How To Navigate a Career in Sports with Danita Johnson

At the end of April, Urban Alliance held a “Leaders Like Me” discussion with guest speaker Danita Johnson, D.C. United’s President of Business Operations. D.C. United is a men’s soccer team club committed to improving the quality of life for individuals and kids in the DMV area through service and leadership, using soccer. Session attendees such as IPL’s and students had the opportunity to get an inside look into the sports industry from Danita’s perspective as well as ask questions.

Danita grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, with a father who served in the military for over 20 years so playing sports like soccer and basketball allowed Danita to stay grounded as well as adjust to new environments. 

For this Leaders Like Me episode, Yarissa Sarabia, a student intern at Urban Alliance in the Chicago region moderated the discussion. Yarissa, who attends John Hancock College Preparatory High School opened the conversation by asking about Danita’s career path.

The Conversation

Yarissa: Can you tell us about how you chose your career path?

Danita: I grew up playing sports and knew very early on that I wanted to do something I enjoyed, and sports was the one thing that really kept me centered. Through sports, I met a lot of friends and it kept me active so the opportunity to work in sports was something that really interested me. Back then it wasn’t as prevalent on how to get into sports so it was almost like a dream, I wanted to do something and didn’t know how to do it.

Yarissa commented on how it is really hard for women to get involved in and move up in such a male-dominated industry so Danita really is making a lot of women proud.

Yarissa: What are some of the skills and experiences one must have to advance in their career and a leadership executive position?

Danita: I think it’s a lot of skills that you learn at a young age and you develop them as you grow older. From different ages, you learn about the importance of listening and the ability to communicate with people. So I would say listening and communication are skills you practice throughout your life that can really have an impact on how you get to show up in business or in your future world.

Danita also touches on the importance of being able to balance your emotions especially in times of distress or in different environments, being able to be in a team is very important. As well as knowing how to become a problem solver.

Yarissa: A leadership position comes with many achievements as well as challenges and tough decisions to make along the way. How do you navigate through your decision making?

Danita: I take a lot of think time. Sometimes you don’t want to be so reactive because as a leader your decision impacts not only you but your business, staff, and fans so it is important to be thoughtful. This is a life skill that can be used in your day to day life.

Yarissa: What other life skills besides decision making help you?

Danita: I think another one I would say is I try to find joy in things, even in the challenge of things we deal with everyday. When you look at things through a positive lens and try to find the light in the midst of any storm it really does help you day to day. When you lean so deep into an issue that you can’t figure out where light is in the issue or a way out, you can get lost.

Yarissa: What would you say was the toughest lesson you had to learn in your career and how did you handle it?

Danita: A lesson of making mistakes. I think one of the tough lessons is not always getting it right, especially when people are watching or you’re leading something it’s hard to swallow that pill. It’s going to happen over and over it’s how you deal with it, how you react to it , and how you show up the next day that’s really important. 

Danita then goes on to explain how you can learn from your mistakes by breaking them down and re-evaluating the situation to see what could have been done better or how things could have gone differently.

Next the floor was opened to questions from HSIP interns: 

Bethaniya Salomone, Paint Branch High School: How did being a part of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority help you as a college student or how does it help you now?

Danita: It taught me about sisterhood. It was being surrounded by other women of color who really wrapped their arms around me. I took on the leadership role as president of my chapter so it allowed me to step into something new, and really shaped me in college.

Naomi Kyei-Asare, Paint Branch High School: How do you feel being a black woman in a position of power such as this affects you?

Danita: One of my things I love about this is that I get to bring the essence of being a black woman. So often people don’t get to truly feel what we bring to the table as black women. I can be and am whether I like it or not a representation of our culture. 

Danita wrapped up the session giving HSIP interns leadership and career tips they can use throughout their professional journey. “You don’t need to keep up with everybody, ” said Danita, “keep up with yourself and focus on the people around you who are willing to show up.” 

Watch the Webinar:

This post was written by Naomi Kyei-Asare, a 2023 Urban Alliance High School Internship Program participant. Read more about Naomi.