I can't remember a time when I didn't want to play soccer. As a very little girl, sitting on the sidelines of my older brothers' games, I had one thought running through my head the entire 90 minutes: I want in. Whatever this game is... I want to play it. I wanted to be running and pushing and kicking and sweating and scoring. I wanted to be on that field. I had never seen any girls play, but that didn't bother me. When I was seven, I begged my mom to find me a team, and she did-and the moment I put on my uniform, laced up my cleats, and stepped onto the field for the first time, I was hooked.

Seven-year-old me was pretty impatient (so is 43-year-old me. Some things never change!). I was also loud, pushy, and aggressive, with a quick temper. That combination of personality traits didn't make things easy for me on a day-to-day basis, but on the soccer field, things were different. Those characteristics that earned me labels like "difficult" or "bossy" off the field actually helped to make me a good --no, a great athlete on the field. My coaches loved all the parts of me that other people tried to get me to soften or change. My loudness and pushiness helped me win balls and score goals ... and sometimes get yellow cards, but that's another story.

I am now a mother of two fierce soccer-playing girls (both of whom you'll see celebrated in this project), and I've coached countless others. But growing up playing soccer in the eighties, things looked very different. Female-only soccer teams were few and far between. We didn't see little girls wearing Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan jerseys to nationally televised games. Indeed, when I first started playing, I wanted to be just like my older brothers. It wasn't until high school that I came upon Michelle Akers in one of my soccer magazines, and then I wanted to be just like Michelle Akers, who was so good and so tough and so strong. Today, as a photographer dedicated to giving girls lots of good, tough, and strong role models, I get to photograph Michelle Akers!

And not just Akers, but Jessica McDonald and Carli Lloyd and more than a dozen other players who are following in the footsteps of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and Abby Wambach, who showed us just how amazing women playing soccer could be. And not just professional players, but athletes like my friends and former teammates Beth Foley and Amanda Riepe who helped pave the way for the next generation by being members of the first collegiate women's soccer team that their school fielded.

These days, it is estimated that 30 million women are playing the game worldwide. Look no further than the popularity of internationally revered players like Christine Sinclair (Canada), Ada Hegerberg (Norway) or Marta (Brazil) to see the global phenomenon of women's soccer. Listen to these women, and then to yourselves, because now it is your time. And that's what this project is about. Speaking personally, I can say that while I gave a lot to soccer (all that bottled-up energy!), it gave more back to me. The field and locker room (bus, training room, and long runs) were the classrooms where I learned the most about teamwork, sportsmanship, and determination- and they are all rules I continue to live by: Keep Your Head Up. Play to Your Strengths. Find Common Ground. Make Every Minute Count. I've learned that what your body can do is more important than what it looks like, that your teammates always will have your back and you should have theirs, that sustenance is key, and that it's important to recognize and celebrate what you're good at and not be afraid to show it off a little bit. As you review these images and see and hear from the many soccer-playing girls and women I've had the good fortune to meet, you'll find those very versatile lessons and more. Because no matter your age and no matter your experience, there are some universal truths when it comes to this beautiful game.

After photographing and meeting the amazing subjects in this project, I feel hopeful. Hopeful that our passions, like soccer, encourage us to be true to ourselves and live in pursuit of our dreams. By finding our voices on the field, we also find it off. It inspired me to remember my superpowers, and that although I don't play soccer as much as I did when I was younger, those qualities that made me stand out on the field, make me stand out as a mom, as an author, as a business owner, an advocate and photographer. This project helped me find my voice again and made me remember how much joy there is to be found within those white lines of the field.

There are so many voices telling us not to be who we really are. Sometimes it is hard to remember or figure out who that is. We don't have to listen to the "no"s or the "shouldn't"s. You can own your strength. You can celebrate it. You can play like a girl.

 click to view the complete set of images in the archive