By Sarah Odell
Just a few months ago, it was hard to think of a time when I wouldn’t be going to school — and wouldn’t have a two-hour practice built into my day. But that time has come. I’ve graduated from college, landed my dream job at Harper Collins publishers in New York City, managed to find an apartment, and have even found time during the week to exercise.
As soon as I arrived, I dialed up every squash player I knew in New York City, and have been making the rounds of the clubs, hopping into singles and doubles games from Long Island City to Midtown. But what I didn’t expect: a squash friend asked me to join the board of the MSRA, or Metropolitan Squash Racquets Association, which runs New York Squash.
After attending the World Conference on Women and Sport in Sydney in May, I knew I had to remain active in squash. I wasn’t becoming a coach, or a teaching professional at a club, so I assumed that meant playing. I would help the women’s game by simply showing up (that’s no small feat as I have discovered in signing up for tournaments in which it was not clear up until the 11th hour that there would even be a women’s draw).
Showing up is important. But when my friend Emily asked me to join the MSRA board, I heard echoes of Sydney in my ear. Speakers at the conference emphasized the great margins by which women were underrepresented on athletic boards, both at local and national levels. Women do better when other women are involved with leadership. Not only did I have to join — but I needed to play an active role.
I had images of what a board was and I expected lots of older people. In my mind, after all, boards were storied groups with lots of power and big purses. Boards are storied groups, and squash is about the most storied sport out there, but I was wrong on other scores.
The MSRA is, for the most part, comprised of young professionals (ages 22 to 40). After I attended my first meeting I also discovered — revelation — that many of the members were, like me, people who enjoyed the sport through college, and wanted to make sure the opportunity to play and be involved continued long after.
The MSRA runs cool events like the Grand Open, Hyder and Big Apple Opens, in addition to facilitating men’s and women’s singles leagues and a mixed doubles league. I have been tapped to help grow doubles in the city, as well as be active in the women’s squash movement. Sure, I have my work cut out for me, but I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my spare time.
Need a nudge? Here’s why to join an athletic board:
1. Boards are not just for older people. The best boards remain vital by including young voices.
2. Its a great way to meet people who are involved in a sport you are passionate about. And, yes, participating on a board gives you an instant circle of people to socialize and play your sport with when you move to a new city. Great way to meet people.
3. Think of board membership as public service — but also as a free leadership education course.
4. Contrary to conventional wisdom, board meetings are not boring. They are places for lively discussion, debate, and — yes — even sharp disagreement.
5. A board also gives you an outlet to be active outside of work. It’s important to have something that isn’t part of your working life that provides identity and meaningful engagement. No pay check involved.