Jill Ellis has 11 months to get the pieces in place ahead of the 2015 World Cup, and she is stressing camaraderie among her coaching staff and between her and her players as a key to success.
One of Ellis’ first moves as coach was naming Tony Gustavsson to her staff as an assistant coach. Gustavsson was an assistant under Pia Sundhage in 2012 — when the U.S. won a third straight Olympic gold medal — and he most recently coached Swedish club Tyresö to the UEFA Champions League final.
That hiring, she said in a recent U.S. Soccer interview about her coaching experiences, was as much about coaching as it was about personality. Gustavsson was referred to by several players throughout the April and May hiring process as a coach who connected with them in his previous stint with the team.
“My staff has different personalities but they have to be able to blend and understand that it’s a team-first environment,” Ellis told ussoccer.com. “I would also add that it’s important to find people that compliment your personality. It has to be someone who can come in and compliment the head coach and bring something unique to the table.”
That ability to connect expands to her players, as well. Ellis coached many of the senior U.S. players in her days as U-21 national team coach and as coach of UCLA. She was also an assistant on the 2008 Olympic gold-medal winning team, and she thinks that will benefit her in her new role.
“I think part of my coaching philosophy is creating a connection,” she said. “I have history with many of these players, either coaching them on youth teams or college teams, so I think the connection is there. Certainly I am in a different role now as the senior team coach. I think having an understanding of some of the players and knowing them on and off the field will definitely help me navigate being the full team coach. The players at this level are very professional and really know that whoever the coach is, they’re going to need to perform. But I think knowing me will help build that bridge quicker.”
Ellis has a win and a tie against France to her name since taking over as full-time U.S. women’s national team coach on May 16.
She also shared a sample training session on the U.S. Soccer website, which provides a rare piece of insight into a senior national team session, even if it’s just a sample.
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