Tracy Hamm

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Tracy Hamm joins the Beautiful Game for episode 20 to discuss making excellence a habit, creating opportunities for others and balancing incredible ambition with the requisite patience to succeed. Many of us who are ambitious, entrepreneurial and action-oriented have a tendency to be unsatisfied with the status quo, even impatient. Yet we know deep down that success requires long term effort. And excellence requires years of sustained performance. In this episode, Tracy shares her rise through the coaching ranks, how she helps players reach their goals and the importance of doing the little things well.

Tracy is the Head Coach of Women’s Soccer at the University of California-Davis. She turned San Francisco State into a winning program and successfully led the program at Santa Rosa Junior College. She is one of only two American women to hold the coaching certification, UEFA ‘A’ license. Her journey to complete this license is the subject of the documentary, ‘Coach.’ Tracy has dual masters degrees in educational counseling specializing in and in athletic administration. She played at the University of California Berkeley, where she led the team as a captain.


Tracy Hamm

Tony Nicalo: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Beautiful Game, a show dedicated to helping us face change with confidence and improve a little each day. Beautiful game is produced by Weasels FC, a community of smart, tenacious, and sometimes underestimated people exploring resiliency in an uncertain world. I’m your host, Tony Nicalo. Join me as we learn to live, work and play better.

I’m here today with Tracy Hamm, head coach of women’s soccer at the University of California Davis. She has turned San Francisco State into a winner and successfully led the program at Santa Rosa junior college. She’s a UEFA ‘A’ license holder, has her masters in sports psychology and in athletic administration. She played at the University of California Berkeley, where she led the team as a captain. Welcome, Tracy.

Tracy Hamm: [00:00:58] Thank you so much for having me.

Tony Nicalo: [00:01:00] So Beautiful Game is produced by a community called Weasels FC. So we start off by asking what you think of the animal weasel.

Tracy Hamm: [00:01:10] Oh, wow. That’s a, kind of, I actually was thinking of it as a ferret, and I love pets and I’ve always wanted a pet ferret.

So for me it was actually kind of endearing, but yeah.

Tony Nicalo: [00:01:21] Cool. I think they’re in the same family. In January, you gave a fantastic speech at a WPSL event in Las Vegas where you shared not only your accomplishments, but a strong growth mindset to continuously improve. There was an authenticity and vulnerability that really resonated with me.

And as we talk through your story and how you coach and your philosophy and all of your accomplishments, we’ll end with that speech and story and some of the lessons there. Just to give you some context of where we’re going. Okay.

Tracy Hamm: [00:01:58] Okay, great.

Tony Nicalo: [00:02:00] So there’s a documentary about you getting your UEFA ‘A’ license called Coach. That experience is certainly a fascinating one, and I think that there was a story in the Journal of Applied Psychology studying leadership characteristics. And what that study found very clearly is that in terms of leadership qualities, men excel at confidence, but women excel at competence. And I think there are many moments in that documentary where that comes through clearly.

So congratulations on your, UEFA A license and completing that process. That’s a great accomplishment.

Tracy Hamm: [00:02:40] Thank you very much.

Tony Nicalo: [00:02:42] What really stood out to me though, was at the very beginning of the movie where you read a poem that you wrote in the seventh grade and it brought you to tears. Why?

Tracy Hamm: [00:02:52] Yeah. So they, they obviously clip a lot of parts of the film. So what they left out, which wasn’t explained like very clearly was, I had not read that poem until I read it for the first time. My mom had sent it to them. They had asked for a lot of different material from when I was growing up and playing and home videos and things like that. And my mom had included that poem. And so that was the beginning as they handed this to me and they were like. You wrote this? Do you remember writing this? And I kind of said sort of, I think I was in seventh grade, but I hadn’t read it. And so going through it basically what made me like so emotional was like, I really loved soccer. I love the sport.

It made me feel. Just like reflecting like how much I still love it. It brought me to tears cause I was like, this is, I can’t believe how much I loved it when I was 12 and how much I still love it now. I still feel the same way about it. Like I think it says like the best part of my day is being on the field and I was like, Oh, that’s still so true for me. I just, I love soccer. It’s such a huge part of my life. It’s like everything that I do.

Tony Nicalo: [00:03:58] Amazing. You were the captain at Berkeley, and you’ve talked about at the end of your playing career at Berkeley, and this is talked about in the movie as well, that you didn’t really have opportunities to play professionally and the words that you’ve used to describe it are that you were devastated and felt like you lost your identity. You played in the WPSL, you were drafted by FC Gold Pride, and we’ll talk about that at the end, as I’ve mentioned, where you ended up being cut from the pride but then played for the Atlanta Beat. And then the WPS folded in that context of where the game is obviously so important to you and part of your identity and you love it so much.

