Girls DA Director Miriam Hickey: Federation is best suited to support clubs and coaches

By Mike Woitalla

Miriam Hickey has been named Director of the U.S. Soccer Girls Development Academy, which kicks off its first season in August. Hickey, most recently Director of Coaching at the Troy Soccer Club in Michigan, is a FIFA women’s instructor who helped develop FIFA’s girls and women's master's program.

Her soccer experience dates back to her childhood in the Netherlands -- “In my family everybody played. My uncles, my father, my grandfather,” she said – where she enjoyed playing street soccer. “It was ages 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 -- different ages playing together," she said. "We arranged it ourselves.”

After a stint as head coach of the LSU women’s team in the mid-1990s, she returned to the Netherlands where she served as team manager and National Development Officer for the Netherlands soccer federation (KNVB). She was part FIFA’s 2015 Women’s World Cup Technical Study Group, NSCAA Coach of the Year in 2013 and US Youth Soccer National Girls Coach of the Year in 2008.

Miriam Hickey

SOCCER AMERICA: Why do you think having a U.S. Soccer Girls Development Academy will be better than the status quo?

MIRIAM HICKEY: What this program does is it simplifies the landscape. It also provides the pathway directly to professional clubs and the national youth teams … with U.S. Soccer being in charge. I’ve always believed the top leagues in a country should be run by the national association. Nobody can support the coaches and clubs as well as the [federation].

It’s a 10-month program where we create a consistent environment for the players to develop in. Playing with international rules [limited substitution] on a weekly basis will allow players to adapt to that and to make the decisions necessary to manage games, and not go a 100 mph for 15 minutes and go take a break for 10 and come back on.

The goal is to get as many youth players in the system as possible so the top players can compete at the international level.

SA: How will we be able to judge in the years to come whether the Girls DA is a success?

MIRIAM HICKEY: Part of that is the performance of the national teams. How we’re doing at under-17, how we’re doing at under-20 at the World Cups.

We also want to see a big change in the speed of play of our players, the decision-making on the field. I look forward to watching that development.

SA: The Girls DA’s four age groups start at U-14, but obviously players’ experience at the younger ages are a crucial part of their development. How does the DA influence that?

MIRIAM HICKEY: The clubs that are a part of the Development Academy of course also field teams of 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds. The coaches of the older ages have relationships with the coaches of the younger ages whom they influence to make sure the players are ready when they move up to the Academy teams.

The clubs will have pathway from 6-year-olds to when they’re ready to play in the Development Academy.

They will be looking to develop players to make decisions at a higher speed. With right foot and left foot, and all the aspects that you need to be successful. Not just attacking but team defending. That needs to be developed.

We also have the National Training Centers, at which we currently train players as young as the 2005-born to give them a taste of what it’s like to train at that higher level.

SA: The ECNL has since its launch in 2009 served elite girls players. What do you think its future will be in light of the Girls DA launch?

MIRIAM HICKEY: What I expect is the elite players will gravitate toward the Development Academy because it will be the most direct pathway to make youth national teams, to develop at the highest level possible.

The ECNL league, I understand, will continue and they will do their thing and we will do our thing … The ECNL is good for some players and that will be the same for the Development Academy. You’ll have groups of players who will gravitate to ECNL if they want to play other sports and want to play in high school -- and the Academy is not for them. And there’s a market for both. Over a period of time, I think the elite players will gravitate toward the Development Academy.

SA: Give us an example of what your role will entail.

MIRIAM HICKEY: We’ll be hiring the Technical Advisors. There will be eight to 10 of them around the country and they will be working on a daily basis, with their feet on the ground, with the clubs in their regions. I’ll be leading them and helping them help the clubs and supporting them the best we can to help these players

Day-to-day, I’ll be in touch with our Technical Advisors. On a bigger scale, I’ll be looking at what we need to adapt to make the program better.

The USA has always been the country that has set the standard for women’s soccer and we want to stay at that top level. We want to win the World Cups and the Olympic gold medals. My goal is to get as many players from the Development Academy into the national team program. And be successful at the international level.

My day-to-day will include administrative duties, but also making sure the standards are high.

SA: When you go to watch DA games, what will you be looking for?

MIRIAM HICKEY: There’s not one right way to play. Sometimes the team that plays the long ball wins the game. And at the top level, it’s about winning. But in youth development programs, it’s about players being able to recognize situations on the field. To be able to adjust what they’re doing and react to it and solve those soccer problems on their own without someone on the sidelines telling them what they need to do.

