Soccer Playing Girls Wanna Have Fun
Alison Foley ’92, the woman at the helm of the powerhouse Boston College Eagles Division I women’s soccer team, is clear on where she stands on the topic of fun and games.
“Games are fun,” she says – something she emphasizes in a just-released book she coauthored with Mia Wenjen, How to Coach Girls. The statistics are clear: girls’ participation in sports drops radically over the course of their youth. Of 100 girls who play a sport in elementary school, only two are still playing in college. Girls are six times more likely to drop out of sports than are boys.
The antidote to that dropout rate, says Foley, is “keeping it fun.” Girls are social beings by nature, and the way to keep them engaged is to celebrate not just the victories, but also other accomplishments like mastering skills – and even birthdays. If coaches can develop the right trust-based relationships with players, viewing them as whole human beings and not just athletes, and nurture the chemistry on their teams, the girls they work with will be more likely to continue playing sports as they grow up, Foley and Wenjen note in the book’s introduction.
How to Coach Girls is just one extension of Foley’s work with Boston College’s youth soccer camps and clinics. She’s also developed Soccer on the Mat, a program for 10- to 14-year-old girls that incorporates soccer moves into yoga techniques. It’s taught at a yoga studio in Watertown, Massachusetts.
“I noticed a lot of injuries in kids who play soccer. Knee injuries, strained groins, Achilles tendon issues. Injuries that typically happen much later in life,” she says. That led to the pilot program that mashes up soccer and yoga, featuring core strength and stabilization, breathing techniques, stretching and holding poses, and meditation along with soccer movements. “It’s also empowering to girls,” she says, who struggle with confidence in middle school.
Foley parlayed her love of soccer into a career while she was in grad school at James Madison University. A psychology major and soccer standout at Keene State, she was working as a graduate assistant coach while attending a counseling master’s program. JMU Head Coach Dave Lombardo, who’d recruited her to play for the Owls and then moved down to the Virginia school, said “You know, you could coach for a living if you wanted to. You have a knack.”
She switched into a kinesiology master’s program, went on to a full-time assistant coach job at JMU for three years, served as head coach at Angelo State University in Texas for a year, and then was hired as head coach for the Boston College Eagles women’s soccer team – a position she’s now held for 21 years.
Is she still having fun? You bet.
“I’m still doing what I love,” she says. “I tell people that one day I’ll get a real job. This job is really, really fun. My occupation is the game that I love and teaching the game that I love and recruiting for the game that I love. That’s been a blessing.”