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w/ U-17 WNT head coach Erica Walsh

You’re doing your daily reading on and you come across a name you don’t recognize. First thought: “Who is that?” Second: “What’s their deal?” Possible third: “Is that the same Jim/Mary/Bob that I dated in high school?” Well, you’ll find your answers here. We want you to be up-to-date on all the newest players and coaches that make their way to the full and youth Men’s and Women’s National Teams, so sit back, read on and get to know one of our newest members.

Fresh off a thrilling and emotional ride through the 2004 FIFA Under-19 Women’s World Championship as the top assistant for the U.S. team under Mark Krikorian, Erica Walsh now takes over as the head coach for the U.S. Under-17s. The former Division I star at William & Mary and former head coach at Dartmouth talks to Center Circle about her experiences in Thailand, her first training camp with the U-17s and her goals for the team this year.

CenterCircle: You were the head coach at Dartmouth for three years. Did you enjoy the experience of coaching in the Ivy League?
Erica Walsh: “Coaching in the Ivy League is truly a unique experience. The intrinsic motivation of those student-athletes is unparalleled and that creates a competitive environment every time they step out on the field. I enjoyed working with thinking players who rarely took what you said as a coach at face value. They challenge you to break down concepts and explain the reasons why we do the things we do rather than just accepting it. There was no lack of competitiveness within the program or throughout the league.”

CC: You are one class away from your M.B.A, did grad school have any impact on your coaching philosophy?
EW: “Absolutely. Regardless of what level you are coaching you never have enough funding. This is especially true coaching at the collegiate level as college athletics is more of a business than ever before. It’s one thing to have an established coaching philosophy and it’s another to have the resources to do all the things you want to do within that philosophy. Business school teaches you how to stretch your resources.”

CC: The 2004 U-19 World Championship in Thailand was your first coaching experience in a world championship. What were some of the major things you learned?
EW: “Mark did an outstanding job of preparing the staff and team so there were no ‘surprises’ once we arrived in Thailand. Really, most of the learning occurred prior to the tournament. One of my first lessons came in the team selection process. Mark has a good eye for talent and put together a roster of players who each brought a special quality to our team. Our challenge was then to get each player to embrace their role and understand why we picked particular players to play against certain opponents. It was a delicate balance and constant learning process for the players. I also learned about developing a training cycle and how to deal with the related challenges. We had eight months to prepare the team for the world championship and needed to create a schedule that would have them all peaking in November. We were equally concerned with the training intensity while we were together as a team and when the players were on their own or with their clubs. We had several discussions to convince the players that more was not necessarily better and that their bodies needed time to rest in order to train consistently at their highest level. Of course, there were many things learned during the actual World Cup that were difficult to prepare for such as gamesmanship, how to best utilize your substitutions, and how to keep a team together through the highs and lows of a world championship tournament.”

CC: Talk a little bit more about that U-19 team. What did you enjoy the most about that team?
EW: “The personalities on the team are what made the experience so enjoyable. We worked hard over the eight months but also had a great time. I enjoyed coaching such a talented group of players, as they were all eager to improve and be well prepared for Thailand. I enjoyed seeing the players improve both individually and collectively and we changed their style of play and challenged them to respond. Collectively we were very confident with the way we were playing entering into the World Championship. The fact that we were always having fun along with solid work ethic throughout the group made the months go by too quickly.”

CC: What are your goals for the U-17s this year?
EW: “Joining this team fresh from the World Championship, my goal is to prepare the players both technically and tactically to compete on an international level. I would like to see as many of these players as possible competing in the next youth World Cup. Since the camps are only eight days long, we will teach them how to ‘self-train’ and how to improve in their own environments away from the team. In addition, I want the players to start watching games as a student rather than just purely for enjoyment reasons. For example, during our first camp we got the opportunity to watch the U-20 Men’s National Team compete twice in their CONCACAF qualifying group for the FIFA World Championships Netherlands 2005. They were given certain themes to focus on and we followed up each match with team discussions where the players were asked to talk about the game.”

CC: What are the main themes you will work on?
EW: “During our first camp there were several obvious areas where we need the most work. Offensively, we will work on our movement off the ball and creativity in the attack. We will also work on trying to get them to understand when it is best to go forward or when we should just possess the ball. Defensively, we will start with the front players by trying to coordinate the work they do with the rest of the team. Many of the front players in this age group want to chase the ball all over the field and we want to try to get that under control. We want the group to understand when it is appropriate to step up and press an opponent and when to drop in and stay organized. In addition, there will be a strong emphasis on technique with this group.”

CC: There were several players on the 2004 U-19 World Championship Team who spent most of the year with the U-17s. Even though the next world championship will be U-20s, do you see any players in your pool who could make that jump?
EW: “There are certainly players in the U-17 pool who have shown flashes of being able to compete at that level but need to be challenged to perform well on a more consistent basis. This will be a critical year for them as they will need to continue to develop their understanding of the game as well as to develop the strength to compete physically.”

CC: You recently finished your first training camp with the U-17s. How did it go?
EW: “We had a tough start due to all the rain and flooding in Los Angeles, but I was pleased with the progress we made with the group. They were eager to learn and were tested at the end of week with a challenging match against a boys Cal South ODP team. The camp gave me a good sense of the pool's overall strengths and weaknesses and will be the basis for establishing a curriculum for the year.”