When I watch a team under pressure not use their goalkeeper to relieve pressure, and instead kicking the ball out of bounds to reset, that’s usually a sign that you have a coach who’s not developing their team.

If a goalkeeper makes a save and all she looks for is to punt it – she doesn’t look if there are opportunities to build out of the back -- that’s usually an indicator the team has not been given the opportunity to develop.

At 14 and 15, it’s already a little late. That needs to be taught when they’re 8, 9, 10. That’s when you don’t care if you get scored on five times -- as long as over the course of a year these players learn to recognize those situations.

For me, it’s a player’s game. I’m looking for coaches who inspire their players. Who let their players make decisions. Coaches who are giving information instead of, “Hey that was a good job” or just telling them what they did wrong.

I believe in short information and letting the game flow.

SA: When we spoke six years ago, we talked about the lack of female coaches. Have you seen an increase?

MIRIAM HICKEY: I haven’t seen the numbers yet of all the clubs, but in general I do see more. I’d very much encourage our top level former players in this country to join the coaching ranks. We want to keep them in the system and be role models.

SA: What is a way to encourage female players to become coaches?

MIRIAM HICKEY: A lot comes down to how do you develop your players. If a male coach allows their female players to make decisions on the field, and if they see female coaches on the sideline, they’ll say, “That’s something I can do.” If you grow up only seeing male coaches, they’re not going to feel like that’s something they can do.

If you do have a male coach, he can help these girls understand that you’ve got to think as a coach on the field.

When a coach delivers information in an “I’m in charge” manner and the players better listen and do exactly what he says -- that’s not a way for them to become thinkers on the field.

The game is too complex to coach that way. When they’re coached in way that enables them recognize all the different situations and make their own decisions, they’re more likely to develop into thinkers on the field -- and to start believing that they too could become coaches.

30 comments about "Girls DA Director Miriam Hickey: Federation is best suited to support clubs and coaches".
  1. Quarterback TD, February 16, 2017 at 4:55 p.m.

    why is this woman who has come from Dutch.. A country that has never won anything men or women trying to convince us with a bunch of nonsense that they are here to expand the USDA for women to make it work ? Does she forget we are the #1 women soccer country in the world.. that we have created the best women soccer players EVER.. that we have a system that sent our daughters to some of the best colleges in the world on soccer scholarships.. until US Soccer/USDA show me a Men's gold medal from FIFA Senior Men World Cup they are garbage.. USDA is like the scum of the earth they fail at everything and then try to take the shine from an established successful organization like ECNL.. Don't be fool by this woman rhetoric and hyped up nonsense..

  2. frank schoon replied, February 16, 2017 at 8:25 p.m.

    TD, Holland won the European Cup in 1988 and won silver 4 times at the World Cup. It has won the World Cup for teams 2x and won the European cup for teams 5x. It also produced the greatest player European player of the 20 th century. You obviously have no idea how much influence this little country has in soccer. It invented total soccer, of which Barcelona and Bayern two top teams in the world have produced via Dutch coaches and Dutch influence exciting soccer.

  3. Quarterback TD replied, February 17, 2017 at 8:22 a.m.

    Frank School, i am aware of the Dutch history but facts are Dutch never won any World Titles and never will.. it does not matter how many silver, bronze, European hardware they won it's not FIFA GOLD.. USA has over 100 ex players who has won GOLD at the Women's level that can run circles around this woman in game and coaching and any of your Dutch women..

  4. frank schoon replied, February 17, 2017 at 10:44 a.m.

    TD, I personally don't have a dog in this fight for I think how the US runs soccer is a joke , which I've been saying for the past 50 years. This dutch woman exemplifies everything that is wrong with US soccer. As far as women soccer goes, I can take only about 20min. of it for they play at such a low level, technically and tactically and BTW which goes for the men as well. And as far as all the Gold won by US women's team is a snoozer for me. I don't look at Gold attained but I look at the quality of soccer displayed. Obviously the amount of Gold with the women certain does not tie in directly with the quality of soccer played by the women but more by the lack of quality of their opponents. Much of the success of US women and their dominance in soccer in the beginning is due to other countries women lack of interest in soccer unlike in America. Also in Europe women soccer as in Holland is viewed as a novelty, unlike in the US where if can be a scholarship for college. College in Europe is not sports oriented as here and don't have sports teams and therefore European women don't have that incentive and furthermore there are not so sports oriented as here. Besides, women's soccer in Europe has a difficult time to compete with men's soccer. After watching Barcelona or Manchester, or whatever the European fan have difficulty watching a much lower level of quality soccer and see it as a joke. The critical eye of a European soccer fan will not accept lower level soccer. Just look at what happened at the last Real Madrid game where Christian Ronaldo made 2 mistakes and got booed.....the MLS pros here are very lucky that average soccer fan is not as sophisticated as they are in Europe and therefore are saved from the booes. In sum the US women will probably continue to dominate the game not because of great quality soccer but the competitors are just not that good.
    That you judge the lack of Gold won by the dutch mens' soccer as measuring stick, I find very simplistic. Actually the Dutch are highly respected in soccer world wide , that even the USSF has brought in Dutch coaches to issue Pro coach License here to coaches. That leads me to think why instead doesn't the USSF bring those US women that won all the Gold and let them issue a Pro-coaching license, or ,even better, let the US women who won all the Gold coach the MLS teams, after all they are so good!!!

