Raising Tomorrow’s Champions: Joanna Lohman, Paul Tukey pen road map for USWNT dreamers
By Charles Boehm
SoccerWire Senior Writer
Perhaps it’s just natural charisma, or the side effect of a high-achieving mindset that propelled her to the top of her sport. Or the hustle developed as a globetrotting player in a transitional era of women’s soccer, who saw two professional leagues crumble underneath her feet and had to pick up side gigs in commercial realty and personal coaching to keep the bills paid.
But Joanna Lohman is a people person, with the sort of energy that tends to make a strong first impression. That personality, and those experiences, power “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions,” the book she co-wrote with writer, television producer and recovering soccer dad Paul Tukey that hits shelves this week.
The book’s goal is ambitious: Sharing an inside glimpse of the U.S. Women’s National Team and its four decades of history by charting the personal pathways walked by the generations of women that made it what it is – four-time World Cup champions, and “the most socially significant team in the world,” in Lohman’s words.
“Raising Tomorrow’s Champions” attacks that task from the perspective of a thoughtful sort of how-to book, offering young soccer players and their parents a range of insights from those who’ve achieved the lofty goals they dream of. Structured as both an overarching story of these women’s sports pioneers and an extended magazine article divvied into digestible chapters and personal sidebars, it’s a book for the limited attention spans and hyper-focused superfans of the internet era.
“Paul approached me in the beginning of 2019,” Lohman explained to SoccerWire.com last week. “This idea was marinating for him for a while because he had written a magazine article in Bethesda Magazine about the trials and tribulations of being a soccer dad in this day and age, and how many choices have to be made, how many routes you can go.”
“His daughter was quite good, and he didn’t know anything about soccer, so it was a difficult road for him to know what the best path was for her,” Lohman continued. “And ever since she could kick a ball she wanted to be a member of the U.S. women’s national team, so how can you really help your daughter make it to that level, knowing it’s like winning the lottery, right? The odds are so very slim, so how can you really support her in this dream, but keep a realistic perspective?”
As a former USWNTer and 16-year pro who charmed teammates and fans at her hometown club the Washington Spirit, and several other stops in her career, Lohman has the bona fides, and contacts list, to pull this off. Recruiting Carli Lloyd to pen the foreword is just one example. Tukey, for his part, brings a veteran journalist’s eye and interesting angles of his own, like the relationship his family built with Jamaican international Havana Solaun as her homestay hosts during her stint with the Spirit.
Lohman and Tukey conducted somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 interviews for this project, including icons like Abby Wambach, Crystal Dunn, Michelle Akers, Briana Scurry and Anson Dorrance, but also less-known figures from the program’s early years and periphery. Crucially, we hear from parents and coaches of some of the game’s biggest stars, and even a soccer dad turned NWSL team owner, the Spirit’s Steve Baldwin.
If your kid aims to climb the ladder, you can use “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions” as a road map of sorts. If you’re an adoring USWNT stan, you can turn straight to the chapters in which your faves feature. Both audiences should appreciate the array of rare and often intimate photos interspersed throughout.
“It flowed from a kid’s youth soccer experience,” explained Lohman, “up until it they made it into the professional levels, of what they would face as they grew up through the soccer journey … I feel like you can go through the book and read each chapter separately if you wanted to. Obviously, we’d recommend reading it in order, but it’s very digestible in that sense, where you can just take out a chapter.”
“If you’re very interested in leadership, you can read about leadership. And then you have those pullout boxes that give you the tip from the players themselves,” Lohman continued. “So we really wanted it to be an interactive book, so to speak, where you’re getting information from a lot of different sources and having different topics to really draw from.”
The authors also drew surprising levels of openness and vulnerability from their subjects, lending the book an emotional warmth. Lohman, who came out publicly when it was still somewhat rare in the sport, is a proud member of and advocate for the LGBTQ community who does not flinch from sensitive subjects like race, sexuality and sexism, and for the most part succeeds in bringing her WoSo peers and forbears into that process, too.
“We wanted to ask really important questions to youth players today, and I think what’s special about the women’s national team, is that they really have this strong desire to pay it forward to the future generations,” she said. “That’s been a theme that runs throughout the U.S. Women’s National Team. They have – sometimes to their own personal detriment – put themselves out there for the benefit of those who are going to come behind them. So that I think is what really intrigued them is creating a parenting book that’s unlike anything that we’ve ever seen.
“And being able to tell these real raw stories from their careers which they couldn’t necessarily share while they were playing – this is stuff that you somewhat share in retrospect, because you’re not as vulnerable, you’re not afraid of losing your position on the team. And I think as you get older, you’re much more self-reflective and self-aware.”
In this age of specialization, it’s tough to produce content with broad appeal across the diverse communities of American soccer, particularly given the hot-button issues that the USWNT has touched on over the years. While its proudly progressive voice may challenge some readers, “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions” comes as close as any in this genre has in recent memory, offering a fitting tribute for the USWNT’s game-changing sisterhood.
“It was like doing a 23andMe DNA test – it’s like you started putting the puzzle pieces of your own history,” said Lohman of the project. “It was so impressive, the circumstances that they played through, and you have so much of a deeper respect for that [early] generation of players, because really, they fought for every single thing that they got and that attitude and mantra has just consistently existed throughout the team. And it’s just fun to see the evolution of this team and having them never lose that central core of that team, but change and evolve in incredible ways.”
“Raising Tomorrow’s Champions” is on sale now via its own site, RTCsoccer.com, where signed copies are available and a portion of proceeds go to organizations doing important work in social justice spaces, as well as Amazon and the usual outlets.