The US Women’s National Team has been the most successful international side in the world. However, as the 2016 Rio Olympics demonstrated, the gap between the US and its competitors is closing. Other nations are leveraging more advanced men’s development infrastructure and could leapfrog the US in terms of player development on the women’s side because of it. In order to maintain the dominance that the team has enjoyed over the rest of the world, the US needs to improve its player development process.
Yesterday, US Soccer announced that it had taken a step to do that by hiring Miriam Hickey to lead the Girls’ Development Academy program that it announced would begin play in the fall of 2017. The new director has experience developing players, coaches, and leading soccer academies in the US and her home country of the Netherlands. Hickey also helped develop the girls’ and women’s master’s program as an instructor with FIFA.
In an interview with Soccer America, Hickey described the Development Academy and her role in it saying, “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.” She went on to note that “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.”
As far as developing players, Hickey says that she wants to improve decision making and problem solving on the field, noting that while winning is important, “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.”
In order to keep ahead of the countries closing in on the US, Hickey told USSoccer.com that “It is critical that we don’t fall behind those countries that are fully supporting the women’s game financially, and have put structures in place to identify the best players and develop them in professional environments which in the past where only accessible to boys.”
Despite the fact that Jill Ellis is the women’s national team coach, there is only one female coach in NWSL, Laura Harvey of the Seattle Reign. This is something that is also an issue at lower levels and Hickey’s comments to US Soccer stressed the importance of more women becoming coaches in the US, saying “It is essential that former and current college, professional and Women’s National Team players get involved at the youth level as coaches, referees and managers. The knowledge and experience these women have must be used to benefit the future generations of girls and women in our sport. Mentorship and educational opportunities must be created to encourage these females enter the soccer workplace. The future of soccer for girls’ and women is bright, and even more so when we foster that talent both on and off the field.”
US teams have struggled in international competition as of late. The senior USWNT failed to medal for the first time in an Olympics and the U-17 and U-20 teams also didn’t meet expectations at their World Cups in 2016. With the rest of the world catching up, Hickey has her work cut out for her.