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Mind and Body: King School Sets the Standard for Female Athletes in Leadership and Performance

Written by Wendell Maxey, King School Sports Information and Social Media Liaison

An exhausted group of female student athletes from King School had just finished a conditioning session with fitness guru, Suzanne Palazzo, on the turf field at Chelsea Piers Connecticut. Palazzo paused for a moment, caught her breath and began to address the group about the importance of empowerment and what striving to become a leader each day looks like, particularly for a young female athlete in 2019. “If you take anything away from being here today, let it be this -- the only way to get better at what you do is to identify your strengths and weaknesses and work on them each and every day,” said Palazzo, CEO and Founder of Upper Deck Fitness. “The mind leads and the body follows.”

In August, King School held the first “Fall Female Athlete Viking Performance and Leadership Day” at Chelsea Piers Connecticut, with student-athletes from King’s Fall 2019 Field Hockey, Volleyball, Girls Soccer, Crew, and Girls Cross Country teams taking part in informative sessions led by Palazzo and leading nutrition specialist, Heidi Skolnick (Women's Sports Medicine Center at HSS). While Palazzo eagerly put the Vikings to the test with a series of group strength and training drills heavily rooted in "mind over matter," Skolnick shared valuable insight about what it means to truly build and grow a healthy mind and body, while also juggling the realities of academics and athletics.

Athletics at King School is rooted in the belief that athletes who positively partner with others and commit to define their path to excellence emerge more confident and well-rounded. To achieve athletic excellence demands constant growth and teamwork, and our students are supported by coaches and teammates in an engaging and challenging atmosphere. Head of School Dr. Karen Eshoo and Emma Jonsson, King Athletic Trainer, joined the athletes for the day and led group discussions on tapping into your "superpower" and embracing the life issues that arise during the course of a season and throughout the school year.

“The team and I took a lot away from the performance and leadership workshop. We learned that as female athletes, we all have individual skills that we bring to the table in our given sport,” said King Senior and Varsity Field Hockey Co-Captain, Diana Degnan. Degnan added, ”Every single member of the team has something valuable that they contribute, and it is each person’s contribution that will make us a close knit and successful team. We really focused on being accountable for your actions both on and off the field, and that whatever your role on the team, you always give 110% and stay committed and persevere.”

The Fall Female Athlete Viking Performance and Leadership Day served as a timely reminder about the importance of dedicating yourself to preparing your body and mind as an athlete and by stepping up as a leader. At King, that mindfulness mentality extends from the weight room, to the practice field, and throughout the long athletics season, and also encompasses the classroom and community.

“We gained a lot of insight from the sessions and workshops at Chelsea Piers that will help us be more efficient when getting on the water this season,” said King Junior and Crew Co-Captain, Sydney Fishkin. Fishkin added, “It really comes down to us being even more dedicated to improving and showing our overall team spirit for King and each other.”

Fellow Junior and Crew Co-Captain Olivia Ludicone echoed those sentiments by saying, “We want this year to be a totally positive experience that the team can benefit from and we’ll remember looking back. Regardless if you are a team captain or not, an experienced athlete or new to a sport, you can always be a leader.”

With the Fall season officially in full swing at King School, the girls who took part in the performance and leadership day have been applying what they’ve learned to their individual sports and in their everyday life in an effort to improve on the team and emerge as young leaders. King Senior and Volleyball Co-Captain Cat King comments, “For King athletes, it's about the importance of team culture. We have built a culture that values hard work, inclusion, commitment, and accountability. These are things that we talk about in practice every day and are the things that come through during our matches.” Fellow Senior Co-Captain Ruby Bienen adds “The event at Chelsea Piers emphasized the importance of creating a positive team culture and how that will impact our performance. We have made it a point to practice that and interact with teammates in a way that is both positive and enforces accountability.”

Not only did the workshop at Chelsea Piers set the tone for the Vikings for the Fall season and 2019 school year, but it also provided them with a tangible life lesson to push themselves to go further and be more. “As female athletes, often we are still getting plenty of messages from broader society and culture that is more about how we look than how we perform. Helping to give very practical suggestions as well as a framework to shift the focus on function, debunk myths, and promote being an active healthy participant in our own life is awesome,” explained Heidi Skolnick, who has overseen Performance Nutrition programs at the Juilliard School, the School of American, and has worked with the New York Knicks, New York Mets, and New York Giants. Skolnick adds, “Self-care is a skill that can be learned and takes conscious effort. The payoff is great!”

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