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Interview with Brandi Chastain

HBO

Let's go back to the earlier years. You were fairly young when you first started. What were some of the sacrifices you had to make starting out?

Brandi Chastain

To be honest with you, I never looked at soccer as a sacrifice. I think other people may have considered it a sacrifice to miss out on high school dances or do a few high school-type activities. But I always played on my high school soccer team, and I felt very connected in that way. So I never felt like I was giving anything up. To be honest, I thought I was always pretty lucky because soccer was what I wanted to do, and nobody told me I couldn't do it.

HBO

How about your family throughout all this - how involved did they become?

Brandi Chastain

My parents and my grandfather on my mom's side would travel the earth. They went to Australia and China, and they went to probably every soccer game I ever played. So I was very, very fortunate. And I think, looking back on your other question, the toughest thing for me was at times to be away from my family. But I knew even when I was doing it that it was for a good reason. And they always understood that as well.

HBO

When you were 16, 17, 18, how much were you practicing? Was it everyday nonstop? Supervised, unsupervised?

Brandi Chastain

I was the kid who always liked to take the ball down to the school even in my free time, kick it against the wall, juggle it in the front yard and so it was kind of a perpetual state of playing soccer for me. When I was younger it was twice a day with a game on the weekend. Then when I got older, three times a day everyday in college and on the national team.

I thought I'd be a professional football player before I ever thought I'd be a professional soccer player.

HBO

What are you up to these days?

Brandi Chastain

Well I'm still attempting to play soccer. I haven't been asked back to the national team, but you know, I'm very determined. I love soccer; I want to be on the field. So I'm still doing my best to stay in shape and hope that opportunity will come back to me.

I also do the Sky's Eye reporting for Major League Soccer on ESPN2, and I'll be doing the finals on ABC. And right now I'm in St. Louis for work on an NFL Films' show called Under the Helmet. Tonight I'm going to a Halloween party hosted by a couple of the St. Louis folks and Nelly. We're going to roll back to the seventies, so I'm going to be Farrah Fawcett.

HBO

It sounds like you're having a good time. Do you keep in touch with the other girls from the team?

Brandi Chastain

Absolutely. Julie, Mia and I just met for a couple days, doing some work but really under the guise of having fun. We do events like the Women's Sports Foundation Dinner, where we get to not only do a good thing for the community but we get to hang out with one another again. So we definitely keep it touch. We're always making sure everybody's doing alright.

HBO

What do you talk about when you see them? Is it always soccer?

Brandi Chastain

No, no, no. We talk about some soccer, but we talk about things that are in the news. When Katrina hit, we were sending around emails about what could we do to help. We talk about our families. We were brought together by soccer, but it's not the only thing that keeps us together.

HBO

The film talks about how you sold out stadiums and the revolution that happened in women's soccer. Did you ever believe that women's soccer would hit the way it did?

Brandi Chastain

Initially, I thought I'd be a professional football player before I ever thought I'd be a professional soccer player. Soccer was not something that was out there for girls, and because I saw football on television all the time, I thought, Oh why not football? Then I realized that I would never be 6'5" and 325 pounds.

HBO

What position did you want to play in football?

Brandi Chastain

Well I was a nose guard on my flag football team. Then I didn't grow very much, so I thought I'd be a wide receiver. I don't ever remember as a child or even as a teenager thinking soccer was going to be my career. I went to professional men's soccer games, the old North American soccer league at that time, and I used to be a ticket holder with my family and family friends. We would go every weekend and I thought it was great, but I just thought of it as recreation, as family fun. I thought at some point I'd be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, but never a soccer player.

HBO

When did that change?

Brandi Chastain

It wasn't until my college years, when the national team made its first trip, in 1985. I was a junior in college. And I started believing maybe there is something out there, a post-college career in soccer.

