Despite the absence of a ball, Shannon MacMillan’s comments come with a kick.
The women’s soccer great is being honored at the Taste at the Cove on Sept. 5., the 18th annual event which raises money for young athletes long on determination but short on money.
More than 5,000 kids have benefited from the program which is spearheaded by Dr. David Chao. The ex-Chargers doctor never tires of aiding youngsters through his work, with an assist from his colleagues.
MacMillan, of Cardiff, is known as one of soccer’s most celebrated female players. She was on the iconic U.S. squad which won the 1999 World Cup, in addition to winning a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics and a silver four years later.
MacMillan, a San Pasqual High graduate, is now busy as the director and coach of the Del Mar Carmel Valley Sharks, a youth soccer club. She’s on the front lines of soccer wanna-bes aching to be just like her.
But MacMillan isn’t shy about going against the grade in the way to get there.
Instead of being a joy-stick coach orchestrating the kids’ every move, she lets them play. Instead of shouting at her charges, her lips are often zipped. Instead of encouraging children to focus on a sport, she stresses being a well-rounded athlete instead of one sprinting toward burning out.
“There’s often a lot of pressure on these kids,” MacMillan said. “It seems we want to create these little professionals. Gone are the days for them to just enjoy different sports and make friends. That’s unfortunate.”
When MacMillan was pint-sized, she was all-in on everything. She participated in the beautiful game but it was one of many on her athletic plate.
“I followed my older brother everywhere and to every field he went to,” MacMillan said. “I played football, baseball, street hockey.”
That’s a foreign notion to moms and dads seeking for their offspring a potential college scholarship, a pro contract or them having bragging rights at their cocktail party.
“It’s crazy,” MacMillan said. “I think part of it is parents that probably didn’t have the opportunities to maybe play in college and they live vicariously through their kids. It’s like a badge of honor for them to get a full ride somewhere.
“They put them in private lessons and have them specialize in one sport. When I was growing up, we were just out there playing, having fun, making friends and staying out of trouble. Now we try to create these uber, young professional athletes and it’s crazy.”
Fans go nuts when replaying MacMillan and her teammates’ 1999 World Cup victory. It generated a groundswell of positive vibes not only women’s soccer, but the gender in general.
Little girls still look MacMillan, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, with a sense of awe of what she accomplished.
“The 99ers pushed the door open a little bit,” she said. “We showed it’s OK for girls and women to be fearless and powerful.”
MacMillan got a thrill with the recent U.S. Women’s World Cup title. It’s an extension of what the 99ers produced and MacMillan is proud her team’s legacy is mentioned when the US excels.
“It was 25 years ago,” she said. “It seems like a long time ago.”
In the present, it’s all about MacMillan preaching the long view in molding future players. Being hands off is, hands down, the way to go.
“Let the kids just go play with a sense of freedom,” she said. “If you’re yelling at them and the coach is telling them something different, it puts the player in a precarious position. Do they listen to their coach or the mom and dad that have to go home with?”
I’m listening to MacMillan. Others would be likewise to follow suit.
Top: Shannon MacMillan warming up before a game back during her playing days. Photo by Johnmaxmena at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12635358