What's Brandi Chastain Up To These Days? The Answer May Surprise You
In a Starbucks in San Jose, Brandi Chastain waited for her usual order: two pump tall, soy chai, extra hot, no foam.
She ended up chatting with a guy wearing a "Cabrillo College Women's Soccer" shirt because, well, "You don't see too many men wearing a women's soccer shirt, so of course, I had to engage him in conversation," Chastain said.
The guy in the shirt, Justin Johnson, recognized Chastain in about a second-and-a-half because, well, she's Brandi Chastain.
And what began that day five years ago as a random conversation between strangers has become a most interesting opportunity for both.
Johnson, you see, coaches the boys soccer team at Bellarmine College Prep High School, an all-boys Catholic high school in San Jose. And, as it happened, he was putting his staff together at the time.
Chastain told him about the day she went for a run around her neighborhood years earlier and she stumbled upon a practice at Bellarmine. She stuck around, talked to the head coach (at the time) and asked if he wanted some help. He said yes and took her number. "I jumped through all the hoops, got fingerprinted, got my TB test, the whole thing. But time went by and I didn't hear anything," Chastain said.
Chastain figured she'd follow up. What she got back was, 'I just don't think it's going to work out.'"
And that was that... until she ran into Johnson, struck up a conversation and immediately said yes when he asked her if she'd like to be an assistant coach for the varsity boys soccer team. "It was very random, and unexpected, and it's been great," Chastain said.
Chastain is on the field six days a week, doing something not at all unfamiliar for the 46-year-old World Cup and U.S. Women's National Team star: She is teaching the game she loves.
Chastain is hardly new to coaching. She has spent years assisting her husband Jerry Smith, the longtime head women's coach at Santa Clara University. She coached girls teams in the Olympic Development Program (ODP) and has coached her son Jaden's youth teams.
And then there is the little matter of more than two decades of experience on the field at the highest levels of the sport.
"I know how to use what I know as a player," Chastain said. "I can explain something with words, or I can show them and they will say 'I get it.' Jerry is obviously the person I go to in my head when I am trying to get my point across. I use his coaching a lot. But I use Tony (DiCicco) and Anson (Dorrance) and even my dad from a long time ago. They are encyclopedias to me. And I go to them."
Johnson admitted that, after offering her the job, he was a bit concerned about how his players would respond to a woman on the staff, even one as decorated as Chastain.
"I am a new head coach. I was still learning the culture of the program, and then I decided I wasn't going to worry about it," Johnson said. "It's 2015 and women are in powerful positions everywhere. It's the reality of the world. And I think it's good, especially at an all-boys school, for them to experience that."
For the players, it was never an issue, beyond being a little star-struck. "The first day of practice, she was out there and everybody was like, 'Dang, that's Brandi Chastain,'" said senior Nicky Saglimbeni. "But she's super cool and super down to earth and she's been like just another coach. Except she has this vast knowledge about the game most of us will never have."
Most of these boys were in preschool, or even diapers, when Chastain and her U.S. teammates won the 1999 World Cup, so they had no direct memories of the most famous moment of her playing career. But all they needed to know was a Google search away. Plus, Chastain is a fixture in the San Jose community.
"One of the player's aunts was my first college roommate," Chastain said. "One of the other player's father was in the same youth soccer club as I was and I know him. Their parents are probably about my age."
Chastain didn't have to work too hard to build of credibility. Putting the ball on her foot to demonstrate a drill or a concept.
"Oh yeah, she still has her touch. She hasn't lost a thing," said senior Ben Hughes.
Johnson said she has brought a different perspective to his program.
"We were getting ready for our first game and everyone was really pumped up and talking a million miles an hour," Johnson said. "I asked Brandi to say something and she pauses, and talks very softly and hits some of the points that I totally forgot about in the heat of the moment. It's a very refreshing perfective to have on our staff."
Chastain never eased gently into the end of her playing career. She looked for opportunities to extend it for as long as she could, even as her contemporaries and friends such as Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett moved into retirement and other pursuits. She probably would still be playing now if there was a viable option.
As for a career in coaching?
"The simple answer is yes," Chastain said. "But I'm not stuck on the idea that that is the be-all, end-all."
Yet, she admits that when she watches her husband coach his team, or even Johnson coaching the Bells, she longs to be a head coach.
"Sometimes, I will feel strongly about something, but I know it's not my place to say something. I can put it out there, but ultimately, they make the decision," Chastain said. "And that's something I really want to do."
Chastain said in her "bucket of wishes", she'd like to coach a U.S. youth national team, and perhaps, someday, be the coach of the U.S. women's national team.
"The experiences that I've had, watching the best players, playing for the best coaches...not very many people in the world have had the experiences I've had. It would be a waste if I didn't give back, and have the opportunity to share those experiences."