1:51 p.m., March 24, 2010----Soccer star Mia Hamm shared her formula for success with an audience of more than 2,000 at the University of Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center on Tuesday, March 23. Her talk, “Achieving Personal Excellence,” was part of the UD Speaks series, which brings world-class leaders to the Delaware campus to educate, enlighten, and engage the University community.
Hamm, who led the U.S. national women's team to two FIFA World Cup titles and two Olympic gold medals, inspired a generation of little girls to become athletes and wear jerseys sporting the number “9.”
Hamm was the fourth in a family of six that moved from one Air Force base to another every few years. Those dynamics instilled an early competitive spirit in her. “What do I do with it now that I'm retired?” she asked. “I use it to beat you to the bananas in the grocery store.”
Although she was joking about racing for the bananas, the competitiveness that enabled Hamm to become the youngest person ever to play on the U.S. Women's National Team still burns in her. Now, as a wife and mother, a motivational speaker and head of a foundation, she has simply redirected it.
“I keep competing to spread the message that I was taught,” she said. “But I can't do it alone. I need you, but I don't need your time or your money. I need you to challenge yourself to be the best you can be -- for yourself, your family, your friends, your company.... You have to ask yourself how good you want to be.”
Hamm herself was asked that question by a coach when she was just a teenager. When she told him that she wanted to be the best, he responded, “Mia, it's a decision. It's easy to say it, but to get there you have to make that choice every day.”
And that was her message to the young players, college students, and adults in the audience -- never give up.
Hamm admitted that she was a terrible loser when she was growing up as a shy and undersized child. “But I learned through those losses that it wasn't about losing -- it was about the journey. Things like the Olympics and the World Cup were just the results, and there were a lot of failures on the way.”
If competitiveness was what drove Hamm to excellence, a strong teamwork ethic guided her along that path. She was invited to play on the national team at the age of 15, an experience that quickly took her to a new level in terms of both competition and teamwork.
“The women on the team were all gifted athletes. They could all pass, dribble, and shoot. But two things stood out for me: It was okay to compete, and teamwork always came first,” Hamm said.
At the University of North Carolina, Hamm found herself in a similar environment. The players were fiercely competitive with each other, keeping score on everything and racking up daily statistics on shots, assists, saves, sprints, and lifts. But the approach worked -- although they fought each other every day to be the best, they became stronger as a team in the process and completed their four years at UNC with a 94-1 record.
“What I recall most,” Hamm said, “was the coach telling us, 'Ladies, the reason we play is for each other.'”
Hamm's skills and accomplishments soon thrust her into the spotlight, a place that stirred up conflicting emotions for her. “I realized that an increase in success meant an increase in responsibility,” she said. “I wanted to keep the experience positive, but the last thing I wanted was for it to have a negative impact on the team.”
During the question-and-answer session that followed her presentation, Hamm fielded more than a dozen questions, many from young players. She talked about recovering from mistakes by channeling negative energy in a positive way, about using humor to break the tension that is inevitable among teammates, and about maintaining balance between school and sports.
“What was your favorite part of soccer when you were growing up?” asked one young fan.
“When I was your age,” Hamm answered, “it was the sodas after the game. With six kids in the family, we didn't get many sodas. As I got older, it was what the game asked of me every week and what I could learn about myself from playing it.”
“How did you overcome your shyness?” asked a college-age member of the audience.
“I still have it,” Hamm said. “It's a work in progress. Public speaking is just like anything else -- you have to train and hope that you'll get more comfortable with it.”
Despite her shyness, Hamm seemed comfortable delivering her message to the UD audience, perhaps because she is so comfortable with the message itself: “Each of you has a task to do and a vision of how it can be done better than it's ever been done before,” she said. “It's up to you to decide whether you want to do it.”
Article by Diane Kukich
Photos by Evan Krape and Doug Baker
Video by Andrea Boyle