By Greg Bach
Whenever Joanna Lohman is working with kids – whether it’s in the shadows of the nation’s capital or in poverty-ravaged Botswana in Southern Africa – the passionate Washington Spirit midfielder delivers a message worth hearing.
Every. Single. Word.
And what she says resonates for coaches striving to impact young lives, too.
“I think it’s important to understand that you’re not really creating soccer players, you’re creating good human beings,” Lohman says. “As the coach, you have the ability to impact someone and to connect with them. Every person has the desire to feel like they belong to something and that they’re worthwhile and they’re not alone. I also think it’s so important for each person to define their own beauty and as a coach and as a leader my job is to make someone feel safe to truly express themselves and figure out who they are through the game of soccer, or through the sport. That’s what I try to do when I coach kids and I do my mentorship is to allow these kids to define themselves.”
Lohman, a four-time Academic All-American and soccer standout at Penn State, has utilized her platform as a professional athlete for more than a decade now to impact young lives worldwide. She serves as a sports envoy for the Department of State, where she’s deeply involved in running programs in less developed nations that promote gender equality, conflict resolution, cultural understanding and economic development.
“I don’t want to fit kids into a neat little box,” she says. “To me they are multi-dimensional. They are built on contrast and contradiction. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses that we need to work on. By no means am I a finished product so I think that I really try to grow with them and to show them that it’s ok to make mistakes along the way. And almost the more mistakes that you make it allows you to be vulnerable, and when you are vulnerable and you are uncomfortable that provides the experiences where you truly grow. The No. 1 thing is to create an environment where your players feel loved and accepted and cared for.”
FAILURE: A VALUABLE ASSET
“I have learned essential life skills from playing sports,” Lohman says. “When I look back on my life and where I am now I really believe that learning how to lose and to fall down and pick yourself back up again has probably been the No. 1 asset for me. In sports every single day you usually will win or you will lose at the games that you play and you have to learn how to do both. And I think, even more important, is learning really how to lose because you build a resiliency, where every day you’re coming back and every day you have another chance to change and to self-improve and to get better. That has always really been a part of my life is the whole growth mindset where if you keep practicing and you keep working at something you will get better at it. Yes, I’ve hit a lot of setbacks, but I am so proud of all of the effort I have put forth toward my career and all the times that I have gotten past barriers and picked myself back up again after perceived failures that I think really now have made me who I am.”
LEARNING – AND THRIVING – AMID ADVERSITY
“I’ve lost epically in championship games, I’ve been cut at the last moment before the World Cup, and I’ve had pretty devastating injuries,” Lohman says. “And when something that you’re really scared of happens and you pick yourself back up again and you thrive through that difficulty it really empowers you to believe that no matter what happens you are going to get through it. And I think too that if you work at your passion – if you love what you do – certain setbacks won’t be too daunting because it’s your life’s calling. Playing soccer and becoming a professional soccer player was my life dream so if one obstacle gets in my way I’m not going to let that stop me. So I think that really just going through the experiences of loss and failure and setback and just learning to put my head down and get through it.”
GOAL FIVE AND THE DRIVE FOR EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES
Lohman’s efforts are tireless when it comes to kids in sports. She wants girls to have equal opportunities for getting on the field and playing a sport that she fell in love with long ago. She’s a supporter of Goal Five, an apparel brand designed to meet the fit needs of female players. The name is inspired by United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5, which is built on a mission to ensure all women and girls have equal opportunity to play. Goal Five is dedicating five percent of its profits to programs advancing gender equality in soccer.
“It’s always been a very important piece of my personal journey is women’s empowerment and gender equality, so they really spoke to that mission for me personally,” Lohman says. “And on top of that the quality of their product is incredible. I work out in it every single day so I feel comfortable not only in their product, but I also really support the mission behind their product.”
Lohman oozes genuine passion when talking about kids. Providing them opportunities and being a difference maker for them means everything to her.
“Every Goal Five product that you buy a portion of the proceeds goes to empowering young women around the world and for me that’s always been one of the things that I have been passionate about,” she says. “I’ve done several trips with the Department of State where I’ve run empowerment programs using soccer as a vehicle for social change and I’ve really made it a goal of mine to work specifically with young women because I know that the opportunities they get are few and far between in a lot of these countries. So, we really need to have companies like Goal Five to help set them apart and make them feel special and valued and worthwhile because oftentimes a lot of these young women are never made to feel like they’re important.”
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