US-bound footie whiz helps inspire next generation

12 Apr

Originally published by the Devonport Flagstaff

Before taking up a soccer scholarship in Tennessee, Maia Scott is nurturing young female talent at North Shore United. She tells Helen Vause about wanting to take football as far as she can.

There’s no place Maia Scott would rather be than on a football field, whether it’s with a bunch of excited five-year-old girls or leading the North Shore United women’s first team into big games. But lately the horizons have grown much wider for the former Takapuna Grammar School soccer star.
At the end of this season, Scott is off on a scholarship to Tusculum University in Tennessee. It’s a move the 18-year-old would never have dreamed of – until she made the girls’ first XI in her senior school years. She started hearing about other young Kiwi athletes gaining college scholarships in the US, including some from her own school. And learned she might stand a chance of going a lot further with football.
Before she leaves for the United States in spring, Scott has a formidable workload and schedule ahead. She’s playing, coaching and working hard to earn money to help meet the expenses ahead. She has recently been appointed the first-ever female football development manager for North Shore United, where more girls from five-years-old up are taking up the sport.
Her appointment reflects an explosion of interest fuelled by the huge success of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand last year.
Even before that, nationally and locally, girls were getting into the game in unprecedented numbers. A 25 per cent growth in females players was reported between 2022 and 2023 seasons.
It’s a boom that is widely expected to continue.
Scott was one of the little trailblazers for girls taking up soccer. She started playing at North Shore United when she was eight years old.
At 13, she began coaching at the club. “My first team is now starting high school,” she says.
This season the numbers of girls registered at Shore has swelled to about 250.
Along with her new job as development manager, she’s also the co-ordinator of coaching for the First Kicks introductory programme and for two seasons has captained the club’s top women’s team. She’s proud of now having 36 girls in her coaching crew at the club.
“For many of them it’s their first ever proper job, and it gives them the chance to qualify as coaches.”
She says there are plans at seventh- and eighth-grade level to start a girls’ league with all-female coaches and referees.
“It’s great to be part of building up the girls in the game – letting them feel they are an entity in it, and showing them that they are welcome here. Already there are plenty of role models for them.”
Being part of a team has many benefits, she says.

“It’s great to be part of building up the girls in the game – letting them feel they are an entity in it, and showing them that they are welcome here.”

“They are growing and developing in a safe environment where they don’t feel self-conscious and can have a lot of fun with their friends and make new friends. Football teaches them discipline, teamwork, resilience and the benefits of hard work.
“This new wave of girls and women in the sport is changing perspectives.”
She says the support from parents at Shore for the girls game has been “absolutely huge”.
For as long as she can remember, Scott has been sports mad, encouraged by her parents Mel and Dan as she grew up in Belmont.
At Takapuna Grammar, she was in the girls’ first XI for three seasons and was captain for two.
When asked about her strengths in the game, the slender six-footer unfolds from the bench grinning: “I’ve got a bit of speed on the wing. And I’m a risk-taker. I love shooting for goals, and getting goals.”
When she was noticed at national tournaments by recruiters for the US universities she recognised an opportunity.
“When I was told ‘you’ve got a shot’ based on my performance, I started thinking about it. I guess that bit of assurance really turned my head.”
She says she made it through an 18-month process to acceptance at Tusculum with support and guidance from a senior sports staffer at TGS, American Josh Choice.
First she had to research her options across the US universities that might accept a female footballer like herself. “There were hundreds of emails back and forth. We compiled performance videos and there were countless Zoom calls until I was accepted at a university that seemed like a good fit for me. I just don’t think I could have got through the process without the help of Josh.”
Scott is one of four athletes from TGS in her year that are heading to the US on scholarships.
Finding the money she’ll need is an ongoing challenge that has led to her working as a daycare assistant and at the YMCA when she’s not employed at the club or coaching around the peninsula.
Tusculum was the first college established in Tennessee and is one of the oldest in the US. It’s in Greeneville, a small centre set in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. For four years from August, Scott will live on the campus there, returning home for annual visits. While she earns her degree in sports science, part of the scholarship deal is that she will be coaching football as well as playing for the university.
Football has clearly become Scott’s first love but there could have been other directions. Sports mad in her senior school years, she made the top teams for cricket and volleyball. She was an under-16 North Shore cricketer and for the last three seasons she’s been selected for the Auckland Cricket Academy. Volleyball has taken her to national-level competition.
“I’ve really chosen to focus on my footy so other sports will take a backseat for the next few years at least. I was very busy last year between all my sports, study, work, coaching and being a prefect in my final year at school. So something had to give in order for me to chase this opportunity.”
Home and the growing female footballers she’s leaving behind will never be far from her mind she says.
But the opportunities that might emerge in the Northern Hemisphere are potentially huge. “I want to take football as far as I can,” Scott says.
Before she goes away there’s a full season ahead, and plenty to be done on and off the field in her role for the club.
Last week she delivered an inspirational talk to girls and their parents at the clubrooms about her own journey in the sport.
Who knows how many young footballers might be inspired to try to follow in her footsteps.