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Her passion is soccer

'Go for the Goal'
By Mariel Margaret Hamm

July 14, 1999
Web posted at: 5:34 p.m. EDT (2134 GMT)

(CNN) -- For the more than 7 million girls who are chasing a soccer ball and dreams of glory, there is one name that eclipses all others, male or female: Mia Hamm. With her cheetah-like acceleration and lightning bolt shot, Hamm has broken nearly every record in her sport, while galvanizing a whole new generation of fans and players.

"Go for the Goal" is not only the story of how Mia became a global terror with a ball (and the world) at her feet -- it's also a step-by-step guide for any kid with the all-American dream of making the team and becoming a champion.


No 'Me' in Mia

My name is Mariel Margaret Hamm, but everyone calls me Mia. Many people say I'm the best women's soccer player in the world. I don't think so. And because of that, someday I just might be.

All my life I've been playing up, meaning I've challenged myself by competing with players older, bigger, more skillful, more experienced -- in short, better than me. When I was six, my big brother, Garrett, ran circles around me. At ten, I joined an eleven-year-old-boys' team and, eventually, led them in scoring. Seven years later I found myself playing for the number-one college team in America after becoming the youngest player ever to suit up for the U.S. Women's National Team.

Was I that good? No, but early on coaches detected a competitive fire in me and fed it by continually pitting me against superior opponents. Back then I wasn't sure I fit in; after all, I was shy and a bit intimidated by players I had idolized. But each day I attempted to play up to their level and earn their respect, and I was improving faster than I had ever dreamed possible.

Now, with the National Team, I'm training and playing with some of the best players in the world every day. When I see their amazing skills and talents, I have no doubt that I still have a lot of work to do. Until I can head the ball with the authority of Tisha Venturini, pass with the touch and imagination of Kristine Lilly, shoot with the thunder of Michelle Akers, and command a team with the grit of Carla Overbeck and the wit of Julie Foudy, I'll keep striving to become the complete player. My teammates are the driving forces that push me to improve.

It is the responsibility of your teammates to nurture you through competition. Their intensity and determination set the tone of your training environment, the crucible in which you as a soccer player are formed. Do these players create an atmosphere that will help me improve? Do I push them every day? Do the coaches push us? Everyone plays a unique role in building a team that reaches for excellence.

On the National Team -- and we dare to be great, whether it's a one-on-one drill, an intrasquad scrimmage, or a grudge match against Norway -- everyone wants to win. We live for situations that challenge us, because to the woman, we want to drive ourselves to the limit and beyond.

On the first day of a training camp, we have a one-on-one tournament where we put our cards on the table. It's forwards going against forwards, midfielders clashing with midfielders, and defenders trying to prove who is the toughest of them all. We play three 2-minute games, but in that 6 minutes we play the most intense soccer you'll see in a training session anywhere.

Players are battling for loose balls, sliding to block shots, and doing anything within the rules and a few things that are questionable (I've got torn jerseys to prove it) to gain the upper hand. We do this because we all know we have to push one another all the time to win. If one person slacks off and doesn't give the maximum, she has shortchanged not just herself but also the person she is squared up against and the whole team.

Soccer is not an individual sport. I don't score all the goals, and the ones I do score are usually the product of a team effort. I don't keep the ball out of the back of the net on the other end of the field. I don't plan our game tactics. I don't wash our training gear (okay, sometimes I do), and I don't make our airline reservations. I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.

Once you experience success -- and you will if you put in the work -- you shouldn't be afraid to celebrate it. Unless you feel good about what you do every day, you won't do it with much conviction or passion. So celebrate what you've accomplished, but also raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed. I think that's what we do so well on the National Team. We've been successful, and we do enjoy being the best. But after the 1996 Olympics, once we got back together, all we talked about was reclaiming the World Cup. We never lost our focus on our next goal as we all used our success in '96 as motivation to win in '99.

Never let yourself get too comfortable or confident, because that's when a weaker opponent can sneak up and knock you off your perch. Take your victories, whatever they may be, cherish them, use them, but don't settle for them. There are always new, grander challenges to confront, and a true winner will embrace each one.

I firmly believe that success breeds success. Once you have achieved something, your confidence begins to build. You realize you're capable of doing it again. But each time you must work harder, because the old saying is true, it is more difficult to stay on top than to get there.

The U.S. Women's National Team got to stand on that gold medal podium not only because we beat China in the championship game but because of everything we did as a team in the years leading up to that moment. There were tremendous sacrifices made since the veteran core of National Team players first pulled on the U.S. jersey. We put families on hold, lost jobs because of the travel, and spent time away from friends. But as April Heinrichs, our captain at the 1991 Women's World Cup, used to say, it is not sacrifice if you love what you're doing.

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