Kristine Lilly grew up on the fields of Wilton. She played every sport possible and eventually chose soccer, or maybe soccer chose her.
From playing with the girls’ and boys’ youth teams of Wilton to winning state titles for Wilton High School to a remarkable four straight National Championships at UNC Chapel Hill — not to mention multiple Olympic Gold medals and World Cup trophies too — Lilly has won it all.
After all that success, Lilly has come back home for a week each summer for several years to offer her beloved summer soccer camp, the Kristine Lilly Soccer Academy (KLSA), for children in Wilton and the surrounding area. This year was no different, and Lilly wrapped up her successful camp week earlier this month.
In camp, Lilly teaches lessons on how to dribble, pass and shoot, but most importantly, she shares the value and benefits that come from being a great teammate and pursuing one’s dreams.
Campers are 7-14 years old and some may not be fully aware of the incredible accomplishments of their camp director. But they all see and feel what she stands for: joy through play, kindness and respect for teammates and all others, and effort and commitment to the team’s goals alongside one’s own.
Each day, Lilly asks her staff of coaches to select a “player of the day” who demonstrates consistent effort, positive impact on their team and respect for all. While individual statistics or the score of the game too often become focal points in youth sports, she is sure to emphasize the bigger picture.
Camp concludes with a World Cup-style round-robin of games. Early in the week, players are placed on teams and choose a country to represent. They then design and create their own uniforms with a white t-shirt and some markers. The designs are hand drawn and the results are spectacular.
The colors of Brazil, USA, Belgium, France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Argentina and Djibouti were among the countries that filled the fields for this summer’s camp. The atmosphere and camaraderie were electric and immeasurably positive as coaches were decked out in team flags and face paint, the teams created their own unique cheers, and the sidelines chanted for their squads.
Each camp week, Lilly sets up a raffle with 100% of proceeds (plus her own matching donation) benefitting the Kick for Nick Foundation. She explains to the kids that Nick Madaras, the “Nick” of Kick for Nick, had been a Wilton native and soccer player who joined the armed forces and eventually sacrificed his life fighting for America’s freedom. She tells of Madaras’ dream to bring kids and communities together through soccer, and how, in his honor, the Foundation has sent nearly 60,000 soccer balls all over the world to encourage play and peace.
Lilly even carves out time at camp for every player to get her autograph. She asks each player by name if they are having fun, signs their items — for many, it’s the free soccer ball each camper receives — and provides a memento and memory to last a lifetime.
In one last talk to the campers at the end of the last day, Lilly reminds the kids of all the positive takeaways they can carry with them on and off the field. In another valuable lesson, she tips her cap to all those that help make such a camp possible for campers and, in turn, for her. In unison, she leads the kids in a big “thank you” shout to all the parents, grandparents, caregivers and others who enabled them all to enjoy such an experience together.
For Wilton and nearby residents of all ages, there’s a unique benefit to being able to see, experience and learn from this legend of a player and person. Wilton High School’s soccer complex, Lilly Field, is aptly named in her honor and while the stats and accolades are off the charts impressive, the impact she continues to have on her hometown and beyond at the grassroots level is immeasurable.
The Kristine Lilly Soccer Academy is owned and operated by Kristine Lilly and comes to Wilton each summer. The Town of Wilton, Wilton Parks & Recreation Department, Wilton Soccer Association and the Kick for Nick Foundation are all proud to in small ways support Kristine’s mission to use soccer to shape great people.