Mia Hamm (38), winner of the FIFA Women's World Cup with the USA in both 1991 and 1999, as well as gold medals at the 1996 and 2004 Women's Olympic Football Tournaments, took over the role of ambassador of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 in October 2009.
The US football legend talked with FIFA.com about preparations for 2011 and the upcoming FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
Before playing at your first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, did you ever miss not being able to play at an U-20 Women’s World Cup (the first U-20 tournament was staged in 2002)?
Mia Hamm: I did. I played in several tournaments with the U-19 team in my career but never a Youth World Cup. The benefit of playing in tournaments at a youth level is that it gives you experience in leadership and maturity. I joined the national team at the age of 15, so I spent many of my younger years watching and learning about leadership as opposed to displaying it. I think the value and experience of competing in more tournaments at youth level would have greatly assisted me in my overall leadership development.
What importance do you assign to the U-20 Women’s World Cup in the overall development of a player?
As a player, you learn about the importance of preparation and experience. World Cups are not about being ready for just one game: they are about sustaining a high level for two or three weeks. You have to be ready with every aspect of your game: physical, mental and tactical. These tournaments illustrate the importance of training, nutrition, tactical understanding and mental preparation. As a spectator, you get to watch the development and growth of the future stars of our game. It allows fans to go out and support football at the youngest level.
How far or how close is a player of the U-20 national team from the senior team?
Some players in the U-20 side are able to compete with the senior national team and many have been invited into camp to train alongside the veteran players. The biggest difference for these youngsters is the speed, strength and tactical understanding that the senior players possess. For most of the latter group, this is what they do for a living. This is the craft that they train to perfect every single day.
You are regularly in touch with Steffi Jones. How do you see preparations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011?
I know Steffi Jones and her staff have been working tirelessly to make the 2011 Women's World Cup the best ever. I am so impressed by the passion for the game shown not only by Steffi but all her staff, which includes many of Germany's soccer greats.
You attended a couple of games during the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Do you consider 2011 as a continuation of 2006 or do you believe the upcoming Women’s World Cup will write its own history?
I think you will find the same accessibility and hospitality that surrounded 2006, but the Women's World Cup will have its own flair and emotion attached to it.
Since 2009 you have also been FC Barcelona’s ambassador. What does that mean to you?
I was very proud to be asked to be a part of the FC Barcelona family. It is a club with a rich history and tradition that believe in playing an attractive and responsible brand of football. I hope to share some of my love and experience of the game with them and am very excited to help continue the growth of soccer in the USA.