  5. Quarterback TD replied, February 17, 2017 at 12:06 p.m.

    Frank, all your points are valid and It is true-- I just researched Dutch soccer and they have given more to the sport than their English inventors.. I just think we don't need a Dutch woman telling us how to improve when we are #1 and like you said will stay #1.

  6. frank schoon replied, February 17, 2017 at 1:42 p.m.

    TD, like I said , I don't agree how the US runs its soccer program. Inviting this dutch woman including bringing over coaches from the Dutch coaching school to come over here to issue coaching license is another joke.
    But I do sense that the US women program is not as powerful as they were in the beginning. The other countries are getting better but I just don't spend that much time on that. Whenever I watch women's college soccer is plain bad!. And I tape it just to show what you shouldn't do like with the men's college soccer

  7. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, February 17, 2017 at 2:45 p.m.

    Yes, we have nothing to learn from the Dutch. A place with 15 million people who has won the Euros and been to three world cup finals. Give me a break. I believe in the 1978 WC final, Holland hit the post in the last minute of normal time. So in your view, if that had gone in, we'd have lots to learn from the Dutch because they'd have won something?

  8. Quarterback TD replied, February 17, 2017 at 3:30 p.m.

    Fire, get off the crack there is no way Dutch would have defeated Mario Kempes and that Argentine side. Also again you miss the point (expected with someone with small brains) I am not saying Dutch is not good what I am saying is we have better right in the US and she is not in position to tell us anything given her country's female soccer record..

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, February 18, 2017 at 5:06 p.m.

    Frank I think you are being too hard on US Soccer players. Having the ball at your feet from an early age is essential for type of skill you value. With few exceptions our players don't have that background and by age 8 the chance has come and gone. We can change that for the current generation, but we cannot change it for older players. Given that limitation (and it is huge) US players are doing pretty good. Having said that I will admit that even with my much lower standards I am generally disappointed in the technical skills I see in the woman's youth teams. I have no objective basis for comparison, but it seems to me that they have less skills than players in the past. On the men's side, we made such huge progress from 1990 to 2002 that since then the progress has been disappointing. Under Bradley there was some attempt to develop a more possession based style in addition to counterattacking, but not a lot of progress was made. Under JK, the passing expectations for CBs was raised while generally the quality of play dropped, but I don't think technical skill level was the root cause. The MNT should qualify.

  10. frank schoon replied, February 19, 2017 at 12:57 p.m.

    Bob, your premise that kids need to start out young like 4 or 5, to me, is nonsense. I began around 8 1/2 years old.
    There were no kids out there 4 or 5 years old playing in the streets (perhaps in front of their door with friend) First of all kids don't want a bunch of 4,5,6,7 years olds in the streets with them.( I remember when I was 5, I just learned riding a bike and playing in the streets and soccer was far off my mind.) I mean , there is a limit for mixed ages playing together for it went anywhere from 9 up to16 and I don't think they'd appreciate those little tinkers out there playing with them. I do know that on saturdays there were more, even older players coming out to play so I made sure as a 10 year old to be out there to play against them. I don't know what is going on with parents today and their young kids. I see kids at 3 or 4 already signing up for lacrosse, ice hockey, soccer, THIS IS TOTALLY NUTS, INSANE.... Allow these kids to be kids first. Starting them at such an early age is ridiculous for it is no guarantee for success. Their bodies are not even formed or coordinated, much less their minds. I'm not hard on the soccer players but on those who coach ( that term should be banned) and train(using the word loosely). As you so aptly stated the skills have gone down as compared to players in the past....but Bob, we have more and more and more licensed coaches, plus Coerver skills training, for the love of humanity ,how can you even say that,LOLOLOL. The skills in women have gone nowhere. Watching women's soccer is so meat and potatoes. I was hoping women would show the men a better version of soccer for they play it a touch slower and thereby able to use more skill and technique ...but NO. When do you see a nice chip, or an outside of the foot bending pass or shot in women's soccer. I've have taped over the years a lot of women soccer but nothing changes, as you watch an compare them year by year. And the mistakes made are the same ones ,over and over. This is why I don't have a high opinion of those who run soccer and their teaching methods here. BTW I've got games going back to the 80's of college soccer. I have a collection of DVDs second to none. You're right!the men side has improved between 1990-2002 and it all began with Bora Militunovic, for we had someone with good playing experience and came from Yugoslavia, a country at that time played like Brazil. He got the ball rolling. The US improved more organizationally on the field, soccer wise and off the field, administratively, the whole USSF. In all organizationally,structurally, administratively we have improved by leaps and bounds but too bad not technically and tactically, developmental wise or playing wise.

