The STATE of Soccer in WASHINGTON
by David Falk
It can’t be all that long ago that Amy Griffin was just a kid wanting to play her favorite sport. Her desire was often met with dead-ends. How times have changed.
Griffin is a former goalkeeper with the US National team that has made a name locally for her long stint as a coach for the University of Washington Women (17 seasons) and nationally (recently) for her coaching with the US National Team U-20′s. The Federal Way native attended Decatur High School and eventually Central Florida University. goalWA.net caught up with Amy just after her return from a successful USA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan.
How has the world changed for soccer girls? “First of all, there are many more opportunities for girls to play at all levels,” Griffin tells me. ”Not many people played soccer in Federal Way and Decatur didn’t have a girls team (when I was there) so I played on a club team. If I wasn’t with the club team, I just hit balls against a wall or juggled by myself because no one wanted to play.”
Now? “It’s cool to be a soccer player,” Amy declares. ”When I was younger, many of the boys that got cut from the football team played soccer. Most coaches were soccer Moms and Dads who did not have a background in playing. I was a tomboy (uncool) and was lucky enough to play for Matt Sweeney who was a fantastic player and the older brother of one of my teammates. I think female players are different these days because they have a much broader understanding and skill set than we did when we were learning the sport. Kids have watched more soccer on TV, played more soccer and been coached by parents who have a better understanding of the sport.”
Griffin has been a prolific blogger on her page “The 3 G Network (Go with the Griffins & Gallimores.)” The “Gallimores” of course refers to Amy’s coaching buddy at UW, head coach Lesle Gallimore. The blog first chronicled the group’s trip to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. More recently Amy added entries from her U-20 World Cup trip to Japan:
“Dear Nick and Ben,
Your mom is a World Champ.
Well, in a roundabout way. I didn’t shed one drop of sweat or have to apply on the field what was discussed. I didn’t have to make sure my hydration and nutrition and sleep and mentality and guts were all in check. But I felt as if I was on that field with every touch of the ball, with every run and most definitely with every save.” —Amy Griffin at the 2012 World Cup in Japan
Griffin remembers a time when soccer wasn’t covered like it is today. “I consider myself so fortunate to grow up as a kid when soccer was invisible (in the US) and be able to play in a World Cup, coach in a couple of youth World Cups, and travel to places where people eat, sleep, breath soccer.”
Outside of the United States there is a common language: futbol. “Everywhere I go,” Griffin says, “I know the best way to make an immediate friend is to say or make hand gestures that convey, “Want to join in and play?” The smiles broaden, the backpacks are dropped and we play. Most other countries are passionate about being able to participate and have another avenue for the world to see their country. Some countries are particular that they play the world’s best game and have strong opinions about each national team player male or female; conversations become heated. It’s fantastic! My most recent trip to Japan was great because the players were such good ambassadors for our country that many Japanese befriended our team and followed us throughout the tournament. It is always good to remember how wonderful sport can be if we create a positive environment for sportsmanship and goodwill.”
Back in the States, Amy can point to many memories of her years with the Huskies. A few highlights? She struggles to narrow it down. ”Hmmmm, 2000 Pac 10 Championship, Elite-8 Appearances, Music Videos performed and produced by the players… and occasionally staff, Some epic winter workouts, Every O.T. win, Trip to D.C. to watch inaugural WUSA game, and most importantly getting my name on the Alumni DAWG Bowl. One would have to track down a Husky Soccer Alumni to find out more.” Her UW bio says cryptically: Once a year during the Alumni Dawg Bowl, Husky Alumni allow her to don the gloves.
Amy Griffin takes time after a UW match to take questions from visitors:
“To watch our team COMPETE in every sense of the word was inspiring. To watch the skill and composure in an environment that is foreign to our players compared to our European foes: their WC Qualifications are 18 months long. Many of the foreign players are professional playing in some of the best pro-leagues in the world. Our players are club players, playing in tournaments that last a weekend, or in college playing a 20 – 26 game season with limited training hours mandated by the NCAA. However, when it comes to rolling up the sleeves, enjoying the challenge and competing, we seemed as if we were the veterans. A team of veterans, watching each other’s back, trusting each others decisions and simply going for it. That is “Sport” at its best.”
—Amy Griffin on the USA U-20 Women at the 2012 World Cup
Of all the things I could ask someone so steeped in local and national soccer, who had just returned with a FIFA World Cup first-place medal, I choose to end our chat with a question about Women’s professional soccer. It’s on everyone’s mind because the sport has elevated its interest level over recent months. Where will the players Amy has helped on the USA U-20′s play one day?
“If I had a business background, I would probably have a better answer for you,” Griffin qualifies. ”I do think there is a huge need to bridge the gap between the college game (only allowed 20 games per season plus NCAA’s) and the full National Team. Tom Sermani, the new WNT coach, has a huge task on hand before the next World Cup. Somehow he has to meld players that have 200 appearances with players that have 20 or less and do not play in a great league.”
What would a successful new league for women look like? “My gut feeling is the venues have to be small, the quality fantastic, and travel minimal at the start. Sounders Women, playing at Starfire was a home run and I hope it will continue to be. Ticket prices were reasonable, the quality was fantastic, the family friendly environment was great and in a community that has always been known for supporting soccer. Until the backers are prepared to back a team for multiple years and not bow out mid-season, the pro league idea will be bleak. I am aware that the WNBA failed multiple times before coming up with the right formula and I am hopeful that a viable solution for Pro Women’s Soccer to succeed is right around the corner.”
“Right in the middle of the song while everyone was jumping and singing in a circle and looking into each others eyes, (video) the tears began to flow. Happy tears? No not happy, but sad tears. The unspoken words at the same instant were comprehended by everyone. It was over. This team, this dream was over. The journey was what made these bonds, and how lucky and deserved they were for reaching their dream. Not many people get to do that… be the best in the world. The tears, for me, made me so happy that these wonderful young adults achieved their dream. The lessons were not lost on them. Forever, these players will seek each other out on the soccer field, in each others hometowns and whenever the chance arises. Not because they have their gold medal in common, but because they got out of this experience exactly what they put into it: everything.”