The Value of Mentorship and Personal Persistence with Erica Dambach

We're delighted to welcome Erica Dambach to the Soccer Parenting Association, as she joins Skye Eddy for another High Performance Week Interview, discussing 'The Value of Mentorship and Personal Persistence' - why it's important to have someone guiding your child to their High Performance dreams and how to encourage them to never give up. 


Erica is the head coach of Penn State Nittany Lions women's soccer, leading Penn State to the 2015 National Championship. She is a two-time NSCAA Coach of the Year, winning the award in 2012 and 2015. Erica was also the USWNT Assistant between 2007-12 (including for the 2008 Summer Olympics) and in 2020 for the 2020 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship and is currently work with the team.



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Comments on The Value of Mentorship and Personal Persistence with Erica Dambach

  1. Nathanael Sidmore says:

    Hi Erica, I have a 13 year old high performer that I often wonder, “should I reach out to colleges to find a willing mentor?” Is this this an effective way for parents of young high level players to establish mentor relationships for their kids? As a coach of high level collegiate players, do you encourage your players to be engaged in relationships like this?

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TRANSCRIPT:

Skye:
Hey everyone. Welcome to another interview for High Performance Week. This is going to be a wonderful conversation. I have been looking forward to interviewing Erica Dambach for the first time on Soccer Parenting. So Erica, welcome to Soccer Parenting.

Erica:
Thank you so much. It's awesome to be here. I know we've been working to try to make this happen, but as everybody knows, as a parent, life is busy and your career, the intersection of the two sometimes is impossible to find. So I'm glad we have an opportunity tonight.

Skye:
Absolutely. Well, I'm so excited to have you here. And I know you've been busy with your work as you're wrapping up your season at Penn State, working with the US women's national team. So you have been going in a zillion different directions as well. So a really, truly thank you for your time. I want to talk to you today about two key topics. Mentorship, because I think this is an area that we haven't really dove into through this High Performance Week, and then this concept of personal persistence, which might be relevant to the athletes that you're working with. And I'm sure it's relevant to that.

Skye:
So let's start with this idea of mentorship. Especially I'm thinking at Penn state, you're working with athletes and influencing them at such a key time in their lives, developmentally, athletically in that 18 to 22 year old range. I'm sure that you and your staff consider yourselves to be mentors for your athletes. I mean, what do you think of your role as far as that's concerned?

Erica:
Yeah. I think it depends on, to your point, what stage they are in their career, right? When they're in their college career, you are part of their journey. You are helping them to be the best version of themselves. You are helping them work through adversity by putting an arm around them, while at the same time, pushing them and driving them. And as we all know, adversity is what makes us stronger. You can talk about that. But when they're in the heart of it and they're going through it, they need somebody to obviously help them through it.

Erica:
College is hard. College athletics is extremely hard. And at the top division one level, the ups and downs are, there are a lot of highs and lows. And so while they're in their college years, I think for us, it's an opportunity to put our arm around them and to really help guide them. Post college, it's interesting to watch them go from the role that they were in as potentially big stars within our program, and now they're off into the NWSL or in coaching, and their roles have changed.

Erica:
And what we hope at that point is that the education process that we've gone through in terms of embracing your role and making the people around you better and being a part of an organization, we hope that those lessons have really... they've really taken to those lessons because those are the times in their careers where it really kicks in, when they go from being the captains and the high performers to potentially the low minute players or coaching, they're just getting their foot in the door. Maybe they're a volunteer coach and they're just trying to make their organization better. And we just hope that the lessons that they've learned in our program while they're 18 to 22, help them in those moments.

Skye:
Yeah, absolutely. I look back to just for me growing up and the value of mentors just like when I went off to college, some of the connections that I had with former coaches and such back home. Let's dive into that just a little bit. I'm kind of curious for the athletes that you see that are coming into Penn State, like freshman athletes that you're working with. I don't know, maybe just a little reflection on some who might have key relationships from high school that they can rely on and give them some strength, and others that don't. Do you see a key difference there or the value of that for athletes coming into college?

Erica:
I do. And certainly, I think it's important. I think there's always a little bit of a red flag when those relationships don't exist. You have to wonder why is it that they've maybe jumped around in club teams or they haven't been able to find what's the common denominator in all of the different scenarios. So certainly we embrace, we try to include coaches in the conversations once a player's committed through their time, that growth time before they actually step foot on campus.

Erica:
And so to really try to include the coaches as much as we can. And then I think the most important thing from that perspective is making sure that the messaging coming from whoever the individual is, whether it's a parent or whether it's a coach or whatever capacity or role that this person plays, that the messaging is consistent and the messaging lifts them up and sets them up for success rather than conflicting and telling them what they want to hear, which might make them feel better in the moment, but not necessarily help them in the long run.

Skye:
Yeah, no. Finding that balance is so key. Kind of a curveball question here. When you went off to college to play, did you have relationships with people back home that you kept in touch with that helped you throughout your college career?

