Having won the Women’s World Cup in 1999, an Olympic gold medal in 1996 and scored 100 goals in over 200 caps for the United States Women’s National Team, Tiffeny Milbrett knows a thing or two about having success at the highest level.
Now that her Hall of Fame playing career has come to an end, she’s helping the next generation of boys and girls chase their dreams and fall in love with the beautiful game. Milbrett has spent the past four years serving as a Director and Head Coach for the Colorado Storm and the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club, which currently has seven members on the active roster for the Rapids’ USL Championship partner Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.
In April, Milbrett was hired to serve as the Director of Coach and Player Development for the Tampa Bay United Rowdies Soccer Club (TBU), the youth affiliate program for the Championship’s Tampa Bay Rowdies. In her role, Milbrett will oversee technical development and lead the organization’s broad depth of competitive and recreational soccer teams across its five soccer campus locations throughout Tampa Bay.
We caught up recently with Milbrett for a conversation about the experience she brings to her new surroundings, her thoughts on the formula for successful youth player development and what she’s hoping to learn at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.
USL: What did you learn at your previous couple of jobs that you think you can apply to TBU?
Tiffeny Milbrett: Number one is just really having the opportunity to experience the national landscape, especially being in Denver the last three years because it’s really a hotbed for soccer. That’s really incredible to have that kind of experience, and then the San Jose - Bay Area the six years before that – again another hotbed, really in tight quarters with other clubs and your competitors – but also just being able to experience the national landscape of youth soccer. It’s great that we want to be the greatest in our local area or regionally, but in order to really grow into a nationally-ranked top contender, you have to have a pulse on what is the level of the game and what’s happening in all those top-level areas. And my recent experience has afforded me is an idea of all that, hopefully we can bring those things in line if we’re a little behind, whether it’s even the structure of things or the organizational pieces or the programming pieces, we can inject those things pretty quickly to continue to build.
And then number two is just the actual experience in the realities of the youth game, whether that’s dealing with the families, whether that’s really what it takes. What is your journey about? Even if you do everything right, what are your outcomes? It’s really been a fabulous piece of experience to just be in the trenches the last 10 years with it.
USL: In your opinion, what are the main keys to proper player development in a youth organization?
TM: Obviously, it’s a complex thing because you have to have the right programming, you have to have the right structure within that programming. Every decision that should be made should be…we’re setting the foundation; it should be soccer. What does it take to really develop a soccer player? And you have to fight for that, because obviously in past years, our culture has been about success or that development will come if you win. In what I’ve seen and what I know, that’s not necessarily true. So, you can’t have the measure of your development be because of the wins on the soccer field. Now, if that is the case but you’re doing all the right pieces for the soccer programming [and] the soccer side of things for the development aspect, great, then you know you have a good team on your hands, but I think in this country we’ve been backwards for some time where people think we’re developing if we’re winning games in the youth structure and we have to get away from that. That’s a long process and a hard sell, but it is something that we have to do, so that’s number one.
Number two is we actually have to do right by the player. We cannot cheat our players, we have to give them the time it takes, we have to give them the programming and the training. The biggest piece is the training piece. What are we bringing to their training, the exercises and environment every single day for them?
And then number three, obviously the parent is a piece of it. Unfortunately, we can’t make soccer decisions based on parent priorities, but how do we include them so that they’re helping drive these really important developmental years correctly at home and they’re helping drive it correctly for the coach and the club to have the appropriate space for the proper developmental period?
USL: In your experience, how difficult is it to strike the right balance between all three of those things?
TM: I think it’s simple, but what ends up happening sometimes and unfortunately, where there is some kind of complication is when parents want to leave because they don’t think you’re as successful as you should be because they’re judging wins and losses instead of staying in it and grinding it out. And there’s no secret to success other than the time it takes, the proper programming, the proper structure and then the space that we need to allow the players to have and the patience in order to add the levels and layers to their games through the years. I think the balance in and of itself is a simple formula, it’s really how you are having to manage within that is very complex because when you lose players or families – this is assuming that you’re doing everything right for the player’s development – in a close situation you’re losing dollars. It’s kind of that balance, but at the end of the day [you must decide] what kind of club do you want to be? What kind of coach do you want to be? We want to be a soccer club that gives the right platforms, so sometimes we do have to do the hard thing and say, ‘Good luck on the other side’. Sometimes you do have to say that, but I think really knowing yourself and really knowing what it takes to develop players and staying firm to that is probably the key.
USL: How beneficial is it to have a professional team like the Rowdies aligned with TBU?
