Spreading the Roots of Women's Soccer


As we witness the sold-out-in-an-hour Victory Tour games of the U.S.W.N.T., it is an opportunity to consider how we spread the roots of women’s soccer.

Shortly after the U.S. team’s emphatic World Cup win, I walked down the path at the Berkshire Soccer Academy for Girls. It felt as if I was entering a scene from The Parent Trap, with a twist. Girls were saying goodbyes to their parents, excitedly greeting friends from last summer, and laughing while kicking soccer balls around.

Soccer camp has always held an ominous meaning to me. When I packed my bags, it was for an experience of opportunity, yet riddled with anxiety and the looming prospect of evaluation. This camp in the Berkshires had a foreign feeling. Instead of the beep test, there were cabins and campfires. There were no bib numbers or clipboards, but a serene lake to try water sports. Among these typical camp features, though, were three soccer fields and a dedicated group of coaches to run training elite-level training sessions.

My initial instinct was that this relaxed, fun environment surely could not lead to much growth. After all, I have always been taught that elite soccer players, much like diamonds, cannot be made without intense pressure.

As proof, we need look no further than the U.S.W.N.T. The 2011 Pressure Makes Us advertising campaign was possibly the truest statement I've seen about that team. This summer's World Cup victory was certainly no coincidence. That group of women is primed to come up big under the most severe pressure.

While Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, and Hope Solo push women’s soccer forward from the top, we must also look to grow the game from the base. Whether it is a clinic with some of the most serious young players in the country, or a fun summer experience including soccer instruction, very few of the girls I interact with will ever play professionally or for the National Team. Our job as coaches, role models, and mentors is not necessarily to identify who we think that one player might be. Motivation, work ethic, and physical development will decide that much more than we are able. Our job should be to empower and inspire as many players in as many ways as possible. We should give everyone the tools and encouragement to decide how they will use them. Maybe in that process we don't create a professional player, but instead a creative head of a marketing company who will grow women's sports. Maybe soccer is the catalyst for a confident woman who will go on to be a CEO of a business that will invest in the N.W.S.L. Or maybe we influence a young woman to love the game and be compelled to buy season tickets one day. We must attend to our base equally as much as we attend to the peak. This is how we can insure growth.

We must empower women to support women. Like at the Berkshire Soccer Academy, the more females we can leave with a positive experience through soccer, the more we will grow the game, not necessarily only on the field, but in ways that will support what happens on the field.

My experience at the Berkshire Soccer Academy helped to shift my paradigm. Pressure does help develop elite soccer players. But there is a tradeoff. With lower pressure comes more freedom. With freedom comes joy. With joy comes confidence. The young female players of today will become the women on whom we will rely to grow the game--potentially on the field, but more likely off. We must encourage them in whatever way we can.

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