USWNT Head Coach Jill Ellis: Lessons for Success at Urban Soccer Symposium 2017

With Jill Ellis headlining the US Soccer’s Urban Soccer Symposium event, who’s gonna miss the opening kickoff? Not me.

Coach Ellis lived up to her billing. Well-spoken, on-point, honest, and humbled by the recent poor (by USA standards) showing of the US Women’s National Soccer Team in the 2016 Olympics, Ellis provided some gems to coach by — if you are looking to be at the top of your game and your game is developing the best women soccer players in the world.

Here are some highlights and take-homes from Ellis’ interview at the Symposium:

Q: How did you deal with the pressure at the World Cup?

JE: “If you feel the pressure of expectation, that’s a privilege. It tells you that you’re trying to do something important… Don’t call it pressure. Call it opportunity.”

Q: How can we create an environment of success for our players?

JE: Do all you can to instill the love of the game.”

  • Bring your own energy.
  • Create an environment they want to be in. 
  • Challenge them to get better.
  • Connect with every player, not just your starters.
  • Let them know that you see them and value their contribution.

Q: How can we get more girls into the game?

JE: “Encourage them to see the game played at the highest levels.”

  • to watch their heroes
  • to adopt them as role models
  • to be aggressive to pursue what they see

On the trend toward early specialization and the recommendations for sport-sampling, Ellis contends, “There is no one right path. There are multiple paths. Pick one that applies.” Referring to her own daughter who Ellis says will not be a great athlete, “Let the kid drive the train.”

Q: How can we get more women into coaching?

JE: We need to “give tools to women coaches, not just opportunities.” (The most recent Acosta-Carpenter report on women in intercollegiate sport highlights the rising numbers of girls playing sports and women coaching, training and serving as administrators in sports programs, but to reach the highest levels and stay there, they need better tools, good mentors and more support.)

There weren’t a lot of female role models for Jill. She says her players taught her how to be a better coach. She recalls an exit interview she conducted with one of her players graduating from UCLA. Jill asks them to “help me see how I can get better.” This player – never a starter – felt unseen by her coach. Jill took that to heart and made a point to connect with every player on the team, not just the starters to let them know, “We see you; we value your contribution.”

Q… on maintaining her confidence amid doubters during the World Cup…

JE: “Women have two voices in their head: the voice of confidence and the voice of doubt. The key is to make the voice of confidence louder and silence the voice of doubt.” To do this:

  • Be prepared. Know that you’ve done all you can to be ready.
  • Have 1 or 2 people in your inner circle to lean on and who will be honest with you.
  • Have a glass half full mentality. There is always another game to play.
  • Keep your sense of humor.
  • Talk to yourself like you would a friend. Be kind to yourself.
  • Do it. Then, buckle up.

Ellis says she doesn’t have to motivate the elite players whose “engines are always revving.” But, she adds wryly, “Even when they are on the right track, if they sit there they’ll get run over.”

She seems to know what causes her players to hesitate, perhaps because things have upended her on occasion, and she stays a step ahead of them. “I’ve got faith in them,” Ellis says of her players. “I remind them what they’re capable of. If they lose their confidence, they can come to me, I’ve got it.”

We all need that reminder now and then.

Jill Ellis has grown up in the game, come of age in the game and knows she is now riding the wave of the game’s popularity. The group of players she is now coaching are being called the “second wave” of women’s soccer in our country, trailing the swell of the wave of 99ers who took the nation and world by storm.

Waxing wise and even poetic Ellis observes,“Waves build momentum by connecting through each other.”

She firmly believes this. She is grateful to those who have mentored her in the game, and recognizes her responsibility to do the same. It’s her parting advice: “Find someone who can help you grow and imagine what you will do.”

Then, if you’re like Jill Ellis, you will do it.

About Wendy LeBolt

Since 2005, Fit2Finish has been working with parents, coaches, and athletes to keep youth sports healthy. Injuries and burnout should not be sidelining our kids, but young players need special care and handling to manage today’s demanding competitive schedules. Fit2Finish wants to put this know-how into your hands.

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