Why didn’t you go play in Europe? Why didn’t you try and figure out how to play in the Frauen Bundesliga or the Toppserien in Norway or somewhere in Scandinavia?

Tracy Hamm: [00:04:51] That’s a great question. Obviously reflecting like looking back, I wish I did, cause I definitely had opportunities to. You know, my college coach had been fairly well connected and was like, yeah, if you want to go, like we’ll definitely find somewhere.

Cause I had dreams of being on like the U21s and like the full national team. And at that time it was like the only option for me to continue to develop was really to go play abroad. And I had gotten a pretty sweet job that kind of stemmed from an internship my senior spring at Cal. And. Oh, it was one of those things where it was like Trace, like, do you hang them up?

And they can always coach. You can play for the star and the WPSL and. You can still play, but you have a killer job, like keep this job. And that was kind of the reason was I had a really good job straight out of college. I had nothing to do with soccer actually at all.  I worked for a bunch of different liquor companies and was having the best time, which, priorities here.

I just felt like there’s other avenues that I could play here and continue to develop. I knew the Storm was really good and I knew that there was going to be a lot of national team players on that, so I felt like I can still get better if I. Stay here. Also, there’s like the boyfriend factor and do you want to move away and all sorts of mistakes and things that you think about when you’re 22 years old, like looking back.

So, yeah.

Tony Nicalo: [00:06:06] Alright. That is super helpful because as you mentioned, a bunch of things are left out of the documentary and I watched the documentary and then I was learning about you through everything else that I could read and discover and interviews and it bothered me, there was this part where I’m like, Tracy is this fantastic problem solver, aggressive figures out how to get things done. So she was devastated that she couldn’t play but then didn’t go play. And in the movie it emphasizes the, there was no opportunity to play professionally, which is why you were forced to go this way through US soccer. So I really appreciate you. Taking the time to answer that, and now things make a little more sense to me.

So at some point, you began your professional coaching career. You left the job in the liquor business. Yes. You had already been coaching for years. You started coaching while you were in high school, but you began your professional coaching career at Santa Rosa junior college. We’ve seen Last Chance U and Cheer. You’ve described the challenge of dealing with players for whom soccer was not the most important thing in their life as being a challenge. What was it like there for you?

Tracy Hamm: [00:07:22] When I took that position, I didn’t know anything about junior college soccer. And it was also like a full time teaching position. So I was having to teach different activity classes and a couple of different lecture classes. But meeting the team, I knew that they had had success in the past and I kind of was trying to figure out why are these talented players ending up at a junior college when there’s so many opportunities for players to play at four year schools, whether it’s division one or division two or NAIA, whatever it might be.

And you slowly kind of start to learn their backstories. And there’s a variety of reasons why the women ended up there. And a lot of it was because they weren’t excited about the school that they were going to or getting recruited by, or they didn’t have a good experience when they came back. They didn’t have the financial means. They didn’t have the grades, they didn’t have the family support. Maybe they made some bad decisions in high school that affected their eligibility, whatever it might be. But, honestly, Santa Rosa was arguably the most important time in my career because it made me really invest in people and how I want to be remembered and how I want to affect their lives and their trajectory.

Cause for me like 18 to 20 year olds really at a junior college like that’s like the most malleable time in anyone’s life and understanding where they came from and who they are helped me coach them more successfully. And I hadn’t really considered that as a coach before because I’ve been coaching and playing at a high level where everybody was super intrinsically motivated and everybody wanted to be the best and kind of the fact like everyone, I don’t want to say everyone’s really general, but most people had a lot of support in many, many ways to be successful.

And here’s this group of women that might not have had that same opportunity. So it really made me think about coaching the person as a much more holistic approach and understanding the barriers and the obstacles that they have and their strengths and weaknesses in a much more profound and deeper way, and helping them kind of figure out the next move.

So for me, it was like this eclectic group of women, extreme difference in demographics, which again, as a coach challenged me to like, how do you lead from the bottom? How do you lead from the top? Who are the leaders and in this situation and just merge this massive group of women that all have very different personalities and different backstories and to becoming one and winning a championship.

Tony Nicalo: [00:09:38] it does sound a little bit like Last Chance U and Cheer where you’ve got people who were there for all sorts of different reasons and you won a championship. I don’t understand the junior college process particularly well myself. So when someone graduated from junior college, is there an example of a player who changed while they were playing with you and then ended up going to play division one or were able to achieve some other goals along the way? And can you share a story?

