"I've worked too hard and too long to let anything stand in the way of my goals. I will not let my teammates down and I will not let myself down." – Mia Hamm
With two Olympic Gold Medals, two FIFA World Cup Championships and four NCAA championships, Mia Hamm was already one of the most decorated players in U.S. soccer history by 2004. But before she closed the book on her brilliant career, Hamm pursued one more achievement: To score 150 career goals in international play.
Her chance to realize that dream came in July of that year, during a friendly international match against Australia. "In a vintage Hamm dribbling run," a U.S. Soccer official news release recounts, "she scorched her defender while cutting inside, and ripped her shot into the right side of the net from 12 yards out for the winning goal."
After the game, Hamm said, "It felt good. I had my chances earlier on and my teammates were setting me up really well. Prior to [the goal], Abby [Wambach] gave me a great ball that I probably should have hit the first time and didn't. But I got the ball and the 'keeper was out on her six, and I was able to get it over her head."
What It Took
"I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match."
Long before Hamm lit up opposing goalkeepers and set an international scoring record with 158 career goals, she was the youngest player ever to compete for the U.S. National Team—15 years and 140 days old at her 1987 debut.
The young phenom was known for her dynamic, slashing style of play, but toward the back end of her 17-year career, Hamm developed a more sophisticated approach to the game.
"There was a time when I went from banging balls to being a finisher, using the right surface and the right side of the goal and positioning my body the best way I could," Hamm said.
Her more mature mindset enabled Hamm to remain calm, cool and collected on the pitch, no matter how intense the matchup. And her relentless pursuit of technical mastery put the finishing touches on her transition from slasher to polished finisher.
Hamm could often be found on the pitch alone, after other players had headed home, tirelessly honing her ball control and touch. She performed countless footwork drills, like the Closed-Space Dribbling variation outlined below. This isolated repetition made one-touch assists and powerful shots second nature once she took the pitch for live competition.
Closed-Space Dribbling Drill
- Place three cones on the ground in a triangle or line, spaced two feet apart.
- Dribble the ball between the cones, using all surfaces of both feet.
- Perform quick touches to navigate the ball around the cones in a controlled pattern.
Sets/Duration: Perform daily for 10-15 minutes
Coaching Points: Keep the ball close to your feet at all times. Add variety by changing the height and position of the cones.
What It Meant
Although her achievements and personal accolades are legion, what Hamm accomplished on the pitch is greater than the outcome of any one particular game or the breaking of any one record.
Hamm leveled the playing the field by becoming the all-time goals leader among men and women. She made women's soccer a beloved sport in the United States. And she showed a generation of female athletes that there is no limit to what they can achieve.
Five minutes after Hamm recorded her 150th career goal in that friendly match versus Australia, her 24-year-old American teammate Abby Wambach added the clinching goal for her 13th score of the year. Like Hamm, Wambach was a young phenom—but one who could learn the nuances of the game from her incredible teammate.
"She's so analytic and good at talking about the game, which is great, because I'm just the opposite. I'm willing to run through a brick wall," Wambach says. "If Mia Hamm is telling you that this is what you have to do and how you have to do it to win, I would've done it."
Nine years later, in 2013, it was Wambach who passed Hamm's all-time goals record, scoring 160 in her career.
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