Julie Foudy, ESPN Commentator & Founder, Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy


Developing your own road to success

  • If you need something, sometimes you just need to keep asking. Or look for alternative angles. You shouldn’t give up
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions
  • You should reach out and surround yourself with mentors when you have feelings of self-doubt
  • It is providing an example and empowering others to believe in your mission so much so that they are not only inspired, but also crawling out of their skin to get it done
  •  Make sure you are prepared and that you know your stuff, and then lead to your style

Being an inspiration to other generations

  • Use sports as a vehicle to inspire confidence, and to teach young girls to find their voice. When young girls play sports, they grow into these strong, confident productive citizens who will go on to lead and change how we lead
  • We need to challenge all women, but especially young women, to be okay with trying, exploring, and taking more risks


Working in broadcasting, sometimes story pitches are turned down, and you have to try again. How have you learned resilience?

This summer at the Olympics is a great example.  I pitched some Olympic pieces to ESPN, and there was not as much interest.  I began getting a little frustrated because I was neither making headway with my ideas, nor receiving enthusiasm about the ideas. I thought that ABC, our partner, might be more interested. I got the go ahead from a woman at ESPN and she introduced me to someone at ABC.  I had a meeting with ABC, and from that conversation, the head of Nightline heard about my story ideas, and decided she wanted to cover them. She said she loved the stories and that they fit really nicely with the last segment of the show, which is witty and satirical. We ended up shooting seven features for ABC while at the Olympics and I am now doing features for ABC in addition to my ESPN work.

Looking back, I easily could have given up when ESPN didn’t want to shoot the pieces. But it just wasn’t the right fit for ESPN at the time. If you need something, sometimes you just need to keep asking. Or look for alternative angles. You shouldn’t give up.

What qualities do you most admire in fellow women leaders?

One of the best things I think a leader can have is having a positive reaction to adversity. In uncomfortable situations, where you are doubting yourself, taking a risk, or asking yourself to do something you have never done before, I find women say, “hmm, I don’t know if I can do that.” And what men say, without knowing if they can do it or not, is, “let’s go!”

It is our greatest obstacle. We often step backward, rather than forward. And this is true of some of the most confident, intelligent women out there. We need to challenge all women, but especially young women, to be okay with trying, exploring, and taking more risks.

For example, at my work with ESPN, when they asked me, “can you co-host this show?” I used to think, “well, I don’t know if I‘m qualified,” but now I make the conscious decision to say, “yeah, I can do that… Why not?”

Where did you first develop this sense of fearlessness? And how have you used it throughout your career?

On the national team, I had to train hard and work hard, but things followed pretty easily. My hard work allowed me to play for 20 years. But when I left the team and had to get a job in the real world, I had to learn to put myself out there.  A dear friend once said to me, “Julie, ESPN is not saying, “what are we going to do with Julie Foudy today? You have to go sell to them.” At first, I didn’t understand the process; however, I soon learned that you have to make the pitch and get it in front of them, in a good way. I’ve never been a big self-promoter, which I think is a great trait; however, it made it difficult to learn how to expose myself to people in a way that would make them ask, “how can I use you?” It was such a great learning experience.

I am always thinking, “I have more potential. I can do something more.” It takes a lot of work. It takes dedicating time, researching, pitching stories, building the different layers, and seeking mentors.

How has playing sports better prepared you for life?

I am most happy and most productive when I am incredibly engaged in something. To me, leadership isn’t barking out orders, or even leading from the top down; it is providing an example and empowering others to believe in your mission so much so, that they are not only inspired, but also crawling out of their skin to get it done. I feel really blessed because our work with the leadership academy is fun. It is exactly what I’ve wanted to do in life, which is mentoring younger girls, and using sports as a vehicle to inspire confidence, and to teach them how to find their voice. I feel sports is the greatest gift in life because it gave me my voice and my confidence, and shaped me to who I am today. I’ve always wanted to pass that on somehow.

