By LARRY VAUGHT
With the United States playing Sweden today in the World Cup, I thought it would be the perfect time to share some of the things that Mia Hamm, who played with the U.S. women’s national team for 17 years, had to say this week before the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship where she received the Inspire Greatness Award.
Hamm built one of the biggest fan bases of any U.S. athlete and was on teams that won the World Cup in 1991 and 1999 and earned Olympic medals in 1996 and 2004. Hamm held the record for most international goals scored until 2013 when American Abby Wambach set a new mark.
Enjoy her insights on the World Cup, her career and more.
Q. I want to ask how watching this year’s team, how do you scout them? And secondarily to that, how hard is it going into a competition that’s as prestigious as the World Cup or Olympics and you’re expected to win almost every time out?
MIA HAMM: I’ll start with the second question first. And I know some of the players on the current team and ever since day one, the U.S. Women’s National Team mentality is we want teams to come after us. Like, I want everyone’s best shot.
You don’t train and sacrifice and leave your family hoping that your next opponent isn’t 100 percent. Like we wanted everyone’s best. And I know that’s the way this current team feels.
In terms of scouting this team, they’re immensely talented and fun to watch. I think one of the biggest growths that’s happened in the game is the versatility of play and systems; that you just don’t have a target No. 9 anymore; that that player can play outside. Like an Alex Morgan can play outside. She can play, we call it a false 9. So she can drop off and slash behind.
That the technical aspect has gotten so good that your outside backs — Kelley O’Hara played up top in college. So she’s got that attacking ability. And I think it really makes them hard to match up against with some of these other teams.
So I’m excited for tomorrow. I’ll be watching, and we’ll be headed over to France in about a week and hopefully cheering the U.S. on to the World Cup finals.
Q. Who has been the most inspirational leader who has touched your life on or off the soccer field? What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever been given?
MIA HAMM: I look at — I was very fortunate to have our captains in Julie Foudy and Carla Overbeck. An our coach Tony DiCicco, I look at them as one unit because they really supported each other, and I will say the most successful teams I’ve been a part of, the leadership empowered everyone. They understood the importance of making sure everyone felt valued. Like you are here because of this. I chose you because of X, Y and Z. And because in the end that’s all all of us want, is to have a purpose and feel valued.
And when that comes from the top, you’re willing to put whatever personal agenda you have or desire or the whispers in your ear from your young coach that says why aren’t you starting over so and so, you’re willing to put that all aside for what the team goal is.
And that comes from your leadership. When that’s the message every single day that you’re hearing, it’s a really emotional and inspiring environment to be in.
Q. Do you have any desire to be the U.S. National Team coach?
MIA HAMM: No, thank you. (Laughter).
Q. When you close your eyes and go back to 1999, what’s the snapshot that pops out? Outside looking in, we would assume it’s Brandi’s role?
MIA HAMM: A lot less wrinkles, a lot less wrinkles. There’s so many amazing memories from ’99 — the final. We were laughing about it the other day when we were all together, because the most important games of our lives and we didn’t get to warm up on the field.
We were in tennis shoes underneath the Rose Bowl on concrete. Everyone’s, like, don’t hurt yourself, don’t hurt yourself. But I just remember there was this sense of calm in the locker room and the entire time we just talked about embracing the moment and being present.
I think because it wasn’t just about us. It was about the entire tournament, the growth of women’s sports, the growth of our game, and to be so caught up in just one aspect of it you’d regret for the rest of your life.
So I just remember that everything was pretty clear. We walked out. We looked for our families. We knew where they were. And once the whistle blows, it’s all about just enjoying everything you’ve worked for, just expressing that joy out on the field. And I do remember how hot it was. Yes, it was very hot.