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Interview with Sabina Zampetti

Sabina Zampetti
Good guidance can unleash your potential

Adaptability to many situations is key. And updating all the time. Curiosity – If I hear something I do not understand, I have to look it up

Role Model ID Card
  • Name: Sabina Zampetti
  • Country: Italy
  • Organisation: European Hockey Federation
  • Elected position:Executive Board Member
  • How long have you been in your current position? 18 months



To begin with, please tell us a little about yourself.

SZ: “I was born in Italy, grew up in the Netherlands where I started to play hockey, and moved back to Rome in 1987. I come from a three generations sports family. My grandfather founded a footbal club but “the girls” my mum and her sisters played tennis and hockey. My family has always been actively involved in the Hockey Club administration, so I grew up with a strong hockey family feeling. Back in Rome to learn Italian, I was elected to play for the Italian National Hockey Team. I played as an International for 11 years, but I had an awful character because I thought it was the ultimate achievement. I felt so important until I got seriously injured and realized that playing hockey might not always be for life. Sooner or later things change. Accepting and adapting to those changes is one of the most important skills in life I believe. Many opportunities came along my path, but I always realized that as they come, they can end.
Professionally, thanks to my multi-linguistic skills, I have worked in Event Production and Luxury Fashion Showroom Campaigns, today I maintain a free-lance consultant career in the MICE sector, which gives me the freedom to volunteer.
My life values are “Learning by Doing” and “Never Stop Dreaming”. I strongly believe in self-empowerment and embrace change. This is reflected in my job where I play different roles every time.
My hobbies beyond Hockey are Travelling, Astronomy, Shopping, Vintage&Flee Markets, Working in the Vineyard, Social Networks.

Can you tell us about your “Why”… Why do you get up every morning?  

SZ : Because I’m happy to be alive!!! I like to think my father Enzo, who passed away too young, being proud of me from above. I also need to discover new things- I’m naturally curious.”

Why do you think you have been chosen to lead?
SZ : “I think because I inspire people by my communication skills and a broad variety of life experiences. I want to take a lead but at the same time be available to help my fellows and share my path. I feel a strong empathy in difficult situations, and want people to cheer up and laugh. I also have taken a lead to share European best practices with my home nation, and transmit core values, like the Gender Equality project I am advocating now in Italy.”

What is it you want to achieve and what made you decide on your professional and personal pathway?

SZ: “What drives me is to bring a little step towards happiness by smiling to everyone I encounter. I like to share positivity with people.
And what made me decide is the need for freedom: freedom to dedicate time to other (volunteer) activities. I’ve always needed a certain amount of freedom. I am less interested in making a lot of money, I just need it to be independent. I want to achieve what makes myself and those who surround me happy.

How do you achieve your goals and overcome barriers (internal and/or external)?

SZ: “Personal barriers have to be accepted. After my injury my Neurosurgeon said; choose between hockey or your life! So I had to get over it and do something else. Be positive: a good self-assessment so now and then is necessary. I hate conflicts, so I always strive for harmony, by negotiating and make sure all parties involved are happy. Sometimes you need to get yourself respected which is not always easy, especially in a man’s world. Being straightforward in expressing your opinion can work better than being too accommodating. Remind: ‘No’ you have – a ‘Yes’ you can obtain. (a Dutch saying)

How do you cope under the stress of the environment? 
SZ: “By thinking “it’s all so unimportant”. Defuse. There are much worse issues in the world than environment stress moments. I don’t let myself being stressed by situations. Positive thinking. Literally, to destress, I like to cycle into the green, or work in my Father-in-Law’s Vineyard.”

How do you keep up with the fast-changing society?
SZ : “Adaptability to many situations is key. And updating all the time. Curiosity – If I hear something I do not understand, I have to look it up. When I was young I read encyclopedies, today we have Internet – a great tool if you know how to use it. I also regularly check-in with my U16 family members about what they like and get inspired by. Youth is fundamental to understand progress”

Who inspires you? And why?

