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For Elena Delle Donne, sports matter both on and off the court

The Mystics’ forward has partnered with The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation to support its Sports Matter Giving Truck #LetHerPlayTour.

Indiana Fever v Washington Mystics Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

There isn’t much Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne hasn’t achieved on the court. She is a WNBA champion, two-time MVP, six-time All-Star and member of the 50-40-90 club. And after missing the opening half of the campaign recovering from offseason back surgery, the former scoring champ is hoping for a return to action after the Olympic Break.

For Delle Donne, though, success is also measured through off-the-court work and supporting local communities.

That is why she has joined the DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation in support of the Sports Matter Giving Truck #LetHerPlayTour. The partnership strives to aid youth athletes from girls’ programs around the U.S. in under-funded communities.

Throughout July, the Giving Truck has been traveling to organizations and giving out 15,000 gifts of sports equipment and sports bras to youth sports groups in need across the country. The summer tour is focused on championing girls in sport and celebrating the strength of women in athletics.

“I’m honored that DICK’S Sporting Goods foundation wanted me to be a part of this program,” Delle Donne said in an interview with Bullets Forever. “This tour especially is all about celebrating girls and empowering women in sports. So to be a part of this tour means a little bit extra to me.”

Growing up in Wilmington, DE, youth sports had an indelible impact on Delle Donne’s early life.

“I know the importance of youth sports and how it can shape you in so many ways and promote health and staying active,” she said.

But from more than just a staying-active perspective, it has been well-documented that girls are twice as likely to stop playing athletics by the age of fourteen, a staggering statistic that epitomizes how vital the Sports Matter Program is.

“I also know that there’s an issue with young girls dropping out of sports at the age of fourteen two times the amount that boys do, and it’s always something that concerned me,” Delle Donne said. “When I can be a part of programs like these, that can equip our young athletes with what they need to continue to keep playing or motivate them in a way they need to stay in it, that’s really special to me.”

There are eight destinations on The Giving Truck’s route throughout July, including Philadelphia — the most recent stop. On the 9th, Delle Donne virtually surprised a group of young female athletes at a local organization in the City of Brotherly Love through video technology on the Giving Truck.

For Delle Donne, who credits Philly with shaping part of her athletic life, joining this stop was extra meaningful.

“That’s where most of my basketball career actually happened, in Philly,” she said. “I played all of my AAU basketball with Philly teams. Mostly with Fencor and then also a little bit with the Comets [of Philadelphia]. Philly helped shape me to become the basketball player that I am, and it’s another home to me. Philly has done so much for me as a basketball player, so to be able to be a part of the Philly stop is really special because it came full circle.”

The DICK’S Foundation, through sports equipment donations, aims to ease the financial burden on the families of young female athletes so they can continue pursuing the sports they love. First embarking in December 2020, The Giving Truck has provided 20,000 gifts throughout 16 cities in the U.S. to date. And while the immediate impact of the program is to serve underrepresented youths in sport, the ethos of the project extends far beyond fields and courts.

“This is about how can we get young women to continue to be involved in sports,” Delle Donne said. “You don’t have to be a professional athlete one day; it’s not about that. It’s about being in sports right now and getting what you can out of it, staying fit, staying healthy, interacting with others, competing, all the things you can get out of sports can carry you into whatever you want to achieve later on in life.”

In a recent conversation with one of the athletes she helps to inspire, Delle Donne recalled a young girl’s aspirations to pursue a career in the medical field.

“I was talking to one of the young girls and she wants to be a doctor when she grows up,” Delle Donne said, “and by being in sports now, she’ll be able to learn so many lessons that will hopefully get her to become a doctor one day.”

As the most forward-thinking professional sports league, the WNBA is full of like-minded and passionate athletes who know that their impact must extend past the confines of gyms and arenas. Since entering The W in 2013, Delle Donne, who always has had a desire to give back, has seen her personal goals develop as she has learned more about what community engagement means to her.

“I’ve always been passionate about [work off the court],” she said. “I think growing in this league and meeting more people and getting a great team around me has enabled me to find programs that I’m super passionate about. [It has allowed me to focus on] ways to help our youth, especially young girls, to continue to aspire to be whatever they want to become.”

“I always knew I wanted to leave the league better than when I came in, and I feel like we’re certainly on that path of this league continuing to grow and inspire our youth.”

The Sports Matter Program has provided a conduit for pairing Delle Donne’s love of basketball with a drive to leave the league in a better state than when she came in, which will help lay the foundation for future generations.

“I just love to hear what their aspirations are, what they want to do in life,” Delle Donne said. “Some of the young girls were so excited about the bags they received; they just wanted to show me everything that was inside of their bag. So to share in moments like those is so special. It makes me feel so grateful to be a part of moments like these.”