Jenn Harpel: From the Playing Field to the Financial World
While in college, Jenn Harpel competed on the women’s lacrosse and field hockey teams earning All-America honors. Following graduation from Ursinus College in 1992, she was named to the United States Women’s Lacrosse Team. During her time playing lacrosse, Jenn also taught history and social studies at a private school in addition to coaching women’s field hockey, basketball and lacrosse teams. I spoke to Jenn about her unique experiences of seeing the world through women’s sports. Today, Jenn is a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and lives in Rehoboth with her partner Kate and their son, Jason Harpel-Rickards. She also is a committee member and major sponsor of CAMP Rehoboth’s Women FEST.
Did you grow up playing sports? And, why did you like playing lacrosse?
Absolutely; I have very fond memories of throwing a ball around in our back yard with my dad. In fact, I was the first girl to make our local midget baseball team, leading the league in home runs that year. Softball was my sport in high school and I only stared playing lacrosse in college. During my first year at Ursinus, I was on the softball team but my friends were playing lacrosse and they talked me into playing the sport. I love lacrosse because of the team atmosphere. It’s like playing basketball on a 120 yard field in that you have fast breaks, and offensive and defensive strategies.
How did playing lacrosse, traveling throughout Europe, Asia, and the States through your connection to athletic teams shape you?
Well, sports made me. I am a very competitive person and it taught me how to deal with winning and losing. You learn how to handle different situations, when you have a competitive edge and when someone else has a competitive edge on you. And, seeing the world made me appreciate what we have here in our country as a whole. I truly respect those who fought for our freedom and continue to do so. As Americans we sometimes take things for granted. For example, the ease of travel and getting from place to place in the US is pretty easy where as in Japan that is not the case. Our team had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to catch a subway and connect to two other lines before we got to practice at 7:00 a.m. In Asia, they honor and respect each small thing; it has a story and it connects to the larger whole. It certainly changed how I look at my world.
How would you characterize yourself as a player and coach? Did playing make you a better coach or did coaching make you a better player?
I am definitely intense. As a coach, I started with very high expectations of players and loosened up a bit. Whatever level you are coaching, the players are looking to you to guide them. My goal was to teach my players what I expected of them—to play to win and help them learn, and provide them with the tools to achieve. That said, I think there can be too much pressure from parents, peers, and schools to win, taking the fun out of sports and increasing the likelihood of burn out among young players. While most will not get recruited to play in college, much less play professionally, what is truly important is the life lessons sports can teach you—lessons that can help you do well in other aspects of your life. And, I believe coaching made me a better player because I had to focus on the macro versus looking at the game play by play.
Was there any particular game or tournament that was especially memorable?
The friendship games in Nagoya, Japan—I was on a team of Americans that traveled to Japan to play and teach the sport of lacrosse throughout the country. We landed in Japan the night before we played so we were a bit sluggish. But it was one of those wow experiences as we played in front of 10,000 fans. They were so into the game, cheering for both teams, focusing on the good plays. After the game, young girls came up to us and asked us to autograph their lacrosse sticks. Also, our Japanese hosts were incredible, each player speaking wonderful English. While we traveled and stayed with host families the experiences that were afforded to me were life changing.
Do you ever miss competing at this high level? And did you find a lot of camaraderie among women athletes, even across competing teams?
I do, and I wish my body would allow me to do so. But, I fill the void with volunteering. I am on the Women’s Game Committee of US Lacrosse, Inc., the governing body of lacrosse, and I have officiated. And, yes there is a lot of respect and friendly, good will among women athletes. However, that camaraderie starts after the buzzer, while you are playing everyone is going all out to win.
What women athletes or coaches do you respect today?
I respect Amy Wambach, the American professional soccer player and two-time Olympic gold medialist, because she goes out to play. She doesn’t let the media or opposing fans get to her. She doesn’t take cheap shots, even when punched in the face during a game. She understands the fundamentals of the game and works within the rules to be the best competitor she can be.
As a coach, Pat Summitt, is unbelievable because of what she gave of herself to her players and basketball fans. When you are coaching, you really don’t have a personal life. You are on call 24/7. When she was head coach of the Tennessee Lady Voles basketball team, she allowed us access to her world, including letting us into the locker room. As a coach, she was intense and competitive, but understood bottom line that she was a teacher. And, she continues to be that teacher today as she enters the next phase of her life, battling early onset dementia. It takes a special person to let us in under those circumstances.
In 2010, you were inducted into the Ursinus College Hall of Fame for Athletes. What did this honor mean to you?
In a way, I saw it as a thank you to my parents. They always supported me and gave me the freedom to explore what I needed to explore. It provided me an opportunity to publicly thank them. Also many of the athletes in the hall of fame were mentors and coaches of mine; it’s humbling to be placed on that same list.
Do you and Kate want your son to play sports?
He is a very active five year old. I am sure he will play some sort of sports. What that will be is up to him, but we will certainly teach him the benefits of sport and the life lessons it can teach.