Hillary Clinton's former political director on transitioning from college sports to public service

Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images

Amanda Renteria, shown here in 2008, played basketball at Stanford before entering a career in politics.

Amanda Renteria found her calling in politics after she graduated in 1996 from Stanford, where she played third base for the softball team and walked on to the basketball team.

She received an MBA from Harvard and pursued public service, working for Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Debbie Stabenow. In 2008, Renteria was named Stabenow's chief of staff, making her the first Latina to hold that title in Senate history. In 2014, she decided to run for Congress herself in California's 21st district, but she lost to Republican incumbent Rep. David Valadao. Most recently, Renteria served as the national political director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.

Throughout her career, Renteria never strayed far from sports. She regularly played pick-up basketball while on The Hill (even putting up a few shots while in heels), and she says softball games between offices can get quite competitive.

Before participating in espnW's Campus Conversation at Stanford on Monday, Renteria spoke with us about sports, how she got into politics and what she's learned along the way.

espnW: How did you first start playing basketball?

Amanda Renteria: I grew up in a small, rural town, so we always had a basketball court available as one of the free things to do. It was kind of what people did: hang out at the courts. For me, I always have had a hard time watching sports -- I want to be in it. So that's kind of how it started, a bunch of kids were at the courts, and I said, "I could do this too."

espnW: At what point in your life did you feel drawn to politics?

AR: I studied politics when I was at Stanford. I got there when it was "The Year of the Woman." But I can't say it was politics as much as I linked it to leadership. Women leaders were breaking through, and the forum at that moment was the Senate. That was what pulled me into having my major be political science, but then, I didn't think about it as politics. It was women making ground in leadership, and I found that to be really interesting.

My whole window into politics was, how do we use public services to do the most public good? After I graduated from business school, that's what I was looking for when I went to go work for the City of San Jose. The experience I was having on the front lines in the budget office and in community centers made me realize the impact and strength of public services. They touch people's lives in a way that I had never experienced before. That was when I realized the importance of who leads and how their proposals touch people.

espnW: What lessons from your athletic career do you carry with you in your political one?

AR: The first is the teamwork aspect of it. In order to make anything in politics work, you need a diverse skill set. You need your communications people, your political people, you need your policies, so that was No. 1 on every campaign. You have to have a diverse team that works together.

The second, and I think this has been true of life in general, is that experience of being two down, and the ball is in your hand, or there's no time left and you're at the free throw line. What that feels like, and having to perform at that very moment. Every single time I give a big speech, whether I was a surrogate, or I'm on TV, or I was doing my own debates, having done that so many times, you know what it feels like. You also know how to visualize and be comfortable in those high pressure moments.

The last thing is knowing how much it takes to be good at what you do -- all the practice that you put in every single day before game day. That discipline to know that if you put in the hours, if you build relationships early, when it's time for it all to come through, you can get into the batter's box with confidence that you did all the prep work and practice.

espnW: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as you ended your collegiate athletic career and transitioned into professional life?

AR: I missed pushing my body physically. To this day, it's why I love playing pick-up basketball. Especially today, in a world where we are always doing multiple things at the same time, when I'm playing pick-up basketball, there's only one thing I can be doing, and that's playing basketball. There aren't a lot of things where you're so singularly focused. People say basketball is hard and tiring, and I think it's so simple because it's clear that I'm just trying to put a ball into a basket. Life and work is so much harder.

The other piece that you just miss is friends and teammates and the collective group trying to reach a goal. When you first start a job, it's not automatic. You're not all on the same page. Everyone starts their job with different incentives and different reasons for being there, but it takes time for people to gel. For me, it took some time to realize that.

And then there's this realization that I'm not going to be on the court anymore. You're in a suit and you're at your desk, and you realize that your hightops are going to get dusty. Everything feels so different and you realize that you had something special. You're entering a new phase of your life, not just that sports is over, something has changed.

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