Interview by Mike Woitalla
The U.S. national team career of Brandi Chastain, most famous for her title-clinching penalty kick at the 1999 Women’s World Cup, spanned from 1988 to 2004 and included 1996 and 2004 Olympic gold medals. Her coaching career, at the youth level and as assistant coach to her husband, Jerry Smith, at Santa Clara University, began while still an active player.
SOCCER AMERICA: How different is today’s youth soccer scene from when you were growing up in Northern California.
BRANDI CHASTAIN: [Laughs] It’s a lot different. My youth soccer career began and nearly finished in my neighborhood. This isn’t the case any more for kids. Some travel hours to go to practice. Sometimes they travel out of state to play. They guest play for other teams in different leagues.
It’s very confusing, in my opinion. I don’t even know how youth soccer works any more.
SA: Does your 7-year-old son play soccer?
BRANDI CHASTAIN: He’s been into soccer for six months.
SA: How do you plan on guiding his soccer experience?
BRANDI CHASTAIN: What my husband and I hope for him out of soccer is, one, he enjoys the game, because we’re both invested in it very heavily. And two, that he gains lifelong skills that he needs when he becomes an adult -- teamwork, leadership, resiliency, time management.
Ultimately, I’m big on development. I love practice. I love training. I love trying to get better. That’s been a part of my makeup since I’ve been a little kid. I want to get better every time. I want my son to have the same ambition.
Winning is nice because it makes you feel good. But winning for me is not the ultimate thing.
SA: What advice would you give to coaches of players around your son’s age?
BRANDI CHASTAIN: It’s the advice I give to myself every time I go out to his practice. As an adult, you’ve had lots of experience so there’s a natural tendency to be intense and want it to be “right.” But these are kids.
They don’t have experience. They’ve never done these things before. So you can’t be as intense with them. You can’t be as matter of fact.
I’m guilty of that myself. “Come on, get it right!” And I have to step back and say to myself, “Brandi, he hasn’t had your experience.” So let him make those mistakes and have the fun with his teammates and fool around and be a kid and enjoy it.
Because ultimately if he doesn’t have that fun experience, he’ll walk away from it and that will be a loss for him and me.
SA: How important is it for coaches to consider the changes their players go through during their teen years?
BRANDI CHASTAIN: I think about that all the time because I help coach my husband [Jerry Smith] at Santa Clara University and these are young people. They’re just coming into there older teenage years and they’re trying to figure things out. Coaches have to wear a lot of hats. They’re coaches, they’re psychologists, they’re mentors -- and hopefully they’re role models.
You have to be sensitive to the fact that every single player is different. Every player is in the environment for different reasons. Those are things that we as coaches have to keep in mind and it’s not easy all the time. …
We all have peaks and valleys in emotion and confidence. As coaches what we hope to do is help our players to moderate those emotional peaks and valleys.
You’re going to have some really good games and you’re going to make some mistakes. Mistakes are OK. They’re not going to make or break your soccer career or your life. They’re just bumps in the road and it’s OK.
SA: Would you like to see an increase in female coaches?
BRANDI CHASTAIN: It is important and it’s nice in that girls who come through the game share their experience, of course. It is disappointing when I’m at a 20-field complex and I see 40 male coaches coaching girls.
But I’ve had men coaches and women coaches, and for me I want the best coach. I also want aspiring female coaches to know there are places for them and I also want young girls to know that women can also be coaches.
SA: Are you satisfied with the progress of the girls and women’s game in the USA?
BRANDI CHASTAIN: We were just knocked out of qualification for the U-17 World Cup, which is very, very disappointing and I’m sure U.S. Soccer is not happy about that.
We have the biggest population of girls playing soccer in the world. We should be able find, train or create successful teams just because of that statistic.
But what we don’t have that other countries have is tradition in men’s soccer that these young players can watch and grow up with, although I think MLS is helping us with that.
But also, the style of soccer we want to play in this country needs to maybe honed in and focused on.
SA: What is the style of soccer you think is optimal and will bring the most success?
BRANDI CHASTAIN: Value the ball more. Value possession of the ball. More like Barcelona -- meaning player movement on and off the ball. Small passes to keep possession. Every player needs to be confident and comfortable on the ball.
Just being more athletic and physical doesn’t win you the game …
SA: But athletic and physical does win at the younger ages – and puts players on a path to a style that won’t be successful at the older ages …
BRANDI CHASTAIN: Exactly. That I think is why some kids fall off. They don’t have the skills necessary at the higher levels for their enjoyment. They lose that love for the game because it becomes very difficult. If you don’t have that skill it becomes frustrating.
SA: What advice to you have for young players striving to succeed at the higher levels?
BRANDI CHASTAIN: I tell this to all players: The most important thing is to understand you are in charge of where you’re going. You have to change and impact how you perform.
The coach is going to give you the information and help you direct how to train your skills. But that 1 hour and 30 minutes on Tuesday and that 1 hour and 30 minutes on Thursday will only get you so far.
What do you do outside of that time? Do you watch soccer? Do you take the ball and juggle on your driveway? When you go to practice are you focused on getting a quality 90 minutes in that training or does it take you 25 minutes to stop talking to your friends and talking about what happened that day before you focus on what you’re doing?
I like to empower the players: “I’m here to facilitate your development. But you are in charge of it. I want to give you that power.”
Sometimes kids feel that coaches have the power when I think the players have the power to get better.
(Brandi Chastain serves as women’s soccer ambassador for the Capital One Cup, which awards $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships annually and can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.)
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)