Part II: Grit and Making a US Youth National Team
Updated: Apr 19, 2022
Last August we introduced Lily Stegall, a Captain Elite player from North Carolina who had experienced some ups and downs in her youth soccer career but who never stopped working to get better and never lost her faith that she'd get where she wanted to be.
As you know from our last post about Lily, she had already made the US Youth Futsal team. I caught up with her recently to find out how things have been going for her because it was unclear if she would even be able to join the US team in Spain due to pandemic restrictions both here in the US and in Europe.
It's been a long battle for Lily to get to this point so read on to find out what's been happening with Lily and how she got to where she is today. We will show you videos of Lily as she began her first soccer dribbling training course with Captain Elite. We will also show you a later video of Lily performing more advanced dribbling in our Advanced Cardio Soccer Speed Dribbling course. Finally, we will end with an interview of Lily and some photos of the incredible soccer experiences she has had in her young life. Our hope is that Lily's story will inspire you and your soccer players to have fun and go as far as the sport will take you.
When she began training with us Lily was already a competent club soccer player in NC. She was determined to use her training at home with Captain Elite as a way to develop her technical soccer skills to advance her level; however, she and her mother also discovered during the training that her newfound skill was an effective segue to developing her soccer confidence. As most parents of athletes know, self-confidence for youth athletes does not always come naturally. We do know that it can be developed in players if you have a path to follow.
It's often said that female athletes and women in general struggle with confidence in themselves and in their abilities. I remember at one of the UNC Women's Soccer Camps, Head Coach Anson Dorrance was telling us all a story about the difference in coaching the men's and women's soccer teams at UNC-Chapel Hill. Coach Dorrance started out as the men's head soccer coach at UNC until several females came to him and asked that he start UNC's first-ever women's soccer team. Anson said that if he came into a team meeting and started talking to the players on the men's team about errors being made on the field during the game, all of the male players would say that he couldn't possibly be talking about them. On the other hand, if he said the same thing to his women's teams, most of the female players would assume he was speaking about them personally and calling them out for those mistakes. What a difference but it causes us as parents to stop and think about the differences between our male and female athletes and how we can support each in their journey to fulfillment. Coach Dorrance always mentioned the lack of technical soccer skills in our US youth players as compared to those youth soccer players in Europe who grow up with a ball at their feet. At Captain Elite, we completely believe that better technical soccer skills lead to more confidence on the field for all players.
Since Lily was still determined to develop her soccer skill even as she was cut from teams, we feel that she's a great role model for other players who may be struggling with the same issues. This interesting idea of gaining confidence as youth athletes gain more skill is worth exploring if it can help our own children grow, achieve successes, and have more fun with the game. Gaining confidence also helps players take more risks on the soccer field. Remember all the times you've seen youth soccer players shy away from taking risks such as passing the ball off instead of shooting when they're on goal? Other examples include defenders kicking the ball out of bounds instead of defending when near the goal, players not wanting to take corner or free kicks, or players easily losing the ball when other players go on the attack. The list goes on and on when players don't believe in themselves or in their abilities.
How can parents possibly help players who struggle with a lack of confidence? According to psychologist Maud Purcell, the trick to gaining confidence is to start with something new and then sticking with it. She says that, “true confidence develops from an increasing belief that you can rely on yourself to take action and follow-through, no matter what the result.”
When you apply this theory to soccer players, players who train on their own are learning to master soccer skills at home, away from judgment and the eyes of their coaches and peers. They can safely fail over and over until they finally succeed with no one watching them. This builds confidence but parents must ensure that they stick with it. Players who say that they don't have time to train on their own but are still spending hours on Instagram, Snapchat or other video games are robbing themselves of time they could spend on more worthwhile pursuits to help themselves get better and be happier. All players say they want to get better but parents are the gatekeepers to make sure their kids actually stick with their goals. By sticking with this training at home, soccer players will gain new skills which invariably leads to more confidence on the soccer field.
