This summer, former U.S. National teammates Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy led a State Department delegation to Brazil to launch a year-long effort to empower girls through soccer clinics and education, proving again the enduring nature and emerging importance of women and girls working, yes, as a team to educate and inspire young women all over the globe.
Chastain is also the official spokesperson for the tween book series, Soccer Sisters, written by Andrea Montalbano. Soccer Sisters had the chance to talk with Brandi about her trip to Brazil, her role as the books’ official spokesperson, oh, and ask one doozey of a soccer-geek trivia question.
Soccer Sisters: Brandi, You and Julie Foudy spent time in Brazil this summer as part of the U.S. State Department’s effort to empower Women and Girls Through Sports. What is your goal for this program?
Brandi Chastain: The bottom line of what we’re all trying to do is just to encourage girls to participate. But this just can’t come from the girls, it has to come from the culture, and the question really becomes, in this day and age why is it so out of the questions that girls would be able to play? It’s so healthy – both physically and mentally.
Our last day in Brazil was our best day on the field because there was girls wearing soccer attire and really out there with a purpose. I was so happy that they had the courage to come out to play. They were really great role models, whether they knew it or not. I really love the empowering idea that all girls have a chance to be role models to their friends, their peers, and maybe even to a little girl in the town who is just watching near by, saying, ‘maybe if she can do it, then I can too?’
Soccer Sisters: You have been an amazing role model for girls and literacy in your role as the Official Soccer Sister. The Soccer Sister series tackles real life issues. Lily Out of Bounds: Soccer Sisters Series, Book 1 was about the consequences of peer pressure. Vee Caught Offside: Volume 2 (Soccer Sisters) is about bullying, which is such a hot button topic for parents, educators, and coaches, too. What advice would you share with a child who is feeling bullied either at school or even on their team?
I think that what comes to mind first of all is just the idea that participating in sports give you the self-confidence and the ability to stand up and defend yourself. Also, there is strength in numbers. Girls who don’t participate in team sports don’t always have their voice or the support of a team that has your back. Also, when you are on a team, you have to be coached and when you are coached you have to learn to accept criticism and to find ways to cope with that. When you are able to realize that you don’t take have to take those comments personally, you aren’t devastated. So in many ways, being on a team arms the girls and empowers them not to be devastated by comments from another.
Soccer Sisters: Along with Soccer Sisters, WNT star Alex Morgan recently released a new tween series called The Kicks. So, there really is a new and exciting genre of girls’ sports books! Why do you think it is important for girls to have these kinds of books – honestly, the books girls like you and I never had?
I think that statement says it all. I don’t remember having an outlet to either confirm what I was feeling or to look to help me with a tough situation. That’s why it’s important and likewise a critical resource. It’s powerful and the girls can read it on their own time and realize they are reading about girls just like them.
Parents can feel good about what they are reading, and it can easily turn into a conversation about how to handle these real life issues.
Soccer Sisters: One of the best things about the series is the ability to tailor it to current events and issues in girls’ sports. For example, Vee’s story includes her recovery from a knee injury, sadly a very common event, and one you are very familiar with. In fact, you recently released documentary called, Brandi Chastain, From ACL Injury to World Champion, as part of your Reach Up! Foundation . You suffered two ACL injuries, yet were able to recover and go on to win World Cups and Olympic medals. What’s the main message you want to share with players, parents and coaches?
I think the story is a positive one and the message is through adversity, good things can happen. But it’s also about being fully engaged and knowing exactly what kinds of thing do you need to be to be prepared. You have to be informed and maybe I was the kind of person who just went out there and played. I didn’t have the right kind of information. There will always be accidents that you can’t prevent, but today, it’s not random, considering the amount of time and the amount of pressure to excel at such a young age. The most important thing for the coaches and the parents is to stay informed and prepared.
Soccer Sisters (Soccer Geek Alert!): I recently read an interview with your 1999 Women’s National Team Coach Tony DiCicco. He talked about selecting who would take the penalty kicks in the World Cup final. He said, you were one of the team’s best kickers, but had been scouted. Opponents knew you kicked right footed and liked to shoot to the right. He said you started taking penalty kicks with your left foot. Is it true you scored one of the most famous and nerve-wracking penalty kicks in the history of soccer with your less-preferred foot?
[She laughs first, then answers]. Our training sessions were public, so Tony wanted us to practice penalty kicks with both our feet – in case our opponents were watching. At the end of that game, we were shaking out our legs and he just came up to me and said, “You are going to take it with your left.” So that’s what I did. It just goes to show you that life is unpredictable and to not be surprised by things. You have to put yourself out there and if you practice, you will never be surprised.
Author Bio: Andrea Montalbano: Andrea Montalbano is an author, journalist, mother and coach. She grew up on a soccer field in Miami. She played at Harvard and was inducted into the Harvard Varsity Club Hall of Fame. Andrea pursued a career in journalism, attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She was an English anchor at Vatican Radio, and worked as a writer and Supervising Producer the TODAY show. Soccer Sisters is published by In This Together Media, a company dedicated to publishing great books about real girls.