Q & A with Michelle French
Former U.S. Women’s National Team player Michelle French was named the first full-time head coach of the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team. French took some time to speak with ussoccer.com about the positions and the challenges she will undertake in her new role.
Feb. 20, 2013
© J. Brett Whitesell/International Sports Images
What motivated you to take this job at this point in your coaching career?
Michelle French: “The opportunity to lead the best young players in the country as they continue their journey to compete at the highest level with the full National Team is an honor and something I've been aspiring towards for several years. The time I've spent coaching various levels of soccer, from youth to college, to the Seattle Sounders Women this past season, has ultimately prepared me for this position.
“Additionally, being part of U.S. Soccer as a player and working with the youth national team staff over the past eight years has provided me with tremendous insight into the standards, expectations, and goals for our country moving forward, and ultimately has prepared me for this role with the U-20 team. To have a chance to work alongside such distinguished coaches like April and Jill is extremely exciting and something I'm really looking forward to. There is a passion, responsibility and honor that comes with working for U.S. Soccer, and I truly couldn't be more thrilled to have this opportunity.”
What are you short-term and long-term goals for the program?
MF: “My short-term goal is to develop chemistry and an identity for this team and specific group of players. It will be extremely important to develop a specific culture, beginning with our first trip to Spain in March. It will be essential for us to create an environment where players feel the freedom to continue to grow and be successful individually, while making sure they are buying in and understanding the concepts, ideas, and style of play we are working towards. The sooner we are able to successfully teach important philosophies, on and off the field, the quicker the players will be able to implement those ideas into their overall game.
“My long-term goals for this team are to continue and expand on the initial foundation we have built, and to put us in the best position to qualify for the U-20 Women’s World Cup and ultimately be playing our best heading into the 2014 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Finally, one of my main responsibilities will be to prepare and help the players reach their ultimate goal of playing for the full U.S. Women's National Team.”
What challenges do you anticipate coaching this age group that consists primarily of college players and how to you plan to address them?
MF: “With players spread out all over the country and many becoming engulfed in their college seasons in the fall, one of the biggest challenges will be creating a chemistry and style of play as quickly as possible. Because the majority of the pool will be competing in college, there is an urgency to develop partnerships, relationships, and a level of understanding as to what type of team we will be moving forward. It will be vitally important to stay connected with the players while they are away while also identifying and developing a tight network of coaches who are able to watch the growth of the players within that time period.
What lessons did you learn from your international career, both on the youth and senior levels, that you hope to transfer to your team?
MF: “One of the biggest lessons I learned through my playing career is that if you want to give yourself the best shot at being successful, you have to control the controllables. Holding yourself accountable for your individual development cannot be stressed enough. Do you spend time with the ball on your own? How is your fitness level? Do you study and watch the game? How high is your workrate? What is your attitude like? When all is said and done, players need to ask themselves, have I done everything in my power to give myself the best opportunity to be successful? Being able to truly self-evaluate and really hold oneself accountable for one's development is one of the outstanding traits found in the most successful athletes.”
Can you speak on being a part of the integration of the all the U.S. youth national teams working with U.S. Soccer Women’s Technical Director April
Heinrichs, Development Director Jill Ellis, Head Development Coach April Kater and U-17 WNT head coach B.J. Snow?
MF: “Since the hiring of April and Jill, the standard and expectation of female players in our country has grown and developed. Through educating coaches at all levels, they are leading the country in taking great steps to develop players with a higher level of technical ability and sophistication in their game. I've had an opportunity to see firsthand that B.J. and April Kater are fully invested in their new roles and have already started playing major roles in the identification of players and the development of philosophies that will lead the most talented youth players on a path to success. I sincerely look forward to closely working with an amazingly talented group of individuals who are of the same mindset in continuing the growth of the women's game in the United States.”
What is your plan to identify the core group of players that you will take to qualifying for the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup?
MF: “I have been put in an extremely fortunate position because by the time players have matriculated to the U-20 level, the overall pool and core for the age group has been somewhat established. With that being said, are there players out there that have been missed or deserve another look? Of course that is always a possibility. With the help of April Heinrichs, Jill, B.J. and April Kater, I'm confident that we will see and identify those players who stand above the rest and are prepared to play at the international level. Additionally, by developing strong relationships with a network of coaches across the country who have seen and know the standard of a U-20 National Team player, I have no doubt the core group of players will be solidified.”
The USA won the last U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan. What are the key factors in building another team that can win a world title?
MF: “With the U.S. winning three out of the five FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cups, there is an immediate pressure to uphold that tradition of competitive excellence and success. Soccer-wise, developing a rhythm to our style of play, upholding the standard of an incredible work ethic that all U.S. teams have possessed, and encouraging individuality and creativity within a system will prove to be invaluable to the growth of this team. As we’ve mentioned, it will be important to continuously identify a core group of players who can compete at this level. On and off the field, creating a solid foundation and culture that staff and players embrace, believe in and invest in collectively, will drive our success. Overall, creating a team that understands its identity will be key in winning another U-20 world title.”