Cat Whitehill was a mainstay in the Breakers back line for years, and now she returns to the team as an assistant coach. She took a few minutes at the Breakers 2016 jersey launch to discuss the transition from player to coach, how Boston's defense is progressing, and the state of women coaches in NWSL.
The Bent Musket: Hi coach, welcome back to the team. How does it feel coming back as an assistant coach?
Cat Whitehill: It's a lot of fun. It's different, that's for sure. I mean to say the least. I've gotten to step into practices so that makes me feel a little bit at home but I'm learning so much, learning the ins and outs of what it takes to be a coach at this level. Matt [Beard]'s really been teaching me a lot and he's such a pro. Every practice he has planned out ot the second. He explains things really well even though I have to ask him a couple of times just because of his accent but besides that it's been great. I've really enjoyed it and the team has been been very welcoming to me. I think the defenders appreciate that their assistant coach actually played defense so. [laughing] I can actually help them a little bit. I know the experiences that they're going through and we can talk about that and I can help Matt understand it since this is his first year in this league.
TBM: Do you find you're focusing a little more on the defense at the moment?
CW: Yeah. Well obviously I'm going from just natural instincts, you know, but when it comes to coaching [Matt is] very big about me doing each line. So I've worked with the midfielders and just knowing how each player plays...but today I worked with the defense and we just worked on playing out of the back and stuff like that. I know the annoying drills that you have to do as a defender and today was one of those but they need to happen. They weren't crisp at first but I kept telling them to be crisp, and then they were great, the second batch of [drills]. And so I think that's really nice, that I can understand what they're going through because there's annoying drills as a defender you have to do, but if you do it right, that's the practice that you need, and they're necessary, and so it's good that they understand that I understand what they're going through.
TBM: So there's some new blood, especially in the fullbacks, and you said crisp, so in your opinion the back line's starting to click?
CW: Yeah, it is. You know it's tough that Whit [Engen] hasn't been in this whole time. She's the leader of the back line and we need her voice a lot back there and her experience. But the beautiful thing about her is she steps in so easily and she just really guiding the back line, helping them, being that vocal leader that we were really missing last year. Someone that can keep the line all together. And everyone's willing to listen to her because they know the value that she adds to this team. I love having her back. You know, now that they're stepping in there, we played a couple 11 v 11, she played in Florida, you're starting to see a major improvement from the little bit of time that they had together, so it's encouraging.
TBM: Kind of bringing it back to coaching, there was an article that went out recently, I think you were interviewed for it, that talked about the state of women in admin, coaching, executive levels in NWSL. Do you feel like it's improving, that women are being given more pathways into coaching, or is it something we need to work on in the United States at all levels - league, US Soccer, whatever?
CW: I definitely think it's improving. I think you're seeing a lot more women already this year. One of the things is that there's some of us that want to do it. I think it's important to have women and I would love it if everybody that played on the national team wanted to coach, but it's not necessarily everybody's passion. Some people may not think they're good at it, other people might have other passions. But the more people that have played at the pro level, that have played at the college level, that played soccer, the value they can add is huge and I've been wanting to see more women out there for a long time. I talked to Laura Harvey and I think I said this in the article, about does it bother you that you're the only woman, and she goes no, as long as the best person gets the job. And I love that answer because you don't want to get the job just because you're a woman. But I think that there's starting to become more women that are really good for the job and these clubs are really interested in getting to know them and we're getting experience at the assistant coaching level, and maybe one day we'll be at the head coaching level and the more women, the better.
TBM: I like to end every interview with a fun question. I've been asking the players this. You're on a long road trip. We're talking maybe cross country. You can take one player with you and who would that be, and who would you absolutely not want to take with you.
CW: [laughing] Oh man.
TBM: Little drama.
CW: First of all I would like a disclaimer that I get very claustrophobic so most people would probably say me as the person that they wouldn't want to take, because I would be ready to get out of the car as soon as possible. But good question. Let's see. I would say I would take...man that's a hard question.
TBM: You can name more than one.
CW: Well, the whole team. [laughing] I guess maybe Julie King because she's DJ Selfish and I would get that, I'd be like no, it's my radio. So I'd make sure that I won by the end of the road trip because she can't choose her own music. But she does like Celine Dion so we'll sing that together. Who would I not want? Man, that's tough. Can I say Matt [Beard]? Because I can't understand him.
TBM: Is that Julie's official nickname, DJ Selfish?
CW: Yeah, we nicknamed her that a couple of years ago because we were having a dance party on the bus and then Julie started playing her own music and it kind of ruined the mood, and so we called her DJ Selfish ever since.
TBM: Mood-killer DJ.
CW: Yeah, I'm gonna change that nickname for her.