  11. frank schoon replied, February 19, 2017 at 1:13 p.m.

    Bob, our playing level exhibited my the MNT is so depended on skill, itself. You state that you hope Bob Bradley as coach would play a more possessive type of game but not much progress was made towards that. There is only one answer for this , is that of course there wasn't progress made, because the players lack the skill to play a possession type of game, and that can be said for all American soccer. Why can Barcelona play a possession style game because they have skillful players, to knock the ball around and thereby don't have to play counterattacking soccer which is an earmark for less skilled teams like the US. Look at English players , they don't play possession for they don't have the skills for that type of game and they never had, although Manchester United with Charlton and Best in the 60's could have. As a matter of fact look at the type of players Barcelona have...they are all technical, short, skillful and not the fighter , or bruiser types that rub BenGay on their legs, roll up the sleeves and take their dentures out and run with foam on their mouths like the English players were known for......

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, February 19, 2017 at 6:19 p.m.

    Frank, you have me at a disadvantage because when I grew up there were essentially no opportunities to play soccer. My first opportunity came at age 25 when I was stationed on the East Coast in 1976. By the way, I have started reading the book you recommended and am enjoying it immensely. I had to finish "My Turn" first, which is the best book on the game I have ever read.

  13. frank schoon replied, February 19, 2017 at 7:49 p.m.

    Bob, I'm glad you're enjoying it. I would recommend any books by him. I'll try to look for some others that will give you more insight about the game. The Bergkamp book is also good

  14. frank schoon replied, February 19, 2017 at 9:08 p.m.

    Bob, watch the video of Piet Keizer on Youtube for he will be mentioned in the book you are reading.
    Piet Keizer/Best moments/RIP
    The Artistry of Piet Keizer

  15. frank schoon replied, February 19, 2017 at 9:35 p.m.

    Bob watchBob, watch on you tube "Cruyff explains his diamond formation" "Piet

    "Keizer the Legend"

    "26 johan Cruyff quotes That Will Change your...."

    "Garrincha-The Genius of Dribble"

  16. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, February 20, 2017 at 12:38 p.m.

    No way Holland could have defeated Argentina in 1978? They hit the post in the last minute of the game. They were literally inches from winning it. You continue to surprise me with the foolishness of your comments.

  17. James Madison, February 16, 2017 at 5:29 p.m.

    So the debate with respect to high school soccer or not continues. On the one hand, Anson Dorrance argues for the alternative approaches getting together. On the other, US Soccer in the person of Miriam Hickey, now says that for girls, just as it has said for boys, the only way is the Academy way. What US soccer ignores is that, at least in my area, the high school coaches largely are academy and club coaches and the players who do both benefit from both.

  18. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, February 17, 2017 at 2:47 p.m.

    HS soccer is super low level. Total waste for top players, girls or boys.

  19. Quarterback TD replied, February 17, 2017 at 3:46 p.m.

    Fire, look up schools like St Benedict, Peddie and Christian Brothers to name a few in NJ region.. Their soccer programs are better than MOST Academies and that is coming from players who play academies and go to these schools. Remember there are only few Academy players so the majority of players need to find a home.. High School plays a big part in filling that gap.. One can only play the cards they are dealt and HS is what it is. Seeing you think you are smarter than everyone else what is your suggestion ?

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, February 18, 2017 at 5:10 p.m.

    The thing that concerns me is that USSF is intentionally prohibiting the play that made our great players great in the past.

