How soccer legend Brandi Chastain stays sharp


It’s hard to believe that nearly 16 years have passed since Brandi Chastain booted the most famous penalty kick in U.S. soccer history. In fact, it’s downright unfathomable when you meet Chastain in person, because she seems to have barely aged since that championship-winning moment in 1999. Chastain last played for the U.S. team in 2004, but even now, at age 46, she exudes an athlete’s efficient, can-do sense of energy in just about everything she does.

Chastain’s playing days may be over, but she’s as busy as ever as both a mother to 8-year-old son Jaden and as a soccer coach working with the boys’ high school team at Bellarmine College Prep and the women’s team at Santa Clara University, among others. Despite a packed schedule, she also spends a significant part of each day keeping fit with an intense training regimen. Chastain believes her physical training is essential to her mental and spiritual well-being.

Working out, making friends

A few years ago, when Jaden began attending his current school, Chastain knew very few of the other families. So she started an impromptu training group in the parking lot after drop-off each morning. “I just brought every piece of equipment I had, I put it in the back of my car and I said, ‘If anyone wants to work out, come to the parking lot,’” she recalls.

From that beginning, she built up a group that has held together for four years. Chastain serves as a kind of coach or director, putting fellow parents through their paces in a variety of strength, flexibility and cardio exercises. The coach in her loves to take charge in this manner. But she’s also built a social group that helps sustain her sense of well-being. “It was a way to make some new friends, and to have a support system,” she says. “And because I’m working on them, I get to feel free, like I don’t even know I’m working out.”

In all likelihood, the morning session with fellow parents won’t be Chastain’s only workout of the day. She also trains with the Santa Clara women’s team when she’s helping to coach them as a volunteer. And she sets up circuits in her backyard to maintain her strength and keep her fresh for backyard baseball-throwing sessions with Jaden.

Choosing health—and happiness

During a recent visit to a middle school in San Jose, Chastain issued a challenge to the children she was addressing. “You have a choice,” she told them. “You are in charge of your own health and wellness. How healthy and happy do you want to be? It’s up to you.”

That could serve as Chastain’s defining mantra. She believes firmly in taking charge of her own fortunes, which means casting fear aside and looking steadily forward at the next goal, the next opportunity. She also believes physical health is crucial to staying sharp mentally and being ready for the next challenge.

“Your brain and your body have to be in concert,” she says. “Otherwise I’m not in the right place. Your mind has to be able to do the mental gymnastics that your body used to do on the field. And for me, I find harmony and balance when I’m physically fit. I’m on the field coaching, and that keeps me in the mental game as well.”

The chess game of coaching

When Chastain retired as a player, she tried her hand at coaching but found she wasn’t emotionally ready to take the next step. After stepping back for a few years, she’s now thriving as a coach, feeding off her players’ sense of discovery and energy. “I love the challenges coaching presents because it’s like chess,” she says. “You have to be three or four steps ahead of what’s actually happening at the time.”

Mastering strategy suits her and she feels it helps her stay mentally sharp, but there’s also a human element that she savors—the challenge of finding the right moments to teach her players and to motivate them. “What’s really exciting about coaching,” she says, “and what I loved as a player was that you have to be on your toes. Soccer is always changing. The game is never the same twice.”

Helping her players discover that, and learn how to own a particular moment, gives her plenty of motivation for this next chapter in her career.

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