Interview with Jennifer Schmidt:
Updated: Jul 28
Written by Carolina and Lila
Sports provided Jennifer Schmidt with some of the skills that she uses today as a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company. In college, she played soccer and lacrosse at Yale and Northwestern University where she studied Economics. She holds an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Two members of the Her Next Play Junior Varsity Board sat down with Jennifer to learn more about how her experience as a competitive female athlete translated into her successful career.
How did playing your sport affect you through your education?
It kept me sharper, it kept me focused. I knew I had a couple of goals- I had a plan to go to the top college I could get into. I studied hard, but sports helped me get into the best college I could get into. That is one of the reasons I went to Yale- I was recruited to play a sport. I had to be very organized and disciplined. It created a lot of endurance in me. So even today I can work long hours, which is what this job demands.
How did you balance school and sports?
It was hard. I made certain choices on what classes to take and not take. I started thinking I was going to be a doctor. Those classes required labs. It was very hard to do a sport and take labs. The practices, games, and labs were at the same time, which did not work in my schedule. I changed my major, so I studied Economics, Politics, and Ethics.
I had to be pretty organized playing sports because half of our games were away games. I tried to be as productive as I could on the bus, so I read and worked on the bus. People knew I was serious and had a plan for my studies. I made it clear to my teammates that it was important to me to do well. I wanted to go to graduate school after college. I always had that in my mind. My grades in college were really important to me. It was hard when my teammates were playing music, but I focused and my teammates supported me in it.
How did playing sports help you become a leader?
Leadership is how you act, how you behave and what your character is when you’re winning, but also when you’re not winning.
When you lose a big game you need to be resilient because you don’t always win. We lost the state tournament when I was a senior, at Wayzata High School, and soccer is a legacy sport for Wayzata girls so it was really hard, but our team had to be resilient. I usually have a plan of how I would tackle something and I think that was a little bit of how you kind of see things play out in games, you see how different strategies work or don’t work. Being a leader, you always have to be thinking of a plan and what is coming next.
I learned a lot about myself during college. I was recruited to play soccer at Yale, I played two years there, but didn’t like the east coast, and transferred to Northwestern University. At Northwestern they had a club soccer team so I played club soccer and I met a lot of friends. That was a really great way for me to get to know people at a new school. They also had a really good lacrosse team, and they didn’t have enough players to fill up their roster. Someone on my soccer team suggested I try out for lacrosse. I tried out, even though I had never played lacrosse before, and I didn’t even know how to throw the ball or hold the stick. That was pretty humbling because I was definitely the worst person on the team. All I had to do was think about sports and the strategy of sports and how do people run and pass and play. I was fast, so that helped, but I had to use a lot of other skills that I had developed in other sports to try to be a contributor and to play. I know it was frustrating for some of my other teammates, when the ball would fly off somewhere else, but I had to try again and they taught me. Another part of being a leader is being part of a team and finding that you’re sometimes the brand new person figuring things out and learning, so that was an important lesson for me, and an important part of my sports story.
What are some of the main lessons that you learned from sports?
I played soccer, which was my primary sport, but I also played softball, swam, and ran track throughout late elementary, middle school, and high school. I also played basketball, lacrosse, golf, and tennis. I’m pretty into sports, and for me, sports were a great opportunity to compete, build confidence, develop friendships, learn new skills, and learn how we can put our skills together and win a game or a championship.
I learned confidence through sport. When I played on the playground, and when I played on weekends, and I just kind of did pickup and I played with boys, and they didn’t ever think that I was “just a girl”. They saw me as one of their friends and I could play with them equally, which was awesome.
I learned a lot from that, it gave me a ton of confidence, and what I would call self-assuredness. That feeling that I can go into anything, figure it out, and hold my own. Which is a bit of what you need when you’re working in a company and working for companies to fix problems.
Sports also gave me a sense of friendship and comradery. My three best friends all ran track and played soccer as well as other sports. It was a really fun way for us to spend time together.
I think teamwork is also a big lesson I learned through playing sports. I was always one part of a bigger team. I found working with different types of people really interesting. Sometimes they were better than me, sometimes they were the same as me, sometimes they were learning. That is also something that I use in day to day life a lot because I often need to figure out how to work with different types of people, different personalities, and different skill levels.