Interview by Mike Woitalla
A youth coach for nearly three decades, Theresa Echtermeyer is a director of coaching with Colorado United and also coaches the Mountain Vista High School boys and girls teams. She is a National Staff Coach and Instructor for the NSCAA. Echtermeyer spoke to us for the Youth Soccer Insider's ongoing interview series on key issues facing American youth soccer.
SOCCER AMERICA: If you had a magic wand, how would you use it to improve youth soccer in America?
THERESA ECHTERMEYER: This would have to be a magic, magic wand. I would like to see us all work together more so that we would be supporting our players of all ages and all levels.
You’ve got USYS, the Federation, US Club Soccer. You’ve got recreational, competitive. You’ve got professional, collegiate, high school, youth. There are so many different things that have the potential to pull us apart. Because sometimes when you’re competitive, whether to win a championship or to have players at your club, we forget we’re really all in it together.
SA: As someone who oversees the recreational program at Colorado United/Highlands Ranch Soccer Association, has coached competitive youth ball, W-League, and coaches high school ball -- you’ve been involved in many different areas of the game …
THERESA ECHTERMEYER: What I’ve seen is we really have more opportunities to learn from each other and help each other out, which at the end of the day helps the kids.
The more we share ideas and the more we work together the better it is for our kids. So we should always be asking two questions with every decision we make.
First, “Is this what’s best for the kids?”
Second, “Is this what’s best for soccer in America?”
SA: Have you seen an increase in women coaches since you started coaching in the early 1980s?
THERESA ECHTERMEYER: We’ve see an increase since then, mainly in women’s collegiate coaches when Title IX took its place.
But recently I’ve actually seen a decrease. I have not seen an increase in women coaches at our [NSCAA] courses. And I have not seen an increase especially at the club and high school level.
In my high school league, there are no other women head coaches – even on the girls side. At the state level, there are not very many of us. Maybe 10 percent.
The majority of the girls who come to my high school team have never been coached by a female.
SA: Why don’t we see more women coaches?
THERESA ECHTERMEYER: Clubs were first run by volunteers, then boards, then professional coaches. And for the most part those were men.
When you start a business, you bring in people you know, and men were coached by men and played with men, so those are the guys they know and they bring them in.
Also, when you come into a club environment, parents have high expectations and there’s a lot of pressure: trying to stay in your division, win games, develop players, all those things. You have to have a thick skin and I don’t think that’s for everyone.
And it’s a tough job description. Me, given the two jobs, working high school and club, pretty much from 3 o’clock to dark, Monday through Friday, you’re out on the field. All day Saturday and sometimes Sunday as well.
I know there’s more men who are now caretakers for their children, but traditionally it’s the women, and that’s a tough schedule if this is your full-time job.
SA: How do we get more women coaches?
THERESA ECHTERMEYER: It is getting better now because we’re in the second generation of girls playing sports. There are girls who played college whose daughters are now in high school -- and they see being a coach is something they can do.
Clubs need to do more to recruit and keep female coaches, giving them better support systems and having female mentors.
SA: Why is it important to have more women coaching?
THERESA ECHTERMEYER: I think it’s absolutely imperative that our young players have strong role models from both genders.
If you see women in leadership positions who are confident, poised, educated in their field, then young girls think, “Hey, I can be like that.”
It’s also important to make sure you put a coach in who’s qualified, whether they’re male or female.
Young players really look up to their coaches and the more balance we can get – background, gender – the better. It’s really important to put all kinds of good coaches in front of our kids.
SA: You started out coaching boys, and have been coaching high schoolboys– in addition to coaching girls. Do you coach them differently?
THERESA ECHTERMEYER: Overall I don’t see big differences between my boys and girls teams. I actually see it from team to team. Teams take on certain personalities and tendencies.
I have some teams where the reins need to be tight. Other teams are more self-disciplined, self-motivated and you don’t need to put the hammer down as much. The main thing, whether they’re boys or girls, is be consistent and send a clear message.
Let them see why you’re doing something. The days of coaches saying "jump this high because I say to jump this high" are over.
For me, getting the players to buy in, take ownership of their team and their team’s goals, that’s how I get the most out of my boys and my girls.
SA: What reaction did you get when you started coaching boys high school ball?
THERESA ECHTERMEYER: I think if they see you're knowledgeable and competent, they don’t look at your gender first. I think the parents appreciate having a strong female in front of their sons. I know that a lot of these boys might be working for women someday, so that’s not a bad thing.
SA: Should the U.S. Soccer Federation create a Development Academy league for girls as it did for the boys in 2007?
THERESA ECHTERMEYER: I’m on the fence with that. April Heinrichs and Jill Ellis [of U.S. Soccer] are the ones looking into that and the state of the women’s national team program.
The women’s national team has done fine over the years, so we’re obviously doing some things right. I know the people at the top levels are looking for more. More technical development. If they put that program in place, will they get that? I don’t know. It depends on how it’s done.
(Theresa Echtermeyer is a Director of Coaching for the recreational programs at Colorado United and the Highlands Ranch Soccer Association. She has coached high school soccer for nearly 20 years and currently serves as the boys and girls coach Mountain Vista High School.)
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)