Tracy Hamm: [00:10:05] Sure. Once I got there after my first year, it was like, my mission was to get everybody to go to four year schools cause I was like, this is your guys’ ticket. There is somewhere for everybody to play at every level. It might not be the most ideal place, but like you’re going to get your school paid for and you’re going to go to college, you’re going to get out of here and not just stay in Santa Rosa forever. Let’s do something with your talent. And by my third year, we had 14 sophomores and all 14 players transferred to play in college at a four year school. So I was on one. I’m like, this is your plan. This is, this is what I’m getting. You’re going to college. So I had a couple players play division one actually my very first year, a girl named Corelli, who actually coaches now too, which is awesome.

She went to play at San Jose State. She had a great career. Another one of my players, my last year that I was there went to Arizona State. So it was like the first pac-12 transfer from Santa Rosa. JC, her twin sister played at Humboldt. There was a bunch. But yeah, they went on and had great careers and got their college degrees, which I was so proud of. And at the end of the day, I’m proud of championships. I’m proud of them getting out of here, but I’m also just so proud that they were able to kind of change the direction that their lives are going. And I’m excited to see where they kind of go moving forward. 

Tony Nicalo: [00:11:12] I think that part of what you described as an in terms of working with players as people and understanding them and what motivates them is super important from a culture and team building perspective as well. You’ve talked about how one of the things that’s interesting to you about competition is that you can show a different side of yourself when you’re competing. How do you activate that mindset in your players? That when they step onto the pitch they can, how do they access a different part of who they are and how do you bring that out in them?

Tracy Hamm: [00:11:44] I think a lot of what I do, and this is kind of my main staple, and I’m sure you’ve heard me say this in other podcasts, like how you do anything is how you do everything. So there’s certainly an element of like being able to turn on a switch, but I also think that success and drive comes from just who you are as a person, and it is reflected in your academics.

It’s reflected in your relationships, in your career, whatever it might be. You’ve got to hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else expects of you. And when you step on the field, it just gets highlighted, and it becomes that drive and that passion. It needs to be, this is your canvas, right? Like for me, soccer’s an art. This is your time to paint your picture and get after it. And for me, I’ve just always been such a competitive person, like in anything that I do and not even with other people. I’m not necessarily comparing myself to what other people are doing.  I’m very competitive with myself.

If I can’t do something, I’m like, why can’t I do this? And I try to figure it out for myself, but I think trying to get the best out of your players and get them to kind of turn on that competitive switch and have that mentality, that very deep desire to win. It comes from training. And it’s not necessarily something that just goes on and off. To be great you need to be consistently good. That starts with training. It starts in everything that you do. So for me, game time is just like the opportunity to put all of your hard work on the field and battle for your teammates, battle for your coaches, battle for your program. And if you don’t have that desire and that passion and that energy.

And that will to win, then this isn’t the right spot for you at anywhere that I’ve been. Cause that’s how I operate and I have that expectation, that standard for anyone that plays for me.

Tony Nicalo: [00:13:21] I imagine that scene in the Last Dance where Jordan is crying over how competitive he is, and that’s just the core of who he is must resonate with you.

Tracy Hamm: [00:13:30] I felt that to my core watching the Last Dance, actually, it validates so many of the things that I say are the things that I feel and I’m like, okay, all right, it’s not just me.


Tony Nicalo: [00:13:43] most recent episodes make it clear that his competitiveness made it hard for him to be nice or be perceived as nice, anyhow. I think that something that is clear to me is that you really value building a culture and that you value doing it through values. And so I want to talk a little bit about how you’re doing that at UC Davis because UC Davis is a cultural icon in California. It’s the largest campus by acreage. It has a world class farm and agricultural sciences program.

It’s the number one school in the country in veterinary medicine. But, it hasn’t really had a very strong soccer program. They’ve been give one for a decade now and not really a winning program. In your first season, you’ve done a great job making them competitive. Seven wins, 11 losses, but all of your losses were pretty close matches with the exception of Fullerton and Oregon State.

There’s another coach who we’ve talked to who went back and was an assistant at USC, and now as the head coach at the University of Michigan, Jennifer Klein. Who had to go through a similar process of taking the values of the school and integrating them into the soccer program. So they had a slogan called makeup Michigan and wanted to incorporate the history of Michigan as an institution and its values into the program. So UC Davis is a successful institution. How are you using its history and values to inform your work?

Tracy Hamm: [00:15:13] That’s a really good question. I think, kind of where we’re at, and this is, you know, I got hired a couple months before season started last fall. And so for me, the fall was about understanding what the women were about and understanding the traditions that there were that they had that they wanted to keep. What kind of athletes are here? What kind of students are here? And I didn’t really impose too much of  a culture, a value system on them at that point. Because for me, I don’t think you can come in guns firings I am. This is what we’re going to do. You have to understand what the school is about.

And I’d grown up in the Bay area, but I didn’t know much about Davis, like you said, other than it’s a great school academically. And so I just really took time to figure out what’s on campus. Where are the cows? Where are the horses? I love animals. So I was really excited to be here, but you know, what are people majoring in and who are the students that are here already, who are the athletes? And then obviously after the fall season, taking that and understanding what the priorities were. Really, this winter quarter was about refocusing, not necessarily taking the priorities away from academics, because that’s really, really important. But allowing them to have balance in doing both and finding joy in soccer again, and it’s okay to have fun and compete with each other.

So Davis obviously is like a very, very special place. The campus is amazing. The professors, just the administration, like everything here has been fantastic. And so this winter was about taking some of those requirements like academically and what the student athletes value. If you guys work this hard in the classroom, like why can’t you work this hard on the soccer field?

And it turns out they can if they really, really invest themselves. And so that was kind of something that I thought about the most was you’re successful in all these other areas. Why is this the one area that you’re not? And for me it was just, it came down to a love and a joy for the game. I felt like the players loved school and they loved Davis. They loved the campus, but they didn’t love soccer. And competing college soccer is like, if you don’t love this, like you’re going to have a really hard time surviving for years. Like this has to be close to the top. It’s gotta be one, two split with academics. And we worked on it, we trained and you know, I was like, guys, you can’t just have a standard here.

You have to have a standard on the field also. You can’t just be passionate about school. This isn’t going to work. And we trained it and we worked on it and we came up with our new value system. And really incorporates, I think, being a good student, but also being a fantastic athlete and excelling in both and wanting to excel in both. Most importantly, I think for me, enjoying doing both and having fun on the field.

Tony Nicalo: [00:17:53] Talk to me about some of the individual players, and not by name, but you came to build a great program. I imagine that you have some players that choose Davis because they didn’t get a scholarship to Stanford or to North Carolina. So how do you use values to motivate them? I know in your recruiting process, you look for players who want to compete, who have that desire, who are willing to make sacrifice. Did some of them decide. Oh, okay. I’m not going to play at the level I thought I was going to, so I’ll focus on academics. Do some of them have a chip on their shoulder now that you are able to be like, no, really, you can compete at that level. Those coaches that were wrong. How do you think about it? How does it work?

Tracy Hamm: [00:18:34] Because there’s only a handful of players that I don’t want to say like I recruited. I don’t know a lot of the motivation behind the majority of the players that are here and why they chose Davis. Obviously I’ve asked them that question. You don’t ever really know the full answer, but I’m assuming that the academic rigor and the academics of getting a degree from Davis definitely overshadowed maybe some other opportunities to go to other schools. And that happens a lot in women’s soccer. They have opportunities to go to state schools or schools maybe outside of California on money and on scholarship.

And then they choose Davis just cause it’s the better academic school. So there’s different motivations and different reasons. But I think what I found is that the women here definitely are incredibly intelligent, incredibly motivated, to use soccer as a medium to move on in their careers. For me, there’s really only one or two players that have ever mentioned playing professionally or wanting to play pro. For me, that was a major red flag. Obviously as someone that wants people to play, women to play pro soccer and stay in the field and stay in the industry. And so that obviously affected our recruiting. Kind of moving forward was like, well, we need some footballers, like we need people like soccer junkies that  love it that are kind of like academic life balance.

But yeah, they’re just incredibly smart women that want to use soccer as a way to further their next career and their next move where there’s nothing wrong with that, but it can’t be at quite the level of disparity as it is now. It’s probably like 80 20 right now. I’m like, all right, you could still compete and want to play pro like your career. I don’t want to say your career can wait, but for me, I’m like, play as long as you can. Like just keep on the cleats, keep them on. Keep them on. You can start nursing school when you’re 28. Start it later. It’ll still be there. So we’re trying to find that balance. And I’ve been here less than a year still, so I’m still kind of navigating how the school works and how we’re going to be successful. You know, learning every day.

Tony Nicalo: [00:20:35] Well with Davis’s goal of being a Hispanic serving institution, perhaps given how you think about the US soccer Federation and your rebellious streak, the fact that the US soccer Federation overlooks Mexican American players quite frequently. Are you working on a partnership with the Mexican Federation?

