At the very end of the last episode of the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso, Keeley slides Rebecca a binder that says, “AFC Richmond Women’s Team.” This scene has started rumors of a possible spinoff. Do we dare Believe?
And . . . perhaps this scene points us to the more imminent pleasure that awaits us in the very real, very un-scripted FIFA Women's World Cup, which kicks off July 20 and ends August 20, 2023.
The World Cup is the biggest stage for the most popular team sport in the world. Football, or soccer as it’s called in the United States, has fans and players in nearly every country, making the quadrennial
tournament the most unifying and diverse sporting event after the Olympics.
In the United States, however, the popularity of “the beautiful game” has been more of a slow burn. For many of us, soccer means the nostalgia of youth: fall practices as the days got shorter; the tang of sweat and orange slices at half-time; learning how to win and how to lose.
For others, especially women, soccer means a deep sense of pride, generated in large part by the victory of the US Women's National Team (USNWT) over China in 1999. The butterfly effect from that game has rippled into greater recognition, visibility, and equality for women soccer players and for women athletes in general. The meaning of "play like a girl" is changing.
With the success of Ted Lasso, football has finally become mainstream, making its way into the living rooms – and hearts – of non-sports fans. Love for the characters flows over into a love for what they love, football. So, perhaps now the US will join the rest of the world, and Ted Lasso player Dani Rojas, in joyfully exclaiming, “Football is life!”
Over the next month of play, as you cheer, gasp, celebrate, sigh, and balance on the edge of your seat, consider engaging in one of the following practices. They will make “the beautiful game” even more beautiful (and lessen the yuck of too much screen time and too few steps).
1. The USWNT is known for its strong culture of mentoring. Brandi Chastain, who scored the dramatic winning goal in 1999, mentored Abby Wambach, and she then mentored Alex Morgan. Morgan is mentoring Sophia Smith, and they will play together in this year’s tournament.
Community support and encouragement are crucial for all of us as we reach high and live fully. Reflect on the mentors or mentees in your life, and post a picture on social media. For inspiration, take a look at this adorable picture of superstar Sophia Smith as a little girl, meeting Abby Wambach for the first time:
well @AbbyWambach, you were a big reason this moment happened for me. you inspired me to follow my dreams. thank you. ???????? https://t.co/NLNIonyW5y pic.twitter.com/54azfKYIGK— Sophia Smith (@sophsssmith) December 1, 2020
Or consider this picture of Wambach, Morgan, and Smith all giving credit to one another:
Tag Spirituality and Practice in your post so we can share in the connection!
2, Use the matches you watch as an opportunity to marvel over the world’s diversity. Hone your geography skills (which sea is Jamaica in again?) or teach the world map to a younger viewer.
If you’re already a competent geographer, use the commercial breaks to dig deeper into the human element: If opponents Sweden and South Africa sat down for coffee and conversation, what experiences might they have in common? What conflicts might arise? What about opponents China and Haiti, or Morocco and South Korea?
1. Much of the intense pleasure and pain of athletics comes from winning or losing, but we can practice finding joy regardless of the outcome. While this may be difficult for die-hard fans of a particular team, try rooting for the game itself. It may be best to start this practice with a match you feel more neutral about. Allow yourself to enjoy the feats of athleticism, the dramatic changes in score, the comebacks, the improvisation, and the underdog stories. Cheer on teams like Haiti, Morocco, Panama, Portugal, Vietnam and Zambia, who are competing for the first time. Participate in the joy of their beginnings!
2. Pay close attention to the ecstasy that erupts after a goal. Though they are physically tired from the exertion of scoring, very often players will run even faster after they score — fueled by the joy of their accomplishment (and maybe processing some adrenaline, too!) You may feel this joy vicariously; if so, free yourself to embody it when the players do: run a lap around the coffee table, jump up and down — whatever you do, let your body express your vicarious joy.
3. If you prefer a more asynchronous experience, take time after the game to reflect on what fuels your joy. Consider the ways you celebrate your own accomplishments. Set an intention to celebrate in an embodied way.
1. Members of the USWNT brought a wage discrimination suit against their bosses at U.S. Soccer, and their fight shone a light on the worldwide problem of unequal pay for women in sports. Their leadership inspired players from other sports and other nations to organize as well; in fact, Australian, Dutch, and Norwegian players were awarded greater equality while the American women waited for justice. Finally, last year, their case was settled; it included $24 million in back pay and a pledge by U.S. Soccer to equalize pay in future negotiations.
But the fight is not over. The FIFA World Cup organization has not yet equalized prize money for men’s and women’s teams, and the women’s winners this year will be paid about a third of what the men made in 2022.
To draw attention to the disparity and the sexism that drives it, a telecommunications company called Orange teamed up with the French National team to create the following video. As you watch, track your emotions and your assumptions. How did the twist impact you?
Watch the video directly: https://youtu.be/ylA2yOOaGHM
2. Womens’ sports teams have helped increase the visibility of queer athletes and reduce the stigma around being LGBTQ+. To the delight of queer and affirming fans, stars like Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe have been open about their relationships and have used their platform to amplify pride and equality.
In the process, stereotypes about women in athletics have changed, such that prowess on the field does not translate as “masculine.” Words like “tomboy” are archaic.
Reflect on what it was like for you or a woman you love 20 or 30 years ago. What progress have you experienced?
3. FIFA has yet to codify new rules for transgender athletes, and says it is sure that this year there will be trans athletes on the field. This is a very controversial topic. Identify your opinion and then practice openness by researching a different opinion.