IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Abby Wambach taught my daughter a life lesson that all girls need to hear

When the Soccer Hall of Famer walked past ESPN and Bleacher Report – straight to my 9-year-old daughter – the moment went viral for the best reason.
Abby Wambach poses with 9-year-old fan Addison Kuhl at the inaugural USWNT Player's Ball on Nov. 14, 2022, commemorating the Player's historical equal pay agreement.
Abby Wambach poses with 9-year-old fan Addison Kuhl at the inaugural USWNT Player's Ball on Nov. 14, 2022, commemorating the Player's historical equal pay agreement.Courtesy Joan Kuhl

I felt a rush of emotions last week when a Bleacher Report TikTok post featured National Soccer Hall of Famer Abby Wambach speaking directly to my 9-year-old daughter Addison at the Inaugural USWNT Players Ball. The video went viral with over 1 million views in just 48 hours.

The reason?

Wambach walked past Time magazine, the Bleacher Report and ESPN – straight to my little girl decked out in U.S. Soccer gear – to have a sincere conversation about playing the sport they both love.

“I’m gonna take it that you want to play soccer for a long time,” Wambach told Addie in a crowd of reporters and athletes. “What do you think it’s going to take to play soccer for a long time?”

“Hard work,” my daughter replied. “Listening…”

“Good … I’m gonna let you in on a little secret,” Wambach said. “There’s going to be days that you don’t want to play – that you’re tired, that you want to stay home and just hang out with your family – and those are the days you go anyway. That’s what it takes to get on the National Team.”

Meeting Wambach and other soccer greats that day like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger, Sophia Smith, and Midge Purce was an unforgettable experience. Yet, instead of getting a bear hug and "best mom ever" status the morning after, I found Addie in tears and feeling big emotions like anxiety and fear. She kept repeating, "I was so scared mom. I was the only kid there."

At the start of the pandemic, I began studying emotions in the workplace. I saw patterns of how often women feel pressured to wrangle emotions into submission. But emotions are powerful clues and my daughter’s emotional outpouring the day after meeting Wambach taught me something.

Addie had used every confidence muscle she had to look at her role model right in the eye and stay present, despite being overwhelmed as one of the only kids at the event.

As her mother, I felt she needed what research psychologist Dr. Mark Brackett calls “permission to feel” with the safety and security of someone who loves her unconditionally and will validate her emotions. Stress, anger and frustration are lowered when we can use our emotions as a tool, so we made space for those overwhelmed and anxious feelings.

Then something wonderful happened. Her shoulders perked up and her sweet smile returned. She had to come full circle through those emotions to get to a place of true satisfaction. The impact of Wambach’s mentoring moment came through a few days later when it was time to head to a sports clinic with a new group of kids.

Addie was sulking and protesting until her father reminded her that these are the exact moments Wambach referenced, when you don’t feel like going to practice, which ultimately matter the most. She resolved to show up for herself. Not only did she go to practice, but Addie walked away with the player of the day award because her actions reflected her commitment.

As a mother, I'm constantly reflecting on the ways raising daughters has changed my life in parallel to the emotional layers that my new role of “soccer mom” has played in shifting my attitude about what our girls and women deserve.

First, girls deserve to play.

Our family moved from New York City to the suburbs in 2020 because of the global pandemic’s impact on our careers. We were also motivated by the desire to change the pace for our children. Our two daughters had to start new schools wearing masks and the transition to a new town was intimidating for all of us.

But girls’ soccer was our breakthrough. It offered a path to making friends and building confidence. And there’s research to back it up – studies show that girls who play sports rate their confidence at almost 10 percentage points higher than those who don’t play sports. Girl athletes are also more likely to get along well with other girls. The meaningful breakthrough and impact of soccer in my daughter’s life is a clue to her emotional reaction after meeting her role models that day.

Even though I had a history of working with US Soccer and taking my girls to cheer on the national women’s team and local leagues since 2017, they both had never found an interest in playing. But Addie’s genuine acceptance as a new teammate and the joy she found in running, passing, connecting, competing and celebrating with her team turned out to be an immeasurable gift – one that all girls deserve to experience.

Aside from increased confidence and stronger friendships, there are numerous benefits girls reap from playing sports, including better health and higher self-esteem. These benefits are seen all the way to the C-suite, where skills developed from playing sports are translated to leadership “muscle” propelling women in their careers.

So, when girls don’t play, they miss out on growth opportunities.

Second, women athletes make elite role models – they deserve recognition, equal pay.

While Addie had an unforgettable experience with Wambach that day, she also had a bonding moment with Midge Purce, who shared advice on how to “run your own race” by building internal motivation habits.

Days later through the #RetireInEquality campaign (sponsored by TIAA), soccer legend Mia Hamm explained to Addie how the friendships she cultivated with her soccer teammates growing up had been a significant, positive influence over the course of her life.

Professionally, I build programming to empower women in their careers and increase their confidence and impact, whether they’re business professionals, athletes, staff or fans in any industry. But personally, I didn’t grow up identifying as an athlete. I was intimidated by sports, particularly when it crept into my corporate career.

So, when I was invited to the inaugural USWNT Players’ Ball in New York City to interview current and past USWNT players, it was a circle moment for me – from not seeing myself anywhere near an arena, to becoming an advocate for women in sports, and watching my daughter’s confidence and friendships grow because of her involvement.

These women have competed on the greatest world stages and are the trailblazers for equality and inclusivity, both on and off the field. Securing the historic equal pay deal between U.S. Soccer and the Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) was a milestone for these extraordinary athletes and for our daughters.

It’s our responsibility to celebrate the women trailblazing the way in sports and champion the youth programs dedicated to ensuring our girls keep playing and, as women, achieve what they deserve.