As she left her professional playing career behind to move into the professional world, former U.S. Women’s National Team member Angela Hucles found more and more often the lessons she had learned on the soccer field applied to her new profession in commercial real estate.
The realization inspired a breakthrough for the two-time Olympic gold medalist, who had long been looking for a project that would allow her to give back, and inspire, a future generation of athletes.
“After a couple of years I realized I was being pulled back to my true passion, which was within sports,” Hucles said by phone recently. “Because of my past, and how much sports had influenced my life, and really shaped the person that I am, it led me to start thinking about this concept of how sports really influences and impacts the individual, and all the lessons that we can take with us. Not just to apply on the athletics fields, or the court or the pool, but really to take with us and apply it in our daily lives and daily practices.”
The seeds for the Empowerment Through Sport Leadership Series were sown. Now set for its next event in Los Angeles next month, the first coming in Boston earlier this year, Hucles is hoping the collaboration between athletes, parents and coaches will empower young women throughout all sports to make positive decisions and become leaders in their local communities.
At the same time, Hucles hopes everyone in attendance can take information away from the events, with parents and coaches being integral to reinforcing the lessons that can be learned at the conferences.
“We’d like to engage the girls, but also engage the parents and the coaches, because it’s really two conferences within one,” Hucles said. “The girls will be separate from their parents and coaches, and they really have the opportunity to ask questions, feel safe in doing so among their peers, but the parents and coaches have a lot of questions on best practices to share as well, so we really want to build these different bases on the east and west coast to spread this message of how girls can use sports to empower themselves.”
While the ETS series is aimed at all athletes, there is a strong soccer thread that runs through the conferences thanks to Hucles’ background in the game. Former U.S. National Team player Heather Mitts spoke at the inaugural event in Boston, while current national team star Abby Wambach also addressed the attendees by videoconference. ETS has also formed a partnership with the W-League, which Hucles played in for both her hometown Virginia Beach Piranhas and the Boston Renegades.
“It has been tremendously thrilling for the W-League to be involved in this,” Hucles said. “I remember meeting with Amanda Duffy early on, and just really starting to talk about it, and she immediately was on board. It wasn’t even a matter of convincing, it was just a matter of sharing, and for the W-League to put this fully on and support us in this way, it means a lot on a personal level. I played on two different W-League teams in my career, so starting off to have that environment when there wasn’t a professional league, the W-League was there, and having it be such a long-standing league of that caliber has been crucial in the development of women’s soccer.
“To have personally been involved in the W-League … to be able to partner up together and continue the messages that we’re trying to promote in the Empowerment Through Sports Leadership Series has really been outstanding. They have been an incredible support, and for me it’s just very personally gratifying as well.”
Hucles was again part of the W-League this past summer, acting as an assistant coach to Charlie Naimo for the 2013 champion Pali Blues. Having been a player-coach in the past, Hucles had some experience in helping pass on what she had learned in the sport, but found being strictly on the sidelines to be a very different, and interesting, experience.
“I think now with my playing behind me, and having the perspective of being a coach, it really did give me a whole new level of insight into how to relate to an individual,” she said. “Coaching styles are going to be different, but every person is different, so to be an excellent coach, you really have to tap into, ‘how can I reach this individual person?’, not, ‘how do I reach this player?’, and relate to them on a certain level where they feel supported and heard and understood, allowing them the opportunity to be creative and to grow. I think when you allow that to happen, that’s when the player will really develop and flourish.”
Opening up a young player’s eyes to the opportunities that await them, and giving them the opportunity to develop and flourish off the field, is Hucles’ goal with ETS. If her new endeavor mirrors the success she had as a player, the impact could be felt for years to come.
“The more girls and parents and coaches we can impact and share these messages, I feel the better the sports arena will grow, for girls especially, but we can [also] help guide women and young girls into the leadership positions that are waiting out there for them,” Hucles said. “For me it’s been very interesting and powerful to see that everybody has a story. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional athlete, it doesn’t matter if you’re a 10-year-old girl or boy, everybody still has a story that they can share, and that’s powerful.”
For more on the W-League, visit www.wleaguesoccer.com