Soccer star Abby Wambach retired from professional play in 2015. She’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist and she’s a vocal activist on behalf of women in sports. She wrote her own memoir, Forward, five years ago — so we asked her what books she’s drawn from when it comes to leadership in sports — and in fact, the first two books she brought us weren’t about sports at all. But Wambach says they definitely have lessons for leaders.
Somebody’s Daughter, by Ashley Ford
I think that we have to figure out, really, what is leadership. And I chose people who are inspiring to me on and off the field … Ashley Ford’s book Somebody’s Daughter is just such a moving story. And I can promise you one thing about every single team that I’ve been on is that every single person is dealing with family stuff. And this book is a master class on how to love your family and still live with individuality and freedom. Her story is particular to her, but it’s also about every single one of us. I mean, it helped me to lead myself toward breaking old familial patterns and creating new ones, truly, because the way she talks about her family and the way that she talks about the boundaries she creates is just stunning.
Save Yourself, by Cameron Esposito
Cameron Esposito is one of my favorite comedians in the world. But for me … I think that leaders today need to understand the queer experience in America. I saw … so much of myself in her story through this book. She’s fighting institutional stuff with God. And Cameron’s story, it gave me a better understanding of of why I felt some of the ways that I felt … because that really is what leadership is about, is to know yourself and to know the people around you.
I do a lot of work in the corporate space now. In my retirement, I’m actually a professional speaker. And one of the questions I’m asked the most is, how do we understand the queer experience? How do we create more safe environments for every person who works here? And in order to create the safe experience and environment, you have to know who you’re trying to create these environments for. Cameron’s story is unique and funny, but I can’t … emphasize enough how important it is to me as a leader. I’m an extrovert, so I love to talk. And during my time as an athlete, I had to read a lot about introversion and folks who might not necessarily get the same — or want the same — kind of talk time. And so I read the book Quiet to help me understand some of my teammates. And that is really what leadership is about. If you really want to be a great leader, you have to know the people you’re trying to lead.
Be All In by Christie Pearce Rampone and Dr. Kristine Keane
Christie Pearce Rampone is a former teammate of mine. We played together for almost 15 years, and Dr. Kristine Keane is a sports neuropsychologist. So for me now, being a parent and having my kids go through the youth sports system, I see so many problems. There is a real disconnect from the parents who are watching their kids, to really what sports can offer their children. Parents … are actually turning their kids into jerks because they’re complaining at the referee for a bad call. What are we modeling? What are we teaching our kids, being a parent, knowing what the problems are on the sidelines of these youth sporting events? A lot needs to change. And sports offers a vital path for children to get healthy, self-confident — and then, of course, being socialized. But I feel like youth sports is a little daunting and a little scary at times, and this book really will break it down and help you raise the kind of kid that you one day want to them to be.
This story was edited for radio by Reena Advani, produced by Lisa Weiner, and adapted for the web by Petra Mayer.