Back in 2000, iEmily caught up with two soccer superstars—Kristine Lilly and Kate Sobrero—to ask them about the world they kick around in. Both ladies were players in the Olympic silver medal winning U.S. national soccer team, and then joined the WUSA New England team, the Boston Breakers. The interview was conducted just as they were about to break into a newly created soccer league - just for women. back to top
What is the WUSA?
The WUSA is a U.S. soccer league for females only. The WUSA women get paid for playing offense, defense, and for kicking that black and white ball into the net. Being a professional soccer player is a great opportunity for a female athlete. It was created in 2000 after the inspirational Olympic success of the women's U.S. national soccer team in 1999. The teams in the league are: Atlanta Beat, the Bay Area (California) CyberRays, Boston Breakers, New York Power, Philadelphia Charge, Carolina Tempest, San Diego Spirit, and Washington Freedom. Each season, teams play about 21 regular games and some playoff games from April through September. back to top
How did Kristine and Kate get involved in the WUSA?
Both Kristine and Kate got drafted into the WUSA because of their fancy footwork playing soccer for the women's national team and for the Olympic team. Kristine, now 37, is a long-time veteran of the sport. She joined the national team in 1987, when she was 16 and a junior in high school. She also played in college for the University of North Carolina, so she has watched the sport evolve and grow for the past 13 years. Kate, now 32, has also played competitive soccer since she was in high school. She moved on to playing for her college team at Notre Dame and then joined the national team in 1998. Both are experienced soccer players and both are psyched to be playing for the WUSA. Kate admitted, "[Playing in the WUSA] is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m really glad to be a part of the new team."
Kate said sometimes she pinches herself because she still can't believe she gets down and dirty with the soccer goddesses she looked up to for so long. When she played in high school, she read about and drooled over the lives of Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, and Julie Foudy. A few years later, she was one of their teammates! While she's played with them for two years now, she says she still finds it amazing to kick it with these great players who have really shaped the world of soccer for women.
But to get where they are today, both Kate and Kristine had to make a big commitment to the sport. It wasn't easy missing out on the high school and college social scene, like Kate did. She hung out a bit with her friends, but didn't get to do a lot of socializing because she was always at practice or having to get up early for a game. Kristine also feels that some of the choices she made when she first started playing with the national team weren't all that easy. But both soccer wonders believe that the sacrifices are all worth it if you're doing something you truly love. And when you see them in action, it's obvious that the thing these gals love most is to play some mean soccer. back to top
How do female players prepare and train to play hard-core soccer?
Being a player for the national and Olympic women's soccer teams is more than just kicking a few balls around. It takes determination and hard work from the beginning. Both Kristine and Kate started playing soccer when they were about 6 years old, following their older brothers into the sport.
Both women train heavily to keep in shape for competition. WUSA training is intense, and the teams practice about six days a week for two or more hours a day. Players do weight training two to three times per week and play a game once or twice a week. Talk about full-time employment! "It's going to be a commitment," said Kristine "It's a pro league, so it's your job. And we're going to have to do a lot more work trying to promote the league and trying to get people in the stands." It is important for all professional athletes to make their league a huge success. back to top
Have Kristine and Kate ever tried any alternative health practices during training?
Both soccer gals have experimented with yoga for flexibility, even though Kristine's first experience with the powerful postures wasn't very successful. "I tried yoga during the [Summer 2000] Olympics, but it didn't last long," said Kristine. "I think it was making me a little sore!" But as much as she ached after her first yoga encounter, Kristine wanted to give it another go.
Massages are a regular part of the life of a female soccer player, especially when they're playing tournaments and in training. Massage therapy helps keep the body limber and increases blood flow. It also strengthens the circulatory system, improves the muscular and skeletal systems, and balances the nervous system, all of which are bodily functions that need to be in top working order for a female athlete. Kate and Kristine both felt that massage helps their bodies stay in peak performance. Kristine also got massages on her own time because she feels her body really benefits from it. back to top
What are the challenges of being a female career athlete?
A career as a full-time soccer player can really do a number on your social life. There's a lot of travel involved and it's really difficult to stay in touch with your friends and family. Kate said there are times when she travels to games for 4 weeks in a row and is only back home for 4 days before she has to take off again. Both women tried to keep in touch with friends and family using e-mail and cell phones. But, "It's hard," as Kristine said. "You get a little tired of the phone."
Even though soccer is a full-time career, neither Kate nor Kristine had ever found it difficult to be a woman involved in a challenging sport. Both women have supportive parents who always told them they could do anything in life. "I grew up playing soccer with boys," said Kristine, "and my parents never said I shouldn't play because I'm a girl." When she was a kid, Kristine also tried her hand at music by playing piano and flute, and she checked out other sports, but soccer was what she was best at. As a female soccer player, she liked being a role model for girls who are into the sport. "Hopefully there's not any kind of stigma about being a girl." Kristine said. "And that's what [the women's national soccer league] has tried to promote for young girls. We tell them just do anything you want in life. You can."
"When I was a kid, my parents told me I could play any sport I wanted to, except for football," Kate said. They steered her away from football because they knew there wasn't a woman's football league in the U.S. and they wanted Kate to be able to play on a national or professional team when she was ready for it. They obviously guided her in the right direction, because she is a star defender for the U.S. national team. (Editor's Note: If Kate had started playing sports this year, her parents wouldn't have dissuaded her from playing football. Recently, a new national football league for women, the WPFL, has started up, which provides more opportunities for girls and women interested in the gridiron.) back to top
How do they feel before a game?
While they're the best in their sport, these first-class athletes still get some butterflies before a game. "I always feel nervous," Kate said. "If I don't feel nervous, I know I'm not really ready to play." But that anxious feeling left once the whistle blows to start the action. Then Kate focused on taking the ball away from the other team, which is her primary job as one of the team defenders.
Even though Kristine had played soccer for many years, she still got nervous before she ran out onto the playing field. "You've got to have some nerves because you're putting yourself out there," Kristine said. "You say to yourself. 'I've got to produce today, I've got to show what I'm made of.'" But once she started to play the sport she loves, all her nerves disappeared and she just focused on her teammates, the other team, and the ball. That kind of concentration is what made her a great midfielder, whose job it is to be the anchor of the team. The midfielders are a part of every play and often make goals, but their biggest job is to be in a position to help defense. Kristine was one of the best midfielders in the world. With 81 goals scored, she is the third-highest all-time goal scorer of the U.S. women soccer players. back to top
What advice do they have for girls who want to play sports?
Often, girls at games and soccer clinics ask Kristine, "How do I get to the next level in my playing?" Her tips: "When you're at your training, put the time into that. Focus on training and when you're done, have some fun." Kristine feels the best advice she can give to girls is to "concentrate and want to learn. And work hard. Working hard is the most important thing, because basically you have to work hard to get anywhere."
These athletes always encourage girls to give sports a try, because they feel that any girl who wants to can succeed at it. "Always go for it and do your best!" is Kate's advice. Kristine says, "Always believe. Believe in yourself and believe in what you want to do. Because you can do it." Having self-confidence and working hard to accomplish their goals are what got these superstars to where they are today. These words of wisdom can help you attain your goals as well.
Kristine and Kate said playing the sport you choose may be difficult sometimes and you may have to make some big decisions and sacrifices along the way, such as when Kate had to miss her college graduation in order to go to a big game. But ultimately, if you do your best, you'll feel great about the commitment you made to your game, your team, and yourself.
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