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Blog Rally #1: What did Chelsey win by playing sports?


As part of the National Women’s Law Center’s Blog to Rally for Girls’ Sports Day, the Tucker Center will be posting entries from its graduate students. Each post answers the prompt, what did you win by playing sports?

Chelsey Thul

This is Chelsey Thul’s, a Ph.D. candidate in sport and exercise psychology, response.

My answer to the question, “What did you win by playing sports?,” may surprise you. It has nothing to do with the glamorous accolades—the medals, trophies, ribbons, etc. –associated with “winning” in our society. Rather my answer has everything to do with the friendships and memories I made, the life skills I learned, and the confidence and self-esteem I gained.

Growing up in a family of sport enthusiasts, as a young girl I played a lot of different sports—from baseball to softball to volleyball to basketball to track, I tried it all. Volleyball and softball were the sports I played most competitively; in fact, my traveling softball team made it to many national tournaments. By the time high school came around, not surprisingly, I settled on volleyball and softball as my sports of focus. I loved both sports so much that I played intramural volleyball and intercollegiate fastpitch softball in college.

Though I played on some great volleyball and softball teams over the years, it isn’t the accolades that I associate with what I’ve “won” in sport. It’s the friendships and great memories I made that I remember and am forever thankful for. Many of the great athletes I played with over the years are still my close friends today. These are friends I may not have met if sport didn’t bring us together, or create a space where we needed to support each other through on-field ups and downs. Seeing each other through the good and the bad on the field, led us to also support each other through the off-field ups and downs. That is how we have developed true, life-long friendships.

In addition to friendship, I’ve won in sport by learning numerous life skills that have shaped who I am today. I could spend days writing about all the skills I learned, so I’ll focus on the biggest two I see; through sport I learned teamwork and how to be a leader on the field, which certainly has transferred over to how I conduct myself with my colleagues and students today. For instance, through softball and volleyball I learned to be successful your team must be united and everyone’s perspective maters. To this day, I much prefer to listen to a wide-variety of perspectives and collaborate to solve problems than think I have all the answers. Also, as a captain of my college softball team, I learned that leading requires you to not only lead by voice, but more importantly by example.  Today I know that if I want my students to prepare for class, work hard, and be respectful to everyone—even those who have different ideas than them—then I better do the same as a leader.

Finally, through sport I also won by gaining a positive self-esteem. Sport provided me the platform to see that with hard work, I am physically and mentally capable of accomplishing great things. As a volleyball and softball player, I learned to value my body by being physically fit, healthy, and strong, and my mind by engaging in positive self-talk and confident thinking—all of which helped me develop the positive self-esteem I maintain today.

“Winning” in sport isn’t just about external rewards and accolades. In fact, “winning” for me isn’t about that all. Rather I won in sport by making lifelong friends, learning how to be a team player and a leader, and gaining positive self-esteem—attributes that I am thankful for each and every day, because they remain even though my playing days are behind me.

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