Interview with Pilar Oppedisano:
Updated: Feb 9
Written by Junior Varsity Board Members, Joely Emerson, Lila Emerson, Hailey Bergeson and Lilly Green
As a Soccer center-back at Williams College, Pilar Oppedisano learned many valuable lessons that prepared her for a successful career as an Executive Director at J.P. Morgan. She studied Economics at Williams College and holds an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Four members of the Her Next Play JV Board sat down with Pilar to learn more about how her experience as a competitive, female athlete translated into her successful career.
What was it like being a student-athlete?
I grew up in Dallas, Texas, where we could play outside because it is warm, never snows, and the coldest it gets is 40 degrees. I played for my school and my club team. Sports taught me how to be organized. It helped me get ready for college. I had the tools to fit activities into my schedule and how to prioritize.
Sports teach you a lot of lessons on perseverance. A key example is when you think you are going to start in a game, but your coach lets you know that you are not the starter. You have to deal with these emotional situations. It is so important to learn the skills to handle challenges and persevere younger in life so you can refine them to overcome other challenges later in life.
Sports also opened me up to a whole group of people. I really benefited from my club team. It opened my eyes to new people who came from all over the Metroplex. They had different socioeconomic backgrounds, different heritages, different religions, so I got to learn, play and become friends with people with different experiences and perspectives.
What advice would you give to a freshman girl that is possibly considering quitting sports?
The advice I would give them is to truly understand for themselves why they are quitting? Are they quitting because it's hard or because they do not like it any more. I think if they don't like it that's one thing, because you don't want to be doing something you don't like. But I would ask them again to fully understand why they are quitting.
In my former role at General Mills, we did something called why why why when there was a problem on a business issue. We would say “Why did that happen?” The responses then got asked “why.” As we dug inside the reasons, we realized that the initial pain point was not the reason for the issue, but the reason was further down the line. For example, let’s assume some marshmallows did not make it into a box. From the initial “why” we learned that someone did not put them in. The next “why” led to discover they were not in the factory. The next “why” led to the truck taking them to the factory broke down. And final the answer lay in the finding that the truck needed maintenance. The issue had nothing to do with marshmallows, but it affected them.
My advice is to use that same why why why on why they are quitting sports to understand truly why they are doing it. And if it is because it is just hard and they are not really willing to continue and they are just tired, I would say sleep on it and see if there is something they can figure out or get the energy behind to fight for it. If it is because they don’t like it, now that is a whole other story. I think using that why why why and talking to your mom, dad, brothers, sisters, teammates would be a good challenge for you. I think there are a lot of lessons to learn if you do play sports. People who play sports tend to differentially perform in the outer years in business, in life and work.
How have you learned communication through sports and how does that translate to your career?
I was a center-back in soccer. I sat in the middle and back, so I was thought of as the quarterback because I could see the whole field. I was the one who told the other players where to be. I had to be direct because the other players could not see each other. This really helped my communication skills grow. When you're in business, I think it is important to be direct, and that is my style. A lot of times people are really busy and they're trying to do a lot of things, and you have to tell them exactly what you want them to do. It’s what we call main point communication.
Do you have any final thoughts about girls in sports?
Just keep going, I know they can be hard. As long as you love the sport, do it. Try to find the positives in everything you do. If you lose, think about what is something that you learned? We used to lose all the time and my dad would say, “Well you ran with your knees higher, looked like you stretched”. It was always something positive. I think that is really important. It is supposed to be fun and it isn’t about the outcome. It is about the journey and the process.