Abby Wambach became a champion because of her incredible talent as a soccer player. She became an icon because of her remarkable wisdom as a leader. As the co-captain of the 2015 Women’s World Cup Champion Team, she created a culture not just of excellence, but of honor, commitment, resilience, and sisterhood. She helped transform a group of individual women into one of the most successful, powerful and united Wolfpacks of all time.
In her retirement, Abby’s ready to do the same for her new team: All Women Everywhere.
In Wolfpack, Abby’s message to women is:
We have never been Little Red Riding Hood. We Are the Wolves.
We must wander off the path and blaze a new one: together.
She insists that women must let go of old rules of leadership that neither include or serve them. She’s created a new set of Wolfpack rules to help women unleash their individual power, unite with their Wolfpack, and change the landscape of their lives and world: from the family room to the board room to the White House.
· Make failure your fuel: Transform failure to wisdom and power.
· Lead from the bench: Lead from wherever you are.
· Champion each other: Claim each woman’s victory as your own.
· Demand the effing ball: Don’t ask permission: take what you’ve earned.
In Abby’s vision, we are not Little Red Riding Hoods, staying on the path because we’re told to. We are the wolves, fighting for a better tomorrow for ourselves, our pack, and all the future wolves who will come after us.
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You Were Always the Wolf
Old Rule: Stay on the path.
New Rule: Create your own path.
Like most little girls, I was taught to keep my head down, stay on the path, and get my job done. I was freaking Little Red Riding Hood.
You know the fairy tale — it's just one iteration of the warning stories girls are told the world over. Little Red Riding Hood heads off through the woods having been given strict instructions: Stay on the path. Don't talk to anybody. Keep your head down and hidden beneath your Handmaid's Tale cape.
And she follows the rules ... at first. But then she dares to get a little curious and she ventures off the path. That's, of course, when she encounters the Big Bad Wolf and all hell breaks loose.
The message of these stories is clear:
Follow the rules.
Don't be curious.
Don't say too much.
Don't expect more.
Otherwise bad things will happen.
But when I look out into the world, as well as back on my life, it becomes clear to me that those stories aren't true. Every good thing that has come to me — and the women I respect — has happened when we dared to venture off the path.
* * *
When I was young, I was told: Good girls wear dresses.
I hated wearing dresses.
I'd look at myself in the mirror when I was wearing a dress and the pit in my stomach would rise to my throat. I'd stare at myself and think: I don't like how this looks or how this feels. This is not me.
I felt the need to hold my breath from the second that dress went on until the second I pulled it off. It felt like I was in costume, hiding who I really was in order to fit in, to be good.
Don't we all have a costume we wear to cover our wolf?
The question of my childhood was: Why can't I wear what I want to wear?
When I got to my all-girls high school, the rules seemed to change.
I remember sitting in classrooms witnessing the complete character shifts of some of my friends. Girls who were quiet with our guy friends became animated and opinionated in our all-girls environment. Girls who seldom ate a thing around the boys started chowing down during our lunch periods. And it wasn't just the way we acted and ate that changed without boys around. How we dressed changed, too. At our school, we dressed for comfort, not attention. We learned that girls do not have to dress for boys. We can dress for ourselves. We can wear on the outside how we feel on the inside. We can choose our own comfort even if it makes other people uncomfortable.
* * *
I dated boys in high school, because my religious upbringing and culture taught me that this was what girls were supposed to do. Boys were fine, I guess. It wasn't until I felt that spark of infatuation with a girl that I realized love is supposed to be more than just fine. Out of fear of losing my family, I decided that being openly gay wasn't an option for me. This broke my heart.
The question of my teenage years was: Why can't I love who I want to love?
I tried to keep this part of myself buried for as long as I could. Then, during my senior year in high school, I experienced real love for the first time. This love felt as critical and necessary as air, as food, as shelter. I began my first gay relationship like many gay people did back then — in secret. The secrecy felt equal parts enraging and intoxicating. I couldn't tell anyone, so I felt afraid and isolated from my family and friends. But I also learned that real love is a human need and that if I denied myself of it, the wolf inside me would die. Trembling — and secretly for a long while — I chose love. I chose myself.
* * *
Later, I began to dream of becoming a professional soccer player. The problem was that women's professional soccer was so new and overlooked that I didn't even know it existed. So I'd watch the U.S. Men's National Team play and think: But I could do that. I want to do that.
The question of my twenties was: Why can't I become what I want to become?
Little did I know that behind the scenes, women were creating the opportunities that I would one day seize and build my career upon. Women were fighting for Title IX, building professional women's leagues, and striking to ensure a livable wage for the emerging women's national soccer team. By the time I left college, women I'd never met had begun to clear the path I'd walk.
Those women did not Little Red Riding Hood their way through life. There was no path for them, so they made a new one. They laid that new path — brick by brick — for generations of wolves to follow. They created things for me that I didn't even know I needed. They spent their lives and careers building something that many of them knew they'd never get to take advantage of — but they did it anyway.
If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing it would be this:
You were never Little Red Riding Hood.
You were always the Wolf.
