Every young girl wants someone to believe in her and give her a chance, especially in sports. And sometimes when girls have that opportunity, they leave the entire nation on their feet applauding. Brandi Chastain and her teammates severely altered women’s sports and its impact on the world at the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Now, Chastain is thriving in her ability to create these same opportunities for other girls. Chastain is now a sports commentator, as well as being involved in numerous nonprofit opportunities, such as the Capital One Cup, awarded at the ESPY’s in July.
Chastain took the time to talk to Pretty Tough about the Capital One Cup, the Women’s College Cup, the USA’s group for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and how these coincide for the betterment of female athletics.
GA: You are currently on the advisor board for the Capital One Cup, a prestigious award based on the hard work, determination, and commitment to excellence of a team and their year-long journey. What is the significance of this award, and how did you become involved?
BC: I am an enthusiastic collegiate sports fan, number one, but also having played collegiate sports [at Santa Clara University] and having been on sports teams that have gone to the championship weekend, I recognize the importance of the collegiate experience. Not only is that on the field, but also off the field. And because of that, Capital One came and thought I would be a good ambassador for their advisory board. I think the significance of this trophy and this award is that it specifically focuses on men’s sports, with 19 sports, and women’s sports, with 20 sports, separately, giving each credibility and validity. Cumulative point totals for championships won and top ten finishes earned allow sports like cross country, water polo, volleyball, soccer, field hockey, football, basketball, baseball and the like to earn points that go towards that championship.
I feel that since these sports rarely get the type of attentions some of the bigger sports do, it gives us a chance to highlight them and spotlight the great things happening in the classroom and across the country. And that’s because they not only get this wonderful trophy, but because there is a combined $400,000 awarded to the universities. And that gives opportunity to so many more athletes to participate. And I’m partial to women’s sports. This is a great award for these student athletes to be striving for.
GA: I see that you are giving back with The Capital One Cup, BAWSI, your involvement with multiple youth programs, and much more. Why is giving back important to you?
BC: I think the number one reason it’s important to me is that someone gave me a chance. My parents specifically signed me up for sports, and we didn’t have any idea where this was going or what it would be mean, but ultimately sports allowed me to grow and develop as person, learn life lessons, make mistakes, get up and try again, and to get an education. And ultimately the lessons I use as a parent, in my community, with my nonprofits, and coaching both men’s and women’s soccer allow me to give back. And to support a young person in their quest or in their dream to challenge themselves both on the intellectual academic side, and on the physical mental and psychological sports side. So this is, for me, a thrill and an honor and I’m very proud to be a part of the Capital One Cup for these last five years. And I love to celebrate when others do great things to. So it kind of fits all the buckets for me
GA: With all your involvement, you work with many top athletes, including one of your old teammates: Julie Foudy. Do you have a notable memory regarding working with Foudy?
BC: I have wonderful memories playing with Julie Foudy and working with her on off-the-field projects. Some of the greatest moments we’ve shared have actually happened off the field in terms of our ability to contribute both to organizations or moments in girls lives, that just a little bit of attention given can change a young girl’s life. We’re very fortunate, we have a great time while were working together. It’s a pleasure to be able to collaborate and be what I hope are difference makers for good.
GA: Your career has been a catalyst for women’s sports, and especially soccer. From when you began in the 90’s to the present, women’s soccer has grown incredibly in its competition, but also in equal collegiate opportunities. How has the women’s game changed since you were in college?
BC: You can look at the sheer numbers; there’s more women participating at the collegiate level now than there was before. I think there are 75 Division 1 programs when I was playing and now there’s somewhere over 325, I believe, participating at the Division 1 level. The opportunities for young women, not only to play the sports that they love, but also to earn a diploma and get an education at the same time is just incredible to me. I also think with that population playing the game has improved. I think that’s the natural evolution and I think it’s wonderful that our game is going in a positive direction.
GA: Female athletics has been an incredible opportunity for you. What advice do you have for young girls hoping to play collegiate or professional soccer?
