The phrase “Listen to your coach” should take on an even greater meaning for young girls at a youth soccer club in Carmel Valley, California.
And it’s not because their coach is a former pro and national team player. Or that only seven players in the history of the U.S. Women’s National team have scored more goals than their coach, who tallied 60 in 176 games. And it’s not that their coach is now a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
It’s because they play for Shannon Mac Millan, and she can teach them much more than just how to play soccer very well.
Mac Millan is the Executive Director of the Del Mar Carmel Valley Sharks and is responsible for the club’s 170 competitive teams. But when she was offered the job, she was reluctant to get involved in anything related to youth soccer.
“At first, I wanted no part of it,” said Mac Millan who played for the USA from 1996 to 2004. “There were coaches running down the sideline to the 18-yard line to berate the goalkeeper, parents screaming at their kids. No thank you. They kept after me and finally I said, ‘Okay, but I am going to do it the right way. It has to be about the kids.’ And they said, ‘When can you start?’
“We are doing it the right way and it is working,” she said. “I made sure I communicated with the parents and let them know early on what we were doing.”
Mac Millan, now 42, been with the club for nine years now. Her status in the soccer world gives her instant credibility, but she can also back up her messages with personal experiences.
For example, she can explain to her players what they can do when their dreams are shattered in an instant. That happened to her in 1995 when she was cut from the national team. What the kids can learn is that the difference between her success and failure – and the reason she owns that Gold medal from the 1996 Olympics — was determined by how she handled the news. Sure, she cried a little, then she worked harder, made the team and proceeded to have a hall-of-fame-worthy career that spanned a dozen years.
How about when she tells a player to “make it hard for me to take you off the field.” Does an 11-year-old know about her Super-sub role on the 1999 World Cup team, a job she did so well, her coach, Tony DiCicco, told the media, “I made a huge mistake in 1995. I cut Shannon Mac Millan.”
How many times has a player heard their coach say – “Make an impact on the game anytime you are on the field?” What does that mean, exactly? When it comes from Mac Millan she is referring to that July day in 1996 when she came off the bench and scored a Golden Goal in the Olympic semifinal just 5:28 after entering the match with her second touch of the game.
She can even elaborate and tell the kids how excruciating it was sitting on the bench in a tied Olympic semifinal, and hearing DiCicco say, “Mac Millan, warm up … Mac Millan, never mind … Okay, warm up … sit down,” until her chance finally came.
Or maybe she’s referring to three years later when she came on in the 65th minute as a sub in front of 65,000 people in the 1999 World Cup semifinal. How she raced across the field to take a corner kick and, with her first touch of the game, delivered a perfect ball to Joy Fawcett’s head for the game-winning goal against Germany.
Mostly, though, she tells her players about how to be a better player. And she’s discovered how exciting it can be when they results are noticeable.
“I love to see them making progress toward their potential,” she said. “I have a girl who couldn’t juggle two times in the fall. She just did 880. It’s awesome to see them when they are raw and then watch the progress they make.”
Her players also have someone who cares deeply about the community. In 2001, when the WUSA, the first pro league for women, the national team players were asked to list their three top preferences of cities in which they wanted to play. Mac Millan’s list? San Diego, San Diego and San Diego.