'The Beautiful Game: Sixteen girls and the soccer season that changed everything'
July 14, 1999
By Sue Hoye
(CNN) -- With the American women's soccer team on top of the world with a second World Cup championship, enthusiasm for women's soccer is at an all-time high. But author Jonathan Littman sees the interest in World Cup soccer as only the "tip of the iceberg."
Littman, author of "The Beautiful Game," points out that women have been extremely enthusiastic about soccer for a long time. "We are just sort of seeing the mainstream acknowledgment of a phenomenon that has been building for years," he says.
The atmosphere surrounding women's soccer has changed drastically. Eight years ago, the American women's soccer team won the World Cup in China, a victory that received little attention in the United States. But this year, record numbers of new fans, including President Clinton, watched as the American women defeated the Chinese in the World Cup final.
Approximately 7 million young women now play soccer in the United States, according to Littman. In "The Beautiful Game," he chronicles a season with the Santa Rosa Thunder soccer team, its 16 members and their coach, Emiria Salzmann.
The under-14 girls team did not have much in terms of financial resources, but they did have a determined coach. Though she had never coached before, she had plenty of on-the-field experience. Salzmann was a college All-American who broke school scoring records and was determined to turn the team into winners. Under her direction the team made its first serious run at the Northern California State Championship.
Littman's "Beautiful Game" tells how soccer was more than a sport for these young women and how it made them stronger not only physically, but emotionally.
He says he didn't write the book as a result of any big achievement by the women's national team but rather was inspired by the grassroots soccer movement around the world. "This book is about the reality of girls' and women's soccer. It is far broader than all the achievements of the women's national team.
"I think one of the reasons soccer is taking off now is because girls and women are making it in their own image," he says.
Because American men have not had the same success women have had at soccer, their success creates a unique opportunity for women to define the sport, he says. When American women play soccer, their performance isn't compared to men's performance, as in basketball.
The sport also embraces women of all shapes and sizes. "You don't necessarily have to be the fastest player," Littman says. "It is a game that requires a true mastery of the ball and the field."
In "Beautiful Game" Littman portrays the game as art, an art where the girls can play as tough as boys.
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