Tracy Hamm: [00:20:58] I would love to. Before the Covid major pause. I was actually going down to Mexico, one of our former players, Janette Gonzalez, plays for club America and I was going to go watch one of her pro games and absolutely happened to correlate with the U17 world cup, that’s being hosted in Mexico city. So I was going down there and trying to make connections. I mean, I would love that. I think that that would be amazing for me. I really am someone in a coach that celebrates diversity, celebrates inclusivity, and I’d love to, I want to say shake up the demographics, but for me, it’s all about providing opportunities that other people don’t necessarily have access to. And I’m been, you know, obviously at Santa Rosa junior college, that was kind of a big piece in San Francisco State. We had, I actually would say predominantly Hispanic players. So for me, I’m a big advocate of that and celebrating people’s cultures and trying to get them opportunities that they might not, no exist or haven’t had access to, for sure.

Tony Nicalo: [00:21:54] Well, you’ve talked about the importance of representation and the benefits for women of having a strong female coach and the impact that that had for you as well. I think when you left San Francisco State, your assistant there, Brittany Cameron, is now the head coach. And so I think what I want to make clear is that there are lots of people who talk about the importance of diversity, and that’s something that they care about, but, my impression is that you actually live it and do the work to bring other people along with you.

Tracy Hamm: [00:22:28] Absolutely, and I feel really lucky to, obviously, I’ve played at Cal and been around women that feel the same way and have gone to an institution that also reaches back and is a very, very forward thinking institution. And I get so much value and I love winning, obviously, like I’m incredibly competitive. Like I said before. But at the end of the day, the more mature and the better understanding of the world in general, like the more I think motivated I am by helping other people just have access. Like I understand that I was born into a very privileged situation and I want to use that to make sure that I’m giving back to different communities.

But I just gained so much value and pride and perspective in giving other people chances and giving other people opportunities. Cause. There’s so many coaches and players that get overlooked for whatever reason. And I really tried to invest a lot in different groups to make sure that they get the same opportunities everybody else does. And that’s not just women, that’s, you know, women of color and the LGBTQ community. If they don’t have a voice, like someone has to have a voice for them and has to try to give them different opportunities. So I’m excited because what’s really cool is once they get the opportunity, most of the time we all take advantage of it.

And that’s, that’s exciting. And that’s what I try to portray as like, Hey, it’s not just enough to have an opportunity. Like now you’ve got to get after it. Now you gotta take advantage of it. Make me proud. And I’m going to give back to you and it’s cool. It was like a lot of the time when there’s other people that I’ve helped that they turn around and they help me too, like we all promote each other and we all advocate for each other and, and that’s for women, particularly, at the end of the day, we all have to reach back and lift each other up and support each other and help navigate a fairly male dominated industry and world. But yeah, thank you for saying that. I appreciate that.

Tony Nicalo: [00:24:18] Well, one of the things that I love about the animal weasel and what we’re trying to build with the community is that weasels are smart, tenacious, but they’re incredibly underestimated and misunderstood, and they’re able to accomplish things that they take prey that are two to three times their size. They don’t give up. And I think that as a society, we often underestimate people for lots of different reasons. You’ve described some of them, which are sad and obvious, like gender, race. So I feel you.

Tracy Hamm: [00:25:00] I like that about weasels. Okay.

Tony Nicalo: [00:25:03] You’ve mentioned one of your phrases around how you do anything is how you do everything, and I want to talk about that one specifically in a minute, but I want to talk about a number of your different phrases because I think what I’d like to focus on is aphorisms versus platitudes where an aphorism is a concise statement of truth, often witty, but not always. Whereas a platitude is more of a moralistic, cliche. So an aphorism like the early bird gets the worm. It’s probably only an aphorism if you say the second part, which is the second mouse gets the cheese. And platitudes are things like it is what it is, or everything happens for a reason.

There are these sayings that are kind of problematic because they create this illusion of fairness and order in the world, and they prevent us from seeing the possibility that the world is unfair, unjust, and chaotic. And so I want to talk about four sayings that you have. And I kind of want to do this exercise where we work together to make sure that their aphorisms not platitudes.

Tracy Hamm: [00:26:12] Okay.

Tony Nicalo: [00:26:13] So the first one is be comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s the process of enjoying adversity. But I think about the time that we’re going through now and the way lots of businesses look at it are around the sense of never waste a good crisis. And so as a master’s in psychology, as a coach, how do you think about mistake rituals around dealing with failures and dealing with uncertainty and things that are uncomfortable?

Tracy Hamm: [00:26:46] Well, I think in saying that, I’m someone that’s like very action oriented. And a lot of people say that, right? It’s like be comfortable being uncomfortable, but the essence of that is taking the first step and recognizing like this is not a situation that’s normal. It’s not a situation that is inviting or approachable, and then seeing that and like walking into the fire and embracing that, and it can be terrifying. It’s really scary to first of all, recognize that there’s a problem. But then second of all, like throw yourself into the middle of it and it takes preparation.

