April S’Hero | Monica Gonzalez
RICHMOND, VA (April 18, 2017) – The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) today announced Monica Gonzalez as the April S’Hero of the Month award recipient for individual and community leadership. As part of the Amazing Young WomenTM movement, the ECNL is sharing the stories of S’Heroes who are role models for our nation’s young female athletes who are balancing their drive to become elite athletes with the pressures of fitting in with social peers.
S’Heroes are a part of the Amazing Young WomenTM campaign designed to showcase strong, successful women who embody the fact that drive on the soccer field translates into life lessons. The ECNL is calling on all who love sports to join them in supporting youth female athletes as they recognize their own potential, define their individual paths to success, and prepare to be our next generation of leaders using the hashtag #UNSHAKABLE.
Studies have shown that driving factors behind girls dropping out of sports include limited exposure to the inspirational journeys trail blazed by positive role models, and social stigma; where player traits that are so valued by teams are often not promoted for young girls. By age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at two times the rate of boys 1. The Amazing Young Women campaign encourages young female athletes to embrace their competitive nature, and prove they cannot be shaken from the path to their dreams. Those recognized as S’Heroes have taken a spirit of leadership and inspiration from the field, and have demonstrated that it’s not just about a phase of your life, but a way of life.
“The focus of an elite athlete is to be the best when you compete, striving to raise the bar every time you play,” said Jen Winnagle, ECNL Commissioner. “The ECNL provides a platform for young women to embrace their talents both on and off the field, helping to develop and motivate these amazing athletes to reach new heights through all phases of life.”
S’Hero – Monica Gonzalez
Monica Gonzalez has worn many hats in the soccer world, both during and after her professional playing days. The beautiful game has been the common denominator throughout her journey, opening doors she did not know existed. It was not until after her career ended when she found her real calling in the soccer world, establishing her own soccer academy named Gonzo Soccer with a mission to help empower women. Gonzo Soccer happened “accidentally”, but its reach is now global with over 800 girls spanning across the United States, Colombia and Mexico.
Gonzalez works relentlessly day in and day out to impact lives wrecked with poverty and violence. She recently accepted a position as an Advisory Board Member with FIFPro World’s Player Union, working to protect human rights and improve the working conditions for professional women’s soccer players all over the world. This directly aligns with the initiative set forth by Gonzo Soccer, and one that fuels the passion inside Gonzalez to make a positive impact everywhere and anywhere she can.
Gonzalez grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas playing soccer on boys teams throughout her childhood. When she moved to Dallas, Texas she began playing for Dallas Sting, current ECNL Member Club, and helped the team win a U16 National Championship. It was while playing for the Dallas Sting when she was recruited to play for Notre Dame. She went on to play college soccer for the University of Notre Dame earning 2nd team All-American and an Academic All-American accolade. During her freshman year, she was called in to her coach’s office believing she was in trouble, only to find out she had been invited to play on the inaugural Mexican Women’s National Team. After returning from an injury, she began playing on the Mexican Women’s National Team, earning a spot and playing time in both the 1999 Women’s World Cup and 2004 Athens Olympics.
Gonzalez captained the Mexican Women’s National Team from 2003 to 2007, retiring from international play in 2011. She also played in the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), the professional women’s soccer league which ran from 2001-2003. Gonzalez was the 11th overall draft pick in the 2002 WUSA Draft, playing for the Boston Breakers for two seasons. When the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was established in 2012, she was invited to train and tryout for the Chicago Red Stars, landing a spot on the reserve squad, Chicago Red Eleven. Searching for other opportunities for income while playing for the Red Eleven, Gonzo began coaching for a local soccer club, Chicago Fire Juniors. Her involvement with the local youth club led to running a one-time clinic in Chicago’s lower west side.
The one-time clinic proved to be quite popular, earning Gonzalez a call back for additional clinics. It was such a success that the owner of the facility even offered to let her use the space for free. Just like that, Gonzo Soccer was “accidentally” formed. Gonzalez educated herself on the cultural issues within the greater Chicago area, and the harsh realities young women in the community faced off the soccer pitch. Since then she has been using soccer as a vehicle for social change, expanding her influence beyond the city that saw the true beginning. Gonzo Soccer began in Chicago as one clinic, spreading quickly and launching academies in various areas.
“Working with young girls and their parents in Chicago made me feel like I was doing important work, and I knew that this is what I needed to be doing,” Gonzalez said about the beginning of Gonzo Soccer. “I felt a sense of responsibility to help these girls and thought to myself, if I could take on this venture and make it a legitimate business, I should.”
Over the past eight years, Gonzo soccer has expanded to 15 cities with 50 staff members. The structure of the academies varies from academy to academy to fit the needs of the specific demographic. In Mexico City, the academy trains four to five times a week, while in Colombia they struggle to get training in two times a week in certain cities. Although Gonzo Soccer is established, Gonzalez faces many challenges. Controlling money allocation in specific areas, especially outside of the United States, is difficult in itself, coupled with men constantly trying to overtake fields allocated to Gonzo Soccer.
