This year could be set to be a very influential one when it comes to the landscape and scope of collegiate athletics. The term “student-athlete” has been a point of discussion is every corner from water coolers to ESPN but not matter in what direction college athletics heads, USWNT legend Brandi Chastain will always be thankful for the opportunity she had to compete collegiality for both Berkley and Santa Clara University, making two NCAA Final Four appearances with the latter.
Chastain took the time speak with Business of Soccer recently about her ongoing work with the Capital One Cup, collegiate athletics, the USWNT and women’s soccer in general.
Having been able to use collegiate athletics not only as a showcase for her talents but as an environment to grow as a person, Chastain now supports the system that allowed her to go on and participate in three different professional women’s soccer leagues as well as become a legend for the USWNT.
Her support manifests itself through her work as a member of the Capital One Cup Board of Advisors. Along with Lisa Leslie, Jennie Finch, Doug Flutie, Clark Kellog, Rece Davis, and Barry Larkin, the board of advisors act as ambassadors for the collegiate level student-athletes.
Here is how the Capital One Cup works if you are unfamiliar:
The Capital One Cup is awarded annually to each of the best men’s and women’s Division I college athletics programs in the country. Points toward the Capital One Cup are earned and tracked throughout the year based on final standings of NCAA Championships and final official coaches’ polls. One winning men’s and one winning women’s program will be crowned after the completion of the final NCAA spring championships. Capital One will award a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships and the Capital One Cup trophy to the winning schools at the ESPY awards in July.
Chastain has been with the competition since its inception in 2010-2011, now in its fourth edition, and finds that one of the most surprising things about the competition is just how quick and often the standings change. She explained how she “didn’t expect it to be as back and forth, you have teams and programs pull ahead in the Fall season but then as Spring comes around with Softball and Baseball everything can change.”
Despite this tug-of-war over the standings and $400,000, Chastain feels that one of the most important aspects is how gender leveling it is. “This competition brings men’s teams and women’s team on equal terms” referring to the competitions parallel women’s and men’s setups that utilize the same score structure and receive equal recognition for achievements.
It’s through women’s sports and as female athletes that Chastian believes an impact can be made. Along with Julie Foudy & Marlene Bjornsrud Chastain helped found BAWSI (Bay Area Women’s Sport Initiative). A play on the word “bossy” which is often used to describe girls negatively, BAWSI looks to empower female athletes in a way that realizes their potential a change makers.
Chastain values the girls who are “in charge of who they and who want to sit at the table and have their voices heard”, as well as sports for “allowing individuals to challenge the norm and giving them the capacity to try anything.”
It is in challenging this norm and breaking the mold that Chastain has hope for new USWNT coach Jill Ellis. Certainly a supporter of Tom Sermani, Chastain believes that there aren’t enough women represented in coaching roles. What is interesting about Jill Ellis is that while she has extensive coaching and organizational experience within USSF, she never played professionally. Ellis went straight into coaching following graduation from the College of William and Mary.
Ellis went into three consecutive assistant coaching roles and then onto US Women’s youth teams at the U-20 and U-21 levels. Following her coaching roles she was offered the Development Director position for US Women’s National teams where the position had never existed before. With Chastain’s experience broadcasting where its possible to “delve into topics and look into the game to bring up where we’re going and influence it in a positive way” as well as her coaching experience she believes that Ellis may find that not playing professionally could prove to be positive in some situations where prior playing experience may unnecessarily burden a decision.
Breaking the mold of both the prevalence of female coaching figures in the game as well as the view that a coach has to have professional playing experience in order to be effective is something that Chastain hopes for and supports. Showing girls that there are opportunities in the game to be a professional without necessarily being a player on the field is valuable and is a message worth spreading and talking about.
Brandi Chastain believes this message as well as many more regarding empowering women, she spreads them, talks about them and will continue to do so whether it is through her non-profit, Capital One or coaching.