Sports Legend Shares Leadership Philosophy at Chapel
Suzy Logan

On October 17, three-time Olympic Gold medalist and espnW writer, soccer commentator, features reporter and host Julie Foudy came to Blair to speak at Chapel and have lunch with the girls’ soccer and softball teams. The former captain of the United States women’s soccer team and World Cup champion spoke about her philosophy on sports and leadership and how Blair students can make a difference in the lives of others, topics close to her heart as the co-founder of the Julie Foudy and espnW Sports Leadership Academy (JFSLA) and author of the 2017 book Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously You. (To watch Ms. Foudy’s all-school talk, click “play” below).

In fact, it was at the JFSLA camp that Blair Dean of Campus Life and Director of Leadership Programs Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79 first met the soccer legend 13 years ago, introduced by former Blair faculty member Todd Smith ’90, who was one of the five founders of the New Jersey- and California-based program on athletic training and leadership development. Designed for girls aged 12 to 18 who play soccer, lacrosse, basketball and water polo, the five-day camp is intensive—and fun—and offers an empowering and transformative experience to student-athletes as they learn leadership skills through sports. 

An Outward Perspective

“You can’t help but be inspired by Julie because she such an accomplished athlete and a celebrity in her own right but also someone who in every aspect of her life is committed to making life better for others,” said Ms. Conforti-Browse, who has worked with the JFSLA for a dozen summers as the organization’s co-director of academic curriculum. In this role, she works with counterpart Jaime Pagliarulo to research leadership work across platforms and develop the program’s residential camps and portable curriculum. 

What Ms. Conforti-Browse has found most inspirational is Ms. Foudy’s focus on the present and the future and the selfless approach she takes to defining leadership. “Julie is not concerned with what happened yesterday but asks what are you doing today to make tomorrow better—not for yourself, but for others,” Ms. Conforti-Browse explained. 

Outside Your Comfort Zone

With Mr. Smith and fellow JFLA coach and Blair soccer star and Athletic Hall of Famer Winnie Lizardo Orbe ’06 in the audience, Ms. Foudy shared with the Blair community her philosophy, which centers on leadership being “personal instead of positional.” To illustrate the discomfort many people experience when pushed outside their comfort zones to a place “where the magic happens,” she challenged students to a sing-off that brought Ms. Conforti-Browse, Winnie and two students on stage in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts. Noting that this exercise embodied Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to “do one thing that scares you everyday,” Ms. Foudy also pointed to the wisdom of sports and exercise psychologist Dr. Colleen Hacker, who once cautioned her to “never to wish the butterflies away.” 

“Butterflies are a great thing,” she said. “It means you care. It means you are invested. It’s visceral; it matters! Don’t you want things in life to matter? Now, the trick is, just teach the butterflies to fly in formation.”

Ending her Chapel with three pieces of advice on how to best achieve that, Ms. Foudy encouraged students to 1- own their awesome; 2- be the idiot who says yes; and 3- understand that success is usually messy—not a neat, clean straight line. “Surround yourself with people who will let you dream and get outside of your comfort zone,” she concluded. “The hard part is raising your hand and choosing leadership and establishing what your leadership style is.”

A ‘Very Blair’ Program

That outward perspective and leadership philosophy is critical to finding your authentic self, an approach that has informed all of Ms. Conforti-Browse’s work in designing and overseeing Blair LEADS, the School’s signature leadership education curriculum.

Over the years, nearly two dozen Blair alumnae, students and teachers have participated in JFSLA camps, including Shamila Kohestani ’08, former captain of the Afghanistan women’s national football team who has advocated around the globe on women’s issues and the life-changing opportunities playing sports can provide, and this year’s student-athletes, Skyler Bogdan ’22 and Melissa Groseibl ’22

Ms. Foudy is just one of the inspirational speakers brought to campus through Ms. Conforti-Browse’s affiliation with JFSLA. In 2015, Amy Liss addressed the School community on Blair’s Day of Service and Ms. Pagliarulo presented to Blair LEADS classes last year. 

A Transformative Experience

Ms. Foudy’s belief that every young woman has the power to be an impactful leader resonated with Blair students of every class year. 

For Ms. Conforti-Browse, who will author an essay on sports and leadership in the next issue of Blair’s magazine, working with Ms. Foudy has also been a highlight of her professional and personal life. In addition to developing a sophomore leadership curriculum based on Ms. Foudy’s leadership philosophy, thanks to her involvement in JFSLA, Ms. Conforti-Browse traveled to India in 2016 with 10 students from U.S. colleges on a State Department trip focused on leadership development and cross-cultural awareness. Over the years, she has maintained the connections she made there and continues to support a group of 12-year-old Indian female athletes. 

Ever grateful that her former colleague, Mr. Smith, introduced her to the inspirational work of the JFSLA, Ms. Conforti-Browse is delighted that her connection to the organization has afforded each Blair participant, whether camper or staff member, the opportunity to meet incredible leaders like Ms. Foudy, who fittingly ended her Chapel by answering a question about how leadership is all about giving back to others.

“So much of leadership is service,” she said. “It is serving your teammates, celebrating others, lifting others up. You don’t have to be a celebrity to do that. We all can. Leadership is service and we are all better because of it.”

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