If you’re lucky enough when you’re young, your biggest decision is which movie to watch or which toy to play with when you get home from school. Almost everything you do is for fun. Former U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team star Kristine Lilly, 46, remembers playing sports as a child for that reason — just for the joy of it.
“Growing up, I wanted to be like my brother,” Lilly said. “Whatever he did, I wanted to do, whether
it was soccer or something else. I just remember doing stuff for the love of it.”
Before you know it, unsure of your future, you’re catapulted into the adulthood, where work,
taxes and other “have to’s” encompass your world.
In that midst of the chaos, a person is likely to lose sight of the passion he or she once held. This is clearly not the case with Lilly.
Lilly now has two daughters of her own, an 11-year-old and a 6-year-old, and defines herself as both a mother and a soccer player.
“I would define myself as fun, loving and sometimes strict as a parent,” Lilly said. “You always
want your kids to learn the right way to do things. On the field, I’d say I’m hard working,
competitive, emotional, determined and fun.”
In 23 years of playing for the USWNT, Lilly earned 354 caps. She retired in 2011, but she continues to teach the game through KL Soccer Academy, her own creation which promotes and imparts important wisdom onto rising athletes.
“The camp gives me an opportunity to give back and teach the kids in the area [Wilton, Conn.] I grew up in,” Lilly said.
Now in its 22nd year, KL Soccer Academy offers a week or two of camps every year for
both girls and boys, ages 7 to 13.
“I did this because I grew up playing with the boys,” she said. “The girls get to play with boys
because boys have a different mentality, and for boys, it’s good to see girls play the game.”
By the end of the week everyone develops a mutual respect for each other.
“The interactions are great,” Lilly said. “The girls show up the boys a little bit, and the boys show
up the girls a little bit.”
One of the most important responsibilities of being a parent and a coach is making sure children know the difference between right and wrong. If done right, sports can be a bridge to teach children basic life lessons they can reflect on all throughout their lives.
“There are too many times these days where kids aren’t having fun and they aren’t enjoying what they’re doing, or it’s just too much for them,” Lilly said. “My atmosphere is a learning one but also a fun atmosphere. I want them to feel good about themselves when they leave, so if I can give them
some confidence, excitement for the game, and lessons on how to be a good person, then I think we’ve been pretty successful for the week.”
In addition to Lilly’s academy, she also runs camps with former USWNT teammates Mia Hamm
and Tisha Venturini. The three of them travel around the U.S throughout the year hosting seven to eight camps for boys and girls.
“I think our dynamic shows young people that three different players can take different paths
to get to the top of their sport, but have similar work ethic,” Lilly said.
In addition to teaching the game, Lilly is in constant motion as a mother.
“Soccer isn’t my entire life anymore. It’s my kids,” she said. “They’re a little older so we’re getting them into activities and giving them opportunities to see what they like.”
But don’t think Lilly’s career as a professional athlete hasn’t had a significant impact on the values she teaches her children.
“Being an active person because of the game, and loving sports, lets my kids see the commitment I have to my work and training ethic, she said. “By still running and still working out, they’re able to see how important being healthy is to me. I want them to live healthy and active lives, too.”
What will the next 10 years look like for Lilly? She’s not one hundred percent sure, but it looks
like her role model responsibilities will stay deeply rooted.
“Well, my kids will be in the midst of teenage years so I don’t even know what that’ll be like,” she
said. “Hopefully I’m still teaching the game and my kids; helping them become better soccer
players and better people.”
There’s no doubt about it. Lilly has found a way to use her passion for the game of soccer to not only create a future for herself, but also to instill lasting qualities of determination, confidence, and
character upon so many children, including her own.
That’s a win in anyone’s book.