Meet Lisa Wrightsman

What’s your favorite soccer memory? 

I’ve had some crazy high moments coaching with Street Soccer players. We have had some epic Homeless World Cups. A moment that really sticks out for me was a National Cup game in Times Square. Our team was a really diverse group of women who’ve overcome some unbelievable challenges in their life; I mean, the players were basically like an Orange Is the New Black soccer squad. That weekend we’d lost every single game and in our final game we stepped it up so we got to a tie and a penalty shoot-out. One of the women—who wasn’t a strong player but has just grown tremendously in her life journey—stepped up and said she really wanted to take a penalty. I guess since her soccer skills weren’t up there yet she couldn’t psych-out the goalie with fancy footwork or anything but as she approached the ball something unbelievable happened…she just went straight into a cartwheel and that threw the keeper right off. When she landed, she kicked the ball right into the corner of the net! We all went crazy and there’s even a video of it

That is SO epic!

Yeah, and the personal part of it was that this woman had gone through abuse and used soccer to totally bounce back into this confident person who could rise to challenges like that. I mean, she cartwheeled to win a penalty shoot-out in Times Square! 

I’m going to tell that story to everyone! What do you think is the greatest thing about women’s soccer? 

As a kid, I always felt so comfortable on the soccer pitch and I realize it’s because of how nice it was to be part of a team that just wanted to work together towards the same goal. Another thing that I’ve noticed in the women’s teams I coach, especially in comparison to the men, is that women can really support each other through losses. I see the men’s teams tear each other down when games aren’t going well but women have this incredible ability to band together through hardship.

What inspires you even when things are tough? 

Personally, when things are hard for me now or I’m scared something I want to do might not work out, I always think to myself, “Is there space for this to positively impact someone?” If the answer is yes, it’s always worth doing. 

Tells us about founding Lady Salamanders and the work you do at Street Soccer.

So how it started: I was a college player and in the interim between that and turning pro, I found the sudden loss of structure and stability so difficult and I got really into alcohol and drugs. I was introduced to Street Soccer USA after getting out of jail and going into rehab. At the time, Street Soccer only had a men’s team but to qualify for the team you only have to be homeless (laughs)—it’s not often you find people who are experiencing this AND have soccer experience. Training with the men brought back all those amazing feelings I’d had as a kid of running around feeling free and purposeful as part of a squad. Also, the Street Soccer pitches just look so cool and it was a special feeling knowing that epic events were being put on for people like us.

At that point, I started to realize I could be happy and sober. Before I was just aiming for alive and sober… 

Wow, that’s really powerful. 

I kept playing and was then selected for the Homeless World Cup with eight other women. In my head I was like, okay this is my soccer comeback to becoming pro again. But when I met my teammates I realized that they were not soccer players. They had so many challenges to overcome that they definitely weren’t in the position to become amazing players. But it was these women who taught the best lessons I’ve ever learned in soccer; it’s not about how good you are but how the game can connect you to yourself and the people around you in a positive way. Those kinds of lessons were totally game-changing for me and all my teammates in our life struggles. 

WIS is on a mission to connect and support ALL women and marginalized people who love the beautiful game. In what ways do you believe soccer can transform people’s lives?

Well, I know that it can because I felt the transformation in my own life. When working with other women struggling against their own difficulties, I started to realize the only thing different about them and where I am now is soccer.  I was at a point in my life where the only thing I had to offer other people was soccer tips. I’d coach people and send them to play in Homeless World Cups and time and time again they’d come back fuelled and ultimately transformed by the experience. For me, it’s become a sense of responsibility to make soccer accessible to others because I know it can save people’s lives.

The impact you’ve had on others through the game is so inspiring, Lisa. You’re making me emotional!

(Laughs) Thank you! 

How do you think connecting more women and allies will change the equity of soccer?          

Well if you’re not on the same level as others, financially or in terms of experience, you really need mentors and wider networks to advocate for you. That’s what I see Women In Soccer doing. It’s about creating space for a wider network that’s intentionally going out there to show women that there are different ways to excel in soccer and it’s providing the support they’ll need to get there. Before this it’s like how do I get into these secret rooms, run by men, where they learn all the life-changing advice about salary negotiations, professional development, and self-advocacy?

(Laughs) Totally, our space is here to open up opportunities and be transparent—no more secret rooms!

And that’s what makes me so excited about WIS: the possibilities are endless once we’re all connected through the love of the game. 

Lisa, you’re a legend! Thanks for your time!

WIS member spotlights are conducted and written by our content producer Pip Penman.