For Chattanooga FC Women’s head coach Erin Lycan Ridley, coming to CFC was coming home.
Ridley grew up playing soccer as a goalkeeper in the Scenic City. Even though there wasn’t always a stable club system, she found a strong cohort of like-minded athletes and played with them throughout childhood and young adult life. She played under coach Richard Northcutt at Soddy-Daisy High School, and continued to play at the collegiate level at the University of Virginia (2001 - 2005). In 2002, Ridley played with the Memphis Mercury; it was “stacked,” she remembered, and that was her first glimpse of what the next level of her soccer career could look like.
Throughout college, Ridley battled injury after injury, between concussions and knee injuries.
“It’s not how I would have scripted it, but that’s life sometimes,” she said.
Ridley hadn’t really imagined herself pursuing a coaching career. But it was during recovery in her senior year when UVA Head Coach Steve Swanson and goalkeeper coach Maren Rojas steered her toward that direction. In the spring of 2006, Ridley took her first coaching position at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. After two years at SFA, she enjoyed stints at Davidson College for three years, Virginia Tech for four years and George Washington University for two years. At each school, over the course of more than 11 seasons, Ridley saw process from rebuilding to achieving new levels of success—conference titles, tournament appearances, Final Fours to name a few. She witnessed each of those programs tip and was an integral part of making those tips happen.
Now Ridley brings those experiences back home to the CFC Women.
Ridley and her husband Tim relocated back to Chattanooga in 2016, after stepping out of college coaching to recover from a severe concussion. Upon her return she connected with CFC general manager Sean McDaniel and CFC Women general manager Gretchen Hammel. They quickly realized they shared the desire to give women the opportunity to play soccer in Chattanooga. Ridley was named the head coach shortly thereafter and has hit the ground running from day one.
The first order of business as head coach was setting a standard for training and expectations for the season. One of Ridley’s five-year goals is for the CFC Women to be nationally relevant. To get there, there has to be a mutual understanding of process, playing style, relationships and training.
As for the ideal playing style for her team, Ridley strives for intelligent, possession-oriented play with a wide variety of players and depth at each position. She teaches her players to create space on the field and exploit that space to construct opportunities to connect and score, rather than relying on direct play. It’s about movement, body shape and “thinking the game.”
Ridley caveats that it’s not always as easy as saying, “here’s our plan, go out and execute it this way.” The game changes all the time and team rosters aren’t always consistent; the level of competition is rarely the same from week to week. They can’t control how other teams prepare, but they can control their own practice and preparations and how they adjust to other teams’ style of play. Flexibility and adaptability are keys to the team’s success.
Beyond all of the training, strategy and playing style, there’s a shared understanding of each player’s responsibility to one another. They operate under “ubuntu,” a Swahili belief that one person’s success is a reflection of those around them. All of these factors combine to create the team’s culture, which drives the team forward.
Beyond CFC Women, Ridley sees the opportunity to grow the sport of soccer in Chattanooga. The sense of support from the community is palpable, to which anyone who spends a day in this town can attest.
“People care about this town. The pride and goodwill for people to be successful here means so much,” she said. “Chattanooga needs and deserves a high-level women’s soccer team.”
The Chattanooga FC Women are well on their way to bringing that to the Scenic City.