Abby Wambach, New York Times bestselling author and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and FIFA World Cup soccer champion, inspires women to accept their strength and their failures.
You are not meek Little Red Riding Hood, says two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and FIFA World Cup soccer champion Abby Wambach, New York Times bestselling author of Forward: A Memoir. You are, she insists, the Wolf. Wambach shows women how to embrace their inner Wolf, compete at the highest levels and – to borrow a phrase from Brené Brown – dare to lead. Women and all coaches will appreciate Wambach’s fresh perspective. The book stems from her viral 2018 commencement speech to graduates of New York’s Barnard College.
Comedian Amy Schumer says, “Abby is a relatable revolutionary…she inspires the confidence, leadership and sisterhood we all so desperately need right now.” Serena Williams calls this, “a manifesto for everyone trying to lead – whether it’s a team, a company or a family – a meaningful life.” Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert says of Wambach, “She leads from beside women, not from ahead of us.”
Wambach explains that she helped create a US team culture that let the players on the team connect deeply as a tribe. Their camaraderie, she writes, made them better soccer players and better people. Wambach’s team was her Wolfpack. She emotionally describes her recognition that pioneering female athletes have more in common with the Wolf than with Little Red Riding Hood.
I created a team culture based on more than just excellence. We not only won, we won with joy, honor, connectedness, commitment and sisterhood.Abby Wambach
Wambach finds the backlash against equality and progressive ideals painful. But she doesn’t feel hopeless because she knows what women can accomplish when they unite. She believes that women will be society’s salvation.
Beating FIFA’s Attendance Goals
Wambach criticizes the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, which governs soccer internationally, for ignoring women’s soccer.
Failure is not something to be ashamed of – nor is it proof of unworthiness. Failure is something to be powered by.Abby Wambach
She remembers how the US Women’s Team set the goal of filling NFL stadiums for its World Cup soccer championship playoffs. FIFA officials found this ridiculous and said the Women’s Team should “stay in their place.” Wambach was thrilled when more than 90,000 people attended her last game in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The team broke attendance records for women’s sporting events, she notes, and for men’s events, too.
Wambach noticed that the students at her all-girl high school became more outspoken when they weren’t around boys. In high school, she also realized she was gay. She fell in love during her senior year, and hated that she had to keep her relationship a secret from her conservative, religious family. Eventually, Wambach realized it would kill the Wolf inside her to deny love, and she told her family her truth.
Wambach reports winning the ESPN Icon Award along with basketball immortal Kobe Bryant and NFL superstar Peyton Manning. Bryant and Manning were financially set for life, Wambach writes ruefully, but she still had to hustle.
She is particularly angry about the gender pay gap in professional soccer. The 2018 winners of the FIFA Men’s World Cup received $38 million, 19 times the total that the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup winners received, Wambach reports. In 2015, she notes, the Women’s Team brought in $6.6 million in revenue, while the Men’s Team brought in not quite $2 million.
Wambach reports that women in general must work an average of 66 extra days to earn the same yearly salary as men in the same jobs. This gap, she laments, is even wider for black and Hispanic women. She holds that male entitlement continues, in part, because women at higher levels of success are grateful to be there and don’t demand equality.
Fail and Learn
Wambach understands that champions make mistakes and fail, like everybody else. Instead of believing that a loss will end their quest, she urges them to re-transform failure into drive and perseverance.
Make failure your fuel: Transform failure to wisdom and power.
Men have permission to fail multiple times, Wambach asserts, whereas women tend to take failure as confirmation they’re not good enough. She exhorts women to stay in the game and keep trying. Wambach believes you can’t lose if you harness failure to energize your movement toward a new path. She notes that organizations traditionally pit women against each other to compete for token top spots. Wambach repeats that each woman’s success is a success for all women. Her rule is, “Champion each other: Claim each woman’s victory as your own.”
Wambach wanted to be a parent, but hesitated because the person she fell in love with, author Glennon Doyle, had three children. Wambach writes with admirable candor that she decided she had to show up. They married and, today, she writes lovingly, their blended family functions with love and grace. Wambach realizes that if she had waited until she felt ready, she would have missed the most important thing in her life.
Determination and Inspiration
Shining through Wambach’s memoir is her straightforward determination. She is neither a subtle nor complex writer. Her basic sentences seem to echo her thought processes, in which she attacks every problem head-on. Her sincerity and desire to communicate her heartfelt emotions will inspire readers to believe in themselves.
Real leaders don’t mimic a cultural construct of what a leader looks, sounds and acts like. They understand that there are as many authentic ways to lead as there are people.Abby Wambach
Women and all coaches will appreciate Wambach’s perspective, though they may wish she offered more practical implementation of her ideas and the mechanics of empowering team members to lead. She is refreshingly candid about her own excellence and failures – even failures in her emotional life – as few world champions dare to be. This furthers her message of proud self-ownership of personal and professional success and failure. Wambach’s words inspire and her messages are simple – maybe even simplistic – but they resonate in the heart.
Other inspiring works from women leaders include Dare To Lead by Brené Brown; One Life by Megan Rapinoe, and Love Warrior and the We Can Do Anything Podcast by Glennon Doyle.