Earlier this summer Bluechip Study USA was honored and privileged to sit down for a telephone interview with the 2012 FIFA World Coach of the Year and Head Coach of the Swedish National Team heading into this summer’s 2013 European Championships. We asked her some questions about Sweden’s preparation for the Cup, the importance for young girls having fotboll role models and her journey from Sweden to the USA and back. Needless to say, Pia was a joy to speak with, full of insight and energy. We can’t thank her enough!
The 2013 Women's European Championships kick-off this Wednesday, July 10 starting in Halmstad where Italy takes on Finland, followed by the second match of the day where Sweden squares off against Denmark in a Scandinavian clash at Gamla Ullevi, Göteborg. Go Sweden!!!
Bluechip Study USA interview with Pia Sundhage "More than anything it takes courage."
Bluechip: First off, congratulations on receiving the head coaching position with the Swedish national team! That must be a dream come true. What steps are you currently taking to prepare the team for the 2013 European Championships hosted in Sweden?
Sundhage: Thank you! I have long dreamed of the opportunity to coach Sweden and right now I could not be happier. We came up with a plan back in October against Switzerland where we began with fitness and defensive organization. Now that we are nearing the tournament it’s all about developing the finer details of attacking play, letting the team chemistry form and helping the players develop confidence in their roles and find themselves individually.
Bluechip: How important do you think it is for young players to be familiar with the national team’s players, style of play, and overall success? In your opinion, is having a successful women’s national team an integral piece of developing the game at all levels of play (youth and professional) across Sweden?
Sundhage: To be honest, I’m not sure. When I was younger there were certain players that I looked up to that inspired me and for that reason I think more than anything it’s important that young girls have fotboll role models. There were a few countries USA, Germany and Norway that inspired the rest of the world and in these countries role models emerged very quickly. The women’s game has grown enormously since the beginning and the competition today is much more fierce than in the past, teams from South America and Asia are becoming real world fotboll powers.
Bluechip: You have spent a good part of your coaching career in the United States. Serving time as an assistant with the Philadelphia Charge, Head coach of the Boston Breakers, and most recently Head Coach of the United States National Team. What initially encouraged you to pursue a coaching career in the United States?
Sundhage: It’s a little bit funny because I love Sweden and moving to the United States was never in my plans. At the time it may have seemed more logical to stay in Sweden, however with the growth of the women’s game in the United States, just like a player, I was curious to see what role I could play in the world of women’s fotboll.
Bluechip: College fotboll plays a huge role in the development of American players. Although you have not coached collegiate soccer directly, you have worked with numerous professionals that have risen through the college ranks. How familiar are you with the college game and what is your general opinion of it?
Sundhage: I have a good sense of what’s going on in college, but I think it would be bad for me to have an opinion about it. What I do know though is that college fotboll seems to be much like club fotboll in Sweden in that the players carry a huge sense of pride with them about their colleges and universities. One thing that I have always admired is the spirit and character of the US team. I imagine this is something the American player picks up from their collegiate experience.
Bluechip: The decision to move half way across the world is a daunting decision for anyone! You’ve done it along with many Swede’s playing fotboll in colleges in the USA. How important do you think it is for a person’s development, especially fotboll players to put themselves in situations that may not at first feel “comfortable?”
Sundhage: I think that more than anything it takes courage. When you put yourself into a new environment you have to open your eyes and you listen and learn a lot and that’s what I’ve been trying to do my entire life. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have coached in the United States and I hope to bring what I have learned to Sweden.
Bluechip: Just for fun! You are well known for your free-flowing-loose-fresh-fun-always-wearing-a-smile personality. However, you still manage extreme professionalism. What’s your secret? And what did you most miss about Sweden when living in the United States?
Sundhage: Kristine Lilly who is a great friend of mine once told me that “your passion for soccer is contagious” and I think it’s this attitude that has helped me maintain a level of professionalism while still staying loose and relaxed. If I’m ever in a situation where I get nervous I just have to take a step back, breath and look around and tell myself that I am the lucky one. As for missing Sweden, I have been living on the road and out of hotels for the past four years. Not that I didn’t absolutely love every minute of it... especially not having to worry about cooking and things like that, but it feels great to finally be home. Most of all I really missed the simplicity of daily life and just being able to go to the lake house relax and breathe in the fresh Swedish air.