By focusing on the journey of total development, Erica Suter (aka Fit Soccer Queen) is impacting lots of lives with an educational and fun approach to training young athletes.
If you coach girl and women athletes or have one at home, you will enjoy Erica. She is smart, thoughtful and addresses topics that will heighten the overall experience for those you serve.
Erica Suter is a strength and conditioning coach out of Baltimore, Maryland.
Her mission is to help youth soccer players become strong, resilient, and creative through exercise, while inspiring them to love movement and sports – to not see these as obligations, but rather, enjoyable escapes from the stressors of life.
The Physical Movement sat down with Erica. She shared lessons from her journey as a young student athlete, the college recruiting process, her year in Brazil, coaching the young girl athletes, and innovative coaching tools and philosophies that keep her inspired.
I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed getting to know her.
TPM: Tell me a little about your journey:
ES: Long journey. Started at 6yrs old. Played soccer through HS. Then to Johns Hopkins University. Never thought of college as an end goal for soccer. Leaned into the journey and grew a love of the game. Once in HS started to get more serious about it. Only started travel soccer at 13.
I turned out okay (LOL) even though late to the travel team party by today’s standards.
I turned down several D1 soccer options, as I was drawn to Hopkins. Wanted smaller school, close to home and strong academic and athletic experience.
It turned out great. Starter all 4 years. Terrific overall experience. Broke all scoring records. Captain senior year. Academically and socially loved it.
Got my degree in economics. Coming in handy in business now. I went to coach in Brazil after Hopkins. Lived in Brazil, and coached for 1 year in Rio and saw a pure form of the game being played.
Not great facilities or equipment, athletes there were not training for college, they just played to play. And we played for hours and hours in beating sun. it brought be back to the purest form of the game.
This experience help shape my philosophy around keeping the game fun. Enjoyed so much that when came back to USA , felt this was my calling and what I wanted to do. I want to encourage young athletes to enjoy the process and journey as much as I did. That is what I have been doing since 2010.
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TPM : Sounds like you had a strong foundation and support around you growing up, tell me about that?
ES: I had an amazing femalecoach and private trainer growing up who was a big influence. She encouraged me to reach high and challenge me and improve myself. She helped me identify blind spots and focus where my strengths and unique skills were. She helped with my belief in me. Encouraged me to go D1 , and showed me how to embrace the journey.
Also, my parents gave me a lot of autonomy and support. My dad went to Hopkins and that was a big influence. He told me that If I was going to a school, I should pick one where I could thrive even if soccer not in the picture.
That was a big factor, because was not sure around playing time and how would go. Once I experienced the campus, and did my research around the culture and the people, it was a simple decision. Turned out the soccer experience was awesome, but so was the rest of it.
TPM: That is such a good point, because the mentality today seems to be for families and young athletes to find ANY college, rather than the right place where feel going to flourish.
Tell me about the influence of training & fitness. How that impacted your performance and that connection.
ES: I always was passionate and competitive around the game . It’s a reflection of my environment. Soccer was always fun for me. I did not have any bad experiences or too much stress. I had good supportive coaches.
Nowadays I see it is not the norm. We see abusive coaches and regimented practices, the fun is taken out often times and that is a shame.
I always wanted to get better growing up. I actually asked my mom for a strength coach in 6th grade. So I was fortunate enough to be exposed to working with a professional and benefit physically, and mentally.
I learned how to compete and embrace the journey while adapting to my environment. Strength and conditioning gave me so much, that is why I want to work with kids early on in the process to develop the same benefits from a young age.
TPM: Not a lot of young athletes learning about the process, right? We see almost a sense of entitlement , whereas everyone needs to learn the steps required to progress, if they want to progress.
Tell me about the challenges you see in working with younger athletes. What are you seeing?
ES: The biggest challenge is getting new clients I work with onboard with the long term process.
The most successful young athletes I work with started with me in 2010 and are still on board.
