By Mike Woitalla
Former U.S. Women’s National Team Star Talks About Her AYSO Experience, Youth Soccer And Title Ix
The No. 11 that Julie Foudy wore on her jersey when she won two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals dates back to her days as an AYSO player in Southern California.
"I begged my mom to sign me up for soccer and joined a team called the Strikers," says Foudy, who grew up in Mission Viejo. "When it came time to pass out the shirts, I knew what I wanted. I was this feisty little 7-year-old who thought I was the best, so I should have the No. 1.
"They told me the goalie has to take that number. So I went with the double No. 1. That's how I became No. 11 for the rest of my life. Thanks to the Strikers."
Foudy has many fond memories of the youth soccer experience that led to one of the most illustrious careers in women's sports history. She believes that being allowed to enjoy the game and explore it on her own terms was the key to her long-term success.
"What I remember most is loving it," says Foudy. "I did my best when I was out there laughing and having fun. It wasn't a chore or task or a pressure situation.
"My parents told me, 'Honey, we think it's great that you love soccer, but you're going to take it where you're going to take it. If you want to keep pushing and going further, that's up to you. But it's not something we’re going to dictate. You're going to lead that.'"
Foudy retired in 2004 after captaining the U.S. Women's National Team 13 of the 18 years she played on it. She played in three Olympics and four World Cups. Only two players in the world, former teammates Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly, top Foudy's 271 national team appearances.
Now, Foudy is pleased that many more children are playing soccer than when she was young. She's especially delighted that opportunities for girls to play exist in every nook and corner of the nation. That wasn’t the case three decades ago.
"Kristine Lilly grew up in the soccer hotbed of Connecticut, and couldn't find a girls team when she was young," says Foudy, who also starred at Stanford University.
But Foudy also sees trends that aren't conducive to developing great players or allowing children to enjoy the game to its fullest. Of particular concern is the rush to push young children into an overly competitive environment, and the pressure clubs and parents sometimes put on youngsters.