Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Briana Scurry, Julie Foudy. To some people these names might not mean anything and to other they might sound familiar as part of the team that helped the U.S. Women’s Soccer team win the world cup in 1999; but to me, these are my heroes, the ones that should me what it means like to “play like a girl”. I’ve played soccer my whole life, and I have faced my own set of challenges as I strived to be the best player I could be. I chose to play goalkeeper which is considered one of the least “ladylike” positions and I was a fearless player who didn’t have a problem getting messy. I didn’t care that I didn’t look pretty; I wanted to be the best.
The challenges that I encountered in my time in sports were similar to many other women and girls in the sports arena. Perhaps one of the best parts about facing challenges is overcoming them, and making an impact on the world.
An important moment in all of sports history was when Brandi Chastain scored the winning penalty kick in the 1999 Women’s world cup final and ripped off her shirt in celebration. This iconic moment was captured and spread around the world on front covers and headlines; it changed the way people looked at women’s soccer in the United States.
Unfortunately, with an event as big as this was, there was disapproval. Critics made accusations that Chastain did this to focus the attention away from the tournament and the game and towards herself, but in an interview with BBC, Chastain explains “There’s something primal about sport that doesn’t exist anywhere else – when you have a moment like scoring a winning goal in the World Cup championship, you are allowed to release this feeling, this emotion, this response that is not elicited anywhere else.” Even with the critics, Chastain and the Women’s team were able to draw record crowds to the event and it opened the public’s eyes to the sport, and as reported in the same BBC interview, Chastain points out the significant increase in girls playing the sport [myself included!] “More girls are playing football in America than any other sport,” she says. “When I played college soccer there were 75 teams – now there are over 320 teams at the Division One level… women and men play it alike.”
More recently, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team won the 2015 world cup in Canada. After 16 years of defeat, the national team was able to lift the world cup trophy high and earn their third star, and the first country to do so. This time around it was different for the team; women’s soccer was already on the map and the pressure was on, and the women delivered.
The way this team won the cup overcame many obstacles that are present in women’s sports. As national soccer player turned sports writer Julie Foudy explains in her ESPNW article, “World Cup was not just that the U.S. women won it, but the way they won it. It was emphatic. It was emotional. It was uncorked. It was decisive. It was ‘Merica… Yes, we will always remember the ’91ers and the ’99ers. Both were important moments in history never to be forgotten, but this next generation — both girls and boys — will get inspiration from an amazing group of women who showed the world that even when others doubt, you cannot.” Along with their win, the 2015 USWNT was invited to the White House by President Obama. In his speech, Obama praised the team for their astounding win and recognized the impact these women are making on the next generation by saying, “This team taught all of America’s children that playing like a girl means you’re a badass.”
As wonderful as this triumph is for women’s sports, there are still major challenges that plague women in the sports world. One such example is the while their effort on the field has led to great accomplishments, upon retiring former USWNT players are finding difficulty in making an impact in the coaching realm. As seen in an USA Today article by Laken Litman women, especially former players, in coaching could dramatically influence players to stay in the game but it seems like no one wants them there. Being able to give back to youth development is something that all current and former players alike want to be influential; current USWNT player Tobin Heath explains how being inspirational to youth after her playing career is something that she strives for. This example that challenges women athletes is just another version of gender discrimination in sports; if women aren’t able to make an impact though coaching, how are girls able to really learn what it means to play like a girl?