“We love because He first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19
Last season, Penn State women’s soccer coach Erica Walsh led the Nittany Lions to the national championship game. Despite coming up just short of winning the title, the longtime coach—who also served as a coach for U.S. Women’s Soccer—is helping her team build upon the experience with increased on-field expectations and a continued focus on developing young women of character beyond the soccer pitch.
FCA: What have you learned in your 16 years as a coach?
EW: When I first started in this career, I was out to show the world what I was capable of do-ing. Now, after gaining some experience, I am interested in learning so much more. I seek out opportunities to get better and listen to people of all ages and experiences to try to gain anything, or garner any advice from people in different areas of expertise.
I always thought coaching was about X’s and O’s, but now I realize that strategy is secondary to the relationships, the mentoring and the daily interactions I have with these 18- to 22-year-olds. I might teach them soccer every day, but I hope they each understand that, above all else, I care for them deeply.
FCA: How did reaching the national championship game in 2012 affect your program?
EW: As you climb the ladder and experience success, you revamp your goals and push yourself, always striving to reach the next level. For so many years we wanted to reach the College Cup. Then we wanted to get to the national championship, then win the national championship, and then do that consistently for years. Last year, we took one step closer to those goals.
More importantly, though, one of the things I’ll remember most about last season was the buy-in from players who did not receive any attention. Their acceptance and will-ingness to be great team players behind the scenes made us all better.
FCA: What do you take from your experience coaching with U.S. Women’s Soccer?
EW: It was very refreshing to be an assistant coach and to just listen and learn. It was a role reversal from being a head coach responsible for directing the show.
One of the things that has carried over to our team and coaching staff at Penn State is how to push the elite athletes. I’ve seen Olympians push themselves with more intensity and focus, and I can use that example to help our players understand that it’s achievable regardless of the level of play.
FCA: How does your faith play a role in your career as a coach?
EW: This profession is driven by results, and that’s tough to keep in proper perspective when a job is on the line based on successes and failures, specifically in the win-loss column. I have to constantly remind myself and my staff to be open-minded in our approach to our team, and we encourage one another to keep balance in our lives.
God has given me unbelievable opportunities in this life, and I’m so fortunate to be where I am right now. If I’m successful in the win-loss column, that is great. But, more importantly, if these players leave with the life skills they need to be successful beyond college, then I’m doing my job correctly. The best players and coaches are the ones who make the people around them better. Whether that’s in sports or in life, that’s the focus—always on others and not on ourselves. That’s the kind of player we’re producing on our team.
FCA Staff Quote:
“There is nothing better than seeing a coach make a difference in a player’s life. Erica has done it right by coaching the player and the person to be a difference- maker while in their sport and be-yond.” -Ross Paule FCA Soccer
Originally Published: September 2013
Photos courtesy of Mark Selders, Digital Imaging Coordinator for Penn State