Mia Hamm’s advice for girls, parents and coaches

Interview by Mike Woitalla
American sports icon Mia
Hamm
debuted for the U.S. national team at age 15 in 1987. She
helped the USA to two World Cup and two Olympic titles. The 158 national team
goals she scored before retiring in 2004 remain a world record. We asked Hamm
to reflect on her early years and offer advice for coaches, parents and young
players.
SOCCER AMERICA: How
involved are you still in soccer?

MIA HAMM:

It’s a huge part of my life. I’m still involved with U.S. Soccer on a couple of
committees to help continue the growth of the game and make sure we’re going in
the right direction, in general, as a Federation.
Kristine Lilly, Tisha Venturini-Hoch and myself started a soccer academy called
Team First to
basically help share with young girls our experiences and what we felt helped
make us successful.
I still watch tons of soccer. Both the men’s and women’s national teams, MLS,
EPL …
SA: What part of the
coaching you got as a youngster helped you succeed?

MIA HAMM:

Everyone talks about it being fun. And it definitely was. That needs to be the
focus. Development over winning was something I felt was there. I think as
kids, and especially the players who go on to play at the highest level,
they’re naturally competitive. That’s going to be a part of what they do.
At a certain age, that reinforcement is important, but at a young age it’s
about development and making sure that the kids really enjoy the environment
they’re in so they want to come back and continue to learn and listen.
SA: How different do you
think youth soccer is now compared to your early days?

MIA HAMM:

The first coaches I had were just dads. And [laughs] probably wearing too small
team uniform shirts and a really bad hat or visor on the sideline. And
occasionally saying things they got from their days of playing football and
trying to apply it to soccer, like “get to the end zone.”
It’s changed a lot. Some good, some bad. Coaching and the players are so much
better at a younger age.
I didn’t specialize until I made the national team. I still played basketball
and a bunch of different sports, really kind of followed what my friends were
playing in the season that was being organized.
I think that helped me not burn out so early and helped my overall athleticism.
SA: In your book “Go For the Goal” you
addressed the problem of youth coaches sacrificing “
learning skills for
winning games
.” Youth soccer has continued to get more
expensive and paid coaches are the norm, so it would seem that pressure on
winning has increased …

MIA HAMM:
You’re
right, with more money and coaches being paid they feel a lot more pressure to
win and parents want a greater return on their investment, whether that’s a
college scholarship or an opportunity to play on the youth national team or
professionally.
SA: You’ve talked about
pickup games – such as soccer at recess in grade school and playing with your
brother – being a key to your development …

MIA HAMM
:
That helped a lot. Playing against boys, against older kids who were more
talented than I was — and bigger, stronger, faster. But in the end what was so
great was I put myself in those situations, and it was an environment to be
able to hang out with my brother.
You don’t hear of as many kids playing pickup soccer as they used to because
they’re training five days a week and play 12,000 games on the weekend.
SA: What advice do you
have for parents of aspiring players?

MIA HAMM:
My
parents really allowed soccer — and whatever I chose — to be my passion and
not theirs.
I heard one of my coaches say the best advice he can give to the parents is
just be their parent.
As a parent myself, I can pay other people to do their job in terms of coaching
my kids. I don’t want anyone but me and my husband to be their parents.
I look at that as the important role I can play in their lives. It doesn’t mean
I won’t share my knowledge of soccer with them or occasionally go out and coach
their teams, but I want to make sure they know I’m their parent first and they
can come to me, and I hope they come to me for anything.
SA: What should parents
be aware of when girls enter their adolescent years? For sure that’s a time of
many changes that can affect the way they approach activities like soccer.

MIA HAMM:

I’ve tried to block out that period of my life [laughs]. …
I think, yeah, there’s so much going on and most of it you don’t really
understand or you can’t really comprehend.
What I would tell parents is just understand that things can change at a drop
of a hat – emotionally, physically, psychologically – for your kids, and to
just be there [for them]. And be flexible. And be open, and be that sounding
board for them.
They could have a favorite dress and the next day say they hate it and it’s the
ugliest dress they’ve ever seen. Or they could say Susi’s my best friend and
now they’re not talking to one another.
Expect the unexpected and just make sure you’re there.
SA: How do you think
girls benefit by playing sports during those years?

MIA HAMM:

With girls going through puberty, I think it gives us a great outlet both
socially and physically. Kind of get out some frustration, run it out. Have a
group of friends with a common interest whom you can kind of lean on … talk
about your parents and how they’re not listening to you [laughs].
I think it’s extremely important.
SA: What advice do you
have for young soccer players?

MIA HAMM:
Have
fun and everyday you step out there let’s see how much better I can get. And
doing it together is even better.