Mia Hamm is an American sporting icon, and has a unique reference point in regards to the game - as a player, as well as a youth soccer coach and parent.
Soccer America's Mike Woitalla caught up with Hamm to discuss her philosophies and advice for young players and their parents.
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.