Editor’s note: This article first published in the Fall 2022 issue of Beyond the Meeting Room, ALHI’s printed magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication focused on sharing compelling, inspirational and educational stories from beyond the four walls of a meeting room. The 2023 Women’s World Cup, the ninth in history, with 32 teams from around the world competing across 64 matches. The event, July 20-Aug. 20, 2023, will take place in Australia and New Zealand. Beyond the Meeting Room interview Alanna Cook, one of the stars of the U.S. Women’s National Team.
Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe may still be the faces of the U.S. Women’s National Team, but Alana Cook is the anchor in the middle of what has historically been one of women’s soccer’s stingiest defenses.
The Stanford graduate chose to remain committed to the U.S. despite having the possibility of also playing for England, the home country of her father. Now, the 25-year-old center back is a full-time starter on the most successful women’s national team in history.
And as a Black soccer star, she welcomes the opportunity to show other young boys and girls of color that there is a place for them on U.S. national teams.
“The more that you believe, the more colleges, the more the national team kind of filters through diverse demographics, the better it is,” she said. “You know, there’s talent everywhere.”
Cook, who also plays for Seattle’s OL Reign, answered questions about her career.
When did you start playing soccer, and when did you know that you were a special player?
Cook: I started playing probably as soon as I was old enough to, and that was probably kinder kickers, around 3 or 4. Once I hit maybe 14, 15, I had an idea that I could maybe have a future with this. The focus kind of turned to trying to get into a good college.
What are the mental health implications of competing at that level, and how do you manage that?
Cook: When you fail, you fail very publicly. You have to have strong coping methods. You have to have a lot of confidence in yourself to be able to kind of go out every day and push yourself and be able to succeed and fail in front of other people. But I think most teams now are aware of that and they’re supporting players with mental health professionals, therapists or psychologists.
What advice would you give young athletes about being open to listening to mental health help?
Cook: I think the earlier you start doing it, the better, and I think the more everyone has access to that, the better. It can only help you to talk through the issues with someone trained to do it. For a lot of people, it can be hard to talk about your issues. There’s a stigma around it still. If you get to talk to someone who is specifically there for you, it’s their job to be there for you.
The women on the national team have fought and won equal pay. How do you see what your team has accomplished translated into the business world?
Cook: First and foremost, the thing we’re looking at is we’ve achieved equal pay at the national team level. The next thing that we’re kind of looking at and hoping for is to achieve it at the club level. I think it shows people that they can rally for and win that argument. There’s more than enough data, more than enough statistics to show it’s a thing in other places and other workplaces, other sectors of business.
At a news conference, you were asked about the investigation into abuse within the National Women’s Soccer League.
Cook: For so long, it’s been on the players to handle these things and to speak out. We deserve an environment where we go out and play and enjoy doing what we do. We deserve an environment that’s safe and protects that joy. I think we’re really only in the infancy stages of remedying the problems that have been addressed. We have these recommendations now and we have to move forward with them. It’s on the league. It’s on the teams. It’s on everybody involved to make sure that those are implemented.
The work-life balance, the rigors of the job, how does it take a toll on your personal life?
When you’re away from home so much, you don’t really get to root into the community you’re in. So, I think it’s just really important that we focus on when we are home getting connections to the community, kind of getting out exploring meeting people, just kind of finding any way to ground yourself where you are. Turn your soccer brain off and get to focus on other things, get to kind of enjoy other parts of your life, have other passions and hobbies.
FIFA Women's World Cup Preview
The 2023 Women’s World Cup runs from July 20-Aug. 20 in Australia and New Zealand. Here’s a look at the top four teams:
The U.S. national team will try to become the first to win three consecutive World Cup titles. The U.S. has won a record four World Cups. Carli Lloyd led the way for the last two titles, but even though she’s retired, the U.S. still has plenty of firepower.
Although Germany lost to England in the 2022 UEFA European Women's Football Championship, the team is still No. 2 in FIFA rankings. Germany won World Cup titles in 2003 and 2007 but hasn’t finished higher than fourth since then.
The 2022 UEFA European Women's Football Championship winners are No. 4 in FIFA rankings, but England showed it could win a major tournament with its first major title.
Although No. 7 in FIFA’s women’s rankings, Canada has shown it can compete with anybody. The 2021 Tokyo Olympic gold medalist has to be considered a threat to win the 2023 World Cup.
Top Players to Watch
- Alexia Putellas, Spain midfielder
- Catarina Macario, U.S. midfielder
- Rose Lavelle, U.S. midfielder
- Sam Kerr, Australia forward
- Pernille Harder, Denmark forward