What I’ve Learned from Women’s Soccer

Posted: June 28, 2011 in US Soccer
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Today the USA women’s national team kicks off the 2011 Women’s World Cup and I thought it’d be appropriate to contemplate where we are with the women’s game.

First some background about my involvement in the women’s game.  In October of 2000 I started my career towards coaching.  I was asked to be a volunteer assistant for our women’s basketball team, and it was an eye opener for me.  I was a bench warmer for the men’s team, but every day I would finish practice and stick around for another two hours with our women and I could see I had a lot to learn.  Our men’s team was pretty good (we had made a run at our national tournament the year before) and our women’s team was on the opposite end of the spectrum.  The psychology, the tactics, the communication, and the pace were all things that I had to change and adapt to.

My first position as a soccer coach was a student assistant for an NCAA D2 women’s team that was fighting to get back to the top of the conference.  I have to be honest that I had never really spent that much time around women’s soccer.  The college I played at didn’t have women’s soccer (doesn’t have men’s soccer any more either, for that matter), and I had never really paid much attention to the new WUSA league.

I have to be honest, when I took that first job as a coach with the women’s basketball team I had a naive opinion of women’s sports.  And all I wanted to do was get some experience under my belt so I could move on to coach men’s sports.  As I developed myself as a coach in the world of women’s athletics for the next five years a lot changed about my presuppositions.  I ended up coaching women’s collegiate soccer for six years total, and it was a great experience that I look back on fondly.

With every male athlete I’ve had that wants to go into coaching I’ve made sure to mention to them that coaching women’s teams for eight years was pivotal to my development as a coach.  It made me a better teacher instead of simply a motivator (which is what most of my coaches were).

Through my coaching career I’ve been privileged to get more involved in women’s soccer, and I started to become more aware of the struggles we face as a country.  We’ve gone through two women’s professionals leagues, and the current version is really struggling as well.  We were the most dominating force in the world game, but we couldn’t get a league going.  Where our men simply made it out of the group stage in the 1994 World Cup, and it sparked a league that has grown and is starting to prosper after 15 years, our women couldn’t even get a foot hold after winning two straight world championships!  I think it can all be summed up by a conversation I had with a dad at a the State Cup this past year.  We were talking and I mentioned the book I had read by Anson Dorrance, who he was not familiar with.  So I just mentioned a few of the things he had done, and his response to me was, “I didn’t even know we had a national team for women’s soccer.”

Now we sit at a very crucial time in women’s soccer for our country.  Most every sports reporter agrees that the USA has an up hill battle at the 2011 World Cup, and countries have really caught up to our level of play.  In fact, the USA is said to have fallen behind because we don’t have the creativity that other nations are fostering.

Of all years to win a championship, this has to be the year.  Our professional league seems to be on the brink of falling apart again.  The development of girls soccer is starting to take steps forward, but we need a boost of confidence in what the new director is doing and trying to promote.  The new girls Elite Clubs National League is trying to get off the ground and replicate what the boys USSF Developmental Academy system is doing.  Could there be a better time to have our women come home with a Cup win?  It would help fuel the fire to take the next step in the women’s game for our country.

What happens if we don’t win?  I think our professional league continues to struggle with getting a foothold in the fan base and team continue to close and open for one year at time until the league folds in a couple of years.  The ECNL will grow and become the developmental arm of girls soccer, but it will take more time and girls will choose to stay closer to home instead of playing on these demanding teams.

Is it unfair to put so much on our national team?  There was so much talk about how important the 2010 World Cup was going to be for the USMNT and the popularity of soccer in general for the USA, and I think there was a lot of truth to that.  With success at these international competitions the USSF has been able to raise the national awareness to soccer.  But the women’s national team has a lot more responsibility to the women’s game in the country than the men’s team does.

The only game of women’s soccer that I’ve been able to catch on a major network on basic cable will be the 2011 Women’s World Cup matches.  Men’s soccer has had matches from the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, MLS, and international competitions like the Gold Cup, Confederations Cup, and the World Cup broadcast (at 6 am, but they’re on at least).  This is the one chance that the women’s game gets to show case the quality that they can bring to the game.  Is it unfair, probably, but it’s reality.  If we want attendance at WPS games to increase than soccer fans in this country need to see a product on TV that will attract them to get in their car and drive to a game.  If we want our young girls to aspire to join the US Women’s National Team they need to see the USA lifting trophies on international television and being praised as heroes of the game!  Then our youth will want to travel and play the best competition to be developed and selected for the youth national teams.

Will women’s soccer die in the USA if we lose, no.  It will continue, like it has for the last three decades, to grow steadily and with ups and downs.  But it would be great to see the women’s game get the recognition and opportunities that they deserve after the struggles they’ve been through to play this beautiful game.

  1. ponchat says:

    At least the WPS has games televised on FSC though. It’s more regular than men’s soccer being televised on ESPN or FSC. It’s basically a secret when ESPN is televising the MLS or any other men’s soccer game. It’s not too consistent on FSC either, they have their “Soccer Night in America” on Fridays or Saturdays.

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