It takes courage. And in order to find that, for me, it’s like surrounding yourself with people that are really supportive is definitely important. But like starting small and you don’t have to take like a fine leap into the fire, but like taking baby steps into the fire is okay also.

Tony Nicalo: [00:27:37] So what are the action items? Is it self-talk? Is it having a mistake ritual? Awareness obviously is step one, I am feeling uncomfortable and that’s okay.

Tracy Hamm: [00:27:47] I think failing. Failing is something that’s okay and you’re kind of referring it to like mistake ritual. There’s mistakes, but there’s also these things that we see as failures that are opportunities to throw your hands up and be like, all right, well I guess it didn’t work out, but recognizing in that moment of a failure or a setback, kind of reframing it, I guess, into an opportunity would be like the action step.

Tony Nicalo: [00:28:09] So the next one is, I think, one that you’ve gotten from your dad, which is showing up as the hardest part.

Tracy Hamm: [00:28:15] Absolutely. And again, that kind of goes along with the first thing is. If you don’t give yourself a chance. My other thing my dad always says is, if you don’t ask, the answer’s always no or you don’t ask. You don’t get. And he used to say that when I was little, like forever, and he still says that to me now. Well, if you don’t ask, you’re not going to get it. Okay, fine. Well, let me just ask then. And so I think. It really is. Cause I would say most people when they don’t pursue something, it’s out of fear.

Right. And it’s out of feeling under prepared or not having confidence in something. And when you say the hardest part showing up, it typically is just give yourself a chance to pursue something. And for me showing up in Wales to start my UEFA ‘B’ license was just showing up and surviving. I didn’t know if I was going to pass or not pass or have a terrible experience or great experience, but that was the hardest part for me. It was just showing up, but in order to even show up to Wales, I had to apply. I was like, well, if I don’t apply, then I’ll never know. If I don’t ask, I don’t get. So I think that there’s just embracing that you never know what you’re capable of until you show up, until you give yourself that chance to prove it to yourself, that you can do more than you think you could.

Tony Nicalo: [00:29:29] And I like that one cause it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to succeed once you show up, but you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t show up.

Tracy Hamm: [00:29:36] Absolutely.

Tony Nicalo: [00:29:37] The next one is never hope for something more than you work for it.

Tracy Hamm: [00:29:41] Yeah, that’s probably my favorite one. I don’t know where I got that one from. I just feel like I worked really hard for everything that I have or everything that I’ve done, and you can hope for things and hope you catch a break and hope someone sees you or identifies what you’ve been doing and, but that’s 90% of the time, not the case. Like you don’t wake up one day and you’re walking down the street and someone’s like, Hey, like here’s this amazing opportunity. You have to create opportunities. And for me, I’ve just tried to do more than the normal, average kind of person. I don’t think I’m average. I don’t ever want to be average. I want to just make the most of my life and make the most of my relationships and my friendships and my career and my teams and you can get stuck hoping for something.

And so for me, like why get one masters? I could get two other people, don’t have two masters, let me get a UEFA ‘A’ nobody else has a UEFA ‘A,’  you know. It’s not even really comparing it to other people what they have or don’t have. But for me, I’m like, why do I want to do what everybody else is doing?  I want to be exceptional. And in a world where there’s not a lot of firsts anymore, I want to be the first at doing something. And really at the time it’s probably semi selfish, but at the end of it, what I want is that other women see me doing these things too, and they’re like, I can do that also.  And sometimes it just takes that first step or that first person to get something done to inspire other people.

And I know that’s happened for me and I feel like you can’t just hope something’s going to work out. Like there’s a way to work for it. And sometimes when you work for something and  it doesn’t work out. Like there’s another opportunity that comes from it. So when I got my second masters, what was the purpose of that?

But now it’s kind of escalated into like, Oh, well, like who’s this person that’s going above and beyond? And I’m like, well, me, I’m trying. I want to be really exceptional at everything that I do and I don’t want my teams, I don’t ever want to feel like I can’t give my team my best.

Tony Nicalo: [00:31:36] That pursuing excellence, the notion of being consistently good as what separates the good from the great, that level of consistency. The habituation of excellence is the last one. How you do anything is how you do everything. Talk to me about why returning your your basket when you’re done shopping or or your shopping cart, if you were shopping someplace with parking lots. Why is that important?

