Women and girls need opportunities throughout their lives to grow, learn and fail

I am writing this essay at the end of July during the conclusion of the group stage of play of the 2023 Women’s World Cup. As I watch the amazing, inspiring, impressive women of the United States National Team represent America on the world stage, I have been thinking about growing up being the lone girl playing soccer with teams of boys until I finally had the opportunity to play with a team of girls in high school. It wasn’t always easy. I had to be tough and to let some unkind comments roll off my back and prove myself over and over again. And I knew that I wasn’t ever going to be good enough to play in college, but I loved playing. I loved being part of a team and feeling like I made a difference in the outcome of games and watching myself, and my teammates, get better. All of that, the good and the bad, lives in the back of my brain and informs how I am in the world and workplace today.

I was not surprised to learn that 151 athletes at this 2023 Women’s World Cup, a little over 20% of participating players, have played, currently play, or are committed to play soccer at a U.S. college or university. At least one U.S. collegiate athlete plays on 22 of the total 32 national teams. Title IX, the civil rights law that mandates equal educational opportunity on the basis of gender, made this possible. Title IX turned America into the world’s farm system for elite female soccer talent. Our government, our colleges, and our universities committed to letting girls play. And that trickled down to our high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, and recreational leagues. All three of my daughters played soccer and played on all-girls teams from first grade on.

This essay isn’t really about soccer, even though the Apple TV+ series, “Ted Lasso,” taught us that “futbol is life!” It is about opportunity. Giving women and girls opportunities, early and often, to follow their passion. To excel. To fail. To learn. To grow. To build community. Those opportunities may be sport, or art, or music, or theater, or anything really, but the important thing is nurturing opportunities. Very literally having the chance to play made me the leader I am today, shaped my vision for the type of leader I want to be in the future, and taught me to be part of something bigger than myself and to channel my ambition and drive to the greater good.