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Leading from the front: lessons in Women Leadership in Indian Sports

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Women’s sports has changed exponentially over the last 8-10 years, especially after the 2016 Olympics. Witnessing this change in the Indian sports ecosystem, as a woman, taught me a thing or two about being a leader.

I am taking this opportunity to share my learnings and experiences with the existing and the upcoming generation of leaders in sports. Some of them are generic; others are specifically for Women.

Pick your battles. You have limited bandwidth and energy.

Women are fighting numerous battles in sports, from the right to play or wear suitable sporting attire to equal play-equal pay. But every woman cannot fight all of the battles. So, although I believe a woman can wear a sports bra while running or playing if she wants to, that is not the battle I have chosen to fight. My battle is upskilling women to create better opportunities and representation in the sporting arena. As mortal human beings, our capacity has limitations. We cannot deal with all the problems of the world. Choose what’s most important to you and fight for it.

As a woman in sports, take criticism in stride.

Not every man in sport criticises you because you are a woman. It is often because he doesn’t agree with your opinion, just like any other person. Understand it. Internalize it. Analise it. Then act. Take criticism like a war wound. It is only going to make you better and more experienced. Praises don’t make a woman; criticism does.

If the criticism is because of your gender, you can deal with it in the manner you see fit. But also pick your battle. You do not need to educate every man that criticizes you for your gender. That is not your job. It is their problem. Save your energy for doing things you want to do.

Don’t be ashamed of earning money. You deserve it.

All women in sports work hard. We deserve to make money for the time committed. So, before everyone else starts looking at us as professionals in the sports field, we, women, need to start looking at ourselves as one.

This belief is the significant reason I registered Women in Sport India as a private limited. As a woman toiling in sports, I deserve to make a profit in my company. The more financially stable my company is the better speakers, platform, programs, facilities I can provide my Tribe. It is time to start demanding our time’s worth, unapologetically.

Do not expect to get a job because you are a woman.

In sports, for the same position, women are often expected to be more qualified compared to men. But, today, the contrary situation is also equally true. Women are hoping to be hired because they are women. Diversity hiring is never a great way to start a career in sports.

Your work should speak louder than your gender.

Forget the glass ceiling. Do what you want.

Your aim in life should not be to break the glass ceiling but to earn the freedom to do what you desire. When you achieve that, you would have already broken several glass ceilings.

Imposter Syndrome is real. Overcome it.

Till recently, fortunately or unfortunately, I was unaware of the term Imposter Syndrom. Dictionary definition of imposter syndrome is the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved due to one's own efforts or skills. It is frequently observed in women in sports. As a leader, we need to recognise it and overcome it. The first step of becoming a good leader in sports is understanding your talent and skill-set and removing self-doubt. Being confident about what you can and cannot do is an excellent leadership quality.

Do something that matches your personality.

After my six-year stint in football development, I ran a brand development consultancy called Alter Ego for a year. I worked with some Olympic, national and international athletes. My income was stable. But at the end of the day, it did not make me happy. I struggled with keeping up the appearances. The business of brand development did not match my personality. My transition into Women in Sport India was very organic compared to that. I felt at home. My struggles didn’t feel like struggles. They are one step towards getting better.

If the work you do doesn’t match your personality, every day is a battle. So take some time and find the field in sports that fits who you are as a person.

Communication is the key.

We deal with various stakeholders every day in sports, including athletes, coaches, administrators, and corporates. How an athlete thinks or understands things will differ from a corporate. Your method of communication should also change accordingly.

We immensely underestimate the communication part of leadership. But for me, it is number 1. So unless you solve that equation, the rest is futile. Communication is also a part of the leadership that can be learned. Learn to talk well, write official mails and documents. Invest in being better at communication.

Conviction is important.

Unless you believe in what you are doing, no one else will. When you are convinced what you are doing is correct, it is easy to convince people. This conviction doesn’t have to be about starting your business as I did. It can be about an idea you wish to share at work or a game plan you want to implement. When you have conviction, it shows in your body language when you speak. Your face lightens up. Contrary, when you doubt, your voice quivers, words dry up. So when you have an idea and enough data to back up your vision, don’t second guess yourself. Conviction is also a state of mind.

Find Mentors.

We are not all-knowing. We definitely can not replace experience with intelligence. In sports especially, where there are no websites you can visit to gain all knowledge, you NEED mentors. You need mentors who are invested in your growth but don’t spoon-feed you; who believe in you but keep you grounded; who are open to sharing their experiences while making sure you gain yours; who point out your flaws but also give you solutions to overcome them; Who lead by examples and make you do the same. The sports field is full of brilliant people, and you can not grow without them. So, begin searching for your mentor today.

Find your flavour of leadership.

All said and done, each leader will have a different way of thinking and leading. Find your own. But as a leader, you must learn and evolve. If you are not growing with time, you are not a good leader. I remember an interview with Jack Maa, founder of Alibaba Express. He said, ‘I hire people who are better than me.’ That, for me, is an excellent quality of a leader.

Learn. Evolve. Progress. To all the sports leaders out there, here is to your success!

About the author

Vaidehi Vaidya is a founder and Managing director of Women in Sport India.

Determined to support women in sports across all levels, Vaidehi founded Women In Sport India (WISI) in 2020. This decision stemmed from her resolve to address a significant gap in the market - an absence of an empowering community for women to exchange knowledge about building a career in sports, both on and off the field.

About Simply Sport

Simply Sport is a sports policy research & development organization based out of India. Simply Sport’s vision is to promote sports as an effective tool for the development of the nation. It focuses on policy research, grassroots development and the use of technology in sports. To subscribe to Simply Sports Newsletters, Research & Articles, please write to You can follow Simply Sport on the Twitter handle @_SimplySport for more sports-related content.

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