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Along with her longtime assistant coach, former USWNT goalkeeper and Youth National Team coach Amy Griffin (right), University of Washington head coach Lesle Gallimore (left) has mentored dozens of WPS and Olympic stars, including USWNT defender Tina (Frimpong) Ellertson (center) and goalkeeper Hope Solo.

In Her Own Words

PlayOn! sits down with Washington head coach Lesle Gallimore to talk about the growth of women’s soccer, the impact of Title IX, the rising star of Washington’s Hope Solo, and the season ahead.

When it comes to the growth of women’s soccer over the last 40 years, University of Washington women’s soccer head coach Lesle Gallimore has had a front-row seat.

Gallimore played collegiately at Cal from 1982-85, a time when women’s soccer was still merely a club sport, not yet officially recognized by the NCAA. Had her accomplishments occurred today — four-time All-American, three national championship appearances and a Final Four berth in 1984, achievements that earned her the title of Cal’s Women’s Soccer Athlete of the Decade — she might well have been one of the best-known college players in the nation, on the fast track to the U.S. Women’s National Team and the Women’s World Cup … that is, of course, if there had been a Women’s World Cup (the first one was held in 1991).

In 1994, when she arrived in Seattle to take the reins of the University of Washington women’s program, the team didn’t yet have a home field, playing its games on high school and community fields throughout the region.

In the nearly 20 years since, however, the women’s game has grown by spectacular margins, with World Cup and Olympic matches watched by millions worldwide, inspiring a new generation of young girls to take their own balls out into the yard and dream of a future in the beautiful game.

In this, the 40th year since the passage of Title IX — the landmark federal legislation that guaranteed equal access for women to sports and other federally-funded programs — PlayOn! celebrates the growth of girls and women’s soccer by sitting down with Gallimore to reflect on her experiences as a college player, the changes she has seen in the game over the last 40 years, and — most importantly — where she thinks women’s soccer is headed in the 40 years still to come.

As we talk today, one of your former Husky athletes (and a Washington Youth Soccer alum), Hope Solo, is in goal for the USWNT at the Olympics. As someone who has been a mentor to her since she was a teenager in Richland, what has it been like to watch her become a global soccer icon over the last year?

Gallimore: We went to the World Cup as a family last year, and that was a fun train ride to be on. It’s definitely been fun to follow. It’s been crazy ever since to see what’s gone on with her. It’s a lot for a person to handle, and honestly, I think she handles it pretty well. It’s a whole different world that she’s living in right now.

I heard someone speculate the other day that she might be one of the top-10 most famous active women’s athletes in the world.

Gallimore: If you mention her name, a lot of people know it, for sure. I can’t think of very many [that I’d put above her].

What effect, if any, have you seen Hope’s success have on other young women’s players in the state of Washington?

Gallimore: I think there’s definitely an effect. Her coming home and playing for the Sounders this summer was a big deal, especially for the local kids. There were a lot of kids who came to those games and saw how she and all the players interacted with the kids there. It was super-cool for those kids to have the chance to be up close and personal with them in that kind of a setting. That was great for the girls in the state.

Hope is 31 years old, and thus is among the first generation of women’s athletes born in the post-Title IX era. How has the experience of that generation differed from those which came before, who maybe had to fight a little more for equal treatment in athletics?

Gallimore: It’s different, for sure. Amy [Griffin] and I inherit kids that come from club programs that are much stronger than any we played in at the same age. They have better coaching, they play more games, and as a result, the young players coming out today are used to having certain advantages.

It’s our job as mentors or coaches to put them in an environment where they learn to appreciate what they have. Now, that doesn’t mean that we need to browbeat them with how when we were players, there were no locker rooms, and we had to pay our own way to play, and go on and on. But what we do need to do is just to make sure that they appreciate what they have, and understand what a privilege it is to put on the jersey, get a scholarship, and have the kind of support that they have. They’ve had a lot more benefits than we did growing up — and as part of the older generation, the pioneers so to speak, we should be proud of that, and the opportunities for them that we’ve helped to create.

What are some of the ways in which the experience of a collegiate women’s soccer player have changed since the early years of Title IX, when you were at Cal?

Gallimore: As a player, we used to do everything for ourselves. Now, there is so much support in coaching and equipment and trainers and academics, that the real challenge is in figuring how to utilize it. The game, too, has just changed so much. We were all considered tomboys back then. Girls who played sports were looked at as masculine, whereas now, it’s fine for a woman to be feminine and athletic. A strong, athletic woman doesn’t carry a stigma anymore.

Women’s soccer has obviously come a long way in the 40 years since Title IX. Where do you think it will be 40 years from now?

Gallimore: I think it will be a major sport. There will be an established league in each of the top-15 FIFA countries that support women’s soccer. I think you’ll see more and more women coaches coaching girls — that’s something that exists less in soccer than in some other women’s sports. As this generation of players who have grown up playing high-level competitive soccer get older and have kids themselves, I think you’ll see a lot more of those women get into coaching.

You mentioned pro leagues — what do you think it will take to get women’s soccer to take off professionally?

Gallimore: I don’t know. Someone asked me that same question the other day. There have been some really intelligent, hard-working people that have tried. It’s just difficult, especially in the United States with all the competing sports markets. I think we probably need to figure out how to ride the coattails of MLS a little bit, through branding and venues. Perhaps downsizing a bit, and making it more regionalized. The W-League, and the WPSL have a lot of women participating — now, how we pay them all, and keep them professional, and keep from having to rely on college players, that has yet to be seen. I think if we could hit the 10-year mark, it would stick around, a lot like MLS. The MLS struggled for years, but now it’s finally hit its stride. If we started on a smaller scale and maybe attached ourselves to some of those successful MLS clubs, I think it’s viable.

You’re talking about making a more direct connection between the two leagues, similar to the NBA and the WNBA?

Gallimore: Yeah, I think that’s been talked about. I think that some people in the women’s game, though, have been resistant to that because they want to stand on their own. They don’t want to be seen as reliant on the men. I can understand that to some extent, but at the same time, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. There are some compromises to be made.

Tell me a little about the coming 2012 season for your University of Washington women’s squad.

Gallimore: We have a very big junior class full of talent, with Annie Sittauer and Lindsay Elston — who played with the Sounders this summer — plus Allie Beahan. Those three in particular have a lot of game experience under their belt. They need to take the bull by the horns and help the younger players along and really carry the team a bit. With that said, we have a balance of talent that will help us. We’ll be solid defensively, and our goalkeeping has always been solid. This year, we need to be more mentally tough than we have in the past, to grind out close games and not get behind early, then claw back. We have to come out and set the tone from the get-go.

What are some things that you end up teaching players in college that you wish they would know before they get there?

Gallimore: There are two things I tell kids all the time in clinics, camps, and when I go out to speak to teams in the community. The first one is that youth players get away with touching the ball way too many times. They hold the ball too long and play too slowly. The second thing is that youth players get away with a lot of bad defensive habits. In youth soccer, you can wait out your opponent, and they’re usually not good enough to keep the ball through more than 2-3 passes, even with just a little bit of pressure. A good team — take a team like Stanford, in our conference, the reigning National Champions — is going to string multiple passes together on you, and if you don’t defend well, you’re not getting it back. They’re not just going to give it to you.

Those are two huge things for youth players to be taught by their coaches, and two things for youth players to constantly focus on. Even if they are at a level where they can get away with bad habits, they need to train themselves to play quicker and defend better.

Thanks for your time, coach, and good luck this year.

Gallimore: No problem. Good to talk to you!

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