Passion Leads the Leader

March 5, 2021 by Claire Williams

The March NATA News features an article about women in leadership and how to address barriers and challenges to becoming a leader. In honor of Women’s History Month this March, NATA would like to keep this conversation going through a monthlong blog series highlighting our female leaders. Each blog will feature a different NATA council or committee chair, who will share insights into her leadership journey and what she’s learned along the way.

In this blog, Jennifer Rheeling, MS, ATC, chair of the NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee, discusses the passion needed to succeed as a leader and the importance of normalizing diversity at the head of the proverbial table.

What inspired you to take on a leadership position? Were you personally attracted to this role for any reasons?

Fellow NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee alums Tony Fitzpatrick, Mike Carroll and Brian Robinson encouraged me to pursue this opportunity. It had not been in my plans to do so. I am always eager to volunteer for my profession, so after a bit of coercing, I decided to apply. Any role with the SSATC is appealing.

I am a lifelong secondary school AT with an innate passion for the setting. It is where I always wanted to practice and where I was meant to be. I love being part of providing for students that may otherwise not have access to the care ATs provide. I love working with the students to enhance and preserve their future athletic aspirations.

The SSATC has completed many large projects to provide meaningful resources to secondary school ATs and five district chairs rolled off as I became chair. This provides a unique opportunity to reimagine the SSATC and examine our role within the SSATC framework. Furthermore, I am passionate about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and feel I can help support such initiatives from a leadership position.

What has been the most rewarding part of being a woman in a leadership position?

It is rewarding primarily because female leadership was scarce when I was a student and young professional. The women leaders in our profession that have come before me have worked to normalize having a seat at the proverbial table and I am grateful to honor that legacy. It is in alignment with my philosophy of being the change you want to see, or modeling what a professional AT should look like (other than the occasional evening of social activities during the annual meeting!). It is time to use my voice to normalize diversity at the table.

Have you felt you’ve been treated fairly/equally as a woman in a leadership position? Have there been an obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

I do feel I have been treated fairly in the leadership positions I have held. On rare occasion, I have felt that my voice was discounted because I am female, but I am grateful to have had the opportunity to prove that bias incorrect. I have also felt that I may have been given some positions because I was a woman, to satisfy some notion of optics, but chose to overlook that possibility and do my best to demonstrate I deserved the opportunity.

Do you think it’s important for more women to take leadership positions in athletic training? Why or why not?

I believe it is important for anyone traditionally marginalized or underrepresented to take positions in their organization. It may be uncomfortable but change only occurs with some discomfort and growth. Every time an individual of a minority group holds a leadership position, the needle moves towards normalization. Do not be the person who silences your own voice.

How do you manage to balance work, life and volunteer leadership positions?

Prioritization, time management, accept the ebb and flow and compartmentalize. Everything has its time and place. On a macro scale, there are times when each take priority, like when my father died last summer. The “life” part of the equation superseded everything else. On a micro scale, set time aside for each on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. I find that if I spend a smaller amount of time on each priority daily or weekly it is easier to fit everything in more comfortably than if I push things aside. When I do, they become overwhelming and less manageable.

What advice would you give to women who want to take on leadership roles but worry about not having the time or finding that balance?

See previous answer (!) and only take on positions you are passionate about. If your heart is not in it, the difficulties will be harder to bear. Also, acknowledge the life phase you are in. Some seasons of life may offer better times to accept additional responsibilities than others. Also, make sure you establish strong mentorship relationships and a solid support system. Your village is your foundation.

If younger you was looking at yourself now, what do you think they’d say? Would they have believed you’d become such a successful woman?

Younger me would be amazed. I did not envision myself as a leader. I have always had a strong personality and been opinionated but did not ever consider translating that into leadership roles. I have always enjoyed being part of the boots-on-the-ground team. I can tell younger me that I am proud of who I am and what I have accomplished.

What is the key to becoming a successful woman in leadership in athletic training?

The traits of leadership are the same regardless of the profession. For me, being inclusive, not leading from the top down, encouraging growth and leadership in others, acknowledging that I do not have to control everything, and that everyone brings valuable experiences and insights to the group have been my cornerstones. We are stronger together.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that you think is important to note about women in leadership?

Personally, I don’t focus on the fact that I am a woman, or another person is a man. I think we are all human, and we all have value and importance. I always want to put my best foot forward, regardless of my gender.