After the '96 Olympics, we all started believing that this is bigger than we thought, and we were willing to do the work. We knew that it was up to us, the players, to make soccer successful. It wasn't because of some boardroom somewhere where people sit in it wearing suits and ties and make decisions about us.

We were a very forward-thinking, forward-moving group. We went out and did clinics and field events and we were selling tickets. We did anything to promote the players and the game. And when we walked into Giants Stadium for the first game in '99, it was clear that all the hard work had paid off.

It was a wonderful, wonderful sight to see. I remember Kristine Lilli and I walking arm-in-arm through the tunnel and onto the field. It was a bright sunny day, and the stands were packed. There were 67,000 people there, maybe more. And it was... breathtaking. Then we knew we had something going on. And it was out of resolve and dedication and passion.

HBO

It was a little different from Japan right?

Brandi Chastain

Yeah, that was different. The thing I can say about Japan is they were progressive for a country that is very male dominant. I think it's changing a lot now. But for that society at the time, it was something to have a professional women's soccer league, and I'm grateful for having had the chance to play there. Perhaps I would have moved on to something else had I not had the opportunity to go there.

HBO

What made you make the decision to play Japan?

Brandi Chastain

In the early days the players were on their own. Once you graduated from college, there was basically no place for you. Everyone was dedicated to their professions, and then on the weekends you'd play soccer. There was no place where you could get training every day of the week, an organized team with a coach.

And this is why I now give the advice I do, which is you really have to depend on yourself. We literally could be running on our own and training on our own, and just anywhere we could get a game, we would be ready to play. I think that's the kind of hard work that has become the fabric of the national team.

HBO

Do people still come up to you today and say 'You're the one who scored the goal and ripped off your shirt?'

Brandi Chastain

I just checked in to this hotel and the bell man says, 'That '99 game was awesome. I'll never forget where I was.' People constantly remind me of how special that tournament was and how it changed a lot of people's perceptions - not only about soccer in this country and women's soccer, but I think about sports in general. There was a wonderful personality to the team and the people involved. Everyone was very team-oriented and gracious and genuine.

I just checked into this hotel and the bell man says, that '99 game was awesome.

HBO

What was the most memorable moment of your career?

Brandi Chastain

I think my most memorable moment is after the '91 World Cup. We had a few games here and there, and for whatever reason the coach decided not to bring me back for the '95 World Cup team. That was pretty difficult to take, because soccer had been so much a part of my life.

After there was a coaching change, I was asked back. There was a players' strike in trying to get a contract. U.S. soccer was dragging its heels, so the players that had gone to the World Cup didn't participate in the next set of trading. That was my first call back to the national team. And I remember how proud I was to put on my training jersey and go out on the field. Making it back to that environment was for me my greatest moment, because somebody had told me I couldn't do it and I never gave up on myself, the game and my teammates. So that was very satisfying for me.

HBO

What advice would you give young players today as far as wanting to reach their goals?

Brandi Chastain

Well there are two things: Number one is, make sure you always enjoy yourself, because when you enjoy yourself, you'll learn, you'll want more information, you'll push yourself. You'll be dedicated and that's what you should want to be in anything in life -- whether it's sports or academics or your relationship. It all stems from finding that fun, that thrill, that excitement. So along with that is spending a lot of time with the ball. For me it was, I loved to juggle the ball in my front yard, and I always challenged myself -- how many juggles can I get today? I think for players to get better, it's just about spending the time.

And then ultimately what I tell the kids is: coaches can give you information, they can give you guidelines, and they can put you in a position. But the only person who can truly make you better is you. You have to be willing to accept the information, you have to be willing to work hard. You have to be motivated to go to practice with an open mind. You have to be willing to be criticized. Only you can do those things. And to learn, you have to be willing to push yourself.

I tell kids, this is such a great opportunity. Nobody ever told me that I'm in charge of what kind of player I can become, but there's no limit to what I can do if I really choose to push myself.

Dare to Dream: The Story of the US. Women's Soccer Team