By Laura Pappano
Because we can all benefit from hearing serious young female athlete voices, we connected with three talented basketball players who just finished nine days at the summer academy run by the non-profit SportsChallenge Leadership & Education Alliance in Washington, D.C. Director Molly Hellerman (a former college athlete and pro soccer player for the Houston Tornadoes and the Chelsea Ladies FC) says the organization uses soccer and basketball to explicitly teach leadership and getting-along-with-different-people skills. “Sports offer girls the opportunity to practice being leaders,” she says.
Diamond Santana-Williams (top left, 12th grade, NYC, small forward) started playing basketball in 5th grade but “didn’t really take it seriously until I reached high school.” Now, she says, “I play with more heart than most players.” Katie Gallagher (top right, in background, 12th grade, Philadelphia, PA, guard) started playing when she was five because three older brothers played and says hard work and desire make her good. Devin Duprey (bottom, 12th grade, Middletown, DE, guard) began playing basketball in 6th grade and works to connect with teammates on and off the court.
FGN: How many of your female friends play a sport?
DS-W: A good amount play sports – but they only at school as part of the school team and not in the neighborhood. I get frustrated when I’m in my neighborhood and none of my female friends play basketball on the local courts. I want to play basketball and I want to have girls like me playing, too.
FGN: What do you like best about playing a sport and being on a team?
DS-W: Sport is an easy place to make new friends. Also, it keeps me out of my neighborhood and out of trouble. Being part of the team, I have become a more responsible, dedicated and strong person.
KG: I love the sense of accomplishment I feel within myself when I play basketball and learn a new move. Also, I love how I have a second family of teammates who have my back.
DD: The relationships I gain from being on a team are what make sports so important to me. My teammates are my best friends and role models.
FGN: What is the connection between sports and leadership?
DS-W: In sports, there are many times when you have to “step-up” and be a leader – on and off the court. For example, in a game when a teammate or the team isn’t playing as well as they could, a leader needs to address it head-on, figure out what is wrong, try to fix it and create the intensity that is needed.
KG: Through sports I have become a much better leader because on the court I am not afraid to speak up. This has helped me become more outgoing. Through sports I have also learned to work together with all types of people.
DD: I believe that the characteristics of a great athlete directly correlate with those of a great leader. I also think that in order to have an effective team, there must be leadership in action on the court or field.
FGN: How do you think being a female athlete (and not a male athlete) shapes your experience?
DS-W: I feel like I always have to prove myself. Many guys my age will challenge me or think they can challenge me on the courts. Being a female athlete drives me to do better and I love it when they are surprised to see me compete just as hard and play just as smart as they do. They often underestimate our abilities.
DD: Being a female athlete makes me stronger. Female athletes are not recognized at the same rate that men are recognized. We have to have inner confidence in all that we do.
FGN: How has playing a sport helped you grow?
KG: Basketball has made me a much more accepting person. I have met many different people through basketball and at a young age I learned that things like ethnicity do not matter on the court.
DD: My freshman year of high school my sister was my volleyball coach. Later that year she passed away from complications after a car accident. From having her as a coach and sharing a love and passion for volleyball (and basketball) sports have become a way to connect with her.
FGN: What are your future plans?
DS-W: I want to go to a good college, play on the basketball team and get my degree. I want to become an athlete that otherI want to have better self-esteem in games and in life. I want to become a social worker open up my own center for kids to help them deal with relationship abuse. I want to be successful. But above all, I want to have my mom with me to share my blessings.
KG: As an athlete, I would love to continue playing in college, either intramural, club or varsity.