Our Game. Our Stories.
The essence of soccer is captured in the fact that it connects a wide variety of people in a dynamic way. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are profiling 20 individuals who have made a significant impact on the game of soccer or who have been impacted by soccer in a positive way. Here, we will show you the diversity of the beautiful game and how it connects everyone as one universal team...Together, We Are Soccer.
This is our game and these are our stories. Be sure to visit our site every week to see who we feature next!
Staci Wilson is a former professional soccer player for the U.S. Women’s National team and the Carolina Courage (WUSA). She is among the most celebrated players in women’s soccer history.
A two-time, All-American high school soccer player in Virginia, Wilson attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she became a three-time National Champion. After graduating with a degree in Exercise Physiology, Wilson went on to win a Gold Medal as a defender with the U.S. Women’s National Team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
She currently lives and coaches soccer in south Florida, where she owns In Balance Training Inc., a fitness training company that specializes in the serving the unique fitness and training needs of female soccer players. Wilson is a long-time supporter of the U.S. Soccer Foundation and a member of the Foundation’s National Training Team.
How old were you when you started playing soccer? Can you remember the first time you scored a goal?
I was introduced to the game at 8-yrs old, recreationally in 3rd grade during elementary school recess in Herndon, VA. At 9-years old, I started playing competitively for a travel team called the Reston Rowdies.
As a young player, who did you look up to? Was there a coach or mentor who made a significant impact on your life?
Athletes outside of the sport inspired me… Florence Griffith Joyner and Michael Jordan were two big ones. Pele was my favorite soccer player. I learned about him when I was watching a movie called “Victory,” in which he was a character.
I think I am fortunate to have been coached by some amazing coaches from an early age. Bill Bragg probably had the greatest impact on my career. As a youth, he instilled many long-term player characteristics. He was an extremely demanding coach that taught us good habits not only on, but also off of the field. He emphasized individual hard work and discipline in all aspects of life along with the skills and tactics.
Jac Cicalla was my primary ODP coach from U13-U17. He taught me to be tactically smart [on the field], and off the field about the importance of caring about other people and causes. I remember him giving a pre-game talk about kids with Down Syndrome during an ODP overseas game in England. It seemed pretty random to me as a 15-year old teenager, but also opened my thinking of the game and participation [in the game] in less selfish ways.
Anson Dorrance & Bill Palladino were my college and semi-pro coaches. They are a top coaching team who taught me about the game, life skills, and spoke openly about every player’s responsibility to give back to the game. Anson and Bill were terrific role models who later became trusted friends.
As a member of the Foundation’s National Training Team, it’s safe to say that you’ve been very involved with the Foundation over the years – what inspired you to join the soccer for social change movement?
First, seeing how unifying the sport of soccer could be made me want to be a part of the movement. I have always had a heart that wanted to help others, especially underserved groups, and promote equality of opportunity for better communities and a better world. Then, once I understood that soccer programs for social change existed, I immediately wanted to join the movement. Initially I heard about the Monarchs of Philadelphia. I did a couple clinics for the club, but did not live close enough to participate on a long-term level. Around the same time, I read about the Foundation’s Urban Soccer Symposium, a conference in Washington, DC that brings together non-profit organizations from around the country.
Although I ran a for-profit soccer business, I still signed up for the conference and traveled to DC, for I knew that these were the types of people I wanted to meet and this was the direction that I wanted my career to go. Once I attended the conference and understood more about the specific programs, the self-less/caring individuals involved, and the overall culture of care, it was an easy decision to become as involved as possible. After a while the Foundation could see my interest and dedication and invited me to be on the Soccer for Success National Training staff.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge to growing the game in urban communities?
1) Lack of role models - kids look up to role models and youth in urban areas see more of themselves in NFL and NBA stars. In these sports, they see players who grew up in inner city areas make it to the top.
2) Lack of access to equipment, facilities, and training expertise. Soccer has been dominated by those with available resources. Those who do not have certain resources available (ex: field space) do not have the same access to the sport of soccer.
3) Win-only culture. In my experience, the competitive youth soccer culture has its fair share of parents, coaches, and clubs that care most about winning and create terrible pressures on everyone involved. I believe the focus should be on the positive physical/mental/social development of youth – the impact is greater on youth when the pressure to win is lifted.
Tell us about your experiences working with our Soccer for Success coaches. What makes a great coach or mentor?
First the coach must recognize the unique coach-player relationship and see that through that relationship, the coach has incredible ability to make an impact on kids as role models. The coach-player relationship is so special because there is a shared interest to make the player successful. A good coach learns about players in order to figure out what makes each one tick, and works with this knowledge to inspire, motivate, and spark passion. The best coaches give and demand respect, are encouraging figures but also have high expectations, and are truly invested in seeing players succeed on and off of the field.
What lessons have you learned as a coach?
1) Coaching (versus playing soccer) has enlightened me to how truly interconnected we all are and how much everyone must have an opportunity to be included in the soccer community for the sport to be successful.
2) Adaptability – a coach must be very flexible and must be open to learning from his/her players. Adapting to different facilities, equipment, level of players, number of players, field conditions, weather conditions, etc. has helped me improve my conflict resolution, teamwork and leadership skills both on and off the field. I have learned these things with a more universal perspective as a coach than as a player.
3) Goal Setting - to make (and adjust when need be) goals towards more long-term healthy benefits for player development instead of the immediate gratification of winning one game or even one season.
4) Balance & dealing with mistakes – as a player I was extremely competitive and a loss was always devastating. As a coach I understand that one should be as competitive as possible, but I am more focused on positive effort, putting the best foot forward, and moving on with pride, whether or not the result was a win or loss.