Tracy Hamm’s journey to receive UEFA’s highest coaching classification shines a light on why so few women make it to the top
Of the 48,303 coaches that hold the UEFA A license, the highest certification of coaching licenses that allow you to coach anywhere in the world, only 1% of that group are women. When Tracy Hamm, the current head coach of the UC Davis women’s team pursued her A license, she had no idea how many obstacles she would encounter along the way. In the new documentary, Coach, which will debut at the Kicking and Screening soccer film festival in New York City, Hamm’s journey to the top of the coaching profession is shown in all of its triumphs and tears. Coach Hamm spoke with Radio Free Soccer about the making of the film and her journey to soccer coaching’s highest level.
In the new documentary, Coach, the filmmakers follow you on your quest to get a UEFA A Coaching License. Can you explain some of the major obstacles you encountered?
In U.S. Soccer, you can get waiver to skip over classifications of licenses, which can save you a lot of time and money, because they are expensive. I had done my Class E and F licenses about 15 years ago, when I was in college. I just wanted to skip the D license and waive into the C, because these licenses cost a lot of money to get. Their requirements at the time were that you had to have played three years professionally or have senior national team experience. At the time, I had played two years of professional soccer, but when I was playing, the pro league didn’t exist. I graduated in 2006 and the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer) didn’t start until 2009, so there were three years where there wasn’t an opportunity for women to play professionally. I had played at the highest level in the United States that was available, which was the WPSL. That was with all of the senior national team players and ex-pros from the league that just folded, so it was a really high level. So when U.S. Soccer denied me, I felt like it wasn’t fair, because I think when they wrote the rule, they weren’t considering it for women. I think that they wrote it for male players, because MLS was the only league that existed at the time. I don’t think it was a malicious attempt by U.S. Soccer to exclude women. I think that they just hadn’t considered that women would try to waive into higher licenses that high.
In that sense, that’s the problem, isn’t it? They didn’t even consider women coaches when they wrote the rule.
Exactly. I know they haven’t changed the rule, but now the women’s pro league does exist, and there’s a lot more women involved in coaching then there was a long time ago. So the rule makes a little bit more sense now. At least there’s more access for women to get waived into different licenses.
How did the idea for the documentary come about?
Courtney Levinson is the executive producer, and she is a Cal alumni. We actually connected in November of 2016 at one of our best friend’s weddings. We just started chatting, and I said that I got my UEFA B license, and I just finished getting the first half of my UEFA A license, and she wanted to know what the experience was like. As the night went on and a couple of more beers had passed, she was like, “We should make a movie about you!” (laughs) She felt that sometimes women need to see other women do things, otherwise they may not even know that it is an option. She asked me if I knew any other women in the U.S. that had gotten their A license, and there was one who got it, because she was living in Sweden for 15 years. Six months later, she sent me an email saying, “Hey, I’m just following up. I got a film crew together!” (laughs) I’m not really doing this for the notoriety. I just wanted to be a good coach, and I wanted to get more information. But the film has been a really fun experience.
We’re used to seeing players being vulnerable, but we are not used to seeing coaches that way. Even though you were familiar with these people, was it difficult allowing people to have this kind of access?
It was. It’s already very intimidating in a lot of different ways, and it’s really stressful. Passing the license in and of itself can be so difficult because there’s so much work that goes into it. It’s just such a high level of information and knowledge, and this is a group of people that are so charismatic and knowledgeable—they are all super high-performing individuals. I took it all in stride. It’s just been a challenge and an obstacle. How I do anything is how I do everything. You just have to be as prepared and confident as you can be, and everything else will take care of itself. The filming was a difficult at times, because it’s a 25-minute film and I think they shot over 80 hours for it.
In the movie, we see that you are the only woman in the room pursuing this UEFA A license. Can you describe what that experience is like?
There are a couple of scenes that highlight the different issues that I faced. I think the film paints a pretty fair picture. Some of the other candidates in the course, I met when I was getting the UEFA B. Some of the other candidates were more there for the learning than they were about getting the license, so they came in with a very open mind. They wanted to soak up as much information as they could. So there wasn’t a lot of ego in the room. There are always one or two guys that want to flex on everybody. There’s always competition in sport. The instructors made it more inviting for me. They asked my opinion a lot and really tried to engage me. That was really helpful. It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had regardless of some of the challenges I faced.
Having gone through the process, do you have a better feeling of why so few women go through it?
Absolutely. It’s really hard to put yourself out there, not only in the United States with your peers, but being in another country added a whole different level. The way that they think about the game is so foreign compared to the way that we think about the game in the United States a lot of the time. It was like reworking my entire brain from every single thing that I’ve learned so far in my career until I went there. But the environment alone can be intimidating, especially if you’re not 100% confident in what you know. Everybody there is doing the exact same thing, and I think a lot of women would think, “Well, if I don’t know every single thing, then I don’t belong here.” Whereas most guys would think, “If I know 50% of the information here then I totally belong.” I think as females, sometimes we’re over concerned with being perfect or having to know everything. We don’t want to put ourselves in the environment where that’s exposed, or we don’t feel ready for it. But there’s no way to be ready for it. That’s the whole point of going through the licensing process is to learn more information so that you feel comfortable. That’s the most growth that I’ve ever felt as a person, as a player, and as a coach. So it’s really tricky. It takes a lot of confidence, and it takes a lot of failure. There are a couple of times where I’m in tears for sure. The part we don’t see are times when I’m kind of flexing to let the guys know that I need you to take me seriously. And I think they do for the most part. But it’s definitely not a super inviting environment. You’ve just got to weather the storm.
Have your players seen the movie?
They have. But you know, they’re like, “How many times am I in the movie? Do I have any lines?” (laughs) They were really proud of me. They changed my life as a team, and they felt like they got to join me in their journey.
Are there other steps that you think can be taken to increase the number of female coaches that are not in the game, but that are also climbing these ladders as you did?
I think so. A couple of weeks ago I actually got all 22 of my players licensed. We got them the basic beginning one to kind of start them on their journey. Regardless of whether they wanted to do it or not, I kind of forced it on them. In one day we were able to license 22 females. So I think that is a really good way to get more women involved in it. I didn’t go to college thinking I was going to be a coach. I just kind of found that as my path. But if I had started my licensing when I was really young, maybe I would have found it to be something that I wanted to be a part of. It doesn’t have to be full time at first, but it’s something that I can always fall back on. They can give back to the game and be a role model and all of that. So what would be an important step is if every club in the country helps their U18 boys and girls get licensed. You can have to be 16 years old to start getting licensing, so make it a requirement. Instead of playing for one day, we are going to go through the process and get licensed. That’s a way not to force it on them, but just make it part of their path to say, “Hey, we want you to start working with the U9 team or the U10 team.” That’s a way to get it integrated into the clubs. Or you could have a college program that does it, and maybe it’s not funded entirely by U.S. Soccer, but maybe they can help provide discounts for different groups to get involved.
If there’s one thing that you hope people take away when they watch the film, what would it be?
In any industry that you’re in, there are different challenges that you face, and there’s nothing that you can really do about it. It’s about taking it head on and holding yourself accountable. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to find different ways to get something done and get creative. So if you have to go back to the drawing board, get after it and find a different way to get it done. Throughout people’s lives, you hear no a lot more than you hear yes. But there are also people that are willing to help you. The main thing is to take those challenges head on and make it your own. Be proud of what you’ve done and who you are and believe in yourself.
Coach will premiere on Thursday, June 6th at the Kicking and Screening Soccer Film Festival. For tickets, visit kickingandscreening.com.