Griffin Guiding U-17 U.S. National Team
July 11, 2008
As a world-class goalkeeper, Amy Griffin helped lead the U.S. Women's Soccer Team to victory in the first-ever Women's World Cup in 1991. This summer, she'll draw upon that experience to help guide the top youth female soccer players in America to a similar fate from the sidelines.
Griffin, UW's associate head coach, is in her third year as an assistant for the Under-17 U.S. National Team which is looking to earn a berth in the first-ever U-17 World Cup, which takes place Oct. 28-Nov. 16 in New Zealand.
Griffin will head to Trinidad and Tobago, July 17-26, for the CONCACAF U-17 Women's Championship where the top three teams will earn a berth in the World Cup. It will be a bittersweet feeling for Griffin, who enters her 13th season as a Husky coach, should the team qualify as it means she will have to miss a big portion of UW's 2008 schedule.
'I really like the state the Huskies are in right now,' Griffin said. 'Once I'm with the National Team, I'm there 100 percent but a big part of me doesn't want to miss a thing here. I love the personality of our team and the kids are really working hard. But this is the first World Cup in this age group so I'm really looking forward to it.'
Griffin, who primarily coaches the goalkeepers but also provides first-hand insight as a former World Cup winner, says the U.S. is favored to win the qualifying tournament and advance to the World Cup. From there, the stakes get a little higher.
'U.S. soccer has put a little pressure on us in that the U.S. has won the first World Cup at every age group,' Griffin said. 'We won the first U-19, first U-20, first U-23 and the first Women's World Cup which was the team I was on. It's hard because they want us to really develop these kids for the future but developing kids for the future doesn't mean you win at the same time.'
From her past experience on the international soccer scene, Griffin knows the U.S. must improve the quality of its soccer style even if it means sacrificing victories.
'The huge challenge is to make sure the kids are making good decisions. Sometimes the U.S. gets a bad rap because we don't play `great soccer.' We kick and run. If you watch the Final Four it's a bunch of track athletes who kick the ball, it's not like the Brazilian style of play,' Griffin explained. 'Our head coach, Kazbek Tambi, really wants to play the beautiful game. It's really cool how he's developed these kids. They are good at moving the ball around. We're not a kick and run team.
'It'll be interesting because we've scrimmaged boys more than anyone else so we have no idea how we'll do against teams who will pack it in against us and defend, defend, defend and foul, foul, foul. We haven't played anyone like that.'
While Tambi , who was the captain of the men's U.S. Olympic team in 1994 and is currently the women's head coach at Seton Hall, and his other male assistants have focused on the tactical side of the game, Griffin has shared her international experience with the players, preparing them for the surprises that come with foreign travel and foreign opponents.
'Right now, they've just done training camp after training camp,' Griffin, who played for the national team from 1987-1991, said. 'They're going to be shocked when they see crowds or they're in a position where they have to win or we're not going to qualify. I can prepare them for what they're in for so it won't be a big surprise. I can help take the anxiety out of it because I was there. It's not like I can demo things because they're all better than me now, but if there's anything I can bring, it's that I can say, `just so you know, this is going to happen and just be ready.''
In addition to helping her national team players, Griffin is always gaining a fresh perspective which she looks forward to bringing back to her players at UW.
'It's been fun because the U-17 team at times has trained with the U-18 team and six months ago we were training with the U-20 team so I've been able to watch their goalkeeper coaches and find different things that work for them,' Griffin said. 'I've been at UW for so long that you naturally start to second guess yourself and think, `does this still work?' A lot of the coaches are using the same stuff but maybe they explain it differently or have different key phrases. It's energized me to come back and demand more from our kids and find different ways of getting the best out of them. If these 17-year-old kids can do it, our kids should be able to do it better, quicker and stronger.'
Witnessing the skill of these high-school aged kids has impressed Griffin. With increased opportunities for players, she has seen the level of play get better and better each year and at a younger age.
'It's great to be in a position where 16 year olds amaze me. That didn't use to be the case when we were just working on fundamentals. We can work on anything now,' Griffin said. 'The group I have, they're the best of the best so the competition makes it such that everyone is fighting for a starting spot. They've already played more soccer in their short careers than I played my entire career with better coaches, better fields and better equipment.'
And with the increased opportunities for players come more chances for Griffin and other coaches to grow as well, not to mention see the world.
'When I was on the team, we went to Haiti, China and Bulgaria, over and over. These guys are going to New Zealand, Brazil, Holland,' Griffin said. 'The best experience was being in Brazil because of the soccer culture. You hear about it and see it on TV but to really experience it is unreal. I didn't see a volleyball or a baseball or a Frisbee the whole time we were there. I just saw soccer. If you rifle the ball at some old granny just by accident she'd probably head it back. She wouldn't catch it or duck, she'd head it back. That's what's so fun about being there. For me, that was a thrill.'
Still, Griffin gets a little sentimental when she thinks of the Husky team she could be leaving behind, a team she and Coach Gallimore feel could again challenge for Pac-10 supremacy. But even Coach Gallimore agreed it was an opportunity Griffin couldn't pass up.
'There's kind of an unwritten rule about being with a national team, especially if it's an Olympic year. There's a hierarchy,' Griffin said. 'Lesle and I are such good friends, I asked her, 'is this something you're letting me do just because we're good friends?' She was like, 'no, people would think I was an idiot if I didn't let you go.'
'Like I said, once I'm there, I'm 100 percent there, but there's not a second I don't think, `I need to jot that down, the Huskies would love that.'
While the Huskies will no doubt miss the coach who molded Hope Solo into the Pac-10 Player of the Year and the U.S. National Team's starting goalkeeper, the long-term benefits should prove to be worth it. As much as Griffin will be helping the future soccer stars of America, the experience will also help Griffin gain a fresh perspective and a renewed enthusiasm to help bring the Huskies back to soccer glory.