You are really onto something there. Based on a 2002 study, roughly 82% of women executives had played a sport. How has sport helped prepare these women for leadership roles? How has Title IX helped shape the way women lead?

In fact, that statistic (82% of women executives who played sports) is why I am such an advocate of Title IX. It’s not just the desire that many women have to play sports, but also because when young girls play sports, they grow into these strong, confident productive citizens who will go on to lead and change how we lead. People talk about Title IX as giving more women opportunities to play sports, but it goes beyond that: it’s about the women we create through Title IX.

Title IX brings out a lot of emotional responses in people. You have the side that has a negative perception of Title IX. I remember with Donna De Verona, when we would be in these town hall meetings and getting slammed with comments like, “how can you support an initiative that gives women an opportunity at the consequence of cutting men’s sports?” And I would say that Title IX is for equal opportunity. Then Donna Lopiano, former Executive Director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, told me something really profound. She said, “in life, if what you are saying is something that makes 100% of the people happy, you are probably not saying anything at all.”

Throughout your experience in the sports world, tell us about a time you faced a challenge or self-doubt. How did you overcome that?

Sitting on the Title IX Commission back in 2002 was an interesting experience. There were 15-20 people on the commission; I was always one of the minority voices. There was a trend toward shifting Title IX a way that was less favorable to Title IX and to women in general. They wanted to scale back Title IX and restructure it; the way they wanted it to read would alter the opportunities for women to play. It would diminish them rather than enhance them.  And the tone of it was interesting. There was always a negative perception toward Title IX instead of a profound recognition of the incredible uniqueness of this modern civil rights bill.

The committee was comprised of university presidents, heads of athletic conferences, and directors of athletic departments – it was a group of intense people in high positions. I was this young soccer player (I was still playing at the time) and was the voice of the dissenting opinion. It was a great lesson in how to have the courage to speak up for what you believe in, and how to have enough confidence to say your mind in the presence of really smart, high-ranking, older people. It was hard, really hard. It was an eye-opener, but a great learning experience. I dove into the meat of it. I felt good with the way I handled myself. I had to grow, and to learn that growth is both a great thing and a challenge.

How do you prepare for these challenges?

I think the biggest challenge is when younger women try to prove themselves and show they belong in a position by overcompensating. I did this when I first got into broadcasting. I gave too many facts in an effort to show my knowledge; I know the game, I know my team, and I’ve done my homework. When you are trying too hard, people know that. Learning to feel comfortable in these situations is one of the greatest skill sets in life, and not only is it challenging, but I only learned it by doing it. Make sure you are prepared and that you know your stuff, and then lead to your style. What is your voice? Who are you? People want to follow you, not someone who is pretending to be someone else.

I also made sure I surrounded myself with mentors who would be there for me when I doubted myself. Like Senator Birch Bayh, who was considered to be the godfather of Title IX. He spent a lot of time with me to go over documents and help me understand. Most people don’t reach out; but people want to be wanted. You should reach out and surround yourself with mentors when you have feelings of self-doubt. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

What advice would you give to someone looking to successfully integrate work and personal/family life?

Regardless of whether you want to work outside or inside the home, my advice would be to create a good support network around you. For me, my goal has always been to continue and excel in my television career, and to grow and to challenge myself. But at the same time, I don’t want to be on the road every weekend, away from my kids. What’s wonderful about my job at ESPN is that it provides a wonderful balance. I leave home to attend events, but when I’m not covering a game, shooting an event, or doing a feature, I’m home. It goes in bunches, and I get to dictate my schedule.

The other advice I would give is to organize your schedule so that when you’re home, you are present. So many people are constantly checking their email or feeling the need to tweet, that when they are home they are not really there. I have found that if I get enough done during the day, I don’t feel guilty about being home and being present.

How is your partner key in making your work-life integration possible?

When I am on the road, it is my husband who looks after the kids. When I’m gone, he does it, and when he’s gone, I do it. My husband also runs all our camps and academies in the summer.

