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Nine Zero Plus - Shawna Gordon

Shawna is an American soccer player with experience playing in the US, Australia and Sweden.


Her professional playing experience is only a part of what defines her. The mission of Shawna’s foundation, Football For Her, is maybe a better representation of who Shawna is: “Football For Her wants to give all girls the opportunity to get football (soccer) training and mentorship from professional female players and sport specialists, regardless of where they live and what they look like.”


Shawna is passionate about the game of soccer. She is also dedicated to making the game better than when she found it and providing future generations of young women opportunities that she did not have. We cover a lot of ground, but don’t miss:

  • Why you have to ask more questions.

  • Why coaches are so important.

  • What it feels like to go pro - and what it feels like to have the league you were drafted by fold.

  • What it feels like to be a CEO of a non-profit.

  • Why you should know about Football For Her.


You can learn more about Shawna here, follow her on Instagram, connect on LinkedIn and at Football For Her.

This conversation was edited into written form to make it easier to read.

Enjoy!


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Richard

What was your first memory of soccer?


Shawna

My first memory was playing for a team called the Bumblebees when I was four years old.


Richard

As you progressed through your youth career, when did you know you had potential to play at a high level?


Shawna

I remember one specific time up in high school and I had a friend and we were the only two that made the varsity team. And after one of our games, we were at her house and she sat me down and told me I was really good. I brushed it off at the time and she looked me straight in the eyes and she said, you need to know that you're really, really good at this. No one had ever sat me down like that. People will tell you that you had a great game but that was the first moment where I thought to myself and recognized that I am good at this.


Richard

As you were developing as a player, who were your role models?


Shawna

I actually didn't watch much soccer growing up, I didn't come from a soccer family. I was passionate about the game and I genuinely had fun playing. Growing up I just enjoyed it and looking back didn’t understand the totality of the system or have any role models that I looked to follow their path. A lot of it came down to money, if it cost money to go to professional games or camps, my family wasn’t able to afford it which limited my exposure, so I just enjoyed the game. After 1999, I followed Brandi Chastain, because of her number, I was number six too.


Richard

Outside of players, who were some of your major influences?


Shawna

My coaches had a major influence on my game. There are too many to list but every coach brought out something different in me or taught me how to think about the game itself and my game differently. One of the state team coaches, Ian Woodhead, would say if we get pushed off the ball, we're not going to make the team and we're not going to see the field. Whether that was true or not, I made sure I never got pushed off the ball. Another state coach taught me that the ball might go past you, the player might go past you, but not both. And a lot comes down to coaches having confidence in you. My college coach at Long Beach State built my confidence.


Richard

What were your goals early on, did you have your sights set on going pro from day one?


Shawna

As soon as I got to high school, I was starting to get letters from colleges. It was a really big opportunity for me to get a scholarship because we didn’t have the money as a family to pay for college so my Dad was the enforcer to make sure I got a scholarship. But it was funny, because for him, any college that was offering my Dad would tell me to accept. I had to convince him to wait but there was never a doubt in his mind that I was going to college on a scholarship. At that point, it wasn't in my sights to be a professional. Growing up, the totality of the US or international women’s soccer system as a potential profession wasn’t on my radar, I don’t think it was on many people’s radar. I didn't know there was an opportunity for me to make a real career playing. Once I realized there was an opportunity, my goal was to play professionally. It just took the realization that there was a path, there was an opportunity for me.


Richard

Talk a bit about the feeling of going pro, the draft and your experience with the Women’s Professional Soccer League?


Shawna

During my senior year at college the WPS was still here. Nobody from Long Beach State where I played had ever signed a professional contract, so I entered the draft, because that's what I was told I had to do. Then the WPS folded. The National Women’s Soccer League opportunity came and there was another draft. I didn’t get drafted but went to Boston for preseason with the Boston Breakers. Unfortunately I injured my ankle during one of the first preseason matches. I wasn’t under contract at the time so the team couldn’t offer much in terms of medical support so I decided to go back to Los Angeles to rehab partly because my health insurance didn’t have good coverage on the East Coast.


After that NWSL season, one of my good friends who played in the W League in Australia during the offseason and was on the Australian National Team told me that I needed to come play in Australia. It was where I could play and where my next opportunity was. When I got that contract the feeling of it actually happening was really something. I was in a professional environment in Boston but never got to sign a contract and play. I played for the Western Sydney Wanderers. And unfortunately I got injured again. Before I stopped playing due to this injury I did get my one professional goal, after I scored I came out of the game.


