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World-Class Athlete: Do You Have What It Takes?
The following excerpt is from Dream Soccer (Amazon’s best-selling sports journalism book), which chronicles Leah Lauber’s true-life adventures following the US Women’s National Soccer Team as a fan and a 12-year-old junior reporter during the story. participation in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Although the article is outdated and written primarily for children, the lesson itself describes what it takes to become a world-class athlete.
Do you have what it takes to become a world class athlete? Do you know what it takes? Well, if you don’t know, keep reading!
I recently attended a USA Women’s Soccer team practice at the Seminole Sports Training Center near Orlando, Florida, as the team prepared for the Women’s World Cup, which began Saturday and runs through July 10.
The US Women’s National Team is a great team. In 1998, their record was 22-1-2, losing only to Norway. Team USA won the Women’s World Cup in 1991, finished third in 1995 and won the 1996 gold medal in the first-ever Women’s Olympic Games.
When we arrived on the field, the team was already warming up and stretching. They worked on individual skills such as juggling, volleying and headers.
They then played small games like 4 vs 2 playing to keep possession. The goal was to get to the defense as quickly as possible when a player lost the ball.
Next, they worked on the fine art of “finishing” or scoring goals. They worked out several ways to attack the goal from different angles.
What impressed me the most was that the best women’s team in the world trained so hard! After practice I spoke to a few players.
“We know every other team plays their best against us, so we have to be the best we can be,” defenseman Brandi Chastain said.
Goalkeeper Brianna Scarry added, “You have to work hard to stay the best.”
“In order to reach your goals and get to where you want to be, you have to keep practicing,” forward Danielle Fotopoulos said. “I always train all year round with the club team or do whatever I can to improve myself.”
When the players were younger, they sometimes had to skip parties, dances and sleepovers just to play football. Most of us would think of these sacrifices, but they don’t, they choose to play for the love of the game.
The rewards are great for these world-class athletes: traveling the world as a team, getting paid to play and competing in the Olympics.
“It was a dream come true,” Scurry said of winning the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics.
“I dreamed of participating in the Olympic Games since I was a child, so it was an incredible feeling for me. My family was there, my friends were there, we won at home (in Atlanta), so it was just the most incredible experience.”
What is the best thing about the national team? “Every day I do the sport I love with my best friends,” Chastain said.
“The relationship and the camaraderie, we’re just a big family here,” Scarry said, “I can count on the team for everything.”
Although they take their sport seriously, it’s not just work, work, work for this team. During the water break, team members laughed, joked and splashed each other with water. When the trainers called for them to resume, they were instantly back to work. When practice ended, the players still had to attend a team meeting and work out with weights.
“Some days we try to work hard and other days it’s easy. It’s not hard work every day. It’s a high level of concentration every day, but it’s not hard physically because we just wear the team out,” coach Tony DiCicco said later. “It wouldn’t be interesting to play, but playing should be fun.”
Of course, the most fun part of football is playing the game, doing what you have trained for and beating your opponents.
The next day, the team faced Brazil in an exhibition game.
I had passes that allowed me to be on the field during the game to take pictures and interview the players after the game (Other photographers looked at me like I was just tagging along with my dad, but really my dad was the tagger with me!
At the time, Mia Hamm had already set the record for most goals in an international career with 107. Players, media and over 10,000 fans expected her to break the record that night. She had a chance to do it early in the game, but the goalkeeper saved her. At the very end of the first half, Mia broke through and scored a record goal. I was standing 15 feet away from her! WONDERFUL!!! After the referee blew the whistle for the break, Mia did an interview with ESPN. As she was going to the locker room, I reached out and she high-fived me!
In the second half, the US team scored two more goals. The final goal was a set play exactly as they had practiced the day before, with one player passing the ball from the left wing through the keeper to another teammate who returned the ball to the center where Tiffany Milbreth converted an easy shot from five yards. That’s what practice is all about!
After the 3-0 win over Brazil, I was with a gaggle of reporters and used my tape recorder to record Mia Hamm’s comments about her record 108th goal.
“It was a great ball that came off a one-touch pass to Cindy Parlow. She touched it on the outside because I was running forward. I didn’t touch it very well and I thought I was falling back, but I guess I was hitting it right through her legs, so I was lucky that one went through,” she said.
“It means a lot to me now, but it will probably mean even more when I’m done playing and looking back on my career. I just love the fact that I can be out here and share it with my teammates — they’re a big part of all of these goals,” Hamm said. “The fact that they all ran out on the field was amazing. They were telling me, how proud of me.”
She signed my Mia Hamm T-shirt and a copy of her book Go To The Goal. I also had a binder signed by most of the other players.
Coach Tony DiCicco was sitting on the stairs eating pizza, so in between slices I asked him to sign the binder as well. I laughed when his assistant said, “Here’s the head coach of the best women’s team in the world eating pizza on some stairs.”
After he finished his late lunch, the coach talked about what the national team was doing. “I’m looking for players with character, players I can trust, if we’re not together as a team, they’ll work hard even on their own,” he said. “I also look for players who have special qualities. Maybe they’re fast, maybe they’re leaders, maybe they’re good at heading the ball, but they have to have special qualities. When you combine all these qualities, you can kind of put a puzzle together.”
Now you know what it takes to become a world-class athlete. If you want to become one, get to work!
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