There is a wolf inside of every woman. Her wolf is who she was made to be before the world told her who to be. Her wolf is her talent, her power, her dreams, her voice, her curiosity, her courage, her dignity, her choices — her truest identity.CHAPTER 2
Be Grateful AND Ambitious
Old Rule: Be grateful for what you have.
New Rule: Be grateful for what you have AND demand what you deserve.
When I retired from soccer, ESPN decided to celebrate my career by honoring me with their Icon Award. I'd accept the award at the ESPYS — their nationally televised show — along with two other retiring champions: the NBA's Kobe Bryant and the NFL's Peyton Manning.
I was excited. This felt like a big deal. My first thought was: What am I going to wear?
My answer was — exactly what I want to wear — sneakers and all. I got my new suit tailored. I bought some sparkly sneakers. I got my head freshly bleached and shaved. Why not go for soccer icon and fashion icon on the same night?
The night of the ESPYS Justin Timberlake, the presenter of our awards, stood on stage and showed highlight videos of our careers to the audience. He talked about what we three had in common: our talent, our grit, our dedication. As he described the lengths we were willing to go, he showed footage of me getting my bloody head stapled back together during a game. He stopped and said, with shock and awe: "They stapled. Her head."
The crowd squirmed and laughed, which made me feel like a badass — worthy of the stage I was standing on.
When it was time for us to receive our awards, the three of us stood together while the cameras rolled and the audience cheered. I don't know how Kobe and Peyton felt in that moment, but I felt overwhelming gratitude. I was so grateful to be there — to be included in the company of Kobe and Peyton. I had a momentary feeling of having arrived, like women athletes had finally made it.
Then the applause ended, and it was time for the three of us to exit stage left. As I watched those men walk off the stage, it dawned on me that while the three of us were stepping away from similar careers, we were facing very different futures.
Each of us — Kobe, Peyton, and I — had made the same sacrifices for our careers; shed the same amount of blood, sweat, and tears; won world championships at the same level. We'd left it all on the field for decades with the same ferocity, talent, and commitment. But our retirements wouldn't be the same at all. Because Kobe and Peyton were walking off that stage and into their futures with something I didn't have: enormous bank accounts. Because of that they had something else I didn't have: Freedom. Their hustling days were over. Mine were just beginning.
Later that night, back in my hotel room, I lay in bed and finally acknowledged what had been simmering inside me for decades: Anger.
In the 2018 FIFA Men's World Cup the winning team took home $38 million in prize money — that's nineteen times the amount that the winning team brought home in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. Nineteen times more. This despite the fact that in 2015, when the U.S. Women's National Team won the World Cup championship, the Women's National Team turned a profit of $6.6 million, whereas the Men's National Team earned a profit of just under $2 million.
I was angry at myself for not speaking up more about this glaring inequity and obvious injustice.
I was angry for my teammates, for my mentors, for all women. Because I knew that this wasn't just about me, and it wasn't just about sports.
My story is every woman's story.
On average, women across the globe will earn significantly less than men in equivalent positions throughout their careers. In the first quarter of 2018, women in the U.S. earned 81.1 percent of what their male counterparts earned across all industries and ages. Studies have shown that, on average, women must work sixty-six extra days in order to earn the same salary as their male counterparts. Wage inequity is even more devastating for women of color: Black women are typically paid only 63 cents, and Latina women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to their white, male counterparts.
I spent most of my time during my career the same way I'd spent my time on that ESPYS stage. Just feeling grateful. I was so grateful for a paycheck, so grateful to represent my country, so grateful to be the token woman at the table, so grateful to receive any respect at all that I was afraid to use my voice to demand more for myself — and equality for all of us.
What keeps the pay gap in existence is not just the entitlement and complicity of men. It's the gratitude of women.
Our gratitude is how power uses the tokenism of a few women to keep the rest of us in line.CHAPTER 3
Lead from the Bench
Old Rule: Wait for permission to lead.
New Rule: Lead now — from wherever you are.
When we think of leaders, who do we imagine?
Politicians? CEOs? Coaches?
I know that's who I usually think of. Here's my question: Why don't we think of ourselves?
Maybe because our cultural understanding of leadership has omitted far too many of us for far too long.
* * *
2015 was a big year for me. It would be the last year of my career, and I was planning to go out with a bang by leading the U.S. Women's National Team to a World Cup championship.
As co-captain, part of my job was to help the coaching staff assemble the eleven starters who would give us the best chance to win the tournament.
Hard decisions needed to be made.
After the first few games, it became clear that I didn't belong on that starting roster anymore. At thirty-five, I was one of the oldest players on the team. I had lost a step and I was suffering from chronic pain. I wasn't the player I used to be. The team knew it, the coaches knew it, I knew it.
So imagine this: You've scored more international goals in your sport than any human being on the planet. You've co-captained and led Team USA to victory after victory for the past decade. And you and your coach sit down and decide together that you won't be a starter for the remainder of your final World Cup. Instead, you'll come off the bench.
This was hard to accept as Abby Wambach, co-captain of Team USA. It was even harder to accept as Abby, the competitive kid who dreamed of finishing her career the way she'd played it, leading her team to victory on the field.