Lily attacked this idea of soccer training at home on her own to get better. We only gave her the plan but she was the one to set goals and follow through aided by the gentle encouragement and guidance from her family. We are going to break down how Lily did it and give you videos of her progress starting with Day 1 training with us and culminating in her most recent breakthroughs. See Lily (standing beside Coach Cam) in the image below from our summer soccer camp in 2020 as she was beginning her journey of discovery in her own abilities.
Lily had just finished our course in close control dribbling where she performed pretty well. See the video below of Lily as she begins Captain Elite's train-at-home close control soccer dribbling course. As you see, she already had a good base in dribbling for a 15-year-old soccer player. Her technique is good. She still has to look down at the ball to keep control which is normal for all players starting out in the soccer dribbling courses.
Coaches had commented that Lily was "clearly uncomfortable on the ball". Do you see this in the video above? We don't see that. We see a player who has technical soccer skills already and could actually grow to become a technical powerhouse as long as she truly believes in her abilities and brings that skill to her game. In other words, she only needed to gain more confidence to grow her game to the college level. Figuring out how to help their kids gain confidence many parents will exclaim is like climbing an impossible mountain. When the confidence trait is so elusive to many youth athletes how can we as parents help?
Lily had a lot going in her favor already but I believe other soccer families can use her experiences to learn from. First of all Lily's mother, Joanna, was there helping Lily every step of the way. Supporting her, without hovering or shielding her from heartache, we saw Joanna look for any opportunities to help Lily become a better player. Joanna had heard good things about Captain Elite's online soccer training courses and in-person soccer camps and brought Lily to learn from us. She also encouraged Lily's training at home and found other opportunities for her to play with other kids her level and up. I believe the Captain Elite soccer camp that Lily attended in 2020 against other very competitive players who were also supportive of each other really helped Lily come into the next soccer training course of first touch and passing with more vigor and determination to get much better.
Now jump ahead about a year and see the short video below of Lily when she is working in our Advanced Soccer Dribbling course. You'll be surprised at how far she came in only about a year's time. The confidence she exhibits in the video below is easily seen. She doesn't have to stare at the ball anymore but instead can look ahead to see what's next.
You've probably guessed by now that soccer training on your own builds confidence in yourself as a soccer player. Starting at a young age about 9 is best but we see high school players become phenomenal in one year's time. Players who lack confidence don't trust in their ability to do what's needed on the field when necessary. When players train on their own like Lily they no longer have to worry about their dribbling, passing, 1st touch, and striking skills! They can now focus on looking ahead to figure out their next move without the ball bouncing off their foot into a defender, making bad passes, kicking the ball out of bounds to avoid a defender scoring, or having the ball taken away before they get the chance to think ahead. Players like Lily dribble around defenders, make clean passes to open teammates, and yes, they also score!
See Lily above (third from the left) in Spain playing for her country on the US Youth Futsal Team!
I caught up with Lily on Instagram as she was headed to play in a tournament in Florida recently. Below is a short transcript of our conversation.
Captain Elite: "So Lily, you finally made it to Spain! Please tell us what this experience was like!
Lily: "Spain was honestly really awesome! I was able to meet so many incredible people and players from all across the country. The activities we were able to experience, accompanied by the intense gameplay, made the trip even better! Seeing the world with people all united by the fact we’re representing our own country in international competition is one of the coolest things I’ve ever been able to do or, quite possibly, will ever do! I took way too many pictures!
Captain Elite: "Never too many pictures! Give us some information about the team that traveled to Spain with you . Give me some information about the team such as were most of the players from one region of the country? What states did the players come from? What position did you play? And finally, do you speak Spanish?"
Lily: "Most of the players came from the four corners of the US. We had players on our team from North Carolina, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, and California. I played right and left ala but preferred left ala; however, it was impossible to not play in every “position” on the court at one point or another simply due to the amount of movement.
Note: For those of you not schooled in Futsal terms, ALA is a flank (or wing) player who constantly moves up and down the sides of the pitch as an attacking and defending player.
