Golden insight: 2-time Olympic champ shares youth sports memories
By Greg Bach
Lindsay Tarpley – winner of Olympic soccer gold in 2008 and ’04 and one of the country’s most prolific goal scorers – grew up playing sports in a fun-filled and stress-free environment.
Games weren’t dissected on the drive home.
Performances weren’t critiqued during dinner.
And outrageous expectations weren’t tossed in her lap.
“My parents were my biggest supporters but rarely did we talk about the game afterward unless I did the talking,” says Tarpley, who played a variety of sports growing up in Kalamazoo, Mich., and was a four-year standout performer for her high school soccer and basketball teams. “They never critiqued me. I joked for a long time that I didn’t think my parents even knew what offside was in soccer. They always supported me but never pushed me to a point where I lost interest.”
Self-motivated and competitive by nature, Tarpley fell in love with soccer and embraced working on skills to elevate her level of play.
“Being so competitive I put pressure on myself to get better and raise my game,” Tarpley says. “And I was fortunate to have supportive parents no matter what. So they never really put too much pressure on me and it was a very healthy environment for me to grow up in.”
And become really good in, too.
Tarpley found her way to the University of North Carolina, where she led the Tar Heels to the 2003 national championship while earning National Player of the Year honors. And check out her dazzling stat line from that NCAA title game: 2 goals and 2 assists.
Her stay in Chapel Hill was so impressive the school retired her No. 25 jersey.
Who knows if Tarpley would have ever made that gold medal stand at the ’08 Beijing Games or the ’04 Athens Games if not for having so many positive experiences during her early years learning the basics of the games.
They helped forge her love of the sport.
And those positive experiences fueled a desire to continue returning year after year to keep playing, growing and soaking in the pure joy of competing.
“I think you learn something in each situation that you are in,” she says. “I look back on my career and every coach I had taught me something. Whether it was soccer specific or being a part of a team or being a leader, or about my attitude. All those things helped shape me throughout the course of my life.”
HELPING OTHER YOUNG ATHLETES
Nowadays, the mom of two returns the favor by working with youngsters through her Lindsay Tarpley Soccer Camps, where she stresses the importance of technical and tactical training along with working hard, having fun and being mentally strong.
“For me my focus is always making sure that the kids are learning but also enjoying the process,” she says. “When I do my camps and my clinics that’s my focus, making sure that they are leaving with more information than when they came. I strive to make it an environment where it’s fun and enjoyable, as well as informative.”
ADVICE FOR TODAY’S YOUTH COACHES
Tarpley played for a lot of outstanding coaches throughout her glorious career.
She knows what works and what doesn’t when it comes to coaching kids. So her message is one that should be listened to carefully and utilized every time you step on the field with your youth teams:
“Make sure the kids are leaving each training session with something new,” Tarpley says. “A piece of information, a skill, a tool, something that is going to help make them better overall. And I think being a mom or dad and being a coach, even if you don’t know the game extremely well or what not, you can still impact these kids’ lives. I think if you look at every youth practice as being able to try to do that I think over the course of a season hopefully the kids will become stronger soccer players as well as stronger people.”
That’s a pretty good goal to strive for – and it comes from someone who knows all about goals.
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Solomon Wilcots is grateful for the caring coaches he played for during his youth and encourages today’s youth sports coaches to dial down the volume, give kids a hand and invest in their development