Trinity Rodman: ‘My mom wasn’t in the NBA but she’s my role model’
Trinity Rodman is a rarity in soccer.
Almost all American women her age take a well-traveled path: They play soccer in college and then, after graduation, they join the National Women’s Soccer League via the draft or sign in Europe.
But at 18, before playing a single minute of university soccer, Rodman felt it was already time to go pro.
After being told she couldn’t sign with NWSL clubs until going through the college draft first, she enrolled in the University of Washington but left quickly as Covid delayed the sports schedule. She became the youngest player ever drafted in January when the Washington Spirit selected her No 2 overall.
“My mind was already there before I even went to college, but then as soon as I got there I realized that I could totally be pushed to a higher level,” Rodman tells the Guardian. “Why wouldn’t you want to take an opportunity to get better than you would have in college?”
As if Rodman’s record-setting decision wasn’t headline-grabbing enough, she is also the daughter of the former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman, a fact that has followed her around throughout her young career. But all it takes is watching her on the field to see why she is more than just “Dennis Rodman’s daughter” and has earned her place as a rising talent.
Being the youngest player drafted into the NWSL comes with a certain level of pressure and expectations, but so does Rodman’s last name.
In just about every interview she’s done since the Spirit drafted her, Rodman has been asked about her famous father, but it’s not new and “it’s definitely been a thing my whole life” she says. Now that she’s gone pro, instead of her friends asking her about her father constantly, it’s journalists.
If she’s annoyed by it – and who could blame her – she never lets on. “He is my dad at end of the day and I don’t think it’s gonna go away, so I just answer the questions and then move on.”
As for growing up a Rodman, she says: “You could say it put a fire under me more than pulling me down. I was more in the mindset of, rather than saying, ‘Oh, this is annoying, I don’t even have a name,’ I was more like, ‘Oh, I’ll show these people I am an individual and I’m going to develop in soccer like he did in basketball,’ so I think I’m more driven because of it.”
While some people are hung up on her connection to basketball greatness, Rodman quickly and organically gravitated toward soccer, the sport that became her safe haven.
She tried basketball, of course, but was more influenced by her older brother DJ than anyone else. Her dad never tried soccer as far as she knows, but her brother did and he didn’t like playing with his feet. “It was funny because I really wanted [DJ] to like soccer just like he wanted me to like basketball but we were both like, ‘Nope, this isn’t gonna work,’” she says with a laugh. DJ now plays basketball at the University of Washington.
Her mother, Michelle Rodman, who mostly raised Trinity and JD as a single parent after her divorce from Dennis, said she always knew her daughter was cut out to be a professional soccer player.
“In elementary school, I will never forget, she was so intense and so serious about the game,” Michelle tells the Guardian by phone. “She would come off to the sidelines and just cry, like, ‘Why isn’t anybody else trying?’ She would just run up and down that field, like she still does today, because she was used to nobody else trying.”
That competitiveness isn’t something Rodman attributes to her father either, five NBA championships or not. When the Guardian asks Rodman if there’s a question no reporters have asked her that they should, she doesn’t hesitate:
“Having a dad like I do, no one asks about my mom because she’s obviously not an NBA star, but I just want people to know that my mom’s been my support system in everything in life and she’s my best friend and my rock,” Rodman said. “I don’t think people know how close we are and, even though she wasn’t in the NBA, she has an extremely competitive and driven mindset, and she’s an extremely strong woman. She’s my role model.”
Michelle has certainly raised two fine athletes. Although last year’s U-20 World Cup was canceled due to Covid, Trinity, a 5ft 10in forward, scored eight goals and assisted on six during the qualifying tournament, making her one of the squad’s most productive players. Spirit head coach Richie Burke calls her “a tremendous talent” and has praised her ability to cope with the new demands of being a professional.
To that end, the Spirit have tried to learn from their experience with Mallory Pugh, the USWNT star who had a similar trajectory as a teenage breakout, and have sought to insulate Rodman from outside pressures. Pugh never quite settled in with Washington and has since been traded twice while losing her spot on the USWNT, but the Sprit have high hopes for Rodman’s future, signing her to a three-year deal.
As media requests have poured in for Rodman, a southern California native, the club has tried to pace her, doling them out slowly. The Spirit have also asked former USWNT goalkeeper and hall-of-famer Briana Scurry to mentor her. In her club-provided housing, Rodman has been assigned to room with Devon Kerr, a goalkeeper four years her senior who has dispensed valuable advice, and the two have become fast friends.
It’s been an adjustment for Rodman, but with career ambitions that include someday playing with the senior national team, the 19-year-old is trying not to waste time. The Spirit’s NWSL Challenge Cup opener is on 10 April against NWSL the powerhouse North Carolina Courage.
“I’ve learned so much in the short time that I’ve been here and personally, for me, these weeks have seemed like days,” Rodman says of her preseason with the Spirit. “It’s happening so quick and I just want to learn more and more. So much information is being thrown at me and every player is so awesome and open to helping me become better.”
The scene of Rodman’s selection during the 2021 NWSL draft was a memorable one. Rodman, Zooming in remotely from a room filled with balloons, smiles into her laptop camera as her mom jumps into the frame, fist-pumping and wearing a custom hat with “TEAM TRIN” emblazoned across the front.
Rodman and the Spirit first touched base casually, she says, before talks took a more serious turn ahead of the draft. By the time draft day arrived, Rodman and her mother had their hearts fully set on Washington but, as is often the case, rumors swirled of teams trading up for better draft picks, which could’ve altered every team’s draft strategy. Once the Spirit picked Rodman as No 2, it came as a relief.
“At that point, we really weren’t positive – there was some talk in the air that she could be going No 1 as well,” her mother says. “We were nervous about that because she was hoping to go No 2 with Washington, so it was kind of chaotic and surreal.”
Now that Rodman is there, she’s been working on expanding her repertoire.
Already known as a direct attacking threat, Rodman wants creativity to be viewed as a bigger part of her game. She looks up to Tobin Heath, known to fans as “the nutmeg queen” for her flashy style of play, and Christen Press, once a target striker who has evolved into a crafty wide threat.
“I want to be funky on the ball and do weird tricks and be deceptive,” Rodman says. “I want people to be able to see Trinity Rodman as somebody who is unpredictable on the ball and who they’ll never know what she’s going to do.”
She hopes to win trophies with the Spirit and earn her first call-up to the senior USWNT, of course. But her personal goals this season, her professional debut, are more practical.
“The biggest goal for me is just working on myself and having a driven mindset moving forward,” she says. “I want to get faster. I want to get stronger. I want to get smarter. I want to get more skilled on the field.
If she can do that, she hopes, she will just be Trinity Rodman – period.
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