Anyone who’s met DIC Entertainment managing director of European operations Leslie Nelson knows that she’s an extremely determined and goal-oriented exec. But if you think those characteristics were developed at business school, you’d be wrong. They’re a product of the court – the volleyball court, that is.
As a tall and athletic high-school sophomore who dabbled in many sports, Nelson watched that year’s star girls volleyball player get a full scholarship to the University of Illinois. That’s all it took to get her out for try-outs. ‘I looked at volleyball as a means to an end,’ she says. ‘It was a way to get a free college education.’
After learning the ropes and honing her skills over the next two years, Nelson started to post some pretty impressive wins, most notably beating the big, blonde California team while playing for the mid-West in the 1978 Junior Olympics. But Nelson knew that simply winning wouldn’t be enough – she needed the scouts to see her in action, and the top ones didn’t come to the mid-West very often.
There was a tournament in Newport Beach, California during her senior year that was going to be heavily scouted, but Nelson’s parents couldn’t afford to send her. So she and her younger sister signed up to sell frozen pizzas to pay for the trip. ‘We sold hundreds of them that winter, driving around in my dad’s car with the windows rolled down,’ Nelson recalls.
The hustle paid off. A coach who ended up at the University of California spotted Nelson and offered her a full scholarship to play for the Trojans. The team won two NCAA volleyball championships while Nelson was in school, but juggling studies and a rigorous training schedule was difficult – during the volleyball season from September to the end of December, the team was in the weight room at 6 a.m. and practiced from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day. And the coach who scouted Nelson was replaced by an ex-military type who took some of the shine off the game for her. ‘We didn’t have as much fun as we could have had because with him, it was all about winning,’ she explains.
After a couple of years away from the courts while she was starting her career (initially in marketing), Nelson re-embraced volleyball as a way to meet people when she moved to Paris in 1983. She’s been playing regularly at the Racing Club de France ever since, winning the French National Championship in 1987. ‘I’ll keep playing as long as my knees hold up,’ says Nelson, who’s also sustained multiple injuries to her ankles and chin (think cross-court dives) over the years. ‘I’ve always loved team sports,’ Nelson says. ‘They give you a sense of competitive spirit, and they teach you to work together as a team to achieve things.’
As Nelson and her Paris-based DIC team continue to maximize international sales and licensing opportunities for the company’s many kids properties and hunt for presales for new series Stan Lee’s Super Seven, volleyball isn’t far from her mind. In fact, Nelson is very interested in setting up a beach volleyball tournament at MIPCOM, so if you’d like to spike a ball or two with your kids entertainment colleagues, drop her a line (email@example.com).