Erica:
I had very close relationships with my coaches. In fact, I was just with the US National Team last week and my high school coach came down to the game. I got him a ticket. And my dad had dinner with him, and I have very close relationships with my club coach. But as you know, cell phones weren't around and you don't stay in touch with people in terms of calling and making sure, "Oh, I'm not doing okay. Can you help me through this?" That just wasn't part of the way things worked.

Erica:
Yes, we'd use mom and dad or family. But even at that point, I don't even think we did it nearly as much. There wasn't texting. There wasn't constant back and forth between former and current. And so yeah, just ended up figuring things out on your own a little bit more.

Skye:
Yeah, no, we absolutely did. I guess it's funny now that I'm thinking about this concept of mentorship. I'm also thinking about my daughter and how important it was for me to set her up with people that could act as mentors for her. So to make these introductions and then to encourage her to develop those relationships, knowing that when she went off to college, she'd want them or need them or that they would be valuable to her.

Skye:
So just kind of food for thought for parents out there, as you're considering trying to support your child, just queuing up those relationships. It might not be a college coach, but it could be like a performance trainer. It could be a teacher. My track coach was actually my key person for me growing up. So those relationships matter. And I'd love to hear the value or the role that you all consider that you play, that that is what you consider yourself to be towards these athletes. Do you get calls from players that are in tough playing situations that are calling you for advice and support along the way?

Erica:
Sure. Yeah. We definitely get calls from former players. But at that point, it has turned into a friendship, a relationship, a lifelong relationship. And so we get calls from them, but we do try to check in on them pretty often. I think for us, that is the definition of success in our field. Obviously we want to win championships, but when we get calls from players that have been involved in our program and they're a year out or five years out or 10 years out or they're in their professional career and they're still coming and seeking advice, then you know you've impacted them. And that to me is everything.

Skye:
I love it. Love it. Okay. Let's move on to this concept of personal persistence. So I'm sure that it's a quality that you're obviously looking for in the athletes that you're recruiting to Penn States. Any general thoughts that you have on this for athletes that are growing up today, the value of it, maybe qualities or trends that you're seeing in athletes when it comes to this idea of personal persistence?

Erica:
Well, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about personal persistence is this idea of growth mindset. I think so often, high level players that come into our program have found success through certain methods. And so when they're put into our system, I think it's really tough to explain that their technique and their tactics are quite good and how that meshes with our system is what ultimately will allow them to be successful. And I think that's a really tough message to get across and a really tough thing to understand when you enter into a program or enter into a new club or whatever it is. It's not that you are not at that level, it's that you are trying to still figure out how to make the people around you better because you fit within the system.

Erica:
And so, to me, one of the biggest factors in success at our level is that growth mindset and that patience and desire to build your house every day, that desire to lay the foundation, to be patient with yourself, and then to hit your wagon to people that, again, won't necessarily tell you what you want to hear, but tell you what you need to hear. So whether that's an upperclassman that will hold you accountable, an upperclassman that when you start down the wrong path will say, "Hey, get into the coach's office and have a conversation," and really find out what's going through their minds about playing time, or what's going on with your situation rather than sitting in your dorm room and speculating or creating this narrative in your own mind. And so, to me, it all goes back to the girls' mindset.

Skye:
Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting when you're talking there, a couple key things come to mind. One is, what a great mentality and what a great culture you have within new organization. Because we know that not all college programs and organizations have that same culture where upperclassmen are encouraging people to go and meet with the coaches. So I just have to mention that and make parents that are listening or help parents that are listening give some awareness, the fact that that's such a special and important thing to be seeking for our children.

Skye:
It's interesting too, because when I was coming up with this question and thinking about it, I think I framed the question in my mind around the work ethic, the putting the time in, the this, the that. But when you were speaking, it took this other level of it's not about necessarily that, it's about continuing to grow and evolve as an athlete, as a teammate, not so much just thinking about putting the time in. We grow up in such an environment, we raise our children in an environment where we just focus so much on the actions that they do.

Skye:
And so opening the idea that there's a lot more to this persistence idea than it comes to just the putting the time in on the field or in the gym.

Erica:
Yeah. And I think the biggest thing that we've experienced is that the hard workers, that is not a differentiating quality at this level. It just doesn't differentiate you, if you are not a hard worker, you're not here, or you're not successful here. So that's the bare minimum. And so when it comes to, if you define success by playing time, we like to define success by impact. The impact that you have on others, to me, is what makes a successful career, is, have you highly impacted your teammates on and off the field? And therefore allowed the program to be more successful.

Erica:
But if you define success by minutes played, then that growth mindset is everything. Because it's taking a high level player, technically and tactically fitting it into your system. And then because there's a lot of learning that goes on, once they learn it, then the freedom and the joy goes back into the game, I think for them. But that process is filled with highs and lows. And the acceptance of the fact that you can be really doing well while still maybe not getting the minutes that you're accustomed to. And that doesn't mean that we're telling you a tall tale or that we're seeing something that we're actually telling you. What it means is, it's hard. And what it means is, you got to keep working at it and make sure that you're hearing the messages versus creating a narrative.

