As I was just foam rolling and stretching in my living room at home in New Jersey, the song “You Can Get It if You Really Want,” by Jimmy Cliff, came up on iTunes. I downloaded it on the second day of the past national team training camp for a specific reason. On the first day of camp, we ran the beep test and then scrimmaged in cold, windy, rainy weather. Although I did have fun playing in the rain, it was pretty miserable. Pia [Coach Pia Sundhage] ended practice because the rain was getting worse. She told us to use the jog back to the locker room as our cool down and that we should wait to shower because she was going to come talk to us.
As we stood there soaking wet and shivering, Pia strolled in, her rain gear swooshing and dripping, with a huge grin on her face. She then started to sing the Jimmy Cliff song. (Pia has a good voice and loves to sing to us, occasionally with guitar accompaniment).
“You can get it if you really want. “You can get it if you really want. “You can get it if you really want. “But you must try, try and try, try and try … you’ll succeed at last.”
As I suppressed a laugh, it dawned on me that her message was valuable, despite the uncommon and amusing delivery.
Pia is different from any coach, or person, I’ve met. And in my brief time spent with the team she has already had a great impact on me. The whole time I’ve worked with Pia, I can count on one hand the instances in which I’ve heard her be critical or get mad at a player. She is overwhelmingly positive. And it is a planned positivity — to bring out the best in her players and to create a culture within the team where the good things are reinforced. She feels (and correctly so) that a lot of times we are too hard on ourselves and focus too much on the negatives of our performance. After all, fútbol is a game of mistakes. It is impossible to play and not make mistakes. But by pointing out the times when things are done well, the team will continue to do those things more consistently.
Pia’s positive approach is so apparent that at times players have asked her to be more critical. “But what if I’m motivated by someone getting on my case when I mess up?” Abby Wambach said in a team meeting. Pia’s response, “Then you’ll have to find somebody else to do that.”
Pia loves her job so much that her joy is contagious. And she emphasizes that to be excellent (as a team or an individual), you must do things differently. If everyone takes the same approach, then everyone will be the same. The ones who take a unique approach to preparation will be different and have something exceptional to offer.
This particularly rings true to me, because I have always done things my own way.
At times I’ve been criticized for taking a different path, or people have questioned me about whether what I was doing was in fact helpful, or detrimental.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea for an 11-year-old to be playing soccer every single day?” “Should she really be playing on an all boys’ team?” “Why are you not playing for your high school team?” “Is U.N.C. really the right choice for you with your style of play?” “Is it the right decision not to go to the W.P.S. combine?”
It can be scary at times to do things differently … and I often question myself. When you follow others it’s easy to justify the results, or at least to place blame if necessary. If you do things YOUR way, then you only have yourself as backup, and the responsibility lies completely with you.
Pia has helped to give me the courage to continue to trust my instincts and to keep doing things MY way.