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The Power of Playing Like a Girl

Role Models Explain How Athletics Influenced Their Business and Personal Lives

With U.S. national women's teams winning championships in basketball and soccer over the past year while a teenage girl gained worldwide attention as a Little League pitcher, young girls have many female athletes who can be role models.

A group of New York girls got to meet some of those role models in person this summer, as JPMorgan Chase and Girls Inc. hosted an event for them at Madison Square Garden before a New York Liberty game.

The New York Women on the Move committee and Investment Bank Women's Network met with about 60 teens from Girls Inc., a nonprofit program that supports more than 140,000 girls in the United States and Canada.

The girls, who all attend Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women in Brooklyn, listened as former WNBA all-star Kym Hampton, New York Liberty Senior Vice President of Business and Basketball Operations Kristin Bernert, JPMorgan Chase Vice President Sarah Fetters and JPMorgan Chase analyst Wendy Lin discussed how playing sports shaped their personal and professional lives.

"This is tremendously important for them," said Melissa D'Andrea, Director of Programs at Girls Inc NY. "A lot of the girls will be first generation college students," she said, adding that it's important that they start to see how they can develop their own paths to success.

Touring the Globe

Hampton told the girls that her path started with a full scholarship to Arizona State University. From there, basketball took her around the world, as she played professionally in Spain, Italy, France, Japan, and the United States. Many of the girls in the audience rarely leave Brooklyn, D'Andrea said, so the stories of global travel would be particularly compelling.

Even without a college scholarship, Lin added, women can still participate at the collegiate level. Lin walked onto the Yale University men's rowing team as a coxswain. Being on a team, she said, helped her learn how to deal with group success and failure, regardless of who is individually responsible: "That's something you can take with you anywhere."

For Fetters, who played soccer at Georgetown University, "it becomes about social skills, teamwork, having the mentality that it's not just about you." These lessons have helped her tremendously on the high-stakes trading floor, she added, describing that environment after many of the girls said they had never been to one. "You are a team at work. It's being able to handle stress together, and it's coming at you at all times," she said.

Lifelong Lessons

Regardless of whether they're playing on a recreational team or at the professional level, one of the most important things girls learn in sports is the "discipline to set small goals as well as larger goals," said Bernert. "It's the very basic lessons of life: teamwork, sacrifice, commitment, improving your own skills, celebrating the successes of those around you." Plus, "you'll have an automatic connection when you're in business and can talk sports."

All of the panelists encouraged the girls to try a few sports before focusing on one, to figure out which they really love. And if they were hesitant to join a team, they said, the girls can start with a few hours at a local recreation center.

"Go for it," said Hampton. "You have to just go out there and try it."

After the panel, the girls broke into small groups, each led by two or three women from JPMorgan Chase who talked about what it's like to work for a large company and described many of the roles within the bank. One woman spoke of being a recruiter, and said she enjoyed speaking with college athletes. "It's always impressive because you can tell they really balanced a lot," she said.

To continue to increase participation and to expand professional leagues, Bernert said, "We need women supporting women. When they're coming together, it can be powerful, world-changing."

The Liberty and their owners have launched a campaign meant to inspire girls to "Burn Bright" in everything they do.

In August, the team honored Becky Hammon, retired professional basketball player and assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, by inducting her into the team's "Ring of Honor." Hammon played for New York from 1999 to 2006 and helped the Liberty make the WNBA Finals three times. She's also an advocate for young women taking leadership roles in sports, as she did.

"We as a society have to get to the point where leaders start promoting and giving opportunities to capable people, and then we can really start to make progress," Hammon said.

Follow the Liberty on Twitter and Facebook and share your #BurnBright story.

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