BC: I first have to let them know that it’s a long journey but one that’s well worth it if it’s what you find your passion and your love to be. I think there’s a lot of things is could tell young players-the technical part, the tactical part. But really the ultimate outcomes depend on the commitment of the individual and their willingness to make the details count and matter. Their willingness to learn lessons, to make mistakes and grow from them, and to keep it in perspective; it’s a life-long journey and you can’t get too wrapped up in the things that don’t matter and the things you can’t control. Control what you can control, have fun and enjoy it, but know that the outcome is yours if you want it.
GA: Florida State won its first national championship Sunday with a 1-0 win over Virginia in the Women’s College Cup final. Any comments on the outcome?
BC: Absolutely well deserved. I watched the game; I thought both teams were quality. Probably if you asked them it wasn’t either one of their best games, but the goal that was scored was outstanding. Jamia Fields had a great strike in the 82nd minute, and I think ultimately the best team won. It was a great showcase for women’s soccer. It raised the bar for all of us who are involved at the collegiate level and want to be champions. They are a wonderful example. I think they should be proud of their efforts. I know that Coach Mark Krikorian feels very proud of how his team has played not only this year, but over the last three to four years. They’ve really given us all a chance to step back and say, ‘You know we can play some good, attacking, positive, enjoyable soccer and it can be a way to a championship.’ And you have to give kudos to Virginia as well. They had a wonderful season and gave Florida State a run for their money.
GA: What does the win mean for Florida in terms of Capital One scholarship money? How much money will they be awarded and how might that help the program?
BC: Their contribution is 60 points to their teams’ overall cumulative points—which won’t be tallied until the spring—and could earn their university not only the beautiful trophy to put in the trophy case but, like I said, there’s a combined $400,000 out there that could significantly enhance the college experience for a student athlete who would not have a chance to go to college. The way it can change lives is significant.
GA: The Seminoles shut down Morgan Brian – Virginia’s most dominant scorer. What was their strategy?
BC: Sometimes it’s not just about breaking down that one player. I thought Florida State clogged the midfield; they dominated that area, and they didn’t give her a lot of opportunity to be on the ball. And ultimately the team that possessed the ball better won the game, and that was Florida State.
GA: The US women are in the Group of Death, the only group with three top ten teams, for the Women’s World Cup. How do you think the US is going to pursue success?
BC: First of all, talking about the group of death: it adds drama to the World Cup and it gives something to talk about. But I look over the whole entirety of the draw and the six groups, and I think that there are a lot of good teams out there. And for the U.S. to be successful in this group, they need to take the games one at a time and don’t look beyond the group games or even past the first ninety minutes. Earning points in every game is critical-finding a way to not only do what they do well. The U.S. has always been good in the history of soccer at having a competitive, winning willingness to go out and a do-anything-to-win mentality. Likewise, we’ve always been talented in the attacking third of the field. Whether that’s from Mia Hamm to April Heinricks, Michelle Akers, Carin Gabarra, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux; the list goes on and on. We’ve been consistent in having good attacking players. I think to win a World Cup you need to have a good balance of the ability to defend, the ability to transition immediately to positive possession and attacking from the back line. You need them to participate, help control, and assert themselves on the game with tempo and rhythm.
Ultimately I think the latter that I spoke of, the descending and the transition to attack, will be the key for this U.S. team’s success in this tournament. Because most teams have good attack, but if you can dominate positive possession in the attacking half of the field, and have your defenders be part of that attack, the better off for the U.S. And that will be up to Coach Jill Ellis to find the right combination of those eleven players that can do that in each of the games that they have against Sweden, Australia and Nigeria. And those lineups may be different depending on who they’re playing and that’s for her to manage.
GA: You had a featured role in the Pretty Tough movie (now available on Hulu) – what do you think being “pretty tough” means?
BC: I think just like I said to you about the U.S. team: it’s about having a balance by having style and grace, grit and brawn, and confidence and courage. And it’s about the willingness to allow all of those to come through and be present and apparent for all to see.
GA: How would fans learn more and participate in the Capital One Cup?
BC: I know how people love using social media and following their teams and being able to share their opinions about things. For the fans out there, they can go to capitalonecup.com, and for the social media: @capitalone, facebook.com/capitalone. They can follow their teams, they can talk about their teams, they can boast about their teams, they can trash talk other teams; feel like they’re a part of the process. They can follow along this journey that is the Capital One Cup and ultimately see where their team ends up at the end of the year. It’s a wonderful outlet for this team to be involved in this great award.