Lima has also served as a U.S. Soccer Training Center staff coach and an ODP coach. We spoke to her about being one of the few women youth club directors in the USA, joining the DA and the high school vs. club issue, and her coaching philosophy.Liz Lima and her older sister Cecilia were raised in Massachusetts by parents who had emigrated from Portugal in their late teens.
LIZ LIMA: Soccer was in our blood. Family would come over and watch soccer with my dad. My dad played and coached semipro soccer and brought me to every field imaginable. He never said I had to play. It was all very natural and organic. Soccer was a way of life. ... My father started South Shore Select as a way to give back to the community and to provide an environment for his daughters, and other young females, to play the game he loves.
On the Portuguese influence ...
LIMA: Our very close family friend is Pauleta, Portugal’s leading scorer for a long time, one of the best players of all-time. He is a family friend and is a big part of the island community in Portugal where my parents are from, the Azores. I grew up with the Portuguese style of play. Growing up, my dad instilled that in me and that’s a big piece of the culture.
You want the ball. It wasn't so structured. I remember going to Portugal as a teenager, getting a ball and going down to the beach to play pickup soccer. It was so much fun to try and roast someone, to go by someone.
And as much as we offer so much soccer to our kids [at South Shore Select], we try to keep it really unstructured at times. I've stopped kids at a practice session and said: “Be bold! Be brave! Take chances! Take risks! You're 8 years old!” I want to see double Maradonas.
If these kids do not become technically proficient, then nothing else matters. You can be the smartest player in the world, but if you can't execute technically and you don't have that ability to manipulate the ball, you can’t do what you want.
On players’ decision-making …
LIMA: Making sure older girls make smart decisions on the ball, not turning the ball over
-- obviously there's a time and a place for that. But the only way to make smart decisions on the ball when they're older is to give kids the freedom to make wrong decisions on the ball when
they're younger. I think genius comes from giving people the opportunity to mess up, to take risks. Creative genius emerges from not being afraid to make mistakes.
On soccer as an art …
LIMA: Soccer is not a coach-centered sport. It is not. Football is. Other sports in American culture are. Not soccer. I say to my girls all the time: you are an artist, this isn't a science. This is an art. You've got this blank canvas and every time you show up and lace your boots you can draw your masterpiece, which may look completely different than the person's next to you. But a masterpiece is a masterpiece.
I have so much appreciation for trying to make things a certain way in the United States, but sometimes I wonder if we're trying too hard to make everyone teach the same way. To have every kid play the same way.
Allyson Sentnor, the U-15 U.S. national team’s youngest player, was MVP of the 2018 CFA International Tournament in China, and her South Shore Select teammate Lilly Reale scored in the 3-0 final win over the Czech Republic. Sentnor was the only New England product on the U.S. U-18s’ England trip last month and scored twice against the host.
LIMA: Lilly, who started with us when she was 3, and Ally, who came at age 6, grew up together in the next town over. We’re a homegrown club. We don’t recruit players. All of our kids usually come from a 5- to 10- mile radius. At 6, 7, 8, Ally and Lilly was just surrounded by other like-minded kids, extremely competitive, extremely intense. We have challenges at our organization. We would do things that other parents or other people would think was impossible.
Such as ...
LIMA: A kid on our top team has to juggle 500 times at the age of 9. It's also an exercise in perseverance, not giving up, and every time the ball drops, pick up it again. They'd have to get it on camera.
I'd give them a month to get to 50 and they'd do it in a week. The next task is 100, and after they hit 500, they’d ask, all right coach, what's next? Then we'd switch to a tennis ball and you have to get to a 100 with a tennis ball.
Lilly and Ally's group kind of set the bar for what the legacy of our club has been. They were a great group. A perfect storm of kids and parents and families who understood our mission, and what we were trying to. Ally and Lilly and their teammates had that drive from a young age and created an awesome culture of excellence and passion and competitiveness.Sentnor, who has played on U.S. U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-18 national teams, last fall played freshman high school soccer at the Thayer Academy. But in 2019-20, South Shore will field teams in the DA, which bans high school play.
LIMA: Our club just got into the Development Academy. I'm a little bit torn about it. I was a high school coach for 10 years. Community is a big piece of who we are and what we do, and that will not change with the Development Academy.
But I think there's a place for everyone. I think it's a very personal decision. I think it varies kid to kid. There are kids who go off to high school and have great coaches, and have great experiences. And there are kids who say, you know what, I enjoy the social aspect of being a high school athlete, however it’s hard for me to step away from this kind of club environment for two to three months. …
With us going to Development Academy, what Ally is going to do next year regarding high school soccer, that's a question for her. I'm not going to speak for her or her family.
On the pros and cons of high school ball ...
LIMA: We've seen kids come back from the high school season and they've gotten better in different areas of their game. We play a very possession-style game. We're very technical. And our select players tend not to do very well in the air. They tend to not be able to clear a ball out of the box because they're taught from a very young age: don't panic. You've got your center back dribbling in the 6-yard box.
At least in this area, high school soccer is very direct, very physical. So, they come back winning balls in the air. Our players tend not to be as physical, so they come back more aggressive. But they also sometimes come back with habits we have to undo.
If anyone has an academic experience that will be impacted by not playing high school, we would certainly consider waivering that kid. But there are some kids going to prep schools who have already told us they're not interested in a waiver because they don’t want to leave the club environment.
I understand where U.S. Soccer is coming from on a 10-month season. I know some people feel very strongly one way or the other, but sometimes people don't look at the whole picture.
