Since the first day I walked onto the soccer field, when I was 7 years old, I have been questioned and doubted.
I was asked: Do you have what it takes to play this sport? Are you tall enough to be a goalkeeper? Are you quick enough? Is your skin thick enough for you to take a loss and bounce back stronger?
At every stage, I heard questions — some spoken aloud, some whispered — about me, my talent, my body, my character. This line of questioning starts at a young age for girls. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end when we leave the soccer field, or as we become adults. Just the opposite, in fact. For women, it becomes our norm as we enter the workplace. Soccer gave me the confidence to work through the added pressure, prove the doubters wrong, and resolve to clear a smoother path for future generations of women.
I was fortunate to have played for supportive coaches and with tremendous teammates. Not every young woman is so lucky. My dad was one of my first coaches; he did this job with a “how to” book in his hands and baseball cleats on his feet. In high school, I was named an All-American, and I went on to start for a nationally ranked team at the College of William and Mary.
When I was finishing my final college season in 1990, there was no professional pathway for female players in the United States. No pro leagues to join, no National Women’s Soccer League to aspire to, and no post-collegiate female players to look up to. So I continued to play in amateur adult leagues. My career as a soccer player came to an end not because I wanted it to, but because there was no option for women to make a career out of playing the best sport in the world here at home.
I didn’t always know my future was in soccer, but what I did know was that I loved the game. Then, good fortune struck when a friend from an opposing team introduced me to members of the 1994 World Cup Organizing Committee and I was given a shot to make the game my profession. I’ve never looked back.
I’m very proud of my playing career and my career as an executive in the game. But I have news for anyone reading this: The doubting questions have never stopped. As I made the transition from player to executive, the questions just changed.
Would men take a woman as president of US Soccer seriously? Would people listen to her? Could she lead such a large and high-stakes organization?
I’ve answered these questions in business and plan to do so in a new role: I am now running for another leadership position in soccer, that of president of the US Soccer Federation. Before I began this effort, my journey was, like most people’s, outside the glaring lights. Now that I’m in the race, even though I bring both soccer and relevant business experience to the table, questions abound.
Does she have enough soccer experience? Is her business experience the right kind? Is she her own person? Has she done enough as a woman in the game?
In the international soccer community, out of FIFA’s 211 member associations, there are only a few female leaders. In the United States, there are several women serving as leaders of their respective sports, but it is not nearly enough.
Kids dream of representing our country on the global stage as players, coaches, referees, executives or administrators. I want to show them, especially young girls, that any of these options are within their grasp.
If elected, I’ll be the first female president of US Soccer, but I’ll fight for all the things any good leader wants, confronting challenges, such as rebounding from the failure of our men’s national team to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and remedying our confusing youth soccer landscape. I’m optimistic about the future because the American soccer community is talented, committed and ready to deeply assess what’s wrong and work together — plus our women’s national team is heading to France in 2019 to defend our world championship. It is a time of change and we must focus on unity and collaboration to drive progress.
This work starts with changing the federation’s culture, prioritizing improvements in youth soccer, growing the adult game, building a new technical department to support all our national teams, and going all-in on the women’s game.
I know the doubts I’ve faced throughout my career are faced by many women — most women. I know because a lot of them tell me. Like them, I have responded the only way I know how: I’ve worked harder to be more prepared, to see every angle, to avoid every error possible. I’ve learned through successes and yes, sometimes through failures, the importance of listening, working constructively, setting ambitious goals, and helping everyone succeed together.
Inside me is still the 5-foot-5 goalkeeper about whom no one ever said at first glance, “Wow, she’s going to be great.” I had to earn everything I got and I am extremely proud of that.
I’m also proud of the female teammates I’ve had in business, another lesson from the game. Throughout my career, I’ve mentored, supported and counseled hundreds of young women building their own careers in sports. Today, these women are part of a growing network of successful women who are rising through the ranks of professional sports leagues, front offices, sports apparel companies, TV networks and sports marketing agencies. And, I have benefited from their wisdom, support, hard work and professionalism.
Among the things that excite me most about the possibility of leading US Soccer is the opportunity to address diversity and equality head on. I want treatment of our girls and women to be equal across the sport and from top to bottom — from pay to training staff to field conditions and beyond.
I want to take all that I’ve learned from my own experiences and from these female teammates and use it to invest in helping all our national teams continue to inspire the country and the world. I want generations of young girls and boys to have soccer — and the lessons from soccer — running through their veins.