When I was a little girl, I had male role models. It was 1991, I distinctly remember watching, for the first time, women on the TV who were playing soccer during Women’s World Cup in China. By 1994, I remember going to a Santa Clara University women’s soccer game and Brandi Chastain was there. I barely knew who she was on the field but her name was slowly gaining recognition in our area so I walked up to her with my dad and got her autograph. I put it on my wall with the poster of Alexi Lalas my sister gave me.
In the next five years women’s soccer in America was beginning to take off. All of a sudden these women were being featured in articles and I slowly began to notice as I would tear out the pictures and put them on my wall. By 1999, I was 16 and I was hooked. I had begun my own journey to have a career in the sport I loved. And for the first time, I had hopes and dreams that it could happen! Watching the Women’s World Cup in 1999, I think a fire was lit in me and other girls I knew. We were inspired seeing these women play, watching them be interviewed on National TV, really just amazed that they were in the spotlight. History now refers to these women as the 99ers.
The following year I started my collegiate career at UC Berkeley. I had made it to the first step in my dreams…playing for a D-1 women’s soccer program. It was the first time I had a female coach, her influence is what I attribute so much of who I am today. I spent 4 years learning about myself through the game. And I realized I wasn’t done, I wanted to play professionally.
And for the first time, during my collegiate career, the W.U.S.A. (first women’s pro league) began and I had a chance. By my senior year, I began to train with the San Jose Cyberrays and although it was a bit of a shot in the dark whether I would actually make the team the following season, I felt like I already had made it. I was practicing with Brandi Chastain, getting coaching tips from the best coaches in the area at the time and watching first hand how this league functioned. And then the league folded.
It was heartbreaking. My dream was shattered. It was the first time since 1995 or so, where the momentum in women’s soccer in America came to a halt. I didn’t have much of a choice except to move on and find another career.
Fast forward to 2014. For the past 10 years, I had gotten my teaching credential, married my professional soccer-playing boyfriend and moved around for his career, not to mention popped out two kids. My days of paying attention to women’s soccer issues were gone. What happened to me? My passion? I began to know all about MLS but I had turned my back on my true passion, women’s soccer. One day in early March after I had been personally training some old students of mine in soccer, I watched the 99ers documentary. It’s like the Adele song says, “There’s a fire burning in my heart, reaching a fever pitch…” It all came rushing back. It had never left me, it was just underneath all my other commitments, my energies, my full time working tired mom brain. A spark ignited that day and Female Footballers was born.
Female Footballers is an organization that is designed to inspire and empower young girls through soccer. We offer a series of clinics and seminars to 8-14 year girls coached by qualified current of former female players only. Each clinic has a soccer specific focus and an off the field mental focus.
Last week we had our first clinic of 2015. Our focus was confidence, communication and teamwork. After two hours of attacking technical skill work, we moved into a station rotation of activities designed to create discussions about leadership qualities in young girls. I was floored at so many things. I’ll choose to just talk about one for this blog post. Between references about the USWNT in the soccer portion and throughout the day really, these girls had no clue what we were talking about.
During snack break, the players read different quotes by current and former USWNT players that I had printed out. After they began reading for a bit, it was beginning to become apparent that these girls were unaware who these big names in the women’s side of the game were. So I straight up asked, “Raise your hand if you have heard of Brandi Chastain?” Not one. “Who can name a player for the National team?” One player named Mia Hamm. Another Alex Morgan. That’s it. Yet, 3 girls could name international men’s players such as Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, etc. I couldn’t believe it. Not only had I not really followed women’s soccer in the past 10 years, but none of these girls really did either. Why is that?
It made me realize how, yes, you can follow women’s soccer easily if you search for it. But it is not as mainstream as it once was. And oddly enough when you Google female soccer players, 4 out of the first 10 listings are about hottest female players-go figure. We have regressed in our attention to the women’s side of the game. Why? Is it because we haven’t won a world cup title since then? I don’t think so, we have won the Olympics since then. Is it because our mainstream media has changed what it once really covered, the actual game? And not just the topics that sell, like Hope Solo and her array of legal troubles. Maybe. Is it the two previously failed attempts at a professional league? Maybe. Is it that the women coaching them aren’t doing their job? Wait. Are women coaching them as much if not more than men? Shouldn’t they by now? Hmm. That is a whole other blog in itself that we will get to later!
I don’t all the answers, but I wanted to start the conversation that I have begun to have since I started Female Footballers. When it comes to women’s soccer, why is there a bit of a disconnect with the fans who follow it and even the players who once played it? Why does the interest seem to subside eventually? Am I way off and just being negative? What do you think is the state of women’s soccer pertaining to our female youth here in America?