What Liz Lima looks for in coaches
LIMA: The ability to instill joy and passion. When I interview people, and they say they have this license and that license, that helps. It shows they’re committed. But what really matters to me is their energy level. How invested they are in the kids. If you love the kids you're coaching, you can get a lot out of them. Kids match our energy level. They care as much as we care. To me that's more important than knowing any kind of X and O. ... I may be the hardest coach a kid is ever going to have, but I make a concerted effort to make sure these kids know I care about you as a human.
The USA’s top girls clubs tend to field teams in the ECNL, the DA, or both. South Shore Select has sent players to the national team program and about 40 girls to U.S. Soccer National Training Centers without playing in either.
LIMA: We only joined the NPL two years ago. We're focused on our kids, being the best at training and creating a culture where kids love coming. We started to develop good relationships with other clubs in the area and said let's bridge this gap and create a culture where we're all doing this for the right reasons.
U.S. Soccer asked us to apply to the Development Academy and for us it’s been a three-year decision-making process.
We were able to have competitive games because we didn’t go birth-year, which meant more than 50% of our players were playing up. But eventually we had too many games that were lop-sided, and we determined the time is right to join the DA.
After playing at Harvard, Lima played pro futsal and ran a soccer travel agency in Italy, where she met Driton Mustafoski, also a futsal player. They married in 2010 and now have a 3-year-old daughter. He also coaches at South Shore Select.
'My life mission is to help to empower females on and off the field'
LIMA: I'm proud of the fact that our leadership team consists of very strong females. Maren Rojas is our club technical director. She previously ran U.S. Soccer Training Centers in the Northeast and frequently helps out assisting the U-16 and U-18 youth nationals team. We brought her on last year. Alison Foley is our Senior Director of Coaching and helps lead the charge throughout the college process for our athletes. She spent 21 years as head coach of Boston College and she is a great role model. Her commitment to the sport has helped pave the way for other female coaches in the game.
We are also fortunate to have some of the most talented and caring male coaches in the industry as a part of our team. The men in our company have the utmost respect for the female leaders in our organization and that is important for our young girls to see.
Some of Liz Lima's favorite
On whether she sees a trend of more women getting leadership
roles in soccer ...
LIMA: I haven't. But I'm hopeful with the MeToo movement and a lot of conversations that are happening. I'm hopeful that we will start to see some change with regards to this. In the club soccer world, I would still like to see more progress on this front and would like to work to find a way to keep talented female coaches in the game.
I've been fortunate enough to get to know a lot of directors in our area, and a question I am often asked is how to get more women coaches to stay in the game.
How does that happen?
LIMA: It’s important to create a culture and environment where women feel comfortable. And when there are no women in a program, it’s a Catch-22. You can't make it completely comfortable until there are more women. If you get women in leadership positions, I think more female coaches will stay in the game.
Our staff is to close to 50-50 and women who come into our environment are more likely to stay simply because other women have the same struggles. I do believe we also create a super positive culture that women feel comfortable in, at least I hope so.
I think people want it to get better but I don't see a trend in the direction yet. But that's the first step -- people recognizing they want it to get better.
On balancing motherhood and a career ...
LIMA: I went to Harvard and a lot of classmates and colleagues have very demanding jobs, and it’s always a struggle being a mother and being away. One thing someone told me was, make sure your daughter knows why you're leaving her. “Hey, mom’s leaving again. I'm doing this because I'm trying to make the world a better place for girls like you.” And it helps.
U.S. youth national team program ...
LIMA: I do have admiration for the coaches and the staff and what they're doing. My kids thoroughly enjoy their youth national team experiences and always come back better and knowing more about the game.
On the women's national team's style of play ...
LIMA: For me, the most important thing is picking a style of play and really focusing on that. I feel we've been successful as an organization, because we've said, this is how we play. We play a very possession style game and are very focused on individual technique and creating super technical, creative players who hopefully have an "innate" understanding of how the game is played.
This is a part of our culture and we live and breathe it. We're starting to see other countries catching up, where they have this commitment to play this one certain way. I think the U.S. has so much talent and it would be fun to see us be the ones with the ball, be the ones doing creative things, and encouraging these talented individuals to not play this super-structured style but let them be more free, which I think would be exciting to watch.
I look forward to seeing the U.S. continue to do great things on the international stage and will be rooting for them every step of the way.
Michelle Akers and Allyson Sentnor
Her role models growing up.
LIMA: My favorite player was Michelle Akers. To me, the most important quality in an athlete, in any field, to be successful, is grit. And I mean, Michelle Akers was the definition of grit. I obviously loved Mia Hamm, loved Kristine Lilley, loved Brandi Chastain -- but the player I admired the most was Michelle Akers, because of her grit. She never complained. She never let setbacks get in her way. And that was extremely powerful.
Off the field.
LIMA: Most of our kids start at 6 and stay with us all the way through. Why? I asked a parent that. On the field, obviously, was important, but they really appreciated all the off-the-field stuff. "You really care about my kids and my family." We do a Halloween event every year that's free for the whole community. We get about a 1,000 kids. From the time they're little till they're older, that's something they never forget. We have an annual Christmas party. All of our enrichment programs are free to all our kids, including free yoga, free taekwondo, ACL injury prevention sessions. We bring in guest speakers most weeks in the winter to talk to our kids. Our kids will train for an hour and half and afterward for a half hour in the classroom we have a non-soccer curriculum. And we talk to the kids about self-esteem, peer pressure, social media.
Coaching girls vs. boys.
LIMA: Girls always want to know why. Boys, it's like -- whatever. I gotta put the ball in the back of the net. I want to win. Girls want to know why. We spend a lot of time, explaining, this is why. Why you give 110 percent when no one’s watching.
Sometimes when I'm coaching, a girl will say, She's being bossy. And I'll say, That's not a bad thing. That's a word I get called a lot. I'm proud of that. I have opinions, but I always respect other people's opinions.