Most of the money to fund the academies comes from grants at the national level. In the United States and Mexico, the primary funding source comes from the Violence Against Women Act. In Colombia, the embassy wrote a grant to fund five academies, with Gonzo Soccer being awarded as one of the five.
Gonzalez was a Nike athlete, maintaining a great relationship with her former sponsor, giving her access to obtain discounts through Nike for equipment. It is up to her and the organization to raise funds to buy the equipment needed, but every dollar saved is an opportunity to extend the reach of Gonzo Soccer. So far, she has had two fundraisers in the United States and collected donations from friends and family. Gonzalez comes up with some creative fundraising plans to raise awareness for the cause, with selling custom hats next up. Often she invests her own money on new initiatives for the bigger picture, and to continue to make an impact.
She works tirelessly to maintain relationships with the coaches over the three countries and fighting cultural challenges faced at each academy. Many of the young women are expected to be the head of the household for their younger siblings while their parents work. In other areas, soccer is seen as a sport for the boys so they have to sneak to practice. This is why it is important to get the young women out of the house, to learn their worth outside the household.
At the academy level, the coaches are dealing with young women who live in extreme poverty where there is violence daily, no access to clean water and in many areas a huge percentage of teen pregnancies. In Houston, there were more teenage girls pregnant than playing sports at a local high school. Fast forward four years, which saw four Gonzo Soccer girls in the top 10 of their class, and zero pregnant athletes. Quite the accomplishment in a short period, with a historically tough environment for these young women. In Colombia, there was only one pregnancy in a player over the eight years of Gonzo Soccer programming, an amazing feat considering 20% of girls in Colombia get pregnant before the age of 18.
Gonzo Soccer uses soccer as a vehicle for social change in areas where these young women do not even have access to basic health education. Training on the pitch is used as the gateway to gain the girls trust, affording the staff to work with them in a more classroom setting to teach them about changes in their bodies and how to prevent pregnancy, as well as teach them about nutrition and how to properly fuel their bodies. This is an essential part of Gonzo Soccer and an extremely important part of what Gonzalez formed in Chicago when it all began. It was here where she started the information sessions with athletes and their families after training, creating the domino effect of positive change one discussion at a time.
Although Gonzo Soccer takes up an extraordinary amount of time, her job as broadcaster pays the bills. Gonzalez has been an analyst on ESPN, the Longhorn Network, ESPN3, NBC Universo and Fox Deportes. By 2016, Gonzalez was the only woman calling the UEFA Champion’s League. Gonzalez has dedicated her life to empowering women and her next venture will be no different.
She has teamed up with FIFPro, the worldwide representative organization for all professional footballers, to advocate for female player’s rights. Gonzalez is on the Advisory Board that is guiding FIFPro’s bid to improve working conditions for female players worldwide. Her motivation to work with FIFPro was inspired by her playing days when she was paid just $300 a month to play for the Mexican Women’s National Team. Women’s player unions have realized that their human rights are being violated and Gonzalez has joined the fight to help women be compensated for their work. She now splits her time with the foundation and making calls to spread the word to professional women’s soccer players. Together the professional women’s soccer community can make things better for the next generation of players.
“I’m lucky to have been able to see the game from different perspectives. From the foundation, media, player view and now the union,” Gonzalez said about her journey through the soccer world and working to continue to empower women in soccer all together.
Gonzalez was once reluctant to take the time to volunteer, but now it is her life’s work to give back to young women and fight to empower women worldwide. Her journey through life has made a big impact in such a short period, solidifying Gonzo Soccer as a brand that is here to stay. The confidence, knowledge and motivation to make positive change a reality earned Monica Gonzalez the S’Hero of the Month recognition. Good luck to Gonzalez as she continues her mission to change the game and influence other Amazing Young Women along the way. To learn more about Gonzo Soccer, click here and to view pictures from Gonzo Soccer Academies see the gallery below.
About Amazing Young WomenTM: The Amazing Young Women campaign is a dynamic platform of online and local market activations that showcase and celebrate female role models offering an aspirational focus for all female athletes and teens as they prepare to be our next generation of leaders. The ECNL is calling on all of the nation’s women to join the movement to celebrate the endless potential of today’s girls.
Women of all ages can share their personal moments of inspiration where they defined what it is to be #UNSHAKABLE through elevated stories and social media. Every share and submission helps drive a movement that celebrates the power of what it is to be a girl today.
About Elite Clubs National League: The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) was founded in 2009 to enhance the developmental experience of female youth soccer players in the United States through: (i) improving the competitive environment through creation of a true national competitive league; (ii) improving the process for identifying elite female soccer players through a systematic scouting and identification program based on national competitions; and (iii) improving the daily training environment at top female youth soccer clubs through developing best practices and training and organizational guidelines for its member clubs. The ECNL is sanctioned by US Club Soccer and is sponsored by Nike Soccer.
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1. Girls drop-out at different rates depending on where they live. Sabo, D. and Veliz, P. (2008). Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America. East Meadow, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation.