Goalkeeping no joke for Hope Solo

It wasn't until college at the University of Washington that Hope Solo discovered she was a true ace in the net. Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports

U.S women's soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo may have grown up in a family of sports fanatics, but she didn't dream of blocking shots until she went all-in during a joke at club practice one day.

The youngest of four kids, Solo was introduced to a wide range of sports when growing up in Richland, Wash. From roller hockey to gymnastics to basketball, she was always in on the action with the big kids, even when she was younger.

"All I did was play sports with my dad and brothers," Solo said. "It was obvious early on that I wasn't scared of anything."

When Solo was 5, her dad introduced her to soccer. He served as the coach of a team of youngsters dubbed the Pink Panthers.

With time, Solo blossomed into a goal scorer, bringing in plenty of college offers as she played for Richland High School. She scored more than 100 goals as a forward and was named a Parade All-American on two separate occasions.

"Soccer was my first love," Solo said. "But not goalkeeping."

The opportunity to be goalkeeper started as more of a stunt.

"When I was 17, the goalkeeper for our club team was injured, and our coach asked if anyone wanted to try it," Solo said. "We all ran to the goal to volunteer as a joke."

Although she ended up dabbling as a keeper that year, it wasn't until she was in college at the University of Washington that coach Lesle Gallimore discovered Solo was a true ace in the net. What came next was a slow development of understanding of and reverence for the position.

"I didn't always like being a goalkeeper," Solo said. "It took a lot of years to learn to respect the position."

As she made impressive strides tending goal for the Huskies, even her family didn't fully comprehend her growing fondness for it. When she would go 90 minutes without touching the ball, she'd be met by their skepticism after games.

"They didn't realize it was still a mental challenge organizing the defense and preventing shots and counterattacks," Solo explained. "I'm really proud of what I've done to create a new image for the position."

As she learned the intricacies of goalkeeping and what it took to protect the net and lead her team, her commitment deepened. During her time at Washington, she was named an All-American three years running. She was also nominated for the Hermann Trophy, given to the nation's best college soccer player, as a senior.

"You really have to be on your game both mentally and physically," Solo said of playing the position. "I'm glad that I might be able to inspire kids to see that goalkeeping is fun."

She sees that ability to reach the up-and-comers in the game as one of the biggest perks of her job as a professional athlete.

"I love having the chance to give back," Solo said at her alma mater, where she was representing Gatorade's "Beat the Heat" campaign. "Knowing I can motivate kids, when I was once one of those kids, is pretty cool."

Indeed, it is her inner child who continues to keep the double gold medalist motivated to continue to be one of the top shot-stoppers in the world.

"Every kid who dreams of being a professional soccer player wants that World Cup trophy, and I don't have that yet," Solo said. "That has been in my head since I was little, and I don't think the world has seen my best goalkeeping yet."