Much like others, watching the Women's World Cup made my creaky knees motivated to find the closest field to kick the ball around or even play some pick-up soccer. I found myself reminiscing the heydays of collegiate soccer playing on the Koskinen field at Duke University (and always trying to find a way to sneak past University of Carolina at Chapel Hill).
Soccer has always been more than just a game to me. Being a quiet girl growing up, soccer was my method of communicating with others, my artistic canvas. And when things got tough in life, soccer was always my cathartic release.
As both a player and as a coach, I understand firsthand the power of the game both on and off the field. It’s part of the reason why I am deeply moved by the 2019 squad and the impact that this team is having beyond their physical and mental prowess on the field. You can draw lines from the 2019 team to the 1999 squad that my generation fiercely respected as role models – not only for how they played but for how they trailblazed a path for the next generation and put entire communities on their shoulders while they played.
From this lineage of phenomenal athletes, many have used the game and their platform to create social change. There’s Julie Foudy’s and Brandi Chastain's Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative, Danielle Slaton and the Coaching for Life Academy, the Mia Hamm Foundation, and many more. These phenomenal athletes are also phenomenal humans who are committed to using the vehicle of soccer to improve society.
This mentality is reinforced by one of our President & CEO’s, Ed Foster-Simeon, favorite proverbs: “A society grows great when old men [and women] plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” And it is the same philosophy driving our signature program: Soccer for Success.
Soccer for Success is intentionally designed to instill the things you see in the U.S. Women’s National Team in our young girls and boys – passion, resilience, unity, perseverance, growth, support, and much, much more. The program is committed to combating the health inequities in our country by focusing our efforts in underserved communities where access to the game and its long list of benefits is limited (or non-existent). Soccer for Success builds change-makers in communities across the country through a network of coach-mentors and program operators and it has been supported by soccer superstars like Staci Wilson, Lori Lindsey, Yael Averbuch, and Monica Gonzalez.
From the commitment of the elite athletes to the coaches and trainers in Soccer for Success, I continue to be humbled and inspired by examples of compassion and drive to positively shift culture and society.
One thing I know for certain, never underestimate the power of the game… nor the U.S. Women’s National team.
Sarah Pickens is Associate Vice President of Programs at the U.S. Soccer Foundation.