Wilton soccer legend returns home to talk teamwork

Retired American soccer player Kristine Lilly returned to her hometown of Wilton on Dec. 27 to talk to local student athletes about the importance of teamwork.

More than 25 youth athletes, as well as their parents, gathered inside the Comstock Community Center gymnasium for the one-hour talk, sponsored and filmed by the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network (CPBN) as a feature profile in its upcoming How to Play series, which will broadcast in 2017.

Lilly talked about what it means to be part of a team, being a good teammate, and “how that all works to help you be successful.”

The 23-year veteran of the United States women’s national soccer team and Wilton High School alumna said Wilton was “basically the platform” for her career.

“This is where I started. This is where I played soccer in the fields at Allen’s Meadow and Wilton High School and ran on the track and the stairs at the track,” she said.

“All these places helped me to become the player I was and have such a long career.”

Lilly was captain of Wilton High School’s girls soccer team her junior and senior years and helped the team win the 1986, 1987 and 1989 state championships. After graduating in 1989, she went on to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she helped lead its soccer team to four NCAA titles.

When it comes to being part of a team, Lilly said, three things are important.

Putting your team first

“The first is about putting your team first … and when I look back at training with my teammates on the national team, we always put the team first,” she said.

“What I mean by that is when you’re home and it’s snowing outside and you’re underneath the covers, do you stay inside or go outside and work out?”

The answer, Lilly said, is “go outside and work out,” which is exactly what she would do.

“I did those things because I knew my teammates were doing it. I knew that for my team to be successful, I had to,” she said.

“Even on those snowy days, I went out there and made sure I was fit because I knew I had to put my team first.”

Making each other look good

Lilly said it’s also important “to make your teammates look good.”

For example, she said, “If I’m sitting in the locker room and [my teammate] leaves for practice but forgets her shin guards … what can I do?

“Pick up her shin guards and bring them. You don’t want her getting in trouble [for being late],” said Lilly.

“You want to make each other look good and feel good out there. Those are the kinds of things we can do to help our teammates look good and help them be successful.”

Playing for each other

The third important aspect of teamwork, said Lilly, is “to play for each other” — a mantra of her college soccer coach, Anson Dorrance.

Examples of playing for each other, shared by youth athletes in the audience, include working with — not against — players on your team, and being happy for them rather than jealous.

It also means being supportive and encouraging when your teammates are having “bad days,” said Lilly.

By putting your team first, making each other look good, and playing for each other, Lilly said, “your team will be successful.”

The soccer teams for which she’s played, dating back to Wilton High School, were successful, Lilly said, because “we worked together and played for each other and always tried to make each other look good.”

Before retiring in 2011, Lilly played in the 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, and 2007 FIFA World Cups, and earned gold medals in the 1996 and 2004 Olympics and a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics.

She was named U.S. Soccer Player of the Year in 1993, 2005 and 2006, and served as captain of the U.S. National Team from 2005 to 2007.

After her retirement, Lilly was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame.

Updates on CPBN’s upcoming How to Play series will be available at cptvsports.org.