The Balancing Act: How the NSCAA Network Supports Strickland's Dream
Appalachian State University head women’s soccer coach Sarah Churchill Strickland always knew she wanted to be a mom. Perhaps, even a soccer mom. She didn’t think she could also be a head soccer coach.
However, as Strickland, who starred as a player at George Mason University, enters her fourth season at the Boone, N.C., school, she credits the National Soccer Coaches Association of America with an assist in making both dreams come true.
“The NSCAA has provided me with so many opportunities to learn and grow as a coach and a person,” said the mother of three children: daughter Kelsey, 11, and sons, Bo, 9, and Will, 6. “The resources the NSCAA has online, their webinars, their mentorship programs, the efforts of the Women’s Committee to retain female coaches in the game, and the tours abroad … they are all invaluable.
“And, the flexibility the NSCAA offers is unbelievable. They schedule coaching courses during times when my children are out of school. The networking and friendships I have garnered through the NSCAA has helped me not only with coaching support but actual family support where I have a network to call when things seem insurmountable. So much of that support has come from my (16-year affiliation) with the NSCAA.”
Strickland doesn’t hesitate to rattle off familiar NSCAA female staff coaches who encouraged and motivated her to be a coach and a mother.
“There are so many NSCAA coaches that have made a huge difference in my life,” Strickland said. “(Boston University women’s soccer coach) Nancy Feldman, (NSCAA Honor Award and Illinois women’s soccer coach) Janet Rayfield, (Northeastern women’s soccer coach) Tracey Leone, (U.S. Soccer’s) Jill Ellis and, of course, Kim Maslin Kammerdeiner, who was one of my collegiate coaches, a 1991 World Cup champion and a mom, are just a few of the names who have helped me see the light in knowing that I could be successful as a mother and a coach.”
Strickland gets specific in pointing out how they have helped.
“After Will was born, I was coaching club soccer in Birmingham and Alan Schweer helped me organize a plan for the team until I could return to the field,” Strickland recalls.
“I knew it was going to be difficult to get back to the soccer field and lead the team. Tracy Leone and Jaime Pagliarulo flew in for a week and actually coached the team. Sharon Loughran came in the following week to take over and keep the energy of the team up until I could return to the field. And, when I did return, I had moms of the players on the team like Becky Sillers, Delena Arnold and Joy Brown helping me every step of the way with the kids. How is that for network support?
“I worked with Jill Ellis, John Ellis, Tricia Taliaferro, Jay Entlich, Michelle Demko and many others at the Soccer Academy in Fairfax, Virginia. All of them talked about the benefits of the NSCAA. Truth is … one of the greatest qualities of the NSCAA is that they teach you about all of the components of the game, including the psychological side and taking the time to understand the motivations and behaviors of players both on and off the field. Recognizing that there are different motivations for each individual has made a difference for me to empower them to be confident in themselves and their abilities … again, as a coach and a mom.”
Now, Strickland said she doesn’t miss an opportunity to participate in NSCAA functions.
“A few years ago, App State athletic director Charlie Cobb encouraged me to go to the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany,” Strickland said. “I was able to join the NSCAA contingent that was spearheaded by Nancy Feldman and Randy Waldrum and organized by NSCAA staff member Geoff Van Deusen. I actually roomed with Janet Rayfield for a night and I was able to soak up so much information. All of them are so willing to share new ideas and make you a better coach.”
The daughter of Bob Churchill, a former high school athletic director and soccer coach, and Judie Churchill, an Olympic Development Program coordinator, U.S. Soccer administrator and full-time nurse, Strickland grew up witnessing the demands of working and raising children.
"I saw how hard it was,” Strickland said. “But they taught me to always put family first. My parents were so committed to helping me become a coach that they actually left their jobs and moved to Alabama when I started having children of my own so I would have help when Jimmy was away with one of his teams. It is truly amazing to see the motto ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ come alive.”
Strickland says she has three wonderful families.
“First, those that brought me to the field initially: my parents and siblings,” Strickland said. “I actually had many on-field battles against my older sister (Amy Churchill Cardona) who played for Linda Hamilton and Joe Pereira at Old Dominion and went on to coach youth soccer in Norfolk, Virginia, and has two children. I spent many afternoons striking balls in the yard with my older brother (Doug Churchill, a goalkeeper) and I coached my younger sister (Emily Churchill Barber), who played semi-pro and college soccer and is now also a Montgomery Academy High School coach and mother to three girls.
“Second, those that helped me learn to manage my time and my priorities, my husband, our children, our church and, of course, God.
“And, third, my soccer family, which helped me learn to teach through the game I love. This includes my family at App State, U.S. Soccer and the NSCAA.”
Strickland says understanding the importance of family has helped her in recruiting.
“When I get a call from a parent who is concerned about their child, they know I am going to listen and understand where they are coming from,” Strickland said. “Because they know that we will take everything they say with the same question, ‘What would we do if it were one of our children?’ And, usually (former NC State All-ACC goalkeeper) Lindsay Brecher Cobb, also a mom that coaches in our program, and Lindsey Morgan and I sit down and go through everything going on and how to handle it. It is just like a family looking at potential adversity and solving it together.”
With so many resources at her fingertips, including the NSCAA, the coaching and motherhood future of Sarah Strickland looks bright.
“I like the idea of molding young leaders,” said Strickland, who is a regular with the leadership program run by Julie Foudy. “Coaching and motherhood allow me to inspire young women from a bigger platform. And, the NSCAA introduces you to so many quality leaders that it’s impossible not to continue to learn and grow.”
That equals great potential for the App State women’s soccer program and even greater potential for Kelsey, Bo and Will Strickland.