Abby Wambach has achieved more in 40 years than most would in a lifetime: She’s a two-time Olympic soccer gold medalist. She’s a FIFA World Cup champion. She’s the former captain of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. She’s a New York Times bestselling author, for her memoir, Forward, and her self-help book, Wolfpack. And now she’s releasing a young readers edition of Wolfpack (out October 6).
But after speaking with Wambach for even a short time, it’s clear that rehashing her own achievements is not what she’s focused on these days.
Instead, her passion lies in helping women and girls achieve their goals—whatever those goals may be. Wambach spoke with Ms. community engagement editor Maddy Pontz about what it means to be a leader, her viral 2018 commencement speech at Barnard College and who she counts as her personal feminist icon.
Maddy Pontz: Why do you think right now is such an important time to reach young readers?
Abby Wambach: Well, it feels like the world is on fire in certain ways. And then, of course, with this pandemic, it’s going to bring about a different level of stress and anxiety leading into the election.
For me, one of the most important things that sport was able to do was give me my sense of being able to create my own power. And because of the politicized world we live in, sometimes it feels—even as an adult—like, what could I really do? What is my place in this world? And does it really matter? I’m just one person.
I think that’s a very common feeling throughout childhood. Children feel powerless, at times, being told what to do by their parents. For me, as a parent, it’s my job to help my children figure out their own internalized power. What are they interested in? What are the things that they want to learn while they’re down here on planet Earth?
For me, leadership and connectivity are maybe the most important things that I’ve been able to take away from my experience playing on the [U.S. Women’s] National Team. And the two are not mutually exclusive—you need both to have success. I don’t care who you are on the planet. You need other people to be able to help get you where you want to go, and help get you to learn the things that you want to learn, and participate in the things you want to participate in.
And I don’t think that we teach our kids enough about how to connect with each other and how to play well with others. I think that because of what our children are seeing on television and the news and on their social feeds, they’re seeing a lot of contention and divisions. We have to somehow give a playbook or a plan to our children on how to connect. Regardless of whether we agree, we still have to connect because we’re all people down here. Essentially, I think it’s so important to give children power and to teach them what that power can wield.
MP: And when you’re a young girl, you’re often taught that you need to be a good team player, but you’re not told that it’s also in your power to be a leader—as if a good team player is someone who just sits back.
AW: Yeah, I think that’s a really important distinction between how girls are taught to lead and how boys are taught to lead.
Girls, from the beginning, since we’re born, we’re told in every way to be quieter, to be easygoing, to be likable. And the truth about leadership is that you don’t need to have any of those qualities to be a good leader. You actually have to be able to connect with people one-on-one, and then connect people to each other.
Too often women are told not to be ambitious. Girls are told not to be ambitious, to just fit in, don’t rock the boat, be happy and grateful for what you already have. And it’s like—no, the only way things change is if we start demanding what we deserve. I think that little girls have to learn that. And all of us older women have to unlearn some of those bad lessons that we were taught as children.
“Too often women [and girls] are told not to be ambitious. Don’t rock the boat. … And it’s like—no, the only way things change is if we start demanding what we deserve. I think that little girls have to learn that. And all of us older women have to unlearn some of those bad lessons that we were taught as children.”
MP: First, your 2018 commencement speech at Barnard College went viral. Then, the original edition of Wolfpack became a #1 New York Times bestseller. What do you think it is about your message that has resonated so much with women?
AW: I think the stories that I used in the speech and the stories that are in “Wolfpack,” though they’re personal to me, they’re universal. I think that’s why storytelling is so important, because everybody’s story has very similar points in it.
Because of the time that I spent on our Women’s National Team, it allowed me an environment to express some of these deep knowings that I had inside of myself. These ideas about what I felt like it meant to be a woman. All of us redefined for each other, and collectively as a team, what we could do together as women who are bound by shaping a story and creating a common goal and achieving that common goal.
I was lucky enough to spend time next to really badass women who forced me to learn about what it means, in my mind, and how to define what it means to be a woman, for myself. And because of that experience, I think that so many women—though they think that they can have that experience or create it—you really just need other women around you consistently, on an everyday basis going, “No, we can do it differently. No, we can be better. No, you can do better.”
I feel really thrilled that people connected with that because it feels so true to me, as well.
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MP: Who’s a feminist whose work inspires you?
AW: I mean—I am biased—but my wife, Glennon Doyle. She teaches me every day. She teaches me about my own internalized sexism. I grew up in a man’s world in professional sports. And so sometimes I can get tripped up in some of the ways that I think because of the ways that my brain was trained to think. My wife is just such a pure, beautiful heart and wants the world to be better, more equal, more just and more diverse. I find her to be the most compelling feminist truth teller there is right now in the world. I truly feel blessed and lucky to be within an arm’s distance of her at all times, and to keep learning. It’s a trip being her wife and I’m very lucky for it.
MP: And is there anything else you’d want to tell Ms. readers?
AW: Get out and vote. We have to vote. One of the ways that we can specifically, directly have an effect on our own personal equality is by voting. Go to the booth, get engaged and hopefully you will see a difference.
*Interview was edited for clarity and length.
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