  21. Quarterback TD replied, February 18, 2017 at 9:35 p.m.

    Bob, the Board of Education needs to file a lawsuit against USSF for interfering with schools curriculum. Kids are being denied a basic right of school team participations and extra curricular activities. USSF expect kids to miss school for their stupid showcases that are totally meaningless but not expect kids to play high school. In addition their reasoning is warrantless because this academy is only to support less than 1% of the players who will play nationals and nothing more. Their college showcases is a sham because almost all the players who go to college for soccer go to the college showcases on their own..

  22. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, February 20, 2017 at 12:37 p.m.

    There is no "basic right" to play HS soccer. And if you want to play HS soccer then don't play DA. It's pretty simple. The federation has decided that kids who want to be elite players need to play and train at the highest level they can. That sure isn't HS soccer.

  23. Chris J, February 16, 2017 at 6:43 p.m.

    Mike W – how could you not ask about the GDA’s view on college coaches and how the new league plans to work with them? Or better yet, what’s US Soccer’s plan to work with the college game as a development vehicle? It is completely clear that US Soccer is trying to marginalize ECNL, but for the last several years it has been the primary vehicle for scholarship offers for probably 95% of D-I players. The ECNL model is specifically tuned for college coaches, IMO. They get 5-6 national events a year, with 100+ teams and one-stop shopping to see multiple prospects. If the GDA follows the boys model, that drops to only a couple national showcases and the rest will be local/regional weekends. Not to mention fewer teams with the combined age groups, so less visibility into the player pool. Will coaches pay to travel to see just a couple teams? I don’t think so. Will the GDA adopt a more ECNL-like format? Unclear. If they don’t, the only talent in the GDA will likely be the YNT players who have to play there. All other girls/families not lucky enough to be on that list by U15, will be setting their sights on college and playing ECNL.

  24. Kevin Leahy, February 18, 2017 at 7:40 p.m.

    Just because you could play @ high level does not mean you can coach. It strikes me as funny when she speaks about punting the ball by keepers, The example given by most professional clubs here & abroad is, to punt the ball. When we let all players have free play, we might see something. AAU has even taken the creative players out of basketball. There is too much training and not enough playing. I also wonder how you can develop as a 14 year old if you are riding the pine on a D A team that, has limited substitution. Most of the youth national team players are never on the senior team.

  25. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, February 20, 2017 at 12:40 p.m.

    True but most youth national team players in most countries never reach the senior team. That isn't unique to the US.

  26. frank schoon, February 19, 2017 at 9:33 p.m.

    Bob, watch on you tube
    "Cruyff explains his diamond formation"

    "Piet Keizer the Legend"

    "26 johan Cruyff quotes That Will Change your...."

    "Garrincha-The Genius of Dribble"

  27. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, February 20, 2017 at 12:39 p.m.

    Are you capable of making any comment that doesn't involve Cruyff?

  28. Bob Ashpole replied, February 20, 2017 at 3:34 p.m.

    FPGN, it is pretty much impossible to discuss modern soccer tactics without talking at least indirectly about Cruyff's ideas. Just as it is almost impossible to discuss technical training without talking at least indirectly about Wiel Coerver's ideas. Both men have had that much influence over 2 generations now of coaches.

  29. Rankin S, February 20, 2017 at 4:14 p.m.

    Unlike the Academies, HS isn't trying to develop players - they are trying to win. It's good to learn to play different tactics, even if it isn't the style of play that is preferred. Michael Jordan played a slow down, four corner offense style in College that obviously didn't hurt him playing an uptempo game in NBA.

  30. MA Soccer, February 21, 2017 at 9:29 a.m.

    The DA's have same winning mentality. a MLS DA does not want to lose to a club based DA and vice versa. Club DAs do not want to lose to non DA teams in friendlies. The only pure DA player development are the professional team DAs (fraction of teams). The other are simply companies whose business models are charging players annual fees. DA allows them to charge more and market their club. A high quality local/regional club training in winter and spring allowing their players to play High School if they choose is the best training environment for 95% of these players. The DA clubs benefit the most. The DA players travel more, train 10 months on 1 sport, give up all other sports including HS soccer for what? The social implications for the DA kids sometimes negative . The DA makes sense for 1-5% for the rest of the kids it is not necessary if you have good local clubs. This is a money grab and short sightness of USSF. Continued success of women and future success of men teams need players coming from low income families and cities. The DA rollout on boys and girls side make pay to play worse. This challenge is beyond current USSF management. How do they prioritize?

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