Lessons from a legend
By Greg Bach
Kristine Lilly, one of the greatest soccer players of all-time, remembers the team-building activities that took place along the U.S. National Team’s journey to World Cup glory and Olympic Gold.
Conducted by Dr. Colleen Hacker, the team’s mental skills coach for more than a decade, they were insightful, eye-opening and oh-so powerful.
“They were so interesting and there was one activity in particular that always stood out for me,” says Lilly, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Cup champion. “We had these papers on our back and teammates would go by and write on your back. No one put their names with what they wrote, so you didn’t know who they were. Some of it was ‘I appreciate you’ or ‘when you run up and down the field it inspires me.’ As I read those it was like, ‘wow, I’m affecting people.’ The thing that was so great for me to see was that everything we do affects our teammates. I think after doing that exercise and seeing the comments it just made it such a better experience and it was a really cool moment for our team.”
Lilly is the author of POWERHOUSE: 13 Teamwork Tactics that Build Excellence and Unrivaled Success, which she wrote with Dr. John Gillis, Jr. and Dr. Lynette Gillis.
The book is filled with behind-the-scenes stories that highlight how the U.S. National Team played together and supported each other on their way to becoming the best team on the planet.
We caught up with Lilly, who was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012 and the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2014, to get her insights on coaching kids, building teams and leading young athletes:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: A lot of young players want the attention of scoring goals, so how can coaches help kids embrace whatever their role might be that season?
LILLY: Having a good foundation in your team organization is basically knowing that everyone matters. That goes to the leadership and the coach is out there to let kids know that your role matters. I played on the left flank for most of my career and I didn’t get the ball very much. Some days I was disappointed and felt like I didn’t matter, and my teammates would remind me. So I think it’s really important to emphasize the work ethic of all your players and take moments where you let a kid know like ‘hey, when you got out wide but you didn’t get the ball that enabled Sarah to get the ball.’ Show them that what they are doing is purposeful and that it does matter.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: So many young players today dwell on every mistake so how can coaches help them move on from those?
LILLY: I do camps with Mia Hamm and Trish Venturini and one of the biggest messages we try to get across, besides getting out of your comfort zone, is it’s ok to make mistakes. I think a lot of the kids these days think it’s not ok, they think ‘oh my gosh I stink.’ Mistakes happen, mistakes help us grow. The amount of mistakes we all made on the national team over our careers were a lot, and that’s how come we continued to get better because we learned from them and pushed through them.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How can youth coaches help kids embrace a positive mindset that you played with throughout your career?
LILLY: The one expectation that Anson Dorrance had of us early on with the national team and at the University of North Carolina was he wanted us to compete, to always get out there and compete. Whatever level you were at, just go out and compete. I think if we get young kids out there competing; and then the message I always like to share with kids is to be a good teammate. So you can be the best you can be and help your team be successful, but you can also be a good teammate in the process. When you combine those two things with young people good things tend to happen.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: You share in the book how you would practice different game scenarios, such as being down by a goal. How valuable was that in your team’s preparation?
LILLY: That was huge. Going through it you don’t realize how much of an impact it had. You are preparing and having a chance to practice it and then when you get to the game you are not even questioning what needs to be done. We practiced it over and over again and we failed so many times before we became comfortable so when we were down a goal we didn’t panic because we knew we had done this at practice and we just stayed with the game plan that we had. It makes such a difference when you get to the performing part if you have already gone through the training for it.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s your message to those who volunteer to coach youth sports?
LILLY: You have to make sure it’s fun – that’s the ultimate thing. We’re so caught up now in winning and teaching instead of having fun. I think if we step back for a second and think about the first thing that we ask our kids when they come off the field or any activity from school – hey, did you have fun today? So we really have to focus that they have some fun and give them a foundation and expectations – if you’re on this team you’re going to work hard and be a good teammate so they know right away. And then if you are a parent and you’re watching your kid just give them a hug after the game – you don’t even have to say anything. Quiet is better these days. Just let the kids have a place to play and a hug to come to.
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