Heather O'Reilly #9 takes a shot on Nadine Angerer #1 of Germany during a game on May 22, 2010 at Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.
Heather O’Reilly always had made an effort to reach out to the community through sports.
O’Reilly, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. women’s soccer team, knows that won’t change when her playing days are over.
“Such a huge part of being an athlete and a role model is taking time out to give back to the community,” O’Reilly said. “I’ve always enjoyed that. The kids benefit but so do I. Kids bring back the passion and help you remember what you’re all about.”
O’Reilly, 27, got that chance Thursday when she spoke to about 50 children at the Wang YMCA of Chinatown in Boston as an Athlete Ambassador for the U.S. Olympic Committee's Team for Tomorrow program.
Started in 2008, Team for Tomorrow is a humanitarian relief fund through which America’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes participate in efforts to give back to local communities as well as people in need throughout the world.
O’Reilly, who was named to the U.S. Olympic soccer roster last weekend, spoke about her experiences as a 10-year member of the national team and her preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
She also shared three important attributes she learned from her college coach, the legendary Anson Dorrance, at North Carolina.
“To be an elite player, you need self-confidence or self-belief, you need self-discipline and you need a competitive fire,” O’Reilly said. “I challenged all of them to look inside themselves and see if they have those attributes because that will really take them far in sports and in school and in life.”
O’Reilly then ran the children through some soccer drills on the YMCA’s basketball court before leading a scrimmage, which ended in a penalty kick shootout.
“Soccer is still growing, especially in cities where (fields) aren’t as available,” O’Reilly said. “It was neat to be able to introduce the game for the first time to some of them.”
The children did understand her basketball analogy when O’Reilly talked about making the national team at age 17.
“I sort of equated me making it at that age and playing with some of my idols like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain to them getting a call-up from Coach K (Duke and U.S. Olympic men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski) to play in the Olympics with LeBron James and all the basketball idols,” O’Reilly said. “They thought that would be so cool.”
O’Reilly has had plenty of success since joining the national team. She helped the United States win gold at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and was named to the Olympic roster on Tuesday, hours before the women’s national team beat China, 4-1, in front of a sold-out stadium in Chester, Pa., to improve to 11-1-1 on the year. She also played for Team USA in the 2007 and 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cups.
“The Olympics never get old,” O’Reilly said. “Every time I see my name on that roster I get goose bumps.
“Every time I’ve competed in the Olympics my role has been different. I’m a veteran player now and I’m going to bring my experiences to the London Games.”
The women’s soccer team has three more contests before heading to London, including a nationally televised match against Canada in Sandy, Utah, on June 30.
“We’re thrilled to have London coming up,” O’Reilly said. “The team is looking sharp and we’re ready and we’re hunger to win gold. Just last summer we were a little bit short in our World Cup journey (finishing runner-up to Japan), so I think we’re excited to try to win gold this year.”
O’Reilly said she looks forward for her next opportunity to impact youth.
O’Reilly has also worked with America SCORES, a national program that promotes soccer and literacy by bringing children, athletes, poets and writers together.
“I’ve always loved working with kids,” O’Reilly said. “After my playing career is done, I’ll definitely continue in those fields.”