Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Pia pushed our game to another level
By Tobin Heath
Our coach, Pia Sundhage, has a record that speaks for itself: two Olympic golds and a World Cup silver medal. But it goes way beyond that. She has done great things for the team and for the game.
The time Pia became head coach could have been very intimidating for any coach. So much had just happened at the 2007 World Cup with Hope Solo's dismissal and coach Greg Ryan leaving, but Pia came in and immediately it was a fresh start for everyone. Not just for the new players like myself, but for the people who'd been on the team forever, too. She breathed new life into everyone and brought a lot of joy to the game. A lot of players had lost that enjoyment, and her style and philosophy helped everyone move on and grow together. She always brought out that fun-loving spirit that made everyone see the best in each other. That helped the team right from the beginning and continued throughout her five years as head coach.
Pia always, always, looks at the positives in any situation, and that has been a huge key to our success. We have such high expectations -- in every game and in every tournament we're expected to win -- and her outlook helps us to deal with the pressure, and push ourselves to another level. Her enthusiasm is so evident in everything she does. She gets so excited when a player does something well, and she has never lost that passion. It's pretty cool she loves the game that much.
Last year we had an awesome tournament at the World Cup, but we lost to Japan in the final. It was hard to come away with a silver medal. Afterward Pia told us over and over to keep our heads up. We were winners in the way that we played the game and in our attitudes. Because of that, I think we were able to turn around quickly and focus on earning Olympic gold. In London, with our mission accomplished, she didn't give any big, memorable speeches. She simply thanked us for our hard work.
Pia and I haven't had a relationship with all that many words. I'm pretty soft-spoken when it comes to coaches. But a few days ago I had the opportunity to sit down with her and thank her and to talk to her not just as a coach, but as a person who has meant a lot to me. That's probably the most I've ever said to her in all five years as a player! That conversation is something I'll always value.
I'm pretty bummed she's leaving, but it's going to be good for her, and she'll be doing something she has always wanted to do. In the end, it will be good for our team, too. Change isn't a bad thing. Though I don't think anybody wants to see Pia go, this will be the next step in our team's journey. We have an opportunity to continue growing, and maybe someone will come in and bring something completely new to the table that helps us get even better.
There is no doubt that it's going to be weird the first time we play against Sweden and see our old coach there. I think there will be lots of hugs and hellos beforehand, and it will be a very special game. But when the whistle blows, we'll go right back to the same attitude we always have: We'll want to win!