Why the world needs women’s soccer

CULTURE | 5 mins

“Oh, that is ridiculous!” he shouted at the screen as one of the South African players got hit with a red card. “She just tried to clear the ball! That’s not even a yellow card!”

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That was my husband, verbatim, last weekend. Yelling at the TV. About women’s soccer. And I loved every minute of it.

If you walked into our house, on any given day, you’d probably find a soccer game on the TV in our family room. USL, MLS, USMNT—I’m sure I’m missing some letters in there, but you get the point. If it’s soccer, it’s on. So this past weekend was like Christmas, as the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicked off in France. Let the soccer marathon commence. My endearing husband, drink in hand, sat on the edge of his seat and did what he does best—give those refs a piece of his mind for 90 straight minutes plus stoppage time.

My entire family—including our two young girls and their little brother—were as transfixed by the game as my husband. They didn’t know enough to argue the rules. But we were all mesmerized by the amazingly strong and diverse women we watched persevere through a grueling hour and half long game. We cheered them on with all we had.

When I was pregnant with our first daughter in 2011, my husband and I couldn’t agree on a first name. Weeks before her due date, a friend of ours threw out the name Morgan. It was mostly based around our love for a local outdoor adventure business of the same name. We jumped on it. Not just because of that canoe livery where we were regulars, but because of two other Morgans we love—Captain (yes, shut up, spiced rum is delicious) and Alex.

That same year, 2011, Alex Morgan was emerging as a star on the US Women’s National Team. She scored the goal that clinched the 2011 World Cup semi-finals that put the US team in the finals. (You’ve got time, watch it again). I’m also fairly positive it was the excitement of that same team that caused my husband to announce our daughter’s birth stats as her weight, height, and expected year to debut in the World Cup. (That would be 2035 if you’re keeping score at home.)

I was captivated by that 2011 team, and I still am today. I became a soccer fan by marriage, but after ten years of inherited fandom, I’ve discovered the magic for myself—there’s just something about seeing women out on that field that is so energizing. The grit and tenacity and ability of a women’s team isn’t only something I want to follow, but it’s something I want all my kids, the girls and the boy, to witness.

The World Cup is a holiday in my house. I love seeing my husband model passion for women’s sports in a world that generally relegates it to second class. (Even in their pay structure, the US Women’s National Team has a better record than the Men’s National Team yet is paid much less.) As a working mom, I’m energized by the pure strength and intensity I see in these female athletes. But the best part? Seeing my kids’ eyes light up as their heroes, all women, step out onto the pitch. The roaring crowd, the determination, the fierceness, the drive. I catch my daughter standing feet from the television, in her copycat Alex Morgan pink headband and oversized soccer jersey, mesmerized as she jumps and cheers and compels them to “take the shot!” Those are moments I won’t forget. And it’s those moments of excitement that transfer into her own identity and confidence. That’s why we love sports, right? The lessons in grit, the emotions of wins and losses, identifying with a team.

I’ve been teaching my kids a specific scripture from the Bible. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” There’s a deeper contextual meaning well beyond sports, but for them, the Women’s National Team is one way they can visibly picture bravery, a conquering spirit, and facing hardships head on. And because of that, we’ll gladly continue watching.

I don’t expect my Morgan to grow up to become her namesake. I’ll just be happy if she doesn’t score another own goal this year in her kids’ league. But that doesn’t mean that she can’t step out onto that field with a newfound confidence in herself, learned through simply witnessing what other women are capable of. Whether that dream in her is realized for one more season or twenty, building that confidence is worth it. She now sees a vision more vividly than I could ever give her, because of a group of women who’ve shown her what we are all capable of—and that’s the real goal.

Written by Jenn Sperry on Jun 11, 2019