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Q&A With ESPN Soccer Analyst And USWNT Legend Julie Foudy

The summer is always a busy time for Julie Foudy. The two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist spends her days calling and analyzing soccer games and also manages to find time to host a podcast and run her annual Sports Leadership Academy.

Foudy has been holding her Sports Leadership Academy at The Peddie School in New Jersey for the last 15 years. In a true bit of serendipity, the author of this Q&A lives on campus at Peddie, so I was able to luckily catch up with Foudy this week.

We had the chance to chat about her work covering Euro 2020, the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo, her U.S. women’s soccer Mt. Rushmore and more. Get ready to learn about the former USWNT team captain in depth.

Let’s get started…

The Spun: You have been hosting the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy for more than a decade. How did this come about and what has this endeavor meant to you?

Julie Foudy: This is my baby. This is my third child (laughing). It came about because I had been doing just a soccer camp for years when I played. I had always thought ‘Gosh, it’s great that we’re doing these soccer camps for girls, but really we should be teaching them about the gift that is sports.’ Which is learning how to be a great teammate, how to be a great leader, how to find your voice and deal with adversity and loss and all these life lessons that we’re learning in sports. There was no camp that was really talking about that and teaching these things and planting these seeds for kids, that yes we want you to be better athletes but more importantly we want you to be better human beings.

So, I was verbalizing that to a friend I grew up playing with and she said ‘Oh my gosh, my friend on the East Coast, Todd Smith, is way into this leadership academy idea. Let’s link all of us.’ So my husband and I, we had this idea, and Todd is one of our founding members. And then the other couple involved is the woman I grew up playing with, Kerri McClellan and her husband Edson. Edson went to Peddie, so that’s how we ended up here. There’s five of us that founded it, and we said we wanted to do part of the day playing sports and part of the day doing really fun leadership and team-building exercises.

It started with just soccer. We added lacrosse, we added basketball, we have a California academy where we do water polo. We’ve had probably over thousands of kids come through, with the idea being that they leave her with a service leadership project that they do in their community.

The Spun: Besides the sports stuff, you said you do community service. What other things do you have them do during the week?

JF: We follow this leadership curriculum that we build years ago where each day is a different leadership theme. We do a huge team-building activity one of the days. We do classroom sessions, which is always about some type of activity. Their first day here, they have a random bag of supplies–tapes and wires and random stuff–and they have to build a leader. They get into groups and have this competition and then you debrief. So it’s not like ‘oh hey, stand at the chalkboard and here are the 10 virtues of leadership.’ It’s really fun.

One day we do a whole afternoon of community service. They do a World Cup at the end. The State Department does this really cool international diplomacy program with kids, so we were having 85 kids from 17 different countries this year, but they couldn’t get their visas because of COVID.

The Spun: This is a really busy time for you between your leadership academy, calling Euro 2020, the Olympics next month, everything. How do you handle it all?

JF: Summers are always a bit nutty, because all of my stuff falls in the summer. I do Olympics and World Cups and Euros and Little League World Series and that all kind of falls in this window. The nice thing is, the dates worked with us being about three hours from Bristol [ESPN], so I was able to call that first round-of-16 game on Saturday and then grab my daughter afterwards and then come down and kick off the camp on Sunday and Monday and then I came back on Tuesday to do that last round-of-16 game.

It’s fun. ESPN is so great in that they’re understanding every year in that I love to be able to have the flexibility to come to these camps. I’m not a big believer in putting your name on a camp and then not showing up. I want to be there, so it even kills me to leave for a day. But it’s nice, because I can do it by car and get back and forth.

But yes, summers are nuts. I call the [USWNT] sendoff game on July 5 in Hartford and then I’m taking a week off at home to go prep for the Olympics, because then I go out to Tokyo.

The Spun: That’s a great segue because that’s my next question. How excited are you to go to the Olympics considering it got pushed back a year with everything that happened with COVID?

JF: I’m super excited. I’m a little bit conflicted, because I know Japan isn’t super thrilled about us going over there. But the fact that you have all these athletes that have essentially put their lives on hold for a long time while they try and figure out this delay, the fact they are finally getting to play is great. Arlo White and myself are calling all the US games over there. I think it will be pretty restrictive with our travel and how much we’re going to be able to do, but to be able to be in a stadium and call a game where you can see everything instead of off monitor which is what we’ve been doing, will be a huge difference.

The Spun: When’s the last time you called a game in person?

JF: The last time I called a game in person was the College Cup in May we went out for, but the last time I called a national team game in person was literally the day before the world shut down. We were in a 25,000-person sold-out stadium in Dallas, and I remember turning to my play-by-play guy and saying ‘There’s no way if this game is tomorrow we would be here.’ And then we flew home and they shut everything down.

The Spun: You’ve been working on ESPN’s Euro 2020 coverage. Do you have a prediction for how the rest of the tournament will go? How do you see the final eight shaking out?

JF: I’m taking Italy. I’ve been on the Italy train from the beginning. I’m definitely taking Italy, although they have a super hard road. They have Belgium, and then they could have Spain and then England.

I think they’ve been the most consistent, adventurous, creative and attacking. They’ve been the most complete, even though they had a hiccup against Austria. But I think that will be good for them because they got through it. I like Italy over England in the final.

The Spun: Moving beyond soccer to your Laughter Permitted podcast, it is obviously sports-geared but also goes beyond just sports. What went into coming up with that and what do you shoot for every episode?

JF: My goal for that was that it would not be an X’s and O’s breakdown tactically. It was very much, let’s learn about these women and target trailblazing women. It doesn’t have to be female athletes. We’ve done Katie Couric and Robin Roberts. It’s not always superstar athletes. The idea is to just tell their stories in a really fun, thoughtful way that’s interesting.

