A Japanese national team player, one of the most decorated female collegiate soccer athletes in history, and now, the inaugural goal scorer for AFC Ann Arbor. Mami Yamaguchi has been all over the world and seen just about anything you could imagine as a player. Now, though, with the help of The Mighty Oak Youth Project, she will begin her coaching career as well. TMOYP is pleased to gift Yamaguchi their first ever women’s coaching scholarship. Founded in 2018, TMOYP has already been providing youth scholarships to local players. With their reach broadening, though, and the women’s team now in place, expansion to helping more AFCAA-affiliated women coach the sport they love is the next team for helping the community grow.
Yamaguchi’s journey is an incredible story and her experience and love for the community makes her a natural pick for this scholarship. Yamaguchi won the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the top male and female collegiate soccer player in the year, in 2007 while playing with Florida State. The award had been earned by the likes of Mia Hamm, Canadian national team captain Christine Sinclair, and American internationals Aly Wagner and Cat Whitehill. From there, Yamaguchi would be capped eighteen times with the Japanese national team, including all throughout the 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, which allowed the Japanese women to qualify for the 2011 Women’s World Cup.
The winding road, with plenty of interesting and exciting stops, has now moved into Ann Arbor. When talking about how she became interested in the club, it was all about the personal connection she felt to the people. “I got attracted to the people of the club,” Yamaguchi told AFCAA. “Megan [Trapp] approached me to play with AFCAA. People were also telling me good things about the coaching staff and the organization. After I met Andy and Barry, I felt right to play for them.” She also noted that this was a great next step for her coaching career as well. “Although I’ve had fulfilling experience as a player, as a coach, I’m still a greenhorn,” she admitted. “I’m excited to learn from the coaching staff who have good coaching experience and knowledge of the game.”
The interesting part of Yamaguchi’s coaching tale is that at first, Yamaguchi, as so many great players struggle with at first, found different road blocks. With such high expectations on herself, Yamaguchi said about herself, “I mean I couldn’t coach at all.” When talking about what was difficult about the process, she said, “It wasn’t because of the language, I just had no idea how to coach, how to see the game from the outside of the field,” which is often an issue when great players in any sport take up coaching. This adjustment process has been a driving force for her though as she enters another year of coaching. She hopes to continue to overcome any of this lingering frustration and push on to become an always-improving coach.
Interestingly enough, Yamaguchi shared, playing and coaching are two entirely different beasts. She expanded upon that:
“For example, when I play, I don’t think, I just react and play with my instincts. And most of things are just on the field. For coaching, there are a lot of things to prepare before/ after practice & games both on and off the field. You need to be capable of seeing the whole game, and guiding both the team and players. You interact with players, team, parents, and people around. It’s a management.”
As a coach, her playing ability then allows her to demonstrate what she asks of her players. “I was fortune to have great coaches for my playing career,” she said, talking about how she has been able to get to the level of play that she has seen over her career. “Hopefully I can maximize the knowledge I’ve gained from the coaches and my playing experience for my future coaching career,” she would add.
On receiving the scholarship, Yamaguchi was beyond thankful. “I appreciate for this opportunity very much. I feel strong support from the community for the women’s team,” she said, truly feeling the love that the AFCAA supporters have provided the women’s team. With an eye on the future of the sport in the area, she talked about her ideal focus, saying, “I would like to maximize coaching knowledge and experience I would gain here for youth development.”
What about that first ever goal? “It was a good ball from Devyn, and I was composed to finish 1v1 against their GK,” said Yamaguchi, ever-willing to give praise to her teammates. Saying she was “very honored” to score the first ever goal, she was, however, disappointed about the result of the game. “I wanted to win the game badly,” she said. Well, with a 5-2 victory over Grand Rapids FC now on the books as the first ever victory for the women, things are looking brighter and brighter for Yamaguchi and The Mighty Oak as a whole.
About AFC Ann Arbor
Founded in 2014, Association Football Club Ann Arbor launched it’s men’s semi-pro team in 2015 and has competed in the NPSL since 2016. Led by Head Coach & Sporting Director, Eric Rudland, the team has found great success winning back to back Great Lakes Championships (‘17 & ‘18) and earning US Open Cup bids three straight years (2017-2019). In October 2018, the club announced the launch of the women’s side, who will be coached by Andy “Pritch” Pritchard in their inaugural season of the United Women’s Soccer national league. Owned by a group of local soccer fans and entrepreneurs, AFC Ann Arbor has become a fixture in the greater Ann Arbor community. Tickets can be purchased here or check out our official online team store here.