Skye:
Yeah, no, I really appreciate that story. It reminds me of a story that I heard Anson talk and I don't remember who it was about. If you've heard him tell the story before, you can mention who it was maybe. But of an athlete at a camp that was talking on the phone to her mom, I think it was back home. And the mom, he could tell, was saying "Well, you need to work hard. You need to ask. You should go meet with the coach." And the athlete was like, "Mom, I'm just not good enough. I'm not as good as these players. I'm doing everything, but it's coming down to this is the elite." That story, do you remember him saying that?

Erica:
I don't remember that story, but I live that story. And I think that those players that turned themselves over to that are the ones that actually grow the most.

Skye:
Yes.

Erica:
Maybe you are not as good as good, however you define that, in this moment, but that is not your destiny unless you make it your destiny, right? That's not your forever career unless you pigeonhole yourself and you decide that the coaches have decided I'm not good enough. Because it's okay if you're 18 and you're not displacing a 22 year old, right? What's not okay is that you then shut down, have a fixed mindset and decide and point the fingers in other directions.

Skye:
Yeah. And other broader picture, taking this concept just to youth development and to kids growing up, maybe it's going to be an issue of athlete being a late developer and working as hard as they can, but still just not quite being able to compete on certain moments. Or maybe it's going to be the kid that's really trying hard to develop a stronger mindset, and it's something that they're working hard on, and other athletes that are on their team or they're competing against have kind of got this.

Skye:
So I think this is a great lesson for us to... It's very clear when we talk about it at the college level and at your level, the whole you're not quite good enough, but I think there's a moment that we can all reflect as parents of kids that are growing up and say that our kids are going to be in these up and down moments forever. This is the reality of them growing up, especially growing up in a game where they're competing.

Erica:
Yeah. And it's obviously human nature. Comparison is human nature. Right? And I love the saying of comparison is the thief of joy, because I do think that that is, when we find our student athletes that really focus in on their journey, they have so much more joy in their journey. Those that spend their days comparing, "Well, but she's doing this," I think that is when they lose that joy. And the same thing applies to parents. I'm a parent. I'm certainly guilty of it even with a five year old. As a parent, you've got to go through that mental conditioning as well.

Erica:
And just continue to remind ourselves that that adversity is what makes them stronger. So it's not suffering, it's growing. And then it's not failure, it's an opportunity to get better. And again, I say that sitting in my house, not in that moment. It's a lot harder said than done. But to your point where you started, that's why the mentors are so important, so you can continue to remind yourself of those things.

Skye:
Yeah, no, I love it. Hey, so this week, as we're wrapping up, is all about supporting parents and coaches who are raising players who have big dreams. We know that it's too early to determine a 10 year old is on a high performance pathway, but maybe this 10 year old is begging for a US women's national team kit and is running around the house and have these dreams. So we want to support these kids, whether they're 10 or 15 or 18 with these dreams.

Skye:
Any wrap up advice that you might have for parents that are raising these children and coaches that are working with these children in terms of just how they can best support them?

Erica:
Well, I think that the first is the obvious one, is to make sure it's their dreams and not yours. And we, even at our level, experience too often that it is the parent's dream. And I think once the student realizes it, it's too late because they probably didn't belong at this level, but it was their dream to wear the crest or to say that they're going to school. So to really be thoughtful and listen to your daughter, your son or daughter, about what they love, what their passion is. I would love my daughter to love soccer, but all I see her doing cartwheels and back handsprings right now. And you need to really listen to that. So make sure it's their dream.

Erica:
Secondly is, the quality of coaching and the way that the person interacts with your son or daughter is more important than the win loss record. Especially at that younger age, the win loss record is third, fourth on the list as to the environment, the quality of the individuals that they surround themselves with, all of those things. Wins and losses can come. You can learn just as much. One of our best players I recruited when her team was down 7-0. And that was the moment I decided that I was going to take her into our team because she's the only one on both teams that was still scrapping and fighting. And every time the ball went in the back of the net, she's grabbing it out. And they ended up losing 7-1 and she's covered in dirt. And I was like, "All right. That's the kid I want on my team."

Erica:
So results at that age don't matter nearly as much as the person that understands this idea of impacting your daughter, right? Have all the soccer balls out, have every kid have an opportunity to have a 1000 touches, because we all want our kid to run around and scrimmage and that's the fun stuff, but if they are actually a high performing player, then they need to have a love of the ball. They need to have a relationship with the ball. And that comes a lot in their own time. So create that space. Give them that time. Share with them that picture.

Erica:
My last bit of advice would be turn the game on in your household. Be a part of it. I can't tell you, even at the highest level here, we have players that are going into youth national team games that don't watch soccer. And that culture has to shift if, in our country, we're going to continue on the women's side to stay at the top, and on the men's side to start to get into that upper echelon, because I do think that that's a big differentiator between us and other countries.

Skye:
That's fantastic advice. We appreciate it so much. And we're so thankful for you sharing your time and your experience with us during our High Performance Week. Erica Dambach, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

Erica:
Thank you. Appreciate the time.

Skye:
Awesome. Thank you. You see, now you can go to bed.

Erica:
You too.