Cultivating confidence, creating opportunity
By Greg Bach
The U.S. women’s soccer team’s dramatic win at the 1999 World Cup will resonate with Lauren Barnes forever.
“My favorite youth soccer memory is the ’99 World Cup,” says Barnes, a defender for the Seattle Reign FC of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). “I will never forget as a little girl looking up to these women who played the same beautiful game that I did. It gave me hope that one day that could be me -- that strong, confident woman I saw on tv.”
Barnes followed in the cleated footsteps of those women she watched defeat China in a shootout at the Rose Bowl that afternoon: she went on to star at UCLA as a four-year starter; she helped lead the U.S. U-23 team to the Four Nations Tournament title in 2010; and she received her first senior national team call-up for the She Believes Cup in 2016.
Along with her prowess on the field – she was named the 2016 Defender of the Year in the NWSL – she’s also a big proponent of encouraging girls to be involved in sports, and having equal opportunities to get on the field. 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.
We caught up with Barnes to talk youth soccer, equal opportunities and more. Check out what she had to say:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How have your experiences with the sport benefited you away from the field?
BARNES: I think growing up with sport has absolutely molded me into the person I am today. I have learned so many incredible life skills such as teamwork, confidence, structure and leadership, which I apply on a daily basis. With sport molding me in my early life, I now have the confidence in myself to pursue whatever I want after football.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Kids look up to professional athletes like yourself and assume you had an easy path. Can you share a time where you had to face and overcome adversity?
BARNES: I would love to share my story. During my first year as a pro in 2011, I was drafted by the Philadelphia Independence in the WPS. I went through a whole season without being rostered to one game. My confidence was at an all-time low and I convinced myself I wasn't good enough to play at a professional level. So convinced, that I retired from the game and moved on as a coach at the University of Riverside, California. I coached a season with an incredible staff and team that encouraged me to play pro again and believed my professional career was cut short. They gave me the confidence to enter my name in the draft for the new NWSL. I was drafted by the Seattle Reign and have been playing the last five years. From this experience, I learned to never give up on myself and to continue to believe in my ability as a person and player.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: When you consider the youth sports landscape what’s your overall impression of the efforts to promote gender equality in soccer?
BARNES: I believe the landscape is so different now than it was back in my youth. I do think the gap of gender equality is closing, but there is still so much room for improvement. I think having a company like Goal Five helps keep the issue of gender equality relevant. All we can do is continue to fight!
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Why is being involved in Goal Five important to you?
BARNES: Being involved in Goal Five is important to me because the brand truly embodies everything I personally believe and push to support on and off the field. I have been so fortunate to travel the world through football and have seen firsthand the unfortunate truth that not everyone gets to experience this beautiful game. Football is a universal language and I believe, regardless of gender, race or socio-economic status, girls should have the opportunity to play. This opportunity opens so many doors for girls and helps build character, confidence and so many more important life skills on and off the pitch.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What do you hope to help make happen through your involvement?
BARNES: I hope I can help spread Goal Five's message of advancing gender equality in soccer through my platform as a professional athlete. I believe by doing this we can encourage young girls in believing they are important and give them the confidence and resources to be successful on and off the pitch.
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