USWNT icon Abby Wambach joined former teammate Kelley O’Hara on the latest installment of the Just Women’s Sports podcast to talk about her ground-breaking soccer career and what it means to be an effective leader.
“Once you become this leader… you never stop thinking about it,” Wambach tells O’Hara.
Although leadership is something Wambach now cherishes, her journey to USWNT captain wasn’t always seamless.
After the iconic ’99ers transitioned into retirement, Wambach struggled to find her role on the team.
“I just tried way too hard in those first days,” Wambach says, adding, “I didn’t think I had earned that leadership token..
The 41-year-old soccer superstar points to the hiring of coach Pia Sundhage as a significant turning point for her and the team.
On Sundhage’s first day with the team, the Swedish coach decided to introduce herself to the squad by pulling out a guitar and playing Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin.’”
While Wambach conceded that the moment was indeed awkward, it may have also been just what the team needed.
“It gave the rest of us permission to show up as our true selves,” Wambach says on Sundhage’s unconventional leadership style. “She was favorite of all-time coaches. She taught me the most.”
Wambach’s experience playing under Mia Hamm and the ’99ers came full circle when it was time for the forward to take charge. As Alex Morgan came onto the scene, Wambach saw it as her duty to step in and build a relationship with the then-up-and-comer. The two then dominated the 2012 Olympics, helping the USWNT to secure gold.
“The way Mia coached me, I just did the exact same thing with Alex,” says Wambach.
When other players would encourage Morgan to pass the ball during practice, Wambach was there pleading with Morgan to take chances and take shots in front of goal.
“It is your job to miss, and it is your job to find all the ways to score goals,” Wambach remembers telling Morgan.
Wambach’s final leadership test on the national team came when she was benched at the 2015 World Cup.
“The reason why I chose to be a good teammate is because I felt like that was the only way that would give our team a chance of actually winning this World Cup,” said Wambach, “I knew that my response would affect the team.”
Wambach’s experience being benched has defined the way she looks at leadership and guides her career post-soccer.
“The thing I am most proud of in the history of my time on the national team was the way that I responded to that benching,” said Wambach.
You can listen to Abby Wambach’s full interview with Kelley O’Hara here.