By Tim Nash
There is a U-11 girls team in Carmel Valley, Calif., that probably doesn’t know exactly how lucky they are. It’s not just because their coach is a former collegiate player of the year. It’s not that their coach is a former pro and national team player. It doesn’t matter that only seven players in the history of the U.S. Women’s National team have scored more goals than their coach, who tallied 60 in 176 games. It’s not because they have a cool name like “Sharks.” And it’s not that their coach is now a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
No, they are lucky because they have an opportunity few others have. If they pay attention to coach Shannon MacMillan they can learn a lot about soccer, life, character, self-motivation, teamwork and a whole lot more.
After MacMillan retired in 2006, she decided to run some soccer camps. At the same time, she also signed on as an assistant coach at UCLA. Working in youth soccer was not an option she would even consider.
“I really enjoyed the college game, but I just couldn’t see myself living in L.A.,” said MacMillan, who in 2001 listed her top three cities in the new women’s professional league where she would like to play as San Diego, San Diego and San Diego. “Around the same time, the people at the club (Del Mar Carmel Valley Sharks) offered me a job running their competitive program. At first, I wanted no part of youth soccer. There were coaches running down the sideline to the 18-yard line to berate the goalkeeper, parents screaming at their kids. No thank you.
“They kept after me and finally I said, ‘Okay, but I am going to do it the right way. It has to be about the kids.’ And they said, ‘When can you start?’”
That was eight years ago. Today, MacMillan is in charge of the entire club – it’s recreation program, its 70-team competitive program and a TOPSoccer program for children with physical and mental disabilities.
“We are doing it the right way and it is working,” she said. “I made sure I communicated with the parents and let them know early on what we were doing.”
In addition to her administrative duties, MacMillan coaches a U-11 girls team. Next year, she will coach a team of players born in 2005.
“It’s great,” she said. “It’s awesome to see them when they are raw and then watch the progress they make. I have a girl who couldn’t juggle two times in the fall. She just did 880.”
Juggling is the least the girls can learn from Coach Mac. As Shannon said, she doesn’t come to practice with medals clanging around her neck, but the players know she was a national team player. That’s obvious when she demonstrates ball-striking and brings a chorus of “Whoa” from the girls. And they know she was just elected to the Hall of Fame, although some probably needed to be told what a hall of fame is. What they might not know, however, is how much they can learn from her.
Like maybe what you do when your dreams get shattered in an instant. That happened to MacMillan in 1995 when she was cut from the national team. What the kids can learn is that the difference between her success and failure was determined by how she handled the news. She worked harder, made the team and proceeded to have a hall-of-fame-worthy career that spanned a dozen years.
How about when she tells a player to “make it hard for me to take you off the field.” Does the 11-year-old know about her Super-sub role on the 1999 World Cup team, a job she did so well, her coach, Tony DiCicco, told the media, “I made a huge mistake in 1995. I cut Shannon MacMillan.”
What does she mean when she tells you to make an impact on the game whenever you get the chance? Maybe she is referring to that July day in 1996 when she came off the bench and scored a Golden Goal in the Olympic semifinal with her second touch of the game just 5:28 after entering the match. Or maybe she’s referring to three years later when she came on in the 65th minute as a sub. You know when she raced across the field to take a corner kick and, with her first touch of the game, delivered a perfect ball to Joy Fawcett’s head for the game-winning goal against Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals.
Or maybe she will just talk to them about how soccer is about more than wins and losses. It’s about how important the people become to you. You can be sure, the 11 year olds have heard about Clive Charles, Shannon’s college coach at the University of Portland and much, much more. Charles, who died of prostate cancer in 2003, was her mentor and father figure. He’s the man she thought about when she found out she was going to the Hall of Fame.
“Being elected to the Hall of Fame is very humbling and an immense honor,” she said. “The only thing that could make it better is if Clive were able to introduce me at the ceremony. So much of who I am as a coach, a player, a mom, and a friend is because of him. I owe him so much.”
You know they have heard about Fawcett, Shannon’s closest friend on the national team and perhaps the most consistent player in women’s national team history. Joy’s oldest daughter, Katelyn was born in 1994, a year before Shannon first made the national team. She was a fixture at U.S. training camps and team hotels. Carli Fawcett came along three years later, and Joy had a team full of babysitters who loved playing with the kids. The Fawcett girls called MacMillan “Auntie Mac,” and Joy often wondered if, counting Shannon, she had an extra child with her. Now 42, Shannon has a child of her own, Brayden, who will turn seven years old in June.
“I was at Joy’s for dinner a while back, and (Julie) Foudy was there with her kids,” Shannon said. “We were sitting on the deck, and we noticed that Joy’s kids were upstairs taking care of our kids. That’s when we knew we had come full-circle.”
More than all that, though, the kids are lucky to have someone who cares about their development more than any specific performance, a coach who lights up when she speaks about how happy it makes her when she sees kids thinking for themselves and not being robotic.
“I love to see them making progress toward their potential,” she said.