Linda Hamilton Elected to National Soccer Hall of Fame
On a talented U.S. Women’s National Team that boasted such headline-grabbing players as Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm — among other strong soccer personalities — it would have been easy for a defender to get lost in the shuffle.
Linda Hamilton, however, found a way to stand out by making life difficult for opposing attackers.
National Soccer Hall of Famer and former USWNT head coach Anson Dorrance, who guided Hamilton and the Americans to the first Women’s World Cup championship in 1991, witnessed Hamilton’s abilities and determination firsthand.
“She’s a very intimidating player to play against,” he told the Detroit News in June 1993. “She plays with reckless abandon.”
Hamilton, who will be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas, on May 21, played with grit, passion and enthusiasm. She realized how fortunate she was to compete in and coach a sport that has helped define her life.
“I just love what I do,” she said after recording her 100th victory as a coach for Southwestern University on Sept. 13, 2019. “I’m passionate about the game and I’m lucky to be able to do something I love so much and have so much passion for as a career. So I’m grateful.”
Many in the U.S. soccer community might say the same thing about Hamilton, who has dedicated her life to the game as a player, coach and an international ambassador.
As fierce as she was on the field, Hamilton was humble enough to know she honed her game on the training grounds with her USWNT teammates.
“Every game at practice was much harder than any game we would play,” she told Our Game Magazine. “It’s why I was a good defender. Look who I was playing against every day. Players like Akers. It was insane.”
Hamilton hated to lose, but she looked at it as a learning experience.
“People think of failure as a bad thing,” Hamilton said in an interview for the Southwestern University website in 2019. “But I think you have to be able to fail and take those lessons to make yourself better and stronger because of them.”
Born in Atlanta on June 4, 1969, Hamilton began playing at the age of 8 in New Orleans. After watching her older brother at practice, Hamilton told her mother that she wanted to play soccer.
“My mom’s first response was, ‘Girls don’t play soccer,’” she said in a 2019 interview with AARP. “My brother actually was like, ‘Yes they do, Mom.’ She was like, ‘OK. Sign me up.’”
Because there weren’t many girls teams back then, she played on boys’ teams until she reached the Under-14 age division. Hamilton’s family moved to Georgia before her freshman year at Wheeler High School. She was a standout player in soccer, also lettering in basketball, track and tennis.
Hamilton starred for three seasons at North Carolina State University and was honored as the 1988 Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year before transferring to play for Dorrance at North Carolina as a senior. The Tar Heels won the 1990 NCAA Division I championship, and Hamilton finished her career as a four-time All-American and a candidate for the national player of the year three times.
Despite playing with a knee injury for most of her senior season, Hamilton was the stalwart leader on a backline with several young players. The injury forced her to watch a good portion of the NCAA Division I final, a 6-0 victory over the University of Connecticut, from the bench.
“She helped us out in so many ways,” Dorrance told The Daily Tar Heel in November 1990. “We reorganized our defense entirely with her arrival. She helped those kids mature, took them under her wing.
“One of the great ironies happened at the end. The two kids she helped along helped her win a national championship. What a wonderful result.”
After competing with the U.S. U-19 team, Hamilton made her full international debut in a 2-0 win at China on Aug. 3, 1987. She became a backline anchor, competing in 71 games, including 12 Women's World Cup matches. She started all six matches at the first Women’s World Cup in China in 1991 as the USWNT allowed only three goals in six matches and recorded four consecutive shutouts.
“We were all young college age kids that kind of grew up together,” Hamilton said in the AARP interview. “We knew we were starting something. We were just so excited because we knew we were going to be the first U.S. Women’s National Team to compete for a World Cup. We knew there was only ever going to be one first ever Women’s World Cup winner. We wanted to be that.”
A knee injury forced Hamilton to retire in her prime at 26, after the 1995 Women’s World Cup in Sweden, in which the USWNT finished third. Her final match was a 2-1 win over rival Norway on Aug. 6, 1995.
Coaching became her next challenge. Hamilton directed the first Old Dominion University’s women’s team in 1994. She stepped down to prepare to play in the 1995 Women’s World Cup.
Hamilton, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications, served as the director of development for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society from 2002 to 2005 and in the same capacity for Easter Seals of Virginia from 2005 to 2006. She continued her career in soccer, working as head coach and director of player development for the Richmond (Va.) Strikers Soccer Club from 1997 to 2006.
She returned to the college sidelines as an assistant coach with Hofstra University in 2006 and directing the University of North Florida women from 2007 to 2013. Her teams reached the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament three times after moving from Division II to Division I. During her lone season at Illinois College in 2014, Hamilton guided the side to a program-record 11 wins, going 11-5-2. She has coached at Southwestern University since 2015.
In 2021, she was named Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference coach of the year for the third time after leading the Pirates (15-0-2, 7-0-1) to their first regular-season title.
Hamilton also has served as an ambassador of the game, domestically and internationally. She has worked with the Women’s World Cup Initiative and the U.S. Department of State’s Sports United program, visiting Brazil, Chile and Bangladesh.
“I think all of my experiences have led me to a life that teaches you perseverance for sure, how to handle failure, how to get back up after you’ve been knocked down,” she told the AARP. “It teaches you also how to enjoy moments of accomplishment.”