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Soccer star Brandi Chastain writes of playing hard and having fun

In her new book, "It's Not About the Bra," soccer sensation Brandi Chastain delivers a wake-up call to competitive youth sports. Read an excerpt.

Soccer sensation Brandi Chastain has won three Olympic medals, two of them gold. But she's best known for the moment in 1999 when she scored the winning World Cup penalty kick for team USA and stripped off her jersey to celebrate, revealing that infamous black sports bra. Now she's written a book called "It's Not About the Bra: How to Play Hard, Play Fair and Put the Fun Back Into Competitive Sports." Chastain was invited to appear on “Today” to discuss the book. Here’s an excerpt:

On the Ball and Off the Field
For me, everything in life seems to translate into soccer, and vice versa. It's no wonder. It's my livelihood after all, and I'm also a huge fan. My teammates are my closest friends; my husband coaches collegiate soccer; my stepson is an avid player. When I'm not playing or training, you can find me practicing with my stepson's team, attending games, or watching professional matches on TV. Whether I'm on the field or off, that little round ball with the hexagonal patches is almost always on my mind. Everything I do seems to touch soccer in one way or another.

This goes back to when my grandmother died from cancer when I was ten years old. My mother was an only child, and part of the way my family dealt with the pain of my grandmother's absence was to bond through soccer. My grandfather, who had previously attended games only occasionally, now came to watch me faithfully at all of them, and kept coming until he passed away in 1996, before the first Olympics to host women's soccer. I always felt the family bond when I played.Having my family in attendance relaxed me, and I often performed better as both a player and a person when they were around. I cherished our time together, and I have always felt great comfort when my family is there to watch me play. That family sports bond is what I try to bring to my relationships with teammates. It's a strong part of the way I approach both the game and my life.

When I step onto the field, my competitiveness gets ratcheted up, and the "warrior" mentality takes hold. Even in practice, all of us on the U.S. National Team are intense about the game. And, when we play, we play to win, leaving it all on the field. But winning cannot come at any and all costs.

Over time, I've come to understand that the player you are on the field mirrors who you are off it. I may go after an opponent in the heat of competition, or even a teammate in practice, but I always try to extend a hand, to help that person back up and encourage her. It's a valuable lesson: The things we do in the course of competition often transcend the moment and reflect who we are. And when they don't, they ought to. That's not something I've always recognized.But I can guarantee that if you get to know people like my teammates Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, and Kristine Lilly, you will appreciate the connection between what great competitors they are on the field and the remarkable individuals they are when they step off it. Changing out of our uniforms doesn't change the way we deal with challenges — at least it shouldn't.

When people see our team, they usually see only our success (unless we lose). Even our fans don't usually imagine the hurdles we have overcome to get where we are — as players and as people. For example, during my sophomore year in high school, my team was in a tense semifinal game against the defending champions. I ran onto a long ball sent over the top, and was on a breakaway headed for the goal. The opposing goalkeeper saw me coming, but instead of going for the ball, she clotheslined me. She stuck her arm out right across my neck, and I flipped up in the air and landed headfirst. It was pretty ugly. I was the victim of a bad play, and I would always know what that felt like.

Obviously, my opponent stepped over the line. Her reckless, desperate attempt to prevent a goal — which resulted in a penalty kick for our team — could have seriously injured me. Almost every player I know has, at some point or another in her career, employed fouling tactics. Some fouls are harmless, like when a defender gets beat and just latches onto your jersey, knowing she'll be called for the foul and maybe carded. Others are more vicious, like a cleats-up tackle from behind or, in this case, a clothesline that belongs more in a professional wrestling ring than on a soccer field.

The bottom line is, no one's a winner with these kinds of blatant and dangerous fouls. I can understand a jersey grab or shoulder charge, but any time there's a chance of serious bodily harm, that crosses the line. Dangerous fouls ruin the spirit of the game and teach young players the wrong lessons. Ironically, in the end, what the offending player had hoped to prevent often still comes to pass. In the case of that playoff game, our team scored on the penalty, even though I was still too wiped out from being cut down to take the kick myself.But I have a confession to make. I've not just been on the receiving end: Early on in my career I was the instigator of some dirty play. It embarrasses me to this day to admit that, during my collegiate career at Santa Clara University, I delivered what to this day may be my worst foul. That was a pivotal moment that taught me a lifelong lesson about playing within the rules — whether I'm on or off the field.

I was having one of those games where, as hard as I tried, my efforts weren't translating into much success on the scoreboard. We were dominating, and should have been winning, but we weren't. And my frustration was growing by the minute; every miss-touch and mistake fed my anger. At one point, an opponent took the ball from me, and, like a driver stuck in big-city traffic, I simply went over the edge. In a fit of "sports rage," I didn't care if I went through her to get it back. I chased her down and tackled her from behind, sliding and hitting her midcalf with two feet. I got the ball but fouled her badly in the process ...

The foregoing is excerpted from "It's Not About the Bra," by Brandi Chastain. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022. For more information you can visit: