By Halima Saidi
Growing up, Jessica Hiskey wanted to be a teacher like her father or an astronaut because space fascinated her.
“I never really thought about coaching,” said Hiskey, who is now assistant head soccer coach at Ole Miss.
Even though she had been playing soccer since she was 5 years old, she knew that for women at that time, there were very few opportunities. Nevertheless, the hope of becoming a professional soccer player one day remained in her mind.
Hiskey and her sister, Caroline, started playing soccer because their mother got introduced to this sport by a college soccer player, so she enrolled her two daughters in soccer knowing that this sport was becoming more important for women. The Hiskey sisters grew up continuing to play soccer.
Jessica played for Ole Miss after high school. It was a challenge for her to play on a Division I team in the sense that she had to constantly make changes in the way she played. Playing faster, getting in shape, and keeping up with the rest of the league. Ole Miss was the way for her to evolve in these areas.
After graduation, Hiskey flew to Sweden where she landed a professional contract.
“It was awesome,” said Hiskey.
When she arrived in Europe, where soccer is the most watched sport, she realized that the league is so much better organized than anything she had experienced in the United States. The game is becoming much more technical. Scoring goals was no longer as easy as she found herself up against players just as strong and tough as her.
The goal now is for her to think more strategically and make sure she creates opportunities. Hiskey ended her soccer career at the age of 23 because she had come to terms with the fact that there were not enough opportunities in this industry for women, and that she would not be able to build a prosperous future from it because the pay was so low.
So she thought about going back to school and giving up soccer after eight years in this field. She flew back to Oxford, Mississippi. Back at Ole Miss, Hiskey was able to reunite with her former coach, Matt Mott.
The Ole Miss head coach advised her to come coach alongside him, and after a time of reflection, Hiskey went to the job interview.
“Matt has been the best mentor I have ever had,” she said. “He taught me a lot about what the coaching side of things are.”
Her time in Europe taught her a lot, and Hiskey plans to use her newfound knowledge to make the team she coaches, alongside Mott, stronger.
“From abroad it is more like, OK, you have to focus on the angles of the games, you have to think about the timing of the attacks and different things. Players are getting more skills so you can’t just dive in and try to win. You have to make them make a mistake,” Hiskey said.
The three main characteristics of Hiskey’s players are patience, timing, and great physical condition (endurance and speed combined). She makes sure her players have a “block and shoot” mentality.
Soccer is still one of the least watched sports in the U.S., yet every year more and more people are interested in this sport. For Hiskey, the solution is to introduce the next generation to soccer at a young age, so they can grow up with this sport and perhaps fall in love with it like the Hiskey sisters did.
“Now that our games are on TV and there are other ways to watch them, we hope they will be even more popular,” Hiskey said.
Like any other job, being a coach is not always easy. You have to climb the ladder to make a place for yourself in this environment.
“I think that the biggest thing is that there is going to be a lot you don’t know and it is going to feel uncomfortable,” Hiskey said. “But you just have to keep doing it over and over again and eventually you will start figuring out what works for you, what you don’t like. Because everyone has their own different style and there are a lot of different ways to do it well. It is almost trying all areas and figuring out strategies and ways to coach that works for you and taking pieces from other people and building your own style.”
Throughout her career, Hiskey has seen her perception of soccer change. Her time abroad allowed her to bring a new way of playing to the United States.
As a youngster, Hiskey was a fan of Michelle Arkers, a U.S. women’s international soccer player who joined the U.S. women’s soccer team at its inception in 1985. Nowadays, she is a fan of Rosa Lavelle, an American professional soccer player, because she is very “dance on the ball,” very technical, very fast. “It is super exciting and fun to watch.”
Her change of favorite player proves once again her evolution and her soccer maturity.