Mia Hamm

On the Field with...


By Matt Christopher

Illustrated by The #1 Sports Writer for Kids

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Women’s soccer has never been more popular. At the top of the sport’s list of star players is Mia Hamm. Her speed, aggressive play, and ability to “read the field” have sparked every team she’s ever played on. At the University of North Carolina, she helped the Tar Heels capture four NCAA championships. Her continually stellar performances with the United States national team led them to win two out of three Women’s World Cups, first in 1991 and again in 1999. And as a member of the 1996 gold medal-winning Olympic team, she played an outstanding final game on a sprained ankle. The holder of the world record for most goals scored in a career, she is the hero of thousands of soccer fans worldwide. Readers will devour every detail of this insightful biography of the best women’s soccer player in the world. Get an up-close look at this superstar athlete with Matt Christopher, the number one sports series for kids. For more information on the Matt Christopher Sports Bio Bookshelf, please turn to the last pages of this book.


Chapter One: 1972–1976

Chasing the Ball

One day in 1973, on the sidelines of a soccer field in Italy, a young American girl sat with her family and watched two teams of Italian boys play soccer. No one in the family understood the game very well, but they still enjoyed watching the two teams race back and forth across the field, controlling the ball with their feet with as much skill and mastery as a basketball player handles the basketball or a hockey player the puck.

The shy young girl, just over a year old and barely able to walk, seemed particularly enthralled. Standing close to her parents, she never took her eyes off the black-and-white soccer ball. Whenever the ball bounded off the field in her direction, she giggled and toddled away from her parents, chasing after it along with other children in the crowd and trying to kick it like the players on the field.

She didn't know that girls weren't supposed to play sports. For her, it was fun to chase after the ball and kick it, to run around with other children, then sit and play in the grass together, making friends.

That's how Mia Hamm's soccer career began. Years later, her love of the sport and the friendships she made on the field would take her all over the world.

Mariel Margaret Hamm was born on March 17, 1972, in Selma, Alabama. Her father, William, was a pilot in the United States Air Force, and her mother, Stephanie, was a ballerina. Soon after she was born, her mother started calling her Mia, because the baby reminded her of a ballet teacher with the same name.

As a member of the air force, Bill Hamm was never stationed in one place for very long. In 1973, he was transferred to Italy. The entire family, which then also included an older brother and two older sisters, accompanied Bill to Florence, Italy.

When he wasn't flying airplanes, Bill Hamm loved to watch sports. But in Italy, hardly anyone played the sports Bill watched in the United States, such as baseball and football and basketball. The biggest game in Italy was soccer.

No matter where the family went, it seemed as if a soccer game was being played. In almost every open field or empty street, gangs of young boys raced after a soccer ball. Virtually every town had a men's team, and larger cities often supported several soccer clubs. Most teams were amateur, but the Italians also sponsored several thriving professional leagues. Thousands of fans turned out to support their favorite team, chanting and singing in unison in the stands and waving huge flags and banners. Televised soccer games were the most popular programs in the country.

When Bill started watching soccer, he didn't understand the game very well. Soccer wasn't popular in the United States. Only a few public schools and colleges had soccer teams. There was a professional league, the North American Soccer League, but few people went to the games and they were rarely televised. Only a handful of the players were from the United States. Most were from Europe and South America. In the United States, Bill hadn't paid attention to the game.

But in Italy, he had little choice. If he wanted to watch sports, he had to watch soccer. And the more he watched, the more he began to appreciate the sport. He realized that what had first looked to him like a bunch of players randomly running after a ball was actually a sport that demanded great athletic skill and strategy. He learned that every player on the team played a specific position, just as in basketball or hockey, and had different responsibilities. The more Bill learned about the game, the more he enjoyed it. Soon, he was a rabid soccer fan.

The family loved to do things together, and Bill started taking his family to soccer games. The children, particularly Mia, took to the game immediately. She was small for her age and usually quite shy. But when she saw a soccer ball, her eyes lit up. On the air force base, she often joined other children in impromptu games of soccer.

After only a few years in Italy, Bill was transferred again, this time back to the United States. Although the family left Italy behind, they took their love of soccer with them. They spent a brief period in California, then Bill was sent to Wichita Falls, Texas.

When they arrived there, Bill and Stephanie Hamm were pleased to learn that the community supported a youth soccer program. Little League baseball and other youth sports programs like Pop Warner football were commonplace, but youth soccer programs were still rare in the United States.

Yet ever so slowly, the sport was becoming more and more popular. Unlike many other sports, soccer doesn't require a great deal of equipment. It is relatively safe for children even as young as five or six years old to play. The basics of the game are easy to learn. If you can run and kick a ball, you can play. And one of the best things about soccer is that every player gets to touch the ball.

Because soccer is a sport that relies more on speed and agility than strength and size, soccer is one of the few sports that allows boys and girls to play together. Kids of similar ages, both male and female, are able to compete equally. Actually, since young girls mature faster than boys, girls are often the better players.

When Mia's older sisters and brother found out there was a league in town, they wanted to play. Bill was delighted and did his best to support his children. Although he was still learning the game himself, he started studying the rules and fundamentals of the game. He became a coach and referee so he could learn even more and make sure his children learned how to play correctly. He studied every book about soccer he could find.

At first, Mia wasn't allowed to play on a team. She was still too young. Yet the family spent most of just about every Saturday at the soccer field. Mia loved watching her siblings and the other kids play. Every time an errant kick came her way, she was off and running after it. Her mother often spent most of her Saturdays chasing after Mia!