Loading skills, loading movement, speed and power development is a process. There is no quick fix.
Most families don’t realize that this is a long term process . 6-8 years and hopefully for a lifetime.
Many want the quick fix, and have an end goal in mind. But over the long term, the financial investment will be more than ever get back in dollars in most cases.
So there has to be other reasons to invest in the foundation of athletic development from an individual and family perspective.
Many of our athletes don’t play in college. Most wont in society at large.
So the return is in a lifetime of benefits in lifestyle and health. We have athletes who can build their own workout program. Who wake up at 6 am before going to office to get a lift in. Who understand the benefits, live them and apply them over the long term.
Strength and conditioning does way more than just provide a platform for the college scholarship outcome.
TPM: That is so powerful. Focus on health and lifestyle, and that is where the impact is. Wow. Thank you for that.
Where do you find youth sports organizations struggle around giving young athletes these opportunities?
ES: Lack of teaching autonomy.
Getting kids to think for themselves.
Maybe as simple as more free play.
Could be different games.
Giving the kids the tools to try different things and react to different situations. Maybe for soccer players, can offer handball in warm up for example.
That play component needs to be there. Learning that it is ok to take risks. Today, everyone seems to be building a shell and controlling the environment.
But sports in its purest form is inherently risky. Cant safeguard our kids from that, we have to let them discover for themselves and that is getting lost today.
The Physical Movement Observation:
TPM: Discovery for our young athletes is massive. Great point.
You seem to have developed a focus on working with young girl athletes. How are those struggles different than working with male athletes?
I work with mainly pre-adolescent and adolescent girls. Lots of physiological, mental, social, emotional changes. Pelvic stability is a consideration in young girls, so we build in iso holds and other things in support.
We can’t control their physiology. Wider hips for example, greater torque on knees, we address this with proper training, recovery, sleep, don’t let CNS fatigue and get stressed which leads to movement deficiencies and injury.
Lots of hormonal change. Menstrual cycle gets shied away from a lot, especially from male coaches. That first cycle is a such a dramatic moment and has such an impact. We can see the difference in our young athletes when this time comes. Those are important moments and conversations need to be had. How we speak to the athlete, how we train and overall approach needs to be adapted.
I want to encourage coaches, male and female to keep learning how to best address. I know I must keep learning, even though I am a woman and in the field.
TPM: his brings up a good point around individual differences. One of the areas that coaches constantly have to remind ourselves is that not all young athletes come from the same place . there is a lot going on with them. Yes?
ES: Yes, there is.
It comes down to establishing trust. And have a conversation about what is going on and off the field. It comes down to the art of coaching, sometimes just listening.
Not just worrying about X and O’s, but being a leader. Sometimes we need to get out of our way and shut up. And be there for the athlete.
The Physical Movement Editor NOTE:
TPM: What can organizations do to keep all this mind. One of the common threads I hear in my interviews is that the skill component is only 1 aspect of development.
ES: I think youth organizations need to make it a standard to teach other aspects around development than just the skills and tactics.
This is a non-negotiable critical point in my view.
I established a personal 7 step audit and inventory for the athletes and we check in regularly around the components that will affect performance. This is educational as much as it is performance driven. By heightening awareness, everyone becomes more in tune in controlling the factors around performance.
· The physical self.
· Relationships and friendships
· Community and contribution.
· Why : why are you participating.
By assessing, we can determine which component is giving energy or taking energy.
We look at performance from this holistic lens. They are all connected, and this greatly affects performance. The standard needs to be look at it all.
TPM: Wow what a great tool and level of awareness. Very quickly we realize there is way more to performance that physical skills and tactics.
ES: I started to add this inventory because started to see different things.
We had athletes with strong physical ability but cracked under pressure. Physical ability did not matter at that point.
We had girls strong in the weight room but getting injured because were not sleeping well or fueling their bodies enough, which fatigued muscles which resulted in faulty movement patterns.
Learned the hard way that injury reduction and performance is truly multi-dimensional. One weakness in our system has a big impact.
TPM: The average coach cannot be aware of all these aspects without support. Lots of different stressors on kids today, yes? . Part of trying to understand this is part of being a coach is it not?
ES: Great point, It all comes back to education. The standard of those certifications and courses needs to be higher.
I remember taking the course for national soccer coach licence, I don’t think we even touched on nutrition or recovery for more than 1 hour out of a 40 hour course.
That is concerning.
The Physical Movement Observation:
TPM: Raising the bar for all concerned. Is the internet helping in bringing like minds together? It can help us establish community and raise the bar for all concerned don’t you think?
ES: Social media and the internet can be a blessing and a curse.
But it does allow for us to connect with those who are walking the walk.
Not just tweeting what sounds good. There are some contradictions out there, and I have seen this in women’s soccer, where we have coaches preaching building strong girls, but yet, they don’t treat women colleagues well. That is one example.
It is refreshing to see practitioners who are practicing what they preach.
TPM: Speaking of the online world, your presence online is strong. You have made a conscious decision to use this platform as a tool to deliver on your mission, vision, and your passion. How has that gone as a business person?
ES: Its been a 6 year process in the online space. I started blogging because I enjoy writing. Writing about fitness and youth performance, mindset motivation etc.
Never realized making money online was a thing.
Online space has been an organic evolution. Not until 2 years ago did I offer online coaching. With 8 years of experience, and thought it was a good idea to bring the services online.
90% of my coaching is offline.
I don’t work with a lot of people online. I don’t promote the online very much. I prefer to have those whom are motivated to seek me out. I want people who can work on their own and without a coach face to face.
I do use you tube to generate content to show young athletes what is possible. Free things that they can do on their own without a coach.
Hanging, crawling, hinging, pushups. You can do a lot to get better without hiring a coach.
My online business is not as big as people might think, but I am ok with that.
TPM: This is a similar parallel to what we spoke of earlier, the journey in athletic development leading to lifelong health, as opposed to direct outcome. This is similar, is it not? Not being outcome driven for business or online coaching?
What would you recommend to young coaches starting out wanting to develop their online presence?
My advice is to buckle up. Because there is no concrete end.
My suggestion is to find something you enjoy, so it can be consistent and enjoy the journey.
Personally, I hate the question, “where are you going with this Erica?” because I don’t know.
I am in love with the process. If you put out good energy, then good things will happen.
I have never had an end goal. Never wanted to work for a professional team.
I am content waking up coaching kids, mostly recreational and have time for my writing, see my friends. For me it is the quality of my life and that is what I value.
TPM: The love of the process and journey, and with the end in drives so much in our society. Whether its business or training for the college scholarship.
It is interesting, in business, what is the ultimate?
People talk about hit this number. But is that the goal, what good is it, if no life balance? If you made less, and be content would that not be worth it?
Does not mean those who make a lot of money are not happy, but it seems so a lot of the time. IT just seems there is so much stress that comes with it.
I have lived that. Not interested.
TPM: This has been great, so many good nuggets here, thanks for your time. Is there anything you would like to leave our subscribers with?
ES: With what is going on right now, we have to be prepared for anything.
Coming back to the holistic approach and taking care of what we can control.
Not waiting for something to save you. We don’t know when a vaccine is coming or what we can control.
It comes back to those 7 things. Your nourishment, your activity, your relationships, your sleep etc. this applies to anything as it helps us prepare.
We almost need to over prepare
I don’t want to make it sound morbid, but controlling what we can control is one way to deal with uncertain times.
TPM: Your message is terrific. We need more of that in our world, not just youth sports and training but in the world.
ES: I appreciate it. This has been nice. It is good to have deeper discussions with others in the field. I really enjoyed it thanks!
She is also the host of the Fit Soccer Queen Podcast. Find it where you get your podcasts.
Her You tube channel is awesome as well.