We’ve always approached parenting as a shared responsibility. Having awareness in a relationship that it is going to take a village to raise kids is really important. You absolutely must have an engaged partner. My older brother once half-jokingly said, “I don’t change dirty diapers,” and I looked at my sister-in- law and asked, “are you going to allow that?” My thoughts were, “who does he think he is – the king of England? Get in there and change that!”



Julie had a sensational soccer career while playing on the USA National Team for 17 years. She is the former Captain of the US Women’s National Team. She was a captain on the National Team for 13 of her 17 years with the team. Julie participated in 4 Women’s World Cups and 3 Olympics for the USA Team. She is a two-time World Cup Champion and she is also a 1996 Olympic Gold medalist, 2000 Olympic Silver medalist and 2004 Olympic Gold medalist.

Julie finished her National Team career with 45 goals, 59 assists and 272 international appearances (caps) for the USA. Her 272 caps rank fourth in the world all-time, male or female. Julie played all 3 years as Captain with the WUSA’s San Diego Spirit. She was a 4 time All-American at Stanford University and was inducted into the Stanford Hall of Fame. While at Mission Viejo High School, Julie won three CIF Championships and three CIF Player of the Year awards. Julie was voted Los Angeles Times’ High School Player of the Decade for the 80’s.

Most important to Julie, she has made a difference off the field as well. She was accepted into Stanford University’s Medical School but decided not to pursue a career in medicine. Julie was the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation from 2000-2002. She served on the Women’s Sports Foundation Board of Directors for 7 years and was a WSF advocacy consultant for two years, with a focus on Title IX, childhood obesity, and athletes’ rights issues. Julie also served on the Board of Directors for the WUSA (the professional women’s soccer league) as the Player Representative. Julie currently sits on the board of Athletes for Hope (AFH), a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization created by successful athletes who have a deep commitment to charitable and community causes. Julie is an espnW advisory board member and is a global spokeswoman for Global Girl Media, a non-profit helping young women around the world find their voice through journalism. Julie also has been instrumental in a number of women’s rights and child labor issues around the world. The world governing body of soccer, FIFA, awarded her the FIFA Fair Play Award, the first woman and American to receive the award, for her work against child labor in the stitching of soccer balls.

Julie served as a member for the Commission on Title IX, appointed by President Bush and Secretary Paige. She has been honored numerous times for her work on behalf of Title IX. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Smith College in 2005 and was honored by the National Women’s Law Center.

Julie was named as one of the “100 Most Influential NCAA Student-Athletes.” The NCAA defines the 100 Most Influential Student-Athletes as those who have made a significant impact or major contributions to society. Julie was inducted in the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007, alongside longtime teammate and friend, Mia Hamm. Julie and Mia were only the 6th and 7th women ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the first and only ALL FEMALE induction class.

Julie founded the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy (JFSLA) in 2006, along with her husband Ian Sawyers. The JFSLA is a unique residential camp experience that uses sports as a vehicle to teach leadership skills for life. In 2006, Julie also founded the Julie Foudy Leadership Foundation (JFLF), a non-profit, 510(c)3 public charity. The mission of the Julie Foudy Leadership Foundation is: Building on a foundation of sports and fitness, we empower young women from all socioeconomic backgrounds to become leaders who positively impact their communities.

Most recently, Julie produced and narrated a documentary for ESPN Films called ‘The 99ers’. Using footage shot by Foudy during the US team’s journey to win the Women’s World Cup in 1999, ‘The 99ers’ is a behind the scenes glimpse at that historical event.

Julie is currently a reporter and analyst for ABC/ESPN, contributor and writer for espnW, director of her Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academies, motivational speaker, proud mother of two children, Isabel and Declan, and the best chocolate-chip pancake maker in the entire universe (source: Izzy and Dec).


The LifeChat Series in Sport was created in partnership with Beyond Sport. More information at www.beyondsport.org.