It has been five days since Trinity Rodman became the youngest player ever to be drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League, and the 18-year-old is busy packing up her college dorm room at Washington State University in Pullman.
An avid painter in her spare time, her artwork still hangs on the walls behind her, and her mother, Michelle Moyer, flits in and out of view, picking things up. After the whirlwind announcement of her participation in the Jan. 13 draft and then being picked No. 2 overall, it all feels weirdly normal.
Such is the prolific nature of her father’s NBA career, the news that “Dennis Rodman’s daughter” was entering the 2021 NWSL draft spread like wildfire across social media. Even the most inattentive sports fans took notice, and as a result, much of Trinity’s own story was overlooked as people reminisced on the elder Rodman’s antics on and off the court.
While she understands the hype and says there are similarities in how they approach sport — their competitiveness, aggressiveness and drive are characteristics she picks out — he is also just her dad. When ESPN aired “The Last Dance,” a series that focused on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season (Dennis Rodman’s final year with the Bulls), Trinity says she didn’t watch much of it because she kept falling asleep.
– Trinity Rodman makes history, selected No.2 in NWSL draft
“I don’t think it is even comprehensible to have someone as well known and to see them on a TV and to be so successful and speak to so many people,” she tells ESPN regarding her father, a five-time NBA champion. “Obviously, he was a really good athlete and I think he has inspired so many people. He was an awesome player on the court, and just to know that I have a dad that can speak to so many people and have a story that maybe not a lot of people expected is a great thing.”
However, on Feb. 1, Trinity Rodman will enter the Washington Spirit preseason camp and, she hopes, start a new legacy for the Rodman name in professional sports.
“I think the hardest thing is just to always be compared and to be expected to be this legend like he was,” Rodman says. “Moving forward, it’s going to be nice not to separate ourselves, but be able to distinguish that yes, he was a successful NBA player, but I am going to be a successful NWSL player.”
Trinity Rodman’s love of soccer began when she was just 4 years old, and while she threw herself into every sport imaginable — even tackle football, which brother DJ begged her to play — she always came back to soccer.
“Honestly, I noticed from a really young age that I was going to stick with it for a while, just because if my team wasn’t really trying — like if there was one person on my team who wasn’t trying — I’d get super annoyed and I would be like, ‘C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,’” she says.
“Even when I was like 7 years old, I would get annoyed by [people not trying].”
Rodman’s early fixation on soccer led her to join the Southern California Blues, where she met coach Greg Baker. He was the man, Rodman says, whom she could go to with a problem in her game and who’d give her truthful and sometimes hard-to-hear advice about how she could fix it. Over the past eight years, the two built up a strong relationship, and Rodman says she wouldn’t be the player she is today without him.
“I think the massive thing for me was to take his criticism and not take it personal,” she says. “Take it as, he is trying to make us better. He has really helped me become the player that I am.”
Baker tells ESPN that early on, Rodman was a shy and respectful child who had a tough shell. From conversations with her mother and interactions with Trinity herself, Baker said he knew he was going to have to work to earn her trust. As their player-coach relationship grew, so did her confidence. Quickly he saw her creativity — a word that comes up a lot when you talk to people about Rodman — on the pitch. He knew she needed to be challenged if she was to reach her full potential.
“She is a great athlete. Period,” Baker says. “If you want to shoot hoops with her, if you want to play tennis with her, she can do all these things very quickly and very easily.
“You have to challenge that type of player much differently than everyone else. That’s where our bond became strong, because I would give her some different things to do that were technical, that none of the other players knew about, and I would just tell her: ‘Look, today you need to do this, this and this,’ because what we were working on, I knew it would be too easy for her.”
While she never captained the side, Baker says Rodman was the sort of player who led by example; she knew when it was time to knuckle down and work, but she also valued having a good time with those around her.
“I’m a big person on making things fun,” Rodman says. “I think if you can make things fun, and if you can make training and working hard and pushing yourself [to have] fun, you’re never going to get sick of it. I think if you take it too seriously and you push yourself too hard, you’ll get over it too fast.”
