is one that stands out. Growing up, my coaches always showed me that they valued hard work and those with an appetite for improvement. It takes grit to push through failure, and discipline to show up every day with your mind focused on getting better — but nothing's worse than coming up short knowing that you had gas left in the tank. That is a lesson for sport, for work, for love, and for life: Show up. Every day. Leave it all out on the field." —Abi, 25

7. "Through Competition, I Learned The Value Of Hard Work"

"Sitting in a classroom listening to my teacher lecture, writing a five page essay on a book I hated, memorizing elements on the periodic table — none of these things directly helped me get to where I am today. Being part of a team, however, changed my life. I played both individual and group sports, all of which sharpened my teamwork, communication, leadership, and problem solving skills. But the biggest lesson I learned was how to rise to the occasion when it came to competition. I'm sorry, but the whole, 'Everybody gets a participation trophy' concept is not helping anyone. I competed for a spot on every team, I competed to earn starting positions, and together as a team, we competed against the opponent. Later, I competed to get into college (newsflash: they don't accept everybody!) and after that, I competed against 300 applicants for my current job. I compete every day to keep my job. It was sports that taught me what competition even was, and what I needed to do to win. Sports have taught me what hard work is, and that if you don't work hard, put in the time, or outwork your opponent, you're going to lose." —Danielle, 28

8. "I Realized How Important Honesty Is"

"One of the most valuable lessons I've learned while playing sports like volleyball and doubles tennis was actually to be honest about my weaknesses. Being part of a team made me realize just how important it was to be open with my teammates and myself, and to make sure everything was clearly communicated. This helped everyone find the best way to work with one another’s strengths and weaknesses as a team, making sure we were all covered and had each other’s backs to ensure the best possible performance. In much of the same way, I’ve strived to carry this into the workplace and even in a lot of my personal relationships, as both require interpersonal transparency and team effort to be successful. The times when I’ve been open and honest about this have been the times when myself and others involved have been able to reach the quickest solutions and best outcomes when a conflict arises or a deadline has to be met." —Nancy, 23

9. "Athletics Taught Me That Big Efforts Pay Off"

"I played sports all through grade school and high school, and although the Marine Corps is not a sport, ROTC and the military allowed me to continue with a high level of team-oriented physical fitness through college and beyond. The most valuable lesson I learned from sports and physical activity, as it applies to my life today, is that working hard pays off. It is sometimes difficult to see the incremental improvements that we make in our lives when we are trying to do something faster, better, and smarter. If you are trying to improve your reading level in school, for example, that is a very long process, and you may not know exactly where your comprehension and ability stand each week. With sports, your progress (or lack thereof) doesn't hide. You see tangible improvements on a regular basis: You are faster, more agile, more accurate, etc. Tangible progress and success underscores the conventional wisdom that if you work hard and put your all into something, you can get where you want to be. Similarly, a lack of tangible progress shows you that you haven't given 100%, and need to do more. Physical activity and sports performance leaves you nothing to hide behind: You've either done the work and you're prepared, or you've fallen short of where you need to be." —Katie, 34

This article is brought to you by the United States Marine Corps.

Images: Offset / Paul Edmondson (1), Ashley Barker (2), Megan Maloy / Image Source (3), Vasily Pindyurin / fStop (4), André Babiak / Westend61 (5, 7), Wavebreak Media (6), Andrew Lipovsky / Cavan Images (8), Alys Tomlinson / Image Source (9)