Women In Soccer: Louise Waxler on the Growth of Women’s Game
The growth of the women’s game has caught the eyes of Americans all across the country as the NWSL takes center stage as the most successful women’s professional soccer league ever.
Women’s soccer has come a long way since the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), the first women’s soccer league in the United States, kicked off in 2000. For those that can remember back to the turn of the century, the impact WUSA had was a bright moment in history that has paved the road for the success today.
SoccerToday’s Diane Scavuzzo spoke with Louise Waxler, an original, behind the scenes leader in WUSA and today’s Executive Director of McLean Youth Soccer on the growth of women’s soccer and the need for taking initiative in the game.
Waxler is also a former President of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) and is this year’s NSCAA Long-Term Service Honoree for her career of contributions and service to the game.
Diane Scavuzzo: You first became involved in the beautiful game of soccer in the 1980’s — What has motivated you all these years? Why are you still in the game?
Related Article: Women In Soccer 2017 Symposium
Louise Waxler: Connecting with kids and watching them develop has always been a strong motivator for me. The passion for the game from young players is my favorite aspect.
Diane Scavuzzo: Has the game of soccer changed?
Louise Waxler: I think the game has changed dramatically over the last few years but I still believe giving youth players the pathways so they can excel at the highest level is what is important. This has always been a key driver — to provide the opportunity to play recreational soccer or to enable players to play at the highest level — at the academy, and collegiate or professional levels.
Diane Scavuzzo: You often speak of the importance of sincerity. Can you tell me about your commitment to doing things for the right reason?
Louise Waxler: Sincerity is defined as being free from pretense, deceit or hypocrisy so surrounding myself with people who share those same values is paramount.
I believe there are so many people in this game who share those same values and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with them throughout the years.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you sometimes think the game of soccer in the USA is too political?
Louise Waxler: I think no matter what our avocation, there is always some level of politics however, it does not need to define you.
Diane Scavuzzo: Many people — even you for example — first became a part of this soccer world as a soccer parent. What do you think motivates people to stay in the game after their kids’ age out?
Louise Waxler: Passion for the game, passion for the people — it becomes a way of life.
I love the people I have met through this game. Remember, we were first volunteers. There was not paycheck for what we were doing. We did it because we loved it – and, we had fun!
Diane Scavuzzo: How has the women’s side of the game changed since you became involved?
Louise Waxler: The women’s game has plateaued and we, as a country, should be proud for paving the way.
Three World Cups, four Olympic Gold medals, seven CONCACAF Gold Cup wins and ten Algarve Cups – 1991-2015. I especially admire Jill Ellis for sticking with her game plan in 2015 when she was highly criticized after the initial game. She did her job and brought home a World Cup championship.
Diane Scavuzzo: As a woman, what does it take to be successful in the game?
Louise Waxler: Self-confidence, stepping out of your comfort zone, believing in yourself.
Diane Scavuzzo: Turn back the clock 20 years and think about walking into a soccer room. How many women would be there?
Louise Waxler: Very few.
Diane Scavuzzo: And today?
Louise Waxler: Definitely more today than 20 years ago but not a significant increase. My club’s coaching roster is 1:8. Less than half of women’s college sports teams are coached by women while women coaching men’s teams at the collegiate level is around 2%.
Diane Scavuzzo: When you grew up, were you raised with the assumption that women are equal?
Louise Waxler: No. Growing up in a family from Italy, the women’s place was at home.
Diane Scavuzzo: You picked a different path, why?
Louise Waxler: I did. I had a great role model in my brother, Tony. He had a very successful career in professional baseball and I emulated him. Tony was my hero – he still is. My brother and I were young when we lost our mom, so my dad ensured that our lives were focused and centered around athletics. We became very involved with various sports during those difficult years and were fortunate to have great mentors who helped guide us.
Diane Scavuzzo: You knew that women could do what men can?
Louise Waxler: Absolutely. Discussing with my dad my desire to attend college was a difficult one as he really did not have the resources to fund my education. My brother played collegiate baseball on a scholarship so it made me attending school a bit more manageable. It was tough but somehow we managed.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where did you go to college?
Louise Waxler: I went to Slippery Rock University in Western Pennsylvania.
Diane Scavuzzo: So now women are on the soccer fields just as much as men … but why are there fewer female coaches than male coaches?
Louise Waxler: I think that we have many women who find it difficult to manage a family with children and a professional career simultaneously. It becomes a delicate balancing act.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is it harder for a woman than for a man to bring their kids to the soccer field when they are coaching?
Louise Waxler: No I don’t think so today.
We have a number of women recreation coaches in our club who have children and often times they will step up and coach their children. We encourage it.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was your favorite job of all time?
Louise Waxler: I’ve loved all my jobs in the sport, but the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) would probably top the list.
Being part of the first women’s professional league was a dream. This particular league was comprised of the best players in the world. Players from all nations — it was phenomenal.
Having the opportunity to host the opening game in Washington, D.C. will be a life-long memory – 32.000 fans witnessing the first-ever women’s professional soccer match.
The atmosphere was electric.
Diane Scavuzzo: When you hear people talk about soccer, I don’t hear men talk about how great women’s soccer was then…
Louise Waxler: I don’t think the men’s game had yet been accepted fully in this country and here we were, now launching a women’s professional league. It was difficult to fill the seats in the stadium game after game.
Diane Scavuzzo: $42 million dollar WUSA budget supporting 8 teams in the Unites States, that was a lot of money – what happened?
Louise Waxler: It was costly to operate and the funds were spent rather quickly. The venues were too large and the costs to operate these venues was astronomical.
Diane Scavuzzo: WUSA is often referred to as the starting point of women’s soccer in America, why?
Louise Waxler: The USWNT had just won the Women’s World Cup and the momentum seemed right. Despite the demise of the league – due to financial issues – the WUSA was the impetus for the women’s professional game in the USA.
I’m certain some people will disagree, but I still believe that the WUSA was responsible for the growth of the women’s game in our country.
Diane Scavuzzo: Was there the sense that the money would just keep flowing?
Louise Waxler: I think we had high expectations for sponsorship in the league, but our country experienced the worst terrorist attack on our soil and the economy shifted.
Our country was under attack and suddenly women’s soccer was not so important.We persevered for three years but ultimately, the league investors could not continue to support the league without a return on the investment.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think had 9/11 not happened, or if the league kicked off years later, the outcome would have been different?
Louise Waxler: I think that if 9/11 had not occurred, we may have had a better chance of surviving, but I don’t believe that waiting to launch a league at a later time would have been the answer.
The WPS launched in 2009 and survived three years. Six years had passed between leagues and it still failed.
The NWSL just completed its fourth year so perhaps the third time is a charm! We can learn from the past and hope that our passion and fans will drive us forward into the future.