What we used to do pre-COVID is we would sit at their dining room table and have a coffee or glass of wine and just chat and have fun. Most of the guests are friends, so I don’t even know if I can call it a job.

The model for podcast listeners at ESPN at the time was 92 percent male. So we said, ‘What if we flip that model and bring you a bunch of women listeners?’ And we are, we’re like 92 percent women. It’s been super fun, and the idea came from my producer, who is my co-host on the podcast. We’d shoot features together and the cameras would stop and the athletes and I would be sitting there chatting away and laughing and she was like ‘That’s the stuff we should be doing for podcasts.’ I’ve really enjoyed it.

The Spun: Do you have a dream guest or guests you would love to speak with for your podcast?

JF: RBG [Ruth Bader-Ginsburg] was one of my dream guests. Obviously, she passed away. I do have a dream guest that we haven’t actually made the ask to yet, but eventually we will. They’ve been filming. It would actually be my first guy…Ted Lasso. Jason Sudeikis and Coach Beard [Brendan Hunt] who is his assistant. If I were to get two guys, I would get Ted Lasso and Coach Beard as my first two guys for the podcast.

The Spun: Who would be on your US soccer Mt. Rushmore? You can do men’s and women’s combined, just women’s, whatever.

JF: Okay, let’s do women. This could get me in trouble [laughs]. Michelle Akers [pause]. Mia Hamm [pause]. Abby Wambach. Okay, who’s my fourth? This is hard…Carla Overbeck.

Carla Overbeck, some people might say ‘What?’… Greatest leader of all-time. She was our captain for many years. Greatest human being of all-time too. So if you’re both, greatest leader, greatest human, great soccer player, you’ve got to be on there. The other three are pretty obvious but that’s hard one for the fourth. Kristine Lilly could go there, Brandi [Chastain] could go there. You could put one of the current players on there but I’m not gonna do that. But that’s my four.

The Spun: You’re part of the ownership group for Angel City FC, an expansion franchise in the NWSL. The group is such a consortium of influential women in sports, business, entertainment. How did that opportunity come together?

JF: Really, Natalie Portman is the catalyst behind most of it. She heard of the idea through another woman, Kara Nortman, who is another one of our founding owners and investors. They sit on the board together for that “Times Up” group and started talking about it. Abby [Wambach] came to talk to their group about how hard it is when female athletes retire, because then they have to start to hustle and make money. … So Natalie looked at that and the fact there is no NWSL team in LA and thought about trying to create something. It got her wheels spinning. Basically, what she said was ‘let’s do something about it.’ She started meeting with Kara and brought in a third woman Julie Uhrman who is our president and said let’s start pitching an idea of bringing a team to Los Angeles.

Natalie got all of her Hollywood friends on board. They had been meeting with Alex Morgan and some of the USWNT. I met them early on and said I wanted in. I went to Mia [Hamm] and Mia wanted in. So Natalie had her Hollywood group, Kara had all her tech venture capital people. Julie comes from the venture capital word. Mia and I had all of our soccer gals. There’s 14 of us from the US national team … Angel City is all about not just creating a great soccer team but also sets the precedent for what women’s professional sports could be like, in terms of ownership, leadership, what kind of impact we can have in the community. It’s been awesome.

The Spun: Going back to your playing days, what is the most memorable goal you’ve scored?

JF: I never even scored [laughing] (Editor’s note: Julie Foudy scored 45 goals in her national team career). I can tell you the most memorable goal that I didn’t score. Abby headed in the winner for us to win my last game, my last Olympics in 2004. She headed in a ball that won it for us. To this day, I kiss her forehead and tell her thank you, because if we didn’t win that and I was retiring, I would have been a very angry person for the rest of my life.

The Spun: Going back to the Olympics, there’s obviously been some players from this USWNT who have played together a while, like Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and others. What does it mean for this group to continue to play together because you don’t know how many more opportunities there will be as they continue to get older?

JF: This for sure could be…actually I wouldn’t say that because you never know with this group. I was going to say this for sure could be one of their last. Usually, you go World Cup, Olympics and then you have a three-year gap. But with the delay, the World Cup is only two years away. I think you could have seen a lot of attrition [without the delay]. I don’t know how much longer Carli could go at 39, but her numbers and her loads and everything you’re hearing from her data-wise and science-wise is really good. They’re saying she’s one of the fitter players. So who knows?

But I do think, there’s gonna be a two-year gap, and with the larger roster coming for this next World Cup, that you’re gonna want to try and infuse some of that youth in there and then get them some more experience. I would imagine this could be the last go for Rapinoe, and a lot of them are getting to their mid-30s, so who knows if they want to go.

The nice thing too though, as opposed to my era when we didn’t have the technology that we do today, I think now you’re going to see players playing longer. Their longevity is much different than in my era, and that’s a great thing.

The Spun: Last question is a fun one. Outside of work, what have you recently found time to do in your spare time? What are you watching on TV? What are you reading? Things like that.

JF: So because of COVID, I did the math, I haven’t had a summer since I was like 15 years old. It was my first summer in 35 years. We live at the beach in Southern California. So my daughter Izzy and I ended up surfing the entire summer, because that was the only thing you could do in Southern California that was okay.

We did a lot of surfing. At one point, Izzy turns to me, she’s 14 and she says ‘Well mom, that’s the silver lining of COVID. We got to surf together all summer.’ I’m a terrible surfer, I’m not gonna lie. But I actually got better. I could catch waves.

She [Izzy] is at this camp this week and I actually said to her because I haven’t seen her in a few weeks, ‘Hey did you get to go surfing yet?’ She said no, so I told her when we go home and I get that week off before the Olympics, we’re going surfing. So that was my big breakthrough.

You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.

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