In Baker’s mind, Rodman is “the complete package.” He mentions her name casually alongside the likes of U.S. great and two-time World Cup winner Mia Hamm, though if there’s one critique, he says he wishes Trinity would be a bit more selfish with her game: “She could take the game over if she wanted.”
Over the eight years that Rodman was playing for Baker and the Blues, she won four national championships, two regional crowns, two state titles, five Elite Clubs National League conference championships, four Surf Cup titles — a tournament routinely featuring the best youth teams in the nation — and over 30 tournament wins alongside her burgeoning Under-20 national team career.
Washington State coach Todd Shulenberger was equally as impressed. The coronavirus pandemic meant that Rodman never played a game for the college side, as their 2020 season was canceled, but through recruiting and training, Shulenberger enjoyed a front-row seat to see her potential. One of his first interactions with Trinity was when she was called in for a trial with the side after they’d just reached the final four of the NCAA Women’s College Cup. As part of the trial, he made her do a beep test — a multistage fitness test designed to use increasing shuttle runs to gauge a player’s fitness limit — against the rest of the squad, and she came out on top by far. Baker says she could have performed a lot better that day.
“She took care of the beep test one day against everyone here,” Shulenberger says. “So as a 17-, 18-year-old then, and our whole team had been playing at a high level, that’s pretty impressive. She has a ‘I win every time’ mentality. Super competitive.
“She is a great person, and that leads onto the field. She’s got a great athletic frame to her and she has been around the game at a high level with the U-20 [USWNT] group, so tactically, she understands [the game]. She’s got as quick speed as I’ve seen. She likes to attack players.”
While the cancellation of the 2020 Pac-12 season was a massive disappointment to Rodman, without it, she probably wouldn’t have made the decision to turn pro. She was itching to start playing again as she sat at home. Baker describes Rodman as having “a twinkle in her eye” about going pro, and conversations with her mother and brother, two of her most trusted confidants, only cemented what she knew she wanted.
“They [her mom and brother] knew my heart and my drive was just through the roof,” she says.
“I was just kind of like, the sooner we can get to a higher level, the better, and I think starting having young players go [pro] sooner is a great thing, because it gives younger players the opportunity to learn.”
Despite the hype that follows her, Rodman is grounded about her career. When questioned on whether she prefers goals or assists, she chooses the latter and laughs: She knows it’s a surprising choice for an attacker, but she sees it as an asset of her game. On joining the pro ranks, she realizes she isn’t going to just waltz onto her new team.
“I’m definitely expecting a completely different level. My first practice, I will really understand, especially the first game that I step into,” she says.
“My goal is to just grow as an individual, as a player, as a teammate, as a colleague, everything. The biggest goal for me right this second is to grow as a player and adapt to who I am playing with and just take my soccer playing style to the next level.”
When talking about her own style of play, she says two-time World Cup winner and Manchester United forward Christen Press is a player she looks up to. Press’ decision-making and ability to get into the box at the exact right moment to score a goal are two skills that she hopes to develop.
“I look up to a lot of people on the USWNT, but I think one of the players that I had this connection towards or just admired is Christen Press,” she adds.
“I think we play a little bit similar in that I feel like she makes a lot of the decisions of scoring goals and getting in the box at the last minute, and I think that’s a great thing to be able to do to score a ton of goals — to be late and fast with a lot of your runs.
“If you can make those split-second decisions in the 18-yard box or even the 6-yard box, it is insane. Even just looking up to those players that can think so fast, and you can tell all the thoughts are in their head when they’re on the ball, is crazy, and I can’t wait to get to that point.”
When she was drafted, Rodman was immediately enveloped by her mom, who had donned a “Team Trin” (patent pending) hat, and she regularly calls her brother her best friend on social media. Add into this a raft of coaches — from U-20 coach Laura Harvey to Baker — who openly say she deserves great things, it’s not hard to see why she felt like it was just another logical step on her path to join the NWSL at such a young age.
While a senior USWNT cap and an Olympic medal are on her to-do list, for now, she is focusing on adjusting to her new reality and writing some history of her own.
“I never say I’m proud of myself — I’m more critiquing myself — but when my name got called, I was like, ‘Whoa, I made it here.’ I am really proud of myself and just proud of where I have come and where I will be soon.”