How Sports Helped Me See the Light Through the Tough Times
By Melissa Wickes
June 16, 2022
Being the youngest girl in a large family, in which the majority of my brothers were stacked around me, I had built-in playmates and a built-in love of sports from an early age. We grew up on a cul-de-sac with an acre of backyard, which included hills, trees, woods, and a garden—the possibilities for traditional and made-up sports were endless. It didn’t stop there; at school we were also participating in some sport (or multiple sports) before school, during our recess periods, and after school.
Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in organized sports until I was in high school. Between the ages of 8-13, I struggled with chronic and debilitating knee and foot pain due to issues I was born with. I was fortunate to be able to undergo corrective surgery when I was 13, and six months later I joined my highschool basketball team and then the soccer team. On a recent visit home, I saw my high school principal and he asked me what I remembered most about my time in high school; my immediate response was “sports!” Not only did they afford me an opportunity to bond with my teammates and embrace teamwork and accountability, they also helped me build my physical strength, skill, and confidence both on and off the court/field.
My parents, while concerned about me getting injured due to my previous operations, were nonetheless supportive of me participating in sports, and made it to every game that they could. It wasn’t just about winning for them. Of any award that my older brother and I won, I distinctly remember my parents being the most proud when we won the Coach’s award for our respective basketball teams. (The Coach’s award is given to the player who shows up for their team, demonstrating leadership, sportsmanship, and team spirit.) Our experience in sports not only helped us grow as athletes, but also well-rounded human beings.
A common sentiment I hear among friends and colleagues in their 20s and 30s is how difficult it is to make new friends as an adult. Especially when they’re moving to a new city, I always recommend that they get involved in an adult rec sports team, and/or volunteer with a local youth sports organization for their choice sport. You don’t need to be an Olympian or even a college athlete—you just need to be a willing participant and show up for your team. I moved to NYC nine years ago and immediately signed up for soccer rec leagues I heard about through acquaintances. This helped me meet new people, discover new places, and become comfortable and adapt to a city about which I knew so little. It also helped me build lasting friendships with my teammates, as well as with spectators who came to support my teammates and joined us for celebrations (or commiserations) after the games.
In late 2020, when I was looking to switch jobs, I wrote down the top three things I was looking for in my next venture: 1. a supportive team, 2. an industry I was passionate about, and 3. an opportunity to give back to the community. On the first day I decided to seriously start looking for and applying to jobs, I found LeagueApps. Throughout the interview process, I was continually reminded that the team didn’t want to just know about my previous work experience, they wanted to know about me as a person and understand what about youth sports and FundPlay drove me to want to join LeagueApps.
A few weeks later, after I accepted my job offer from LeagueApps, I was invited to join their virtual NextUp conference. As I was clicking through the various virtual “rooms” to see if there was a familiar name, I landed in a virtual room alone with a LeagueApps prospect, who is a respected individual in the youth sports community. When he realized that I hadn’t even started at LeagueApps yet, he immediately started telling me what a wonderful company I’m joining. Again, this wasn’t even a customer (i.e. LeagueApps partner), but he had been so impressed and positively impacted by the support and empathy that LeagueApps had shown and provided to the youth sports community throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, particularly when their programs had been put on pause. While I didn’t need reaffirmation that I had made the right choice in joining LeagueApps, this made me so proud that I would soon be part of this team.
The LeagueApps team doesn’t reserve their support and empathy for just our partners either. 10 days after I started at LeagueApps in January 2021, my dad passed away from Covid-19 after taking a sudden turn for the worse due to its complications. The number of LeagueApps employees who reached out to me despite either not meeting me yet, or only knowing me for a few days, was such a comfort. Looking back now, I’ve realized that empathy has brought the most comfort to me in my grief, and LeagueApps has been a huge part of that.
Contributing to the LeagueApps and FundPlay mission, surrounded by so many people who love what they do and who they work with, helped get me out of bed every morning and gave me something positive to focus on. LeagueApps was my constant in a time of grief and uncertainty. LeagueApps has shown up for me in so many ways, both consciously and unconsciously, and our team is always encouraged to show up every day for ourselves, our team, our partners, and our community.
True to form, LeagueApps has also helped me get back into sports. In January 2020, I underwent another reconstructive foot surgery to deal with chronic pain due to lasting side effects from my previous surgery, and had been off the field for nearly two years by the time I joined LeagueApps. The LeagueApps soccer team welcomed me (and all of our teammates) with open arms, and helped me get back to doing what I love while building my strength and confidence once again.
LeagueApps has been the best decision I’ve made in my career thus far. I am continuously inspired by our teammates and partners, as well as our FundPlay efforts bringing youth sports opportunities to children in underserved communities.