Growing up in Texas, Mia Hamm didn’t get many chances to train with her soccer heroes.
As a matter of fact, the 44-year-old former United States Women’s National Team star can’t recall many camps with professional players or instructors for boys, let alone girls, growing up in the 1980s.
It’s one of the reasons that Hamm, along with former U.S. national team members Kristine Lilly and Tisha Venturini-Hoch, started the Team First Soccer Academy camps.
Hamm, Lilly and Venturini-Hoch held a two-day camp in Mount Pleasant at the city’s Park West recreation department facility this weekend. There were more than 250 participants at this year’s event, which included a Saturday morning session with the Special Olympic athletes. The trio has a combined five Olympic Gold Medals, five World Cup championships and 12 NCAA titles.
“Growing up in Texas, I can remember going to some NASL (North American Soccer League) games, but never really getting to go to camps or clinics with those guys,” Hamm said. “That just wasn’t available to me when I was growing up.”
Despite having retired from the game more than a decade ago, Hamm still believes it’s her duty to promote the game that has given her so much.
“Areas like Charleston are the heart and soul of our country, so to be able to share our love and passion for the game means so much to me and Lilly and Tisha,” Hamm said. “It’s important to continue to promote the game.”
While most of the campers at the event probably were not born when Hamm was still playing, she is surprised by the reception she still receives when she’s conducting the camps.
“I think maybe the parents remember me more than the kids,” Hamm said with chuckle. “I don’t know if their parents get them online to watch us from back in the day. To be received the way we have been, we’re just so humbled and grateful for it. It means a lot to us because it means they are invested in the game. To see this next generation of girls play in college and get to the women’s national team or play in professional leagues is exciting for us.”
As a mother of three children, Hamm understands the impact she has on the nation’s young players.
“I feel like we get more out of events like this because we have a much greater perspective,” Hamm said. “A lot of us are moms, so we understand the important of time and sharing that time and energy with people and seeing the kids get so much joy out of some success out there. That’s what you want. We feel the game has given us so much, but what the game has taught us has exceeded our playing and coaching lives.”
Hamm, who led the U.S. Women’s team to two Olympic goal medals and two World Cup titles, said she’ll be watching the women’s national team play in the Olympics this summer.
“Those tournaments are so short that a lot can happen,” Hamm said. “They need to be healthy — that’s so important in a tournament like that. Yellow cards play into it as well. There are so many factors that play into it, that being technically clean and tactically prepared sometimes are not as important as being healthy.
“I know this team expects a lot out of itself. What they have to continue to remember is that they set those standards. What we did in 1999 or 2004 doesn’t matter. They are trying to improve every single day, so for them, they believe they should win every game they play, and that’s how you become an Olympic gold medalist with that mentality.”