After that season, I was out with my injury for six weeks, and wasn't going to be ready in time for the NWSL. I joined the LA Blues in Los Angeles and enjoyed playing there but I wanted to play internationally. I got a trial opportunity with Olympique Lyon from France and got an offer from Umeå IK in Sweden. It was crazy at the time, they gave me an offer and needed an answer in 10 hours or something crazy. I had to think, do I take the trial with one of the best teams in the world or a for sure offer in Sweden. Lyon’s pre-season trial would have been in Switzerland but ultimately I decided to take the offer in Sweden.


Richard

When did you start to think about what's after paying professionally?


Shawna

After a season in Sweden, I knew I didn’t want to stay. I reached out to a few teams in the NWSL and Sky Blue FC got my rights and I signed with them. I loved playing but the lifestyle of living in a suitcase and the struggles of figuring out how to make a living and where to live during the offseason was difficult. I relied on my family and they were always there for me but for me, while traveling and playing was something I enjoyed and was passionate about as I started to think about the goals I had achieved and the goals I still hoped to achieve, some of them were beyond playing professional. I knew my soccer career was not my forever career. I wanted to give soccer everything that it gave me and I didn't necessarily want it to end but I knew I wanted to explore other areas that I haven't been able to because at least for me, playing soccer had taken over my life. I was willing to make the sacrifice for my career but at some point, for me, it was there's more to this than just a match and a realization playing wasn’t my forever career. I'm grateful and so happy that I traveled and I got to play and I've made so many great relationships, and I've learned so much, but I decided before my last season with Sky Blue FC, that it was going to be my last season. No matter if I played every minute, if I got injured, if we won a championship, if I feel like I'm on a high like this, I'm going to end it kind of how I want and I'm going to enjoy every moment that kind of comes my way. That allowed me to be at peace with myself and move on.


Richard

As you're finishing your last season, how did the concept for Football for Her come about?


Shawna

I went into my last season knowing it’d be my last, so I started preparing for what’s next. I've always done private sessions in the offseason and I've always had the idea of wanting to work with kids and having a nonprofit. I didn't know specifically what it would look like but the two have always been in my mind. After my last season, I came back to LA and I privately trained kids for a year or two. Consistently, I found myself in a position where I was giving girls a lot of advice based on my experience. A lot of parents liked that I was a female, because their daughter had never been coached by a girl before. I hadn’t realized till then the full extent of the lack of diversity in coaching. I found myself in this unique position to help young women and ultimately their families experience sport and growth through football. I didn’t come from a football family or money, and I didn’t know how far football could take me. I know all young women need a coach, a mentor, a friend, and an opportunity. I found myself providing that and that's how Football for Her came about.


We started small with just a few clinics, and now we have a virtual aspect and we can reach more young women across the country and around the world.


Richard

As you look to the future, what does it look like, what are your goals?


Shawna

Building Football for Her is my focus. Initially, the impact was limited to local in person clinics, but I want to get to young women everywhere. COVID and the shift to virtual made me realize we can have clinics all over the country and the world.


Another goal of mine is continuing to give back to the communities I’m from. I go back to my hometown of Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga and my alma mater, Long Beach State and train and talk with the youth and students. I just had a great experience with the athlete I’ve trained the longest, since she was 13 who is now 22 and I hope to have more stories about athletes like her.


Richard

Looking back on your journey, what advice would you give a younger version of yourself?


Shawna

I would tell my younger self to ask more questions. I didn’t know the opportunities that were out there or have the information or clarity to make some of the decisions I’ve made. I was very reserved and I always relied on my work ethic and told myself that if I'm a good person, I'll be ok. In life, that's not always the case. My advice to my younger self would be to ask more questions and my advice to young women is don't be afraid to use your voice.


Richard

As we wrap up our conversation, what is one thing in the game you’re excited about?


Shawna

I enjoy seeing the evolution and growth of the women's game. I think athletes who have a platform are starting to really use their voice and their platforms to create awareness about the game and make it a better game for future generations. For me, it started with not knowing there was even an opportunity to be a professional woman athlete, but even once I got there it was clear the opportunity was not an equal one. The evolution and growth of the women’s game is amazing and the fact that athletes are now using their platforms to bring awareness to not only the game but even the most basic fair treatment that women deserve, I enjoy seeing people are starting to use their voice.


Richard

Thank you so much for sharing your story, really appreciate it, Shawna.


Shawna

Thank you, take care.

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