MONTCLAIR, N.J. — On Monday I saw a fun historical fact on Twitter about the United States women’s national team : Six years ago to the day, I received my first cap against England in the Four Nations Tournament in China. At the time, Greg Ryan was the coach. When Pia Sundhage took over, I was hopeful that I’d make a place for myself as a regular on the team. All these years later, I am thankful to have been to many training camps, participated in the World Cup qualifying tournament, and have 16 caps and one goal. But I am not in the spot I would have hoped.
Once again, a new era is about to begin. I have similar hopes for this go-around, but my perspective is much less naïve. I have learned a great deal over the last five years — about the game, myself and the things I can and cannot control throughout this wonderful, yet turbulent, process.
I made a promise to myself shortly into Pia’s tenure as coach. I decided that whether I played or didn’t, dressed for a game or was in the stands, made a roster or was sent home, every time I stepped onto the field I would train in preparation to be a starter for the national team.
Under Pia’s guidance, I got great insight into what it’s like at the highest level and what it takes to be successful. I played with and against the best every day in training camp and got to know them as teammates and friends. Although at times it has been extremely difficult, I have never lost touch with that promise I made to myself. Now that I’ve gotten a glimpse, every time I train or play, I am holding myself to a certain standard.
When I got the e-mail inviting me to the first national team training camp this year, which will conclude with two games against Scotland, I may have been happier than any other time I’ve been invited to an event or made a roster. For me, this represents a fresh start. It is a chance to show that I can compete for a spot on the No. 1 women’s team in the world. And I’ve learned to treasure that chance above all else. I leave for Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday.
As I prepare for this first camp under the new head coach, Tom Sermanni, nothing has really changed for me. Every day since I was 10 years old I have done everything in my power to be ready for the moment I would have this type of opportunity. It is helpful, though, to remind myself of what I have learned over these last few years.
One thing that has been imprinted in my mind, especially over this last year, is how rare opportunities like this can be. My journey has made me realize never to take anything for granted. Whether it’s being healthy enough to play and feel good, starting a game for a club team, or having the chance to come into a national team training camp, I truly appreciate every moment. It can become so easy to expect certain things and a certain level of success and recognition for the work you put in. The irony of my process has been that although at times I have been disappointed and frustrated to the extreme, I now have an enormous appreciation for the little things.
I have no clue if this upcoming camp will be my last, or the beginning of a successful new phase for me in which I will have a shot at achieving some of my greatest dreams. The only control I have over this is to do my best. There is nothing I can show any coach or prove to someone outside of being the best me I am capable of being on any given day. In the past, I have tried to be what I thought a team needed or prove I could do certain things that are outside my comfort zone. While these things are still important, in the end, being the best me is what will take me farthest.
What makes the national team environment different and special is that every woman involved is the absolute best at what she does. So while competing for a spot is important, it is not competition like I have been used to in the past. It is rare that any player will be better than another player at the specific skill that makes her world class. The key is to do what you do best, at the highest possible level, most consistently. In that way, you are really only always competing against yourself. I bring a unique skill set to the table. I must be the best in the world at that skill set every day I step onto the field. That I can control.
If I can wake up every morning at camp and remember to be grateful to be there, challenge myself to learn and get better every session, enjoy each moment, and be the best me I can be, then I will be successful no matter the outcome.