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Book review

No revelations, but plenty of truths in Hammís "Go for the Goal."

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

Mia Hamm (Monday, June 7, 1999) -- Mia Hamm's work is not done at the end of United States womenís national team soccer games, where the world's top scorer has usually put in 90 minutes of high-intensity, highly effective work. After the final whistle, hundreds of girls bunch together in the stadium adjoining the field, clamoring for her autograph.

That's an immediate audience for Hamm's new book, "Go for the Goal" (HarperCollins, $20, 222 pages), assisted by Aaron Heifetz, out in time for the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, hosted by the United States. But the book's appeal is much more widespread. In fact it should be mandatory reading for any aspiring young soccer player -- and not just girls.

It covers the mental and technical aspects of the sport better than any instructional book I've read. It doesn't tell the reader much about Mia Hamm except that she's humble, a team player, a hard worker, and loves soccer. If you want more -- that she's happily married to a Marine helicopter pilot, that she possesses a goofy sense of humor when surrounded by friends, can suffer from confidence problems, and that she's a 12-handicap golfer -- read it elsewhere.

It's not controversial, either, telling us nothing about the Debbie Keller controversy, in which her high-scoring former teammate received only a one-week tryout last fall after filing a sexual harassment suit against legendary North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, nor anything about the desperate need for a U.S. professional league. However, the book is packed with nuggets of interest. Among the Go for the Goal tidbits from the best-known player in U.S. soccer, the Michael Jordan of her sport:

* "Growing up, mostly I played with the boys. I enjoyed it and didn't think anything of being the only girl. It was either play with the boys or not play at all. Most important, playing with boys really helped me become competitive and develop that combative spirit I have today. I think (it) instilled a kind of fearlessness at an early age . . . I truly believe that guys (much more so than girls) are taught to compete against one another and go after one another hard in practice and not apologize for success."

* On her relationship with Dorrance, her coach at North Carolina and her legal guardian when her military parents were in Italy: "For four years of college, I pretty much picked his brain about soccer all day and learned how to build and maintain my confidence, which has always been a challenge for me . . . As players, when we are having a bad day, we tend to think in melodramatic terms, that we've lost it, that everything's gone wrong, but usually all you have to do is correct one small element of your game and everything else will fall into place."

* "The ability to make your skills come through under pressure in a game situation, to be able to control the ball with your feet as if they were your hands, is the essence of soccer. You must love the feel of the ball as you touch it with every surface of your cleats, your legs, your chest and head. Strive to make your skills so sharp and clean that they will not break down in the high-pressure atmosphere of the game."

* "I'd go out to the park by myself every day and practice my skills for hours . . . You are accountable for yourself. No one will roll you out of bed at 5 a.m. to run. You alone have to make that decision. It's a challenge to get out there on the field, run the sprints and train with the ball when there is no one else around. While everyone goes to practice, not everyone is putting in the extra hours. This is what sets champions apart."

* "I would hope that young girls now know that it is OK to be tough, to be competitive, and to defeat an opponent . . . We are constantly showing that women can be hyper-competitive and super-tough while still being positive role models."

* "If you have difficulty trapping (capturing, receiving, etc.) a ball, you will always have trouble executing the other skills you need to excel in soccer. Make a less-than-perfect trap, and you will spend time and energy trying to get that bouncing ball down to the grass . . . while defenders are running at you full tilt ... What hurts more, though, is that without the ball (under control), you cannot pass or dribble."

* "If you are a stationary player and are not making runs for your teammates, they will be unable to pass effectively . . . You always must be moving to support the player with the ball, to get in position to receive a pass down the field . . . Don't run just for the sake of running, or you won't be able to last the whole game. Make your runs valuable to your team by putting yourself in position to receive the ball or opening space for your teammates."

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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