We had 11 players that played in shifts of 3 minutes. We played against some of the top-ranked teams in Madrid including Athletico Madrid Futsal, CD Leganés, AD Alcorcón, and San Fernando. We won all of our matches except for the last one ( 4-1, 5-1, 3-2, and 5-6 respectively ). We played all the matches on the home courts of the teams we played, which meant we were able to travel all across Madrid. We also traveled to watch Inter Movistar full team train at their official courts and were trained by Athletico Madrid futsal staff at one of their courts.
As someone who is not fluent in Spanish (but learning), it was a very interesting experience trying to communicate with people who also didn’t speak English fluently. It really gave me a strong sense of culture shock to not easily be able to communicate with everyone. In fact, the entire experience was very different than anything I was used to in the US between the architecture, food, methods of travel, language, etc. I experienced incredible cultural differences that I would not trade-in for almost anything.
Captain Elite: "How did you learn about this opportunity to try out for the US Youth Futsal team? How are you able to try out for this team? What suggestions do you have for anyone who might be interested in shooting for this in the future? How did your Captain Elite training help you prepare?"
Lily: "I was told about the identification process for USYF through my futsal club coach Randol Mendoza, and through both Regional and National ID trials I was selected to make the official U-17 team. With the help and support of my coaches, family, and local soccer/ futsal community, I was able to raise enough money to travel to both Kansas for the National Id trial and to Spain for the trip. Without them, I most likely would have had to deny the opportunity. If anyone is considering trying out for the team in the future, I would emphasize both a higher level of technical training and mental training.
In Spain, I learned so much more about the methodology of futsal that I had previously not known and, therefore, had to have a larger capacity for quick tactical acquisition and game-like application/ execution. For this, I would say that Captain Elite has been incredibly beneficial in helping me develop these areas of my game. Through studying the movements of the best players in the world (such as Lionel Messi) and offering programs that help me polish and refine game applicable skills, I was able to handle the intense informational load that was posed to me while training in Spain.
Captain Elite: "We are so excited for you Lily! What’s next for you in your soccer future? Do you have any goals you’re shooting for and finally, why are you on your way to Florida?"
Lily: "Now that I’m back, I hope to continue to apply my newly acquired futsal knowledge and skills to hopefully help my futsal team get to Nationals! As far as soccer, I am hoping to get in contact with coaches of collegiate teams I’m interested in playing for and hopefully find a future soccer/academic home for me. I’m on my way to Florida to play in our ECNL- RL showcase and am super excited to compete in front of collegiate scouts and coaches!"
Captain Elite: "Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today Lily and your Captain Elite family wishes you all the best. We know you have both the love and work ethic required to make great things happen."
Lily: "Thank you so much for helping me cultivate my skills and become a more skilled and smarter player!!"
From all of us at Captain Elite we encourage you to use Lily's special formula for soccer confidence and success this year! Are you doing all you can to be the type of player you'd like to be? It is very practical and effective to train on your own to learn soccer dribbling, 1st touch, soccer passing, and soccer shooting skills. The pros already do it and Lily does it too because this type of training works.
As a start train like Lily in our next 10-week high-performance training course. We have courses starting for players as early as age 9 up to the collegiate level. Go HERE to learn more. Our next course begins Feb. 21st. Join us here for the online course and learn more by chatting with us live on our site. You can also keep an eye out for upcoming one to 2-day camps by following our link to camps HERE. Read the reviews from other parents of youth athletes to learn about their experiences going through our training by clicking HERE.
Please remember to like, share, and comment on our blog posts. Let us know how we can help your soccer player become the player they aspire to become! Coach Mike and I have raised our own family of youth athletes who now are coaches of other youth athletes and we have experienced the struggles that many of you are going through. We want to make the journey easier and more fun for you and your players so write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us at 336-644-6650, or live chat online. We love to hear about your players and their incredible journeys.
If it is to be, It is up to me
From your friends and coaches at Captain Elite