Griffin Wins Gold In Japan
Sept. 20, 2012
By: Jocelyn Perry
SEATTLE - What is the difference between good teams and great teams? The answer is cohesiveness.
Husky associate head coach Amy Griffin knows the term all too well. She spent the last month training the youth goalkeepers from the USA in the U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan.
The month long journey in Japan allowed the team and the coaching staff to bond both on and off the field, and the coaches noticed something special about this year's squad.
"Not many people get to be the best in the world at something, and the commitment of the players on the team was unlike any other national team I have been a part of," says Griffin.
Going into the World Cup, the United States had a lot to prove. Despite their number one ranking, the common sentiment among opposing teams doubted the U.S.'s skill set and style. After taking a beating from Germany in group play losing 3-0, the U.S. women got their rematch for the gold medal game.
Rematches are never easy, so Griffin and the coaching staff went back to the game tape and highlighted what the team did well in the round play loss against the Germans.
"Us as the staff kept saying we want to shake their hands from the gold medal podium," Griffin remembers. "We want to have the game back. Everyone wanted the US and Japan in the finals, and once they got knocked out we were saying we got our wish."
Playing on the national team herself in 1991, Griffin sees a trend to a US style--heart.
"We were not the most skillful team," says Griffin. "And even the media kept mentioning that after every game. The Americans are very athletic but not skillful. And it's funny; it's always been like that. And we're way more skillful than we've been in the past."
The USA went into the rematch as underdogs. Germany hadn't conceded a goal in six matches and tended to score early and often. The U.S. tactic was not to press the ball as much, but rather to keep the score at zero by the half.
"I felt like we really wanted to focus on team defense," thinks Griffin. "And keeping the score at zero by halftime was going to be way more important than trying to score at all costs. We didn't want to chase the game like last time."
As the goalkeepers coach, Griffin had a small but important role in the World Cup. She was in charge of coaching the goalies, and she also kept track of the team's heart rate monitors. Griffin oversaw each player's vitals, plotting when their bodies would fully recover.
"Our goalkeeper didn't play very well early on," remembers Griffin. "She was a big part of our 3-0 loss. So I was helping her trying to build her confidence so I did some drills with her that she felt confident with."
"But then the other things I was doing like with the heart rate monitors, it was tiny but if it made a little difference or things run smoother, those tiny things add up. At the end of the day we slept two hours a day. But it made you feel like you were a bigger piece."
The heart rate monitors did help the players build their confidence. Knowing the players would be nervous, the coaches compiled a highlight video of everything the players did well in their loss to Germany in group play. The coaches played the reel over and over, sinking the positivity into the player's minds. Griffin showed the women the heart rate monitor results which detailed how their bodies would be fully recovered for the final match.
The coaches knew the game would be won in the midfield, so they planned for a patient attack up front. The U.S. defense was solid against a pair of impressive German forwards and the first half was a deadlock, until the 44th minute.
USA netted a goal right before halftime. Flustered, the Germans were struggling against a tough US defense. Late in the second half, a desperate German defender struck a long range ball which goalkeeper Bryane Heaberlin pushed onto the crossbar. The game clock hit 90 and the US U-20 women won the World Cup.
"I think countries must hate us because we end up winning these overtime games and we have the heart," thinks Griffin. "If it's the 90th minute and 112 degrees, we will find a way. And if other countries had that ingredient, it would be really scary. But that's what the Americans are known for. And I kind of revere that."
The U-20 women are about the same age as the Husky squad. They are either in high school or played less than 20 games into their college career. With their age similarity, Griffin sees many qualities alike in the Huskies, especially their tenacity and grit.
Coming back to Seattle, Griffin says she feels almost like the "substitute teacher". The Huskies are 7-1-1 heading into conference play, and Griffin sees that tenacity and grit in the Dawgs, just like the youth national team.
"We've had to show some grit, I love that because I'm old school!" says Griffin. "I love the teams that have it."
The Huskies returned from a tough road trip to Utah, tying Utah State 1-1 in double overtime and dropping their first game of the season to BYU 3-1.
"In my mind, when our team walked off the field both games, they were not happy," Griffin remembers. "Not in an unsportsmanlike way, but you could tell in their eyes the feeling that given the chance they could win every game. I like how much they didn't enjoy the feeling."
After traveling the world coaching soccer, Griffin returns home to Washington with a clear understanding of what it takes to be great: Cohesiveness.
"I'm back here with more energy than ever because we are really not that far off from being that special," says Griffin. "And the thing about the World Cup was we had the mentality, the heart and the passion. I feel like our team chemistry is good and if the other team is better, our team cohesiveness wins out. So 11 people working together are way better than 11 individuals."