Women’s Fund Investment in Girls on the Run Today is Building Leaders of Tomorrow

Studies Reveal a Majority of Top Executives Participated in Youth Sports

By: Maria Turner, FDL Area Women’s Fund Executive Director

Girls today are so much further ahead than I was at their age. I look at girls all around me – including my own two daughters, ages 14 and 18 – and cannot help but think, “Dang, girls! You rock!” They have a greater understanding of who they are individually and where they fit on a more global scale than I ever dreamed of in my teens.

I haven’t fully figured out how we got to this place of awesomeness for today’s girls, but I do know it’s not just one thing that creates this evolution among females. It appears to be a culmination of various elements, such as changing societal attitudes, access to education and the support of adult mentors and role models outside each family unit.

These are the exact types of things that are contained within a program like Girls on the Run (GOTR), which makes me so happy to know the Fond du Lac Area Women’s Fund made the decision in 2018 to partner with GOTR as a “signature program.” We’ve made the commitment to support the ideas and framework that are essential to inspiring and empowering young girls through this program that from the outside, looks like it’s about running. A closer look, however, shows the greater merits of GOTR and how it supports our local Women’s Fund’s focus areas in laying the foundations for violence prevention, leadership development and education.

Take, for example, leadership development.

I don’t know that leadership naturally comes to mind as a byproduct of a program like Girls on the Run, but various studies have shown that women who participated in sports as girls are far more likely to hold high-level leadership roles as adults.  According to a 2014 study by EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW, 52% of top C-Suite level female executives (holding positions as CEOs, CFOs, COOs or board of directors members) played a sport at the collegiate level and only 3% never took part in sports at any point in their lives. Three out of four of these study participants also said involvement in sports played a significant role in their hiring decisions, specifically citing “bringing projects to completion” and “motivating others” as key qualities they linked to athletes. Another study in 2015 showed that 95% of all Fortune 500 CEOs (women and men) played college sports.

Locally, if we look at our own Women’s Fund Board of Directors as leaders within our community, that trend of sports involvement also holds up.

Of 16 Board members responding to a poll asking about involvement in sports, 13 participated at some point between middle school and college, representing 81%. Of the other three women not participating in sports, two graduated from high school before Title IX was enacted in 1972, so organized sports were not offered to girls at that time. Taking this into consideration, locally, 93% of the leaders on our Board participated in sports. That very much mirrors the national studies linking involvement in youth sports to adult leadership.

Girl’s & young women’s engagement in sports teaches foundational skills.

I feel I learned a great deal about grit, determination and perseverance. Being an athlete taught me how to get knocked down and keep coming back for more. How to push myself and others to strive for greatness. How to collaborate with my teammates, and also find that personal drive within (or as I call it, “fire in the belly”).

– Kelly Norton, Senior Director of Enterprise Culture & Communication at Grande Cheese Company & FDL Area Women’s Fund Board Member / Development chair

Many of the Women’s Fund Board members view their sports involvement as foundational in developing leadership skills surrounding teamwork, accepting criticism and working with many different personalities toward a common goal. Sports involvement also teaches us what it feels like to “win,” which reinforces how working hard helps us accomplish our goals. And perhaps even more importantly, what it feels like to “lose,” which gives us a taste of disappointment that enables us to know that setbacks are part of life and generally situational in nature. Losing a game teaches us that no matter how prepared we show up, we can’t always control the outcome of the circumstances we’re in. This experience is at the heart of the life lesson of persistence, or “grit.” It helps us know that no matter how many times we fail, we can – and should – always get up and try again, and that failure doesn’t define us in and of itself, if we are able to keep trying despite the losses.

In the words of Kelly Norton, who played sports throughout her youth including basketball and rugby at UW-La Crosse and now chairs our Development Committee and holds the position of Senior Director of Enterprise Culture & Communication at Grande Cheese Company: “I feel I learned a great deal about grit, determination and perseverance. Being an athlete taught me how to get knocked down and keep coming back for more. How to push myself and others to strive for greatness. How to collaborate with my teammates, and also find that personal drive within (or as I call it, “fire in the belly”).”

Those sentiments were echoed by Shavana Talbert, who is the District Equity Coach for the Fond du Lac School District and played sports all the way to the level of Division 1 track & field in shot put and discus at Stanford University. When asked what she learned from sports that she’s applied to her leadership role as an adult, she said: “So much! Time management, teamwork/team-building, resiliency, goal-setting, failure and triumph.”

Personally, I too gained a great deal of character through my participation in sports. There were plenty of triumphs, culminating with three trips to State in track as part of a relay team and lettering my freshman year of college as a sprinter and triple-jumper. And a lot of tears shed with losses. But the thing that was most important for me was how sports helped build my confidence and self-esteem. Coaches gave me the type of positive reinforcement that was missing at home – and that truly was a game-changer for my life’s path.

So yes, there’s more than just an annual monetary investment by the Fond du Lac Area Women’s Fund when it comes to supporting Girls on the Run. So many of us local leaders on our Board and staff know personally the value of partnering a girl with a running buddy to serve as mentor and role model, along with the added support of the coaches carrying out the curriculum components that help the girls connect their involvement to more than just running, sports or fitness goals.

Cheer with us on May 11

Many of us will be cheering the girls on during the annual Girls on the Run 5k on Saturday, May 11. We invite you to come to join us, at Lakeside Park (Frazier Pavilion) at 10:30. Grab a megaphone and cheer on the girls as they run the 5k, marking their successful completion of this year’s program.

Can’t make it on the 11th?

How about donating to our targeted Facebook fundraiser to help us raise the funds we need to continue to support Girls on the Run as one of the Women’s Fund’s signature programs? Check it out here and give – any amount!

Your investment in Girls on the Run of either time or treasures isn’t just about supporting a youth running club. It’s about joining the Women’s Fund in supporting a program that inspires Fond du Lac area girls to think bigger and dream about their futures, while exposing them to leadership skills that will set them on the paths to accomplishing those dreams of success!


Learn more about Girls on the Run Fond du Lac

Posted on May 3, 2019

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