Being the first one to do anything has its own rewards, but more often, it has its own responsibilities.
This weekend, Sarah Fuller, a star women’s soccer player at Vanderbilt University, became the first woman to play in a Power 5 NCAA football game. Covid positives had claimed the entire kicking squad for Vanderbilt and the Commodores still wanted to play the scheduled SEC Conference game at the University of Missouri. On Saturday, Sarah’s team had a rough day so she never had a chance to score an extra point or field goal and only kicked off once for the same reason. However, she made history playing just one play lasting only a few seconds.
It may have only been a moment, but there are lessons about preparing for such an opportunity in Sarah’s example.
Be ready. When Sarah began her soccer season this year, she likely never envisioned herself suiting up in shoulder pads and playing a football game on the last Saturday in November 2020. Lots of opportunities come our way that we might not expect. The important thing is to be ready. Whatever skill or talent you are blessed with, hone it, practice it and steward it well. If you do, unexpected opportunities might just appear right before your eyes.
Be receptive. If you are tapped, take the opportunity. Sarah Fuller was courageous to accept the offer that was presented to her. She recognized the opportunity as not only a special moment for her, but also for the thousands of young girls watching her and dreaming their own big dreams. After the game, she told reporters, “The fact that I can represent all the girls out there that have wanted to do this or thought about playing football or any sport really, and it encourages them to be able to step out and do something big like this, it’s awesome.”
Be responsible. Being the first at anything can be an honor, but it comes with great responsibility. It is the role of the pioneer to pave a path for others to follow. It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s important to not mess it up. Sarah’s one kick in the game was not the evaluation of her performance. It was far more important how she managed herself within the team. If she had been difficult to work with or coach, focused only on her own goals or wrapped up in an ego trip of being the first, future opportunities for others could well be limited. Instead, she embraced the responsibility and told reporters, “I want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to. Like, you really can. If you have that mentality all the way through, you can do big things.”
Be real. Many who have the opportunity to be first undermine the opportunity by trying to be like someone else. If you have the good fortune to be in Sarah’s position, the most important thing you can do is be authentic to your own perspective, talents and experience. You are chosen because of who you are and what you can do, not to emulate someone else. Sarah’s helmet on Saturday was unique to any other one on the field because hers included a sticker that read, “Play Like a Girl.” No one expected her do anything else. There was a need. She was capable. She stepped into the role and made history.
Being first can feel like an amazing achievement, and often it is. Celebrate for a moment and then remember the example of Sarah Fuller and how she was ready, receptive, responsible and real when the opportunity came her way.
By the way, no one gets to be first without a great champion or sponsor. Former Vandy head football coach, Derek Mason, could have thrown in the towel and cancelled the game due to the lack of available players, but instead, he saw an opportunity to meet his needs and promote someone else along the way. That’s what leaders do: solve problems and help people.
Sarah Fuller is not even out of college, but she already possesses skills needed to crush her career. It will be exciting to see what she does next.
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