Before she became a soccer star, Alex Morgan faced a coach who discouraged her from playing the game she loved. Now, the U.S. women's national soccer team forward is partnering up with Always to ensure that young women maintain the confidence and motivation to stay in sports.
Always sparked an important conversation about stereotypes surrounding girls with its original #LikeAGirl ad that aired during the 2015 Super Bowl. The company's latest video encourages girls to "keep playing" #LikeAGirl, which seemed like a natural fit for Morgan.
According to data obtained by Always, 67 percent of girls feel that society doesn't encourage them to play sports. Because of a coach who told her she wasn't "good enough," Morgan knows what it's like to face discouragement and have your confidence drop.
Now as a World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist, she knows what can happen if you look past the negativity and stick with it. "Being able to relate to that, I want to be able tell girls to keep playing and to keep in sports because the reward is so much greater," she told The Huffington Post over the phone.
The video highlights the damaging things girls who play sports hear that discourage them from playing while also showing their talent on the field, court and elsewhere. HuffPost chatted with Morgan to discuss more about Always' latest ad, the U.S. women's national soccer team's fight for equal pay and what she is proud to do #LikeAGirl.
You teamed up with Always for their latest #LikeAGirl video. What stood out to you about this campaign?
Always #LikeAGirl is all about helping girls’ confidence especially at a time where their confidence is most vulnerable. For me, it just kind of hits home because I could relate to that when I was younger. It was the perfect fit for me to be able to speak about this and speak about having self-confidence and feeling encouraged to keep playing in sports.
The campaign’s latest video is titled “Keep Playing.” I think many girls who play sports can recall a time when someone discouraged them from playing simply because they're girls. Did you ever have an experience like that growing up?
Yeah, definitely. Actually around the age of 14 I was very discouraged from a coach. It was my first youth club team while playing soccer. She told me at the time that I wasn’t good enough to play on the team, that I would never get into the game.
So eventually I decided to go to another team where a coach believed in me and I feel like there are going to be times where girls do feel discouraged by people that they come across in life, but I feel like that there are so many more encouraging stories that girls need to hang on to. That’s why confidence is so huge especially when you’re young because a lot of times when you’re young, especially when you’re hitting puberty, your confidence does dip.
Watch Always' "Keep Playing" video below.
Always' original #LikeAGirl video highlighted how doing something "like a girl" can be considered insulting. Why do you think this stereotype is still around?
I think the stereotype is kind of going away, but it was still very much around when I was younger and I feel like we’re trying to change that. But I think in any culture, change takes a long time. With women’s soccer, I feel like every day I’m fighting for equality, whether that’s fair grass soccer fields, whether that’s equal wages. Whatever that may be, I feel like the fight is existent and very much alive today, and I think it will be for a long time.
That’s why I love the Always #LikeAGirl campaign because it’s turning something that wasn’t quite a positive notion into something that can be amazing. And I think that this summer is a testament to how many girls have become powerful women in their sports with the Olympics coming up.
This latest video targets young women, and it reminds me of your book series The Kicks that’s also for kids still in school. How do you think adults can help younger audiences tackle big issues like confidence and body image like Always and you are trying to do?
I think that every adult either has a daughter or a niece or a cousin or a sister or someone who’s involved in sports. Regardless of sports, I feel like females are becoming so many great leaders in so many different fields of work that nowadays I feel like just encouraging each other and kind of having that sense of community encourages each other to want to fight for what’s fair, want to fight for what’s equal.
I feel like that’s definitely the case for the women’s national team. We felt encouraged by actresses like Jennifer Lawrence, like Amy Poehler, and females in the music industry like Beyoncé or Taylor Swift. A lot of women like that are defying odds and breaking barriers and becoming females that are at the top of their field of work. They are leading the pack, and I think that’s so encouraging. If we can continue to be encouraging and continue to feel that sense of community and support each other, I think that’s the beginning of something great.
You mentioned your role in fighting for equal pay for the U.S. women's national team. It serves as a reminder that women have come so far when it comes to having rights, yet we still have a long way to go for gender equality. How do you balance those two sides within your mission to empower girls?
My goal is to show girls that I‘m fighting so they don’t have to, so they don’t have to fight the same battles, so they don’t have to fight for wage equality or whatever it may be. It’s been amazing to see how really knowledgeable these young girls are, whether it be about the wage complaint that the national team has filed or whatever it may be. It’s great to see that young girls are so in tune with all of that.
When I was younger, Title IX was recently passed giving girls the opportunity to play sports in college and have equal opportunity as males like never before. The whole idea is that if we continue pushing and each generation fights for something that's fair, something that's equal, then eventually girls won't have to fight for it. Eventually it will be the norm, and girls and boys and men and women will be equal.
Since this campaign is targeted at young women, if you could go back and give 13-year-old Alex Morgan any advice, what would it be?
I feel like when I was younger -- 12, 13, 14 years old -- I had my mom and dad who were very encouraging, but I feel like this was at the time I had my coach who was very discouraging. I had certain teammates who didn't really quite believe in me, and it's a time where I feel like girls aren't always the most supportive toward each other, at least in my opinion.
So I would say to continue being confident, continue working hard because hard work pays off. There’s really no secret to success. You make your own success. You really create your own success. Just working hard and feeling like the sky is the limit is all I could ask of myself when I was younger, and that’s what I try to instill in young girls when I talk to them today because there really is no secret. It’s all about creating your own success.
Going back to what the campaign is all about, what are you proud to do #LikeAGirl?
One thing I’m proud to do like a girl is represent my country in the Olympics and at the highest level, at the highest platform that I can. I’m so honored to represent my country in the last Olympics and the last two World Cups and the fact that I get another chance to do that this summer is pretty amazing.
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