Mia's mother recognized that her daughter was full of energy and thought she might enjoy taking ballet lessons, just as she herself had when she was a young girl. So when Mia turned five, her mother enrolled her in a dancing class. "She was so petite, I thought she'd be ideal," her mother later said.

That's not quite the way it turned out. As far as Mia was concerned, dance class was too slow. It seemed that as soon as everyone in class started moving, the teacher would have everyone stop to learn something else. Besides, Mia didn't like wearing ballet slippers. As she told a reporter years later, "I hated it. I lasted only one class."

Mia wanted to play soccer, as her brother and sisters did. Her mother understood. She remembered that when she was growing up, there were few opportunities for girls to play sports. As she later recalled, "Those of us who wanted to be active found the joy in using our body in something like dance. Now they have this other option and it's beautiful." She put Mia's ballet shoes in a closet and bought her a tiny pair of soccer cleats and shin guards.

At age five, Mia joined an organized team. She was one of the smallest and youngest players on the team.

But that didn't stop Mia. She had grown up with the game and played a lot with her older sisters and brother. She understood how the game was supposed to be played. Although she was timid at first, she quickly discovered that as soon as she started scoring goals, she didn't feel so shy anymore. As she remembered later, "Soccer was a way to hang out and make friends."

In time, it would become much more than that.

Chapter Two: 1977–1986

Choosing Soccer

The opportunity to play organized soccer wasn't the only event of 1977 that had a significant impact on Mia's life. The Hamm family expanded by one when her parents adopted a Thai-American orphan, an eight-year-old boy named Garrett.

Soon, Mia and Garrett were nearly inseparable. He, too, loved to play soccer and other sports. "He was an instant playmate for me," she remembers.

As Mia grew up, she tried to do everything Garrett did. "He let me hang out with him and his friends and play football, soccer, and basketball with them," she says.

Despite her small size, Mia was a good athlete. Garrett knew this, and called his little sister his "secret weapon."

Garrett and Mia would join his friends in the park for pickup games of baseball, football, basketball, and soccer. "No one would want to pick me for their team," says Mia, "but Garrett would always pick me. We would downplay the fact that I was fast and could catch."

But then, at a critical moment in the game, Garrett and Mia would give each other a look. All of a sudden, Mia would start playing hard, running as fast as she could. Usually she left her opponents far behind, racing in to kick a goal in soccer or catching a long touchdown pass.

Playing against older kids helped Mia quickly improve her skills. Soon she wasn't a secret weapon anymore. The neighborhood kids knew she was an athlete to be reckoned with.

In 1982, when Mia was ten years old, the most important soccer competition in the world, the World Cup, was played in Spain. Every four years, nearly every nation on earth selects a national soccer team. Over the course of a year they play in regional tournaments to qualify for World Cup competition, a final round made up of the best sixteen teams in the world. The sixteen teams play against one another until only two teams remain. Those two teams then compete for the world championship of soccer, the World Cup.

Although more and more children were playing soccer, very few Americans paid much attention to the 1982 World Cup. Except for a brief period in the mid-1970s, when the Brazilian superstar Pelé briefly played in the North American Soccer League, soccer had never been a popular spectator sport in America.

The American national team hadn't even qualified for the World Cup final round since 1950. Most Americans didn't know the United States even had a national team, much less what the World Cup was. The United States was about the only country in the world that didn't televise the event. Everywhere else, the World Cup was like the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals, and the Stanley Cup all wrapped up in one event. Billions of people worldwide watched the finals on television.

Living in Wichita Falls, near the American-Mexican border, the Hamm family could pick up Mexican television broadcasts. In Mexico, soccer was extremely popular. The World Cup was huge. Television stations broadcast almost every game of the final rounds of the tournament, even when they took place on the other side of the world in the middle of the night.

The Hamm family watched as many games as they possibly could. Even though the announcers broadcast the games in Spanish, everyone in the family understood the game. As they watched the best players in the world, they discussed strategy and marveled at their skill. When they had a chance, Mia and the other Hamm children would race outside and try to imitate the players they had just watched.

The 1982 World Cup, which Italy won, defeating West Germany 3-1 in the final game, was an important event in Mia's life. She began to realize how the game of soccer was meant to be played and what it was possible to do with a soccer ball. Furthermore, she became aware of just how big and important soccer was. It could be more than a game she played in order to hang out with her friends. She didn't yet pay much attention to the fact that every team in the World Cup was all-male. She just knew she could hardly wait for the next World Cup to be played.

But Mia wasn't quite ready to turn her life over to soccer. After all, she was still a kid and enjoyed lots of different sports. She was good at every sport she chose to play, and she tried to play everything, even becoming one of the first girls in Wichita Falls to play Little League. She didn't know it, but she was a pioneer.

She even played football. When Mia was in seventh grade, a bunch of her friends were all excited about trying out for the school's junior high football team. They had all played football together on the playground. Mia knew she could throw and kick a football as well as any of her friends, male or female, and no one could run as fast as she could. When tryouts were announced, Mia signed up without hesitation.

She had never noticed that girls didn't usually play football. Not until she went to practice did she realize that she was the only girl trying to make the team. "It was one of those things when you're young," she said later. "You really don't think boy-girl. They were my friends. They wanted me to play."

Being the only female trying out didn't stop her. Her friends told the coach she was a good player.


On Sale
Dec 19, 2009
Page Count
128 pages

Matt Christopher

About the Author

Matt Christopher is the best-selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.

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