How Being Women in Sports Gave Us the Skills to Start a Company

November 15, 2020

How Being Women in Sports Gave Us the Skills to Start a Company

Our founders, Sarah and Kaki went to Duke University and played Field Hockey and Lacrosse respectively. In this blog, they share their thoughts on how being women in NCAA Division One athletics shaped their characters and eventually led them to start Spring. 

Being a woman in sports is just like being a woman in any other industry - hard. The glass ceiling exists, equal recognition is non-existent, and we are somehow underestimated and at the same time held to unrealistic standards. Stereotypes and expectations from men dictate how we should act, which is often in direct conflict with the way we believe we should act.

We are not professional athletes. We do not know what it’s like to have to worry about fighting for equal pay or recognition in prominent media outlets. We do not know what it’s like to get a technical foul from disagreeing with a referee on national television because an unfair call was made based on our gender. We certainly do not know what it’s like to not be welcome in athletics altogether. 

What we do know is that being women in any level of sports comes with its own challenges, and that the experience eventually led us to start Spring. While these aspects of college athletics may seem negative, they really weren’t. Being women in sports allowed us to find confidence in ourselves and our teammates, to learn to lift other women up, and to stop apologizing for being strong and capable.

Kaki: Believe in Yourself & Stop Apologizing 

What I remember most about the difference between NCAA Division One men’s and women’s sports was the huge gap in spectators. Our women’s lacrosse team was consistently ranked nationally in the top 10 - on par with the men’s team. But the stands during our games did not reflect that. We were used to near empty stands - the fans were our parents and occasionally siblings. 

We learned to support each other and ourselves. Self-confidence became a top priority, because if we weren’t cheering for us, not many were. I finished my athletic career with complete confidence that I could take on the professional world, and when Sarah called and asked me to join her in founding Spring, I didn’t wait for anyone to cheer me on. We founded Spring because we believed in our idea, ourselves, and in each other.

Similarly, I remember many instances when players on our team got called for fouls and the judgement from the stands was palpable. The spectators judged and said things like - “she’s crazy.” The female player’s reputation was condemned for a while and she often felt an (unnecessary) need to apologize. A day later, I would be in the stands watching a men’s lacrosse game when one of the players got called for “unnecessary roughness” - and the call was met with cheers and laughs from the crowd. I laughed and cheered too, but I noticed how different it was from my team's experience.

We will always have to deal with those who can’t handle successful, aggressive, passionate women. But we won’t be able to move forward and find success until we stop apologizing for something just because someone else says it’s wrong. By the time I had left college athletics, I had learned to stop apologizing and stop explaining myself and my professional decisions - and it was freeing and empowering.

Sarah: Your Limits are Your Own

Every athlete knows what it is like to be near the end of a conditioning workout, toe on the line, so tired and desperate to hear "you're done", when you hear the terrible phrase "another one". A part of an athlete's journey is reaching mental limits that dare you to stop short of your full potential, and you plod on anyways. Time and time again, coaches tested my limits and I was forced to rise to the occasion. What I didn't realize until recently, was how engrained this lesson was in my subconscious. Now that I can look back on those athletic days fondly (and not cringe in fear at running another 800 meter run test), I realize how much athletics has shaped my ability to defy barriers.

Starting your own company is all about being willing to do sprints. Millions of people day dream about an idea they think could become a company, but do little to make that idea a business. They toe the line, do one sprint, then call it a day. Starting a small business is filled with daily obstacles and the athletic mentality helped me keep going in the early days. I don't remember ever questioning whether I would be able to bring Spring to life. Instead, I was focused on the sprints: How do I register an LLC in California? How do I find a manufacturing partner in the USA? Where do I find the best fabric for a scrunchie?

Duke Field Hockey had a singular goal: win a National Championship. In 2013, we lost in the finals and we spent my final two years on a vendetta to get back to that final game. I will say, the off-season sprints seemed a little easier (even if they weren't) when you visualized the trophy that was waiting for you at season's end. I've found the same to be true for Spring and our mission to do good for goodness' sake. Convincing people to believe in your mission to help women-led non-profits that benefit women makes all of the extra effort and time worth it.

Being women in sports is hard, but it's not nearly the hardest thing we've encountered or will encounter in our lives. What it was for us was the preparation for what we are doing now - and maybe what we are doing now is preparation for the rest of the hard stuff. And so on. All we can do is learn from it, move forward, and keep on.