SZ: “I have been inspired by so many people-I will not put all their names here, but through my hockey leadership journey I have been inspired by some very special people: as an athlete, I looked up to the world champions, the Dutch national team. I also very much admired a dear family friend, Leandro Negre (ESP), who achieved an amazing career. Later, after becoming a Technical Official, I was inspired by some great TD’s (Tournament Directors). I thought how difficult it would be when a day I was asked by Carola Meyer (GER) to become a TD myself! Because under good guidance, I realized I can do everything! The importance of mentorship.
Certainly, I have been inspired more by women than by men. I would have never imagined stepping up to an international Board until I realized I could contribute even more…. thanks to the support of Marijke Fleuren (NED), I participated in the EHFL Forum in Brussels, where leaders like Inez Cooper (IRL) and Sally Munday (UK) truly inspired me with their personal journey. Just Dare!! Great words. EHFL made me want to empower other women.”

Who has supported you, and who has challenged you the most on your journey? And how?
SZ: “From my first time on the Italian Board, I have been supported by the Chairman of the ITA Hockey Federation. They appreciated my help in the Organizing Committees and technical experience. The main challenge has been to prove that a blond nice-looking half dutch girl, also had a thinking mind ☺ Not easy in Italy in my early roles. Today, I believe I have overcome that challenge and I am respected for what I have achieved.”

How do you make allies with men and women?

SZ: “With men, I don’t deny I use female my charm and sensibility so now and then. In Italy mainly respecting men’s entitlement and role so as to let them feel important. To establish allies with women instead is not so difficult for me, since I have never felt any form of envy. I’m always happy for other women’s achievements. I strongly believe envy is sometimes what blocks women working well together!”

What kind of resources has proven to be the best help throughout your journey? And where did you find them?

SZ: “I started early to be involved in some Italian women sports associations, being the Italian sports environment mainly a men’s business. In that environment, you come across people who might want to help you. Also, professional networking groups are useful. For example on Social networks like Linkedin etc.
And, as I said before, female charm sometimes opened more doors, certainly in Italy.

Where do your priorities lie as a leader?

SZ: “Human relationships. I believe by praising people and stressing their positive capacities rather than criticize, they will be happier and therefore generally perform better. Especially in the volunteer environment, I very much appreciate the effort people put in cooperating. I also like to share best practices, like empowering women, and make sure to contribute to the growth of the Sport.”

When did you realise what you wanted to do?

SZ : “After my International Hockey career I realized I didn’t want to leave the sport’s scene. But what exactly I wanted to do is still not clear to myself: I see a growth path and a journey, but not a final aim.”




What is effective leadership for you?

SZ: “I believe effective leadership is being able to transmit my passion and share know-how with the team to benefit the community or association. For me, leadership is less ambitious and more putting myself at the service of the common goal. Leadership for me also means individuating people with a similar mindset you can invest in, or -most important- learn from.”

Being on a board is not about you, it’s about your organisation. How do you collect and understand the members’ expectations?
SZ: “By gathering information from all members across various channels, for example from our EHF Committees, and with our Staff and from members’ Social Media Channels. Today I believe communication is key and we have great instruments to reach out to our members. To understand the needs, it’s vital to have an insight on what is going on and be empathic. Always keeping in mind why you have been chosen by the members to represent them.”

How do you establish board orientation and activate board members to work together and aim for the same goals?
SZ: “I have not really been in this kind of position yet, but for example as Chair of a Committee we firstly provide clear information on a topic thanks to the technical support of our staff. I believe that clear information, a good presentation complete with financial implications, creating a good environment in the team combined with a dose of enthusiasm will possibly get Board members looking in the same direction.”

What changed the most after you got elected (professionally and personally)?
SZ: “Professionally what changed most for me is that I feel more responsible in a broader way. I was so lucky to receive great external advice and support, and tried to implement these good practices. What changed the most personally, is that you have certainly more work to do, and a lot to learn. Actually this last year all the Covid complications provided many challenges to my profession, all events stopped so this gave me the opportunity to dedicate more time to the sport and new projects. I have realized change management is very important in life.”




Was there something about being onboard that you wish you had known before you started?
SZ: “Certainly I didn’t know I had to face challenges like envy from other people, in my home country it is still very hard to get myself respected in this position. We need a change of mentality. I had always supposed that merit should have been enough, but for Italian culture it is different. Here most women wait to be rewarded by someone else instead of realizing that you’re good and just express yourself!

Finally, what words of advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

SZ: “Be more modest, athlete’s careers do not last forever. Start to think early on what could be next!

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