Mia Hamm speaks about journey as athlete

Rachel Greenspan

Mia Hamm matured quickly. The Hall of Fame soccer player did household chores at age eight and graduated high school in just three years. She then attended the University of North Carolina on a full scholarship while her family lived across the world in Italy. Hamm said she didn’t have time for petty concerns. But one thing always bothered her: when people wore her cleats.
“If someone tried to put my cleats on, that drove me crazy,” Hamm told a crowd of 687 at the AT&T Conference Center on Tuesday night.

Hamm’s cleats were special for many reasons. She had to pay half the price for anything she wanted growing up, cleats included. So Hamm not only worked in her cleats — she worked to earn them.

But Hamm discussed more than just cleats and feet as part of Delta Gamma’s Lectureship Series in Values and Ethics. Moderator Daron Roberts, who founded the University’s Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation, asked Hamm about the growing concerns surrounding concussions.  

Hamm said young players’ brains are still developing, so they shouldn’t head the ball. Their bodies, necks and shoulders aren’t strong enough to handle the repetitive motion.

“When you see a goalkeeper sliding, always jump,” Hamm said. “Believe me — no goal is worth it. Because you might never play again.”

But Hamm said athletes must consider more than just their physical health. Maintaining a strong mentality is half the battle.
Hamm said her coach highlighted that in a preseason talk. He asked each player her goals.

“What do you want to be?” Hamm said her coach asked.

“The best,” Hamm replied.

Her coach asked what it took to be the best. At the time, Hamm said she didn’t know. Now she has a better idea.

“To be the best, that’s a decision, that’s all it is,” Hamm said. “But most people make it once. If you can make it every day, you’ll get there. The great, successful people are the ones who make it every single day, and they make it when no one’s watching.”

Hamm said the last part was the key to success.

“To be a champion, you have to be bent over drenched in sweat when no one else was watching,” Hamm said.

And yet, Hamm performed when others were watching, too. She said setting an example was her greatest asset as a leader.

“In the end, I just had to be me,” Hamm said. “I was going to be the player who showed up to practice every day and was accountable.”