Tracy Hamm: [00:32:05] My parents were incredible, like growing up, you don’t take shortcuts for anything. If you cheated playing a board game, like you were like literally not allowed to play it ever again until you like were like a moratorium, like was served. There’s a standard, right? And there’s this expectation. And I remember like my mom when I was little, don’t put the grocery cart away after you like load the groceries up and I would just like go put it like on the curb and she was like, no, I don’t think so. If you don’t put that away, someone else has to do it for you. And that’s not what we do here. That’s not who you are. That’s not our family. You handle your own and you, you get it done. And something really simple. You’re like six years old and you’re like annoyed that you have to go walk an extra 10 yards, put the grocery cart away.

That stuff matters. I think that being consistently good, that is what leads to greatness because it’s hard. It’s really hard. Hard to be good all the time, and that’s why people become great from it is because most people don’t want to be good all the time, and that’s okay. it’s a different path, it’s a different kind of mentality. But I think that the more that you can focus on being good off the field or off the court, whatever it is, it does translate into your performance on the field. Cause you don’t back down from anything, you take responsibility or you’re very accountable for your own performance.

And then in turn, it affects your ability to communicate and lead your teammates also because they see you doing extra. They see you doing the little things well. They see you being consistently good. So if you have feedback to give somebody, they can’t really say anything. Hopefully they’re inspired by it and hopefully they want to use your work ethic as an example for their own lives. I think that the investment that you put in yourself ultimately affects the way that you’re able to effectively communicate and embrace challenges and lead other people.

Well, I think that that is the interesting extension of it, that it becomes a leadership principle. You know, you were a Bay area Northern California kid who was ostensibly a 49ers fan, gridiron football, and you shared a story about Jerry Rice.

Yeah. My favorite story.

Tony Nicalo: [00:34:10] Yeah. That if you are the best, you have to both be the best and make the people around you better. Can you share that story again and the impact that it had on you?

Tracy Hamm: [00:34:19] Yeah, so I watched a documentary, it’s amazing, called In Search of Greatness, and it’s Jerry Rice, Wayne Gretzky and Pele.

I went and saw it in San Francisco, and Jerry Rice is going to be there, and I love Jerry Rice. So I went and watched, and this wasn’t in the movie, so this was kind of an after fact during a Q and A. And Jerry is talking about how he really liked to be a certain weight. I don’t remember what it was, but he liked to be like that specific weight.

Not like 196 not 194 but like 195. And so before training, he would go work out on his own and sometimes he’d just hop on the treadmill and he’d run a couple extra miles or do some sort of workout. And so his teammates would start getting to training and then he’s all sweaty and he obviously had worked out super hard before. And they’re kind of looking at him like, well, what are you doing man? Like we’ve got like a three hour training coming up? And he’s like, I got to get to my weight. And they’re like, why does that matter so much? And so Jerry like, well, because that’s when I am like my most optimal performance. That is when I my very best at this way, this is what I’m fastest, when I’m quickest, my feet work the best, my hands work the best. I’m dialed. I’m so focused. This is my weight. And ultimately he’s saying. If the cornerback is trying to mark me during practice and I’m not at my optimal speed, then I’m not going to make him better. If I’m moving slowly, I’m not training and do better, and he’s like, if I’m trying to catch a pass from Steve Young, Joe Montana and my route is off because I’m not running as fast as I normally am or my feet aren’t as quick, well then the past is going to be off.

So it’s not going to make them better. It’s not going to make us successful in the game moving forward because our timing is going to be off. So it is very important to me that I am this way. And I just thought that was so incredible because you have the power to make people around you better and as detailed and maybe as monotonous as days can get training and having that standard.

It’s also, there’s no reason. There’s no question why the 49ers had the career with those individuals on the team, if that’s the mentality, if that’s what people in that program are doing, and it’s that specific. So yeah, Jerry Rice was a badass man.  I love that story.

Tony Nicalo: [00:36:19] It’s a great story and it makes me think that there might be one more for you, which is the idea that I get from that story, which is that good players win awards, great players help their teammates win trophies.

Tracy Hamm: [00:36:34] Absolutely. I think likeLast Dance and all that stuff too, there’s so many amazing sports stories. But ultimately, I always think about this, and this is actually something Jack Clark, who’s the head coach at Cal Rugby, who’s won a bunch of national championships, I’ll never forget this. We’ve got to meet him by freshman year at Cal, and he’s like this enormous man who’s very engaging, and he said, would you rather, play every minute of every game and not make the playoffs, or would you rather sit on the bench and win a national championship? And for me, that just gave you like this great perspective of like, well, what is it about, what are we trying to accomplish? Like, what do we want to do? And how does that kind of mentality affect our performance in our day in and day out at training and for me, I’m like, well, I love playing, I wouldn’t want to not want to play what? But then over the course of your time as you mature, you’re like, shit, I don’t care if I play a minute. I want to ring man. Like I want to win something. And trying to, as a coach, instill that same level of like passion about putting the team first and wanting it for the people around you, you’re all in it together. There’s not like an asterisk next to like a national championship that’s like so and so didn’t play. Or so-and-so won an award. Like I was the MVP of the year, but we didn’t make playoffs and win a game. Yeah. That’s not exciting. So I totally agree that the best players just make everybody better.

