‘Space of love’: Leaders of women’s sports teams talk about community and support

For Emily Kompelien ’22, captain of the women’s track distance team, devoting herself entirely to her sport can sometimes be difficult. The task is made easier, however, with her teammates holding on “to each other to be at their athletic best” and supporting each other, she said.

The Herald spoke to four women who lead varsity spring teams at the University about how a sense of community drives their teams, fuels their love for their sport and creates support systems both in and out of competition. competition.

Kompelien explained that while each of his team members trains for their own event, they still work together when it comes to encounters.

Likewise, the sense of individual performance complements the collective teamwork within the women’s crew, according to Bridget O’Callahan ’22, co-captain of the women’s crew.

When you’re on the rower, crew can feel like an individual sport, she explained. “But when we’re racing, you’re in an eight-person boat and you have to be totally in sync,” she said. O’Callahan added that having a team mentality is more important than focusing on how each teammate is doing individually.

Hannah Yazdani ’22, co-captain of the female crew, said that as upper-class men, she advises her teammates on how they can cope with difficult experiences and emotions while practicing a sports D1. The team acts as a resource for life outside the crew, giving each other advice on studies and personal difficulties, she said.

Playing a sport at a highly competitive level has a huge mental component, so it’s important for teammates to support each other, according to Claire Pisani ’23, a top-class women’s water polo team.

Pisani said that before the start of the water polo season, she and another member of the upper class “had a meeting about team norms and culture.” At this meeting, the group discussed mental health and showed team members how to access campus resources.

The purpose of the meeting was to “establish this culture where, in particular, the underclasses can come to us if they have questions” and so that the team members can experience an open dialogue, a said Pisani.

When she was a freshman, the upper classes of her team emulated that culture, so it was something the team tried to continue every year, Pisani added. Because sports spaces can be heteronormative, it’s important for the team to set standards to combat bias and be aware of sources of support, she said.

For Kompelien, the track and field team creates a similar “space of love” that encourages team members to talk about concerns — including relationships with coaches, injuries or feelings of burnout. She explained that this transparency helps de-stigmatize the issues team members face every day.

In these conversations, the team also worked to recognize what healthy and unhealthy relationships with food are and where team members can get support if they’re struggling, Kompelien said.

It’s important for athletes to stay positive about their bodies because it’s their bodies that allow them to excel in their sports, Pisani added. Societal beauty standards can weigh heavily on athletes sometimes, she said, but successful athletes have “so many different body types.”

“What society expects of women and what you need to be as an athlete are often so different,” O’Callahan said, speaking about the expectations that are placed on women beyond appearances. “It’s your image, but also the way you have to act.”

“Our ideas about sport and competition are so male-centric and there’s a much longer history with male sports,” which contributes to what society expects of women, she said. For O’Callahan, female representation in sport is important to counter these prejudices. Because aggressiveness and competitiveness are attributes often associated with men in society, women are sometimes underestimated, she added.

The Yazdani team recognizes that crewing is an exclusive sport because it is very expensive. To promote accessibility, the crew team is volunteering with STEM to Stern, which aims to create more diversity in the crew, she said. STEM to Stern breaks down barriers to sport by helping community members with transportation, swimming, and studying. Crew team members fundraise, teach and train the crew for the organization.

Every member of the team The Herald spoke to highlighted how the supportive atmosphere created by their team allows women to come together in the common goal of the sport.

“With 50 other girls doing the same thing,” Kompelien said, “it’s a pretty powerful community.”

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