By Lori Lindsey
Wow! I can’t believe it has already been a month since the Women’s World Cup final, and yet I’m definitely still experiencing a high from all the emotions of that momentous final match.
Can you imagine the elation the women felt when the final whistle blew?
Can you imagine the relief they felt after beating Japan in the final when just four years earlier they had fallen short?
Can you imagine how many games, training sessions, gym sessions it took to get there?
I was fortunate to be able to travel to Canada, not only for the final but also for a number of the U.S. Women’s games. The enthusiasm surrounding each game was contagious and you could feel the excitement grow with each U.S. win.
My experience at the final this year was vastly different than it was four years ago when I was representing the U.S. as a player, and yet I was surprised to find myself just as anxious and nervous as fan as I was as a player four years earlier. The majority of the team are former teammates, and many are life-long friends. I wanted nothing more than to see them win it all, especially after the disappointing outcome of the 2011 tournament.
When the final whistle blew, the energy was electrifying. Fans of all ages were overwhelmed with joy. I was beyond thrilled as well, and yet it also triggered a time of reflection for me. From my experiences I understand what it takes to play at the highest level, the sacrifices that are made, and the demands of the tournament alone. In that unbelievable moment, I felt connected to the players as I understood and related to the journey that brought them to the pinnacle achievement in their sport
Two questions that ran through my head following the final match were: Do the fans understand what it took for the players to become World Champions? Do players to aspire to play on the World Cup stage understand all of the ingredients to a successful and enduring career?
Technique and teamwork are a huge component of the teams’ success but, strength and conditioning, and athleticism provided a critical foundation. I would even argue that the work that took place off the field was just as, if not, more important than what took place on the field. A tournament like the World Cup requires intense physical demands, even from elite athletes competing at the highest level in football. Focused strength training made a difference for the team in a number of important ways:
Our team played a series of seven games over the course of four weeks, and with each game, we faced an increasingly tough opponent. It was imperative going into the tournament that each player’s body was primed for the demands of maximum performance accompanied with minimal rest time.
The recovery of the U.S. players from game to game was very apparent as the team’s performance continued to get stronger as the tournament wore on. In contrast, it was evident that other teams began to succumb to the fatigue and ‘heavy’ legs.
2. Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation:
Soccer is a physical sport, and from time to time, players suffer minor (and sometimes major) injuries. As so many players know all too well, getting stronger is the basis for rehabilitation. And, just as it is key to rehabilitation from injury, strength training is just as important to injury prevention, and essential to players being able to safely contribute through all seven games in the tournament.
3. Strength and Athleticism
Whether you’re a striker like Alex Morgan, utilizing your explosive speed to outrun a defender and score, or a defender like Becky Sauerbrunn, tracking runners and making critical tackles, strength and athleticism complement your technique and tactics. Yes, some of these women are natural born athletes, but it is the extra work to improve their jumping ability or first-reaction-step that has them at the top of their game.
Confidence is a consequence of preparation – knowing what is required, and that you have done all that is necessary. Stepping out onto the pitch at the World Cup in 2011, I felt strong and ready. In watching the recent semifinal and final games of this year’s tournaments, I was struck by how the resolve of the team translated into the momentum that took them to the top of the podium. Confidence on and off the ball comes from experience and technical skill coupled with the knowledge that after 90 minutes of physical play in hot and humid conditions, your body can still deliver what you ask of it.
The 2015 World Cup final showcased the talent, technical skill, and tenacity of the 23 members of the team. But it was also a celebration of years of hard work off the field. So as the U.S. Women’s National Team has captured the attention and passion of millions of people across the country, it’s worthwhile to not only celebrate their accomplishment, but also recognize the work it took for them to realize their dreams.
Six months into my work with Ambitious Athletics, it is this understanding of the connection between strength and success that reinforces my decision to become a strength and conditioning coach and inspire females to gain confidence through strength. I know the physical demands it takes to reach the pinnacle of your sport, and it doesn’t happen over night. I want others to be able to celebrate their hard work and accomplishments, whether the goal is a World Cup Championship, playing at the collegiate level, or just enjoying the sport you love in the safest way possible.
To consistently get better, you've got to consistently try harder, master a skill, and surround yourself with like-minded individuals. I'll expand more on this in upcoming posts. Sign up here to get exclusive content on becoming the best version of yourself.
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Thanks for reading,