Interview by Mike Woitalla
Kristine Lilly, the world record holder for national team appearances with 352, debuted for the USA at age 16 in 1987 and retired in 2010 at age 39. In Part 2 of our interview with the veteran of five World Cups and three Olympic Games, Lilly offers advice for young players and reflects on her youth sports and national team experience.
SOCCER AMERICA: What advice would you give to young players who are striving to reach the higher levels?
KRISTINE LILLY: Go after it. If you want something, work at it. Surround yourself with people who can help you. Listen to coaches. Have fun with it and go after it.
Do other things as well. Don’t just be consumed with soccer. Any athlete in any sport in my generation did more than one sport.
SA: On the boys side, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy has prohibited its players from high school ball. And there are also cases on the girls side where they’re asked to choose between club and high school. Year-round club ball also limits their ability to play other sports. Your view?
KRISTINE LILLY: I think it’s crazy. Telling kids they can’t do something that’s fun and part of their high school is crazy.
I think they’re trying to limit the number of games they’re playing -- and some kids are playing too many games -- and that’s the way they’re going about it.
But I think kids should be be involved in high school and having fun. And being a kid. One day you're not going to be able to play any sports and that stinks. So have fun while you can.
SA: At what point did you focus solely on soccer?
KRISTINE LILLY: Not until I went to college.
SA: What sports did you play in high school?
KRISTINE LILLY: Softball, basketball and soccer.
SA: You think playing the other sports helped your soccer?
KRISTINE LILLY: I think all the sports I played growing up helped my soccer.
SA: When you played other sports did you still play some soccer?
KRISTINE LILLY: I still did some soccer, definitely, but it wasn’t as consuming as it is these days. I played spring soccer. I’d do soccer stuff on my own. I’d play some indoor games.
SA: How did you get introduced to soccer?
KRISTINE LILLY: My brother, Scott, who’s four years older, played. Whatever he did, I wanted to do, whatever sport was in season. We had town teams. I played for my parks & recreation teams.
SA: What do you think of the state of women’s soccer in the USA? The level of play, the progress of the national team. Obviously other countries have taken women’s soccer more seriously so there’s more competition …
KRISTINE LILLY: I think there was always strong competition for the United States. When we won the World Cup in 1991 and 1999, it wasn’t easy. There were teams playing that were very successful. Maybe back then, the top 5 teams would compete for a world title, and now the top 10 have a chance of winning the World Cup, and that’s great for the game.
People are investing on the women’s side, and it’s growing, and there’s more interest. It’s been great and you can see that in the last couple World Cups.
SA: You played for every U.S. women’s national team coach -- Anson Dorrance, Tony DiCicco, April Heinrichs, Greg Ryan and Pia Sundhage – (besides Mike Ryan, who coached the first four U.S. games in 1985). Can you speak to playing for these coaches?
KRISTINE LILLY: They were all different. They all had their strengths. They all had their weaknesses. They all had the opportunity to coach the top players in world and did the best they could.
It gave me a great opportunity to play for different people and see some different mindsets, some similar stuff. I grew as a player under each coach.
SA: Do you remember the first time you had a female coach?
KRISTINE LILLY: In softball and basketball in high school. In soccer I don’t think I ever had a female coach until April Heinrichs [2000-04].
SA: Do you see an increase in women’s coaches in soccer?
KRISTINE LILLY: Definitely, but we need some more women involved. I think it’s just a matter of time of more getting their foot in the door and feeling confident enough to compete with all the guys out there.
But you definitely see more female coaches and there’s definitely some great ones out there.
SA: Do you think it’s important for girls have female coaches.
KRISTINE LILLY: I think it’s important for females to coach. I don’t know if it’s necessarily important for girls to have female coaches. What’s important is having a good coach. If you’re a great coach, the gender doesn’t matter.
What’s good for girls is to see that females are coaching to set an example if they want to do that one day. It’s important for girls to see women doing things, whether it’s in the business world or playing soccer.
(Read Part 1 of the YouthSoccerInsider’s interview with Lilly HERE).
(Kristine Lilly scored 130 goals in 352 games for the USA in 1987-2010 and was a member of two World Cup and two Olympic championship teams. She played pro club ball in Sweden, the WUSA and WPS. Lilly won four national championships with the University of North Carolina. She's assistant coach of the WPSL Eite's Boston Breakers, runs the Kristine Lilly Soccer Academy and is the soccer ambassador for Korrio, an integrated sports automation platform developer.)