TM: I think it’s extremely beneficial if the relationship is struck right. Like I mean even a club that I came from in Denver, it’s an MLS affiliate, the youth club of the Rapids, and they talked a lot about how they were really starting to have a relationship with the youth side. And I was like wait, why haven’t you? So, I think from what I understand in a short period of time is that the Rowdies have been investing in Tampa Bay United for some time now. So, to me, that’s smart. I think it’s really a matter of how that relationship is built and that’s when you can maximize the most out of it.
USL: Is the goal of that to have local players progress through the pipeline and eventually end up playing at the professional level?
TM: I think it can accomplish many different things. Number one, we want people to enjoy being a fan of the sport. I remember, I grew up in the old NASL days where I had the Portland Timbers and going to those games was helped create the passion for me as a player. So, to me, it is priceless when you are helping to create passion. I mean we don’t know who’s going to make it. We don’t know who’s going to turn out to be a one-percenter, but what about just a lifelong fan? Like a passionate soccer person that really enjoys sitting in the stands and having a great experience and loving the game. I think we don’t say enough about that, and that’s what created a lifelong love of the game for was when I was eight years old, nine years old, ten years old at a Portland Timbers NASL game.
This is where I think the relationship starts, and then if you’re lucky enough to have talent and then cultivate talent and all that stuff, well of course that’s also part of the piece too. But to me, I think the most important side of it is creating a passionate soccer person, whether it’s a fan or a player or both.
USL: What do you expect your day-to-day role with TBU to look like?
TM: I think it’ll evolve. I think in the very beginning, I’m going to be very busy. I’ve got a lot to get in touch with and that is just a lot of time. I think it’s a lot of time talking to people, a lot of time on the field, a lot of time in the office. But it’s also leaning on people. I think a lot of what I’ll do is I will lean on the people because a big thing that we talk about in youth sports is theoretically you’ll have how many thousands of years of experience in the game amongst all of your staff, amongst all the people that are in your club and we need to tap in and utilize it. So, that to me is a second piece to what I’m going to try to do day-in and day-out, who can I tap into and who can I utilize and who can we empower to help lead the charge and the direction for the club too.
Then hopefully in a quick of period of time, I can settle in and that can just become a really nice, self-moving organization. But that first period of time, I’m not quite sure how long – nine months? – will be very busy for me.
Milbrett, who made over 200 appearances for the United States Women's National Team, will spend the next month in France at the 2019 Women's World Cup. | Photo courtesy Jack Gruber / USA TODAY
USL: What do you hope to get out of going to the Women’s World Cup in France?
TM: Really, I go to these major tournaments – this, the Olympics – to really get a gauge for where the game is growing. The men’s World Cup, we can access it on TV, they show all the games. Unfortunately, on the women’s side of the game, you’ve had to go in order to really see it because it’s not really been accessible on TV. At this World Cup, every game is starting to be shown, but there’s no better gauge and no better experience to be there in person and so professionally I like to go and get my eyeballs on what is changing. How athletic [are players]? What are the soccer pieces looking like? Where is the women’s game really growing into its own? We can see it every weekend [in] multiple games and multiple leagues on the men’s side, we have that luxury now. We don’t have that luxury for the women yet, so this is really an important information-seeking and game-seeking moment for me. I go the whole time.
USL: What are you seeing in that evolution, especially with this poised to be one of the most competitive Women’s World Cups ever?
TM: In the 2015 World Cup, it was pretty apparent how much the goalkeeping side to the game had grown. Like just the sheer athleticism, mobility, the importance of that position really coming in line with what you saw from the dominance in the field players. So, that was pretty cool to me coming out of 2015 is like ‘Wow, the goalkeeping side in the women’s game has grown exponentially in four years.’ So, I’m really excited. I think just seeing a little bit more of the women’s game and having a little bit more access, I just think it’s that evening out at the top level – or even if it’s not an evening out, it’s just the ascension of how quickly these other countries are just evolving their games to match and really grow in line with the top level internationally – is really fascinating to me.
To me, it seems like that’s a bit of their culture. They live, eat, breathe it. And how can that not help you? Just a short few years of support for these countries and they’re really attending and building their game that fast? That is something to really be aware of how much culture and living, eating and breathing and really growing up in a soccer culture that you have access to it and passion about it, really evolves a player. I think that’s probably my first theory at this period of time.
USL: Any final thoughts?
TM: I’m super excited to come into my role and be a part of helping all coaches and all players in the club, male or female. I’m just ecstatic about my next step in my journey professionally and just really looking forward to getting there and getting running on the ground.