But finishing my career as a starter wouldn't have taught me the most important lesson of leadership, the one I had yet to learn, the one that would carry me into the next phase of my life. I knew how to lead on the field. Now I needed to learn how to lead from the bench.
The second game of the tournament arrived. I was accustomed to walking out onto the field in front of the roaring crowd while holding the hand of a wide-eyed kid, in line with the other starters. We'd walk to the center of the field, face the flags, and listen to our country's anthem. This was my pregame ritual and one of the honors of my career. But this time I walked into the stadium with the reserve players, stopped in front of our bench — and watched another set of eleven players put their hands over their hearts for the anthem.
I knew that the eyes of the crowd, my teammates, and my fans were on me. They were all watching to see how I would react. I had a choice between pouting and making this moment about me or swallowing my pride and making it about our team.
When I was on the field, what inspired and motivated me most was not the millions of strangers cheering but when my teammates paid attention, saw me, and believed in me. I thought of my longtime teammate and friend Lori Lindsey. We'd played together since we were fifteen years old. Lori wasn't a consistent starter on the national team, but she made our team better because she put as much energy into cheering from the bench as some players did when they played ninety minutes. So I channeled Lori.
I paid attention. I screamed so loudly, obnoxiously, and relentlessly that the coach moved me to the far side of the bench. I kept water ready for players coming off the field. I celebrated when goals were scored, and I kept believing in us even when mistakes were made. I knew the women on the field like sisters, so I could predict, in every moment, exactly what each needed from me. Whatever it was — comfort, encouragement, tough love, instruction — I offered it. At the end of that game, I was so exhausted, it was like I'd played all ninety minutes. The starters had left it all on the field; I'd left it all on the bench.
I did that again and again throughout the entire tournament. We won the World Cup that year. We celebrated together — starters and bench players — as one team. I know in my bones that one of the reasons we won the 2015 World Cup was the support of the bench. The pride I feel about how I handled that tournament rivals the pride I have about scoring any big goal.
* * *
You'll feel benched sometimes, too. You'll find yourself taken off the project, passed over for the promotion, falling sick, losing the election, sidelined by the kid who doesn't seem to need you anymore. You might find yourself holding a baby instead of a briefcase and fearing that your colleagues are "getting ahead" and leaving you behind.
Here's what's important: You are allowed to be disappointed when it feels like life's benched you. What you aren't allowed to do is miss your opportunity to lead from the bench.
If you're not a leader on the bench, don't call yourself a leader on the field.
You're either a leader everywhere or nowhere.
By the way, the fiercest leaders I've ever seen have been parents. Parenting is no bench — it just might be the big game.
Every woman is the leader of her own life. Do not give up that power. Claim it. Value it. Use it.
The picture of leadership is not just a man at the head of a table. It's also every woman who is allowing her own voice to guide her life and the lives of those she cares about.
Leadership is volunteering at the local school, speaking encouraging words to a friend, and holding the hand of a dying parent. It's tying dirty shoelaces and going to therapy and saying to our families and friends: No. We don't do unkindness here. It's signing up to run for the school board and it's driving that single mom's kid home from practice and it's creating boundaries that prove to the world that you value yourself. Leadership is taking care of yourself and empowering others to do the same.
Leadership is not a position to earn, it's an inherent power to claim.
Leadership is the blood that runs through your veins — it's born in you.
It's not the privilege of a few, it is the right and responsibility of all.
Leader is not a title that the world gives to you — it's an offering that you give to the world.CHAPTER 4
Make Failure Your Fuel
Old Rule: Failure means you're out of the game.
New Rule: Failure means you're finally IN the game.
When I was on the youth national team and dreaming of one day playing alongside Mia Hamm, I had the opportunity to visit the locker room of the U.S. Women's National Team. Time stopped for me as I looked around and tried to memorize everything I saw: my heroes' grass-stained cleats, their names and numbers hanging above their lockers, their uniforms folded neatly on their chairs.
But the image that stayed with me forever was something else entirely.
What I remember most vividly is a 5 × 7 photograph.
Someone had taped this small picture next to the door so it would be the last thing every player saw before she headed out to the training field.
You might guess that it was a picture of a celebration, the team cheering their last big win or standing on a podium accepting gold medals. But it wasn't. It was a picture of their longtime rival — the Norwegian national team — celebrating after having just beaten the USA in the 1995 World Cup. It was a picture of their own team's last defeat.
Five years later, I was called up to that national team. One day we were on the road with nothing to do but sit around a big table in the dining hall and pass around stories for hours. I mustered up the courage to ask about that picture. I needed to know what it meant to them, so I asked:
"Hey, what was the deal with the picture you kept on the locker room wall of the Norwegian team? Why did you want that to be the last thing you looked at before you went out to play?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wolfpack"
Copyright © 2019 Abby Wambach.
Excerpted by permission of Celadon Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Note to Reader ix
Welcome to the Wolfpack 1
1 You Were Always the Wolf 15
2 Be Grateful and Ambitious 25
3 Lead from the Bench 33
4 Make Failure Your Fuel 43
5 Champion Each Other 53
6 Demand the Ball 61
7 Being It All 71
8 Find Your Pack 79
Time to Change the Game 87