Inside the game with Brandi Chastain
Throughout this year's NCAA women's soccer championships, espnW will be going "Inside the Game" with former NCAA soccer, World Cup and Olympics star Brandi Chastain. Chastain is a volunteer assistant coach at her alma mater, Santa Clara University, where she led the Broncos to two Final Four appearances in 1989 and 1990.
The two-time World Cup and Olympic champion serves as an advisory board member for the Capital One Cup, a program that recognizes the top men's and women's Division I athletic program across 20 women's sports and 19 men's sports, including soccer. The winner of the women's College Cup (and men's College Cup) will earn 60 points toward the Capital One Cup.
espnW: Your husband, Jerry Smith, has been the women's soccer head coach at Santa Clara for 25 seasons, where you played for him. How would you describe his coaching style?
Brandi Chastain: Jerry's approach to coaching soccer is from a very detailed, logical perspective. Every little thing has a certain way it should be done and why it should be done, but then how that fits into the flow of the game. From a technical side, he loves soccer because there are so many things that you can manipulate to change the way you are playing, the style of your play, what you do with formations, how you integrate different players in different positions. For him, it is kind of like a chess match, and I think his brain is an analytical brain, so he loves that gamesmanship that goes along with chess. He brings that quality to soccer.
espnW: What aspects of your experience as a player in the NCAA tournament and the World Cup do you bring to your coaching philosophy?
BC: Just the other day is a perfect example. I made a comment to the group saying at this stage in the game, it is playoff time. Everybody needs to be able to trust one another. They need to know that we are all prepared to lay it on the line and, at any one time, anybody can contribute to the outcome. If you are all preparing with that mentality, then we will be ready when the time comes when you are pressed upon.
espnW: From a coaching perspective, how does the game planning change as you transition from the regular season to the NCAA tournament?
BC: Everybody knows that going into the playoffs is a different season. It is a one-game-and-done situation. I know players rise to the occasion and pressure of this playoff. Other players get a little nervous. It's trying to find the balance between getting your emotions up without being too up and trying to calm some people down, but not being too far down. It is a delicate balance. Jerry does an exceptional job on this. He understands ebb and flow of the emotional game that can happen, and he has been in enough playoff situations and enough Final Four weekends to understand how to manipulate his team in a positive way to make them see that we have to enjoy the moments that we have. There are 15,000 others at the Division I level that will not get to experience a playoff. So let's not be scared by it, but let's be excited and let's go out there and give our all and stay together and think of the plan. If we do that, we will get the result we want.
espnW: What's the last thing you tell the team before they take the field on Saturday against Cal?
BC: Part of the mantra of Santa Clara University with the soccer is the pride and respect you have for the game and instructor and the university, the excellence that we want to uphold, the tradition we have at Santa Clara, we go out there together as a team. Everybody is pushing and pulling for one another. This is not about one person; it is not about one coach. For Jerry, it has been 25 years in the making. He wants these players to enjoy this experience for what it has to offer, which is decisions under pressure, composure under pressure, enjoying the game, sometimes having to grind through it, sometimes enjoying it and having it be easy -- but being able to deal with those. He has set goals for the team on a regular basis, so he will give them maybe three or four goals during the first half of the game, the second half of the game. And we want to achieve those goals. So it is not going out there randomly; it is going out there with a purpose and seeing if we had achieved those things that we set for ourselves.
espnW: What life lessons do you carry with you today from your NCAA tournament experiences?
BC: I have won a few NCAA tournament games, and I have lost one terrible one. And I have learned something from all of them. I can say that I love winning and I am driven to win and I am driven to challenge myself to win. But I think with perspective now, I understand that winning is not really the underlying theme of participating at the collegiate level. I think to be a winner, you have to be able to look at all the details and you have to take care of those details along the way; that the process and the journey are really as rewarding as winning, and that if you take care of the details, you will find that you will be standing at the top. One thing that I love about my experience at Santa Clara at the Division I level is that camaraderie you have with your team, and that you can look across a field and you have this synergy with your teammates.
espnW: Tell us about your relationship with Capital One and why you're so passionate about serving on the advisory board of the Capital One Cup.
BC: What I've learned at the Division I level as a student athlete is how to represent my team, how to represent myself, how to do that in a professional manner. There's a maturity level that you go through as a young person, and you graduate with this sense of self and this sense of starting something and following through. And if you're lucky enough, you get to play in the big tournament and you get to represent your team on a national level for the championship. What Capital One saw in me is someone who loves collegiate athletics -- someone who values the lessons of the tournament, who understands what being a champion is all about and why that's important.
espnW: What are your Final Four and national champion predictions?
BC: I have got to be honest. I was not worried about anybody else; I am only worried about what we are doing. But we have 64 teams playing in the tournament for women's soccer. I think back to when I was playing Division I soccer -- there weren't very many more teams playing at the Division I level than we have in the tournament now. That's a huge statement about how women and women's athletes and how women's soccer has grown over the last 20 years. That makes me happy. That is a great statistic. And all these players that are participating now -- I hope and I remind them because I can -- that this is a special time and a special opportunity. Even though it's going to be scary and they have anxiety about the outcome of the game, it's really one of those very rare chances in life when you get to truly put yourself out there, put it all on the line, and if you do it in an honest way, you have to be satisfied no matter what the outcome is. I'm not saying that it's OK to say, "Well, I did my best and so what." That's not what I mean. It's more about, "OK, I did that and now I can grow from that experience and I can take it to the next level." It's that opportunity that you don't get anywhere but in sports.