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Marisa Schlenker: “ENGSO Youth really signifies to me personally as a network for learning, opportun


Although she is originally from Chicago, United States, Marisa eventually moved to Europe for studies and football.

She is a former captain of the University of Wisconsin Madison football team and a former professional football player (she played on two different Swedish teams). She is also a mom and our young delegate who recently won the 2017-19 best volunteer award.

Meet Marisa Schlenker; the 2017-2019 ENGSO Youth best volunteer

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First impressions on being awarded as ENGSO Youth best volunteer 2017-2019?

Just really shocked. First, because I didn’t even know such an award existed and secondly, I was actually pulled out of the main presentation hall because I wanted to say good night to my children on the phone. Rachel came down to find me on my phone and insisted that I return to the hall.

After getting over the surprise, I felt proud. It is an amazing network of delegates and through my involvement in various projects, I have been so fortunate to get to work with many others who make up this dynamic group of youth delegates. Getting recognized is always nice, however, I am certain there are many others who also deserve this acknowledgement for their continuous efforts to bring the youth voice to European sport policy and programs.


What were your beginnings in sport like? What is your “sport story”?

My sport story continues today. I played many different sports growing up in a city outside of Chicago in the USA. In high school, I joined my first larger, out of district traveling football club, which essentially meant I had to stop pursuing the other sports in order to put my full concentration into football. It ended up being a great decision, as I was fortunate to earn a full scholarship as a student athlete at University of Wisconsin Madison, where I captained the team and was able to make an impact on and off the field.

Different opportunities with the youth national teams gave me the extra push to continue my career post university. After finding a team in Seville where I studied abroad, I ended up staying in Europe, playing professionally in Sweden on two different teams.

When returning home to the states, I played on various semi-professional teams across the states and when spending some time in Paraguay, football was always my means of connecting with others and learning about my new community.

Since living in southern Germany since 2013, I have also found a team. I only recently stopped playing on a formal team but after playing this past weekend as a participant in the Equal Playing Field event in Lyon, France, I have again the urge to find a team. I am a fan of all sorts of sports and value not only what comes out of sports in terms of the physical activity, health and wellbeing, but also the social aspects, the team, the relationships, the fans and the journeys teams go on as they pursue their goals.

When and why did you decide to become a volunteer?

When I moved to Germany, I started working on a project about sport and the sustainable development goals. In my search for resources and best practices, I came across the ENGSO Youth site where I found a bit about the way the organization integrates the two big themes. I was lucky to get in touch with Nevena, who ended up answering my questions and telling me more about Engso Youth, which was entirely new to me. I was hesitant about applying because I was 33 at the time and also not originally from Europe, but figured it was worth a try and to me seemed like a really great network to join and support.


Why did you choose ENGSO Youth and what ENGSO Youth represents for you?

ENGSO Youth really signifies to me personally as a network for learning, opportunity, action and also greater inclusion. As I mentioned in my previous response, I didn’t think that I would be accepted into the network due to my background. That was of course not the case and I realized that instead of hindering my opportunities, my background was actually an asset within the group.

I think ENGSO Youth has a lot of potential to have an even stronger and more diverse voice at the table, as it taps into the various sub groups within the target group of youth. I encourage the group to continue to reach new audiences, learn from those at the grassroots and try to bridge the gap between how people are aiming to change sport at different levels.

What sport projects are you currently involved with?

I am leading the learning and monitoring and evaluation with the Global Goals World Cup EU project. I am also supporting Streetfootballworld in their Scoring for the Future project. I also work with Gender Hub on various projects around feminist theory, thought and exploration in and through sport. I have done research with Responsiball on CSR in football leagues and am also working at my university on a research project examining the club level drivers of CSR in football.

Apart from these, I support the Journal of Sport for Development with their communications and am looking to get involved with SandSI, as I want to learn more about what sport is and can do relating to the environment and sustainability. One last project to mention is the Football Makes History Project where I have joined a team of formal and nonformal educators working together to use the history of football in the development of educational resources for in and outside of the classroom.

What are some of the global issues / movements you are really passionate about?

I am very inspired by what we are seeing in women’s football, where discussions and coverage of the game move from the excellence and mastery of the athletes on the field to their ongoing challenges and battles they are fighting off the field. I wrote my masters thesis about the 2015 Women’s World Cup Turf Debate and saw then how the games became a platform for a much larger and complex discourse on women’s rights, workers rights, homophobia and more.


I am still very drawn to this discourse and believe it can be seen across sports in different contexts. As much as I try to be very open and knowledgeable about other sports, I tend to be more involved with football related projects and movements, however, it is not necessarily that it is the game I am drawn to, but rather how it brings in different perspectives and experiences from across cultures, religions, gender and other dimensions.

What are your plans for the future?

I will finish my masters at Konstanz University in Political Science and Public Administration by this time next year. A couple months ago, I started my own consulting / freelancing company and hope to continue to find exciting and interesting projects to work on, particularly those where I can apply my research and evaluation skills. I would love to stay involved with ENGSO Youth as either a mentor or in some capacity in the newly formed alumni group, as I have really enjoyed the time with the network of young delegates and would be very keen to stay connected in whatever way possible.

Your favourite quote to live by?

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

What would be your message to the new ENGSO Youth Young Delegates?

Ask questions, get involved in different working groups, learn from others and take advantage of the different opportunities. Also, remember that you have a lot to offer to the group, whether it be your knowledge or specific skillsets, so find the best way to bring those to the table.

Thank you Marisa and good luck with the future endeavours.


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