Tony Nicalo: [00:37:52] So it was January. A WPSL event, giving a keynote. I think it was an event somewhat in remembrance of Jerry Zanelli, who you played for at California Storm, and I’ll let you share the stories, but your words were quite impactful. And it juxtaposed two ideas. The first is I belong. I have arrived. I am here to shine. I have made it. The second is time to learn. Time to be humble, time to grow, time to be patient. You’ve shared another story of the fact that you, when you first started playing as a kid, another player on your team was going to take a throw in and they were taking too long to take the throw in. So you went and ripped the ball out of their hands and threw it in for them.

I think of all of the aphorisms and stories and values that you’ve shared, and I am drawn to this consistent theme of ambitious patience. I think even what you described at Santa Rosa and your own longterm goal of beyond building a winning program that UC Davis of changing the face of the game, giving more leadership opportunities to women.

Have you settled into being ambitiously patient? And can you share some of the stories that you did in the speech and how they helped you understand the need for continuous improvement and growth and the equanimity required to balance ambition and patience?

Tracy Hamm: [00:39:42] Sure. I would say during my life and career, like I definitely, I don’t want to say patience is a struggle for me. It’s more, I don’t like hearing, no, I’m very like inquisitive, like I want to know why things are the way that they are and if I don’t agree with them then patience goes out the window. I’m understanding to some degree, and I know that things take time, and even my first year at San Francisco State, I was like, I’m gonna win a national championship my very first year, right?

I’m going to be the best coach of all time. And here we are like struggling. And I just remember being so upset and. I think I was talking to my dad and he was like, Trace, like there’s a reason why people say you can’t build Rome overnight. And I’m like, but I can, I can if I will, like I want to will us to like victory. Obviously being part of a team, there’s other members of the team that also has to be along for the ride. I like that, ambitiously patient.

 I think that I’ve gotten a lot of just experience recognizing when to be patient and then really how to identify an opportunity or a situation or an issue that needs someone with ambition to take the first step and show up. And Jerry Zanelli, cause you brought him up. He started the WPSL, which is the largest women’s league in the country, and it’s been around for forever now, but he was really kind of the same way. He recognized that there was this need for a league for women to play in and it hadn’t existed, there’ve been failed attempts. And he is someone who’s a lobbyist, he’s like, let’s get stuff done. Like I want it. I want to make stuff happen. And he found a way to provide a space and an opportunity for us to play in. And I think when I got the opportunity to play for him, he wasn’t necessarily like a tactical wizard at all, but he was certainly a man that was an ambassador and an advocate.

And I think I just appreciated that about him the most in providing opportunities for people that don’t have the same opportunity. And that’s definitely stuck with me. And again, recognizing that there’s failures that happen along the way. And I don’t even really like using the word failure because I think that with little setbacks or failures like there becomes an opportunity or a different perspective or outlook that you can use to inspire your ambition moving forward. Obviously, for example, like not getting waved into a certain license and having to kind of go a different route, like had that not happen to me.

I certainly wouldn’t be sitting here. But you have to find growth in failure and growth and setbacks and be patient. I like to, things happen now. I’m very in action. Like let’s get this done. And in some ways that’s appropriate, but in some ways you certainly have to be patient and be steady and have grit.

And that’s probably one of the most important things I think, for me just as a person is, is having grit and recognizing that you’re going to have to be consistently good at something. You can’t quit halfway. You can’t do something halfway.

Tony Nicalo: [00:42:34] Thanks so much, Tracy. I really enjoyed the discussion today.

Tracy Hamm: [00:42:37] Me too.

Tony Nicalo: [00:42:41] Thank you for joining us today on the beautiful game. We hope you are ready to live, work, and play better. To be a weasel yourself, smart and tenacious, if still sometimes underestimated. Join our community online at  weaselsfc dot com and if you enjoyed the show, please share it with a friend.


UC Davis Bio

Goals for UC Davis program


Women coaching

Gender perceptions of leadership effectiveness

Tracy Hamm Documentary Film

Tracy Hamm on team building and culture

90% Mental Podcast

iSoulify Podcast

Presenting at California Storm

Jerry Zanelli

Introduction at UC Davis

2019 Results UC Davis Soccer

Culture and core values webinar


30 Seconds with Tracy Hamm

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