Esmeralda Negron is the Co-Founder and General Manager of Ata Football, an over-the-top sports streaming service carrying live broadcasts of women’s football. In partnership with JWS, Ata Football has helped create The Soccer Show, a highlights-driven YouTube program dedicated to the FAWSL.  

For those who don’t know, can you give a quick overview of Ata’s business model? 

We’ve invested in these women’s football rights and created distribution partnerships with premium broadcasters in territories where we have live rights. We share these rights, because we think it’s the best thing for the sport, but we retain the ability to integrate sponsors into the live match: in opening and closing sequences, halftime shows, whatever it might be. 

We are in the process of talking to some really premier brands to, hopefully, get sponsors on for next season and beyond. A big part of our business model is driving revenue and marketing support via our broadcast sponsorship integration, but we’ll be launching our subscription platform in August of 2021 and that will also be a big part of our business model.

The company is a little over six months old. How are things going? 

People have asked that a bunch of times and I think we’re lucky in that… I don’t know how to explain it, but it feels like the market was excited about it. We launched this in a pandemic when fans were excited about live sport and seeing more and more come back on. We ultimately succeeded, in a way, because I think people were paying attention to anything that came back on. Fans were excited to have live sports. Any league that was confirming they were back on, that they would be visible and accessible to fans, was a positive.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

I think with any startup, you’re going to be struggling for resources and bandwidth. We have a phenomenal group of partners, consultants and interns who have all stepped up to bring the vision of Ata Football to life. We have incredible support from our investment group, 777 Partners through their shared services. Additionally, our broadcast production team, Gravity Media, based in London, are just top-class. Without all of these people, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing at this time. 

As with any startup, there are so many challenges. Especially in this space, in women’s sport and women’s soccer, there’s incredible growth and opportunities and partnerships and different things that you can do. It’s just finding the time and being smart with your time and navigating that piece of things, understanding that you’re in this startup phase where you want to do everything, but you don’t necessarily always have the resources or the bandwidth or the staff to be able to move on everything that you want. It’s a lot, but it’s also something I love and I’m so passionate about. I feel so excited about what we’re building and what we’re doing.

Where do you think the biggest future opportunities are? 

For us, providing this visibility and accessibility, both on and with our premium broadcast partners, has been phenomenal. In the long term, we hope our digital platform will be  where we deliver the most value to fans and players of the game. We want to unite a community around women’s soccer and really deliver valuable experiences, resources, and tools to fans and the grassroots market. 

You yourself were an extremely accomplished college soccer player at Princeton. From then to now, can you describe the growth you’ve seen as a player and a businesswoman around the global women’s game? 

The leagues and the clubs now feel like they have partners and a support system that’s really going to help them build legitimate fandom and grow the game. That was the inspiration behind launching Ata Football. And when I think back to my experience as a pro in 2006, 2007, and what the landscape looks like now, it’s night and day. 

Some people still say, “Oh, women’s sports are still super behind.” And it is when you compare them to men’s. But when you think about the growth in the 10-15 years from when I played, it’s incredible. It’s exciting to see, and it’s really promising. 

At Ata Football, we’re really just excited to be involved and to support the growth, to support the visibility, just as I know JWS is. Companies like Just Women Sports and Ata Football can hopefully drive this virtuous cycle of reinvestment in the game and really deliver value to everybody associated with the game so that sponsors can now reach an engaged audience around women’s sports. 

Not to get lost in our own hype here, but what made you excited about working with JWS on the Soccer Show?

At Ata Football, we partner with other platforms and organizations that are invested in women’s sport and in bringing more promotion, marketing and coverage to the space. We realized that you guys were dedicated to covering the FAWSL and were excited to produce and launch this show. So for us, it was a no brainer. It’s an exciting partnership. We really respect everything that you guys are doing over there and we love it. To partner with another organization allows us to offer more to our audience and to your audience is a win-win for everybody.

There was big news out of the FAWSL recently with a new television deal with BBC and Sky Sports. What was your reaction, and what does that mean for Ata Football?

I think it’s phenomenal for the league. I think Sky’s investment in producing more matches at a higher level will only give us more opportunity to broadcast more matches here in the US that are produced at a really great standard. So we’re really excited. We have some friends at Sky Sports, so we’re excited for them and excited that there are now more and more investments and bigger investments in the media rights space. Without this type of investment and people recognizing the value and taking this leap, you can’t pump that money back into the leagues and the players and the clubs. I think seeing women’s sports finally getting that value, the attention around that, and people recognizing the value in it from a media rights perspective, I think is tremendous.


Wisconsin has earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament, which begins April 14th.

  • Typically a 64-team affair, this year’s tournament features 48 squads duking it out in a volleyball bubble in Omaha, Nebraska.
  • The top 16 teams all have first-round byes.

Wisconsin was the national runner up in 2019, and the 13-0 Badgers are now seeking their first-ever NCAA title.

  • Defending Champion Stanford, which won three of the past four titles, missed the field for the first time since the NCAA tournament began in 1981.
  • No. 13 seed Penn State is now the only program to have made every NCAA tournament.

The Top 16 seeds: No. 1 Wisconsin, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 4 Texas, No. 5 Nebraska, No. 6 Washington, No. 7 Purdue, No. 8 Florida, No. 9 Ohio State, No. 10 Oregon, No. 11 Louisville, No. 12 Baylor, No. 13 Penn State, No. 14 Utah, No. 15 Washington State, No. 16 BYU.

Tune in: tournament matches will be streamed on ESPN3 with the Final Four airing on ESPN2.

  • First round: April 14th, ESPN3.
  • Second round: April 15th, ESPN3.
  • Regional Semifinals: April 18th, ESPN3/U.
  • Regional Finals: April 19th, ESPN3/U.
  • Semis: April 22nd, ESPN2.
  • National Championship: April 24th, ESPN2.

Kaillie Humphries and Lolo Jones paired to win a historic two-woman bobsled world championship on February 6th. For Humphries, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, it was her fourth world championship. For Jones, it was the biggest win in her second-career after she picked up the sport a decade ago. They spoke with Just Women’s Sports about their historic win and what comes next as they prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. 

First off, congratulations to you both. I read somewhere that Kaillie, you messaged Lolo on Instagram to get her to come back to bobsledding a few years back. Can you both give your side of that story? 

Kaillie: I met Lolo through bobsled years ago going into the Olympic year. I was with Canada, she was with the USA going into 2014. So we had known of each other, had conversations, had chatted, just being in the sports world. And then fast forward to me joining team USA last season. Going into this summer, I had messaged Lolo just to see where she was at. I knew she was training for Tokyo, but with Tokyo being postponed a year, I just wanted to see if she was coming back to bobsleigh. And if that was at all an interest for her.

I had raced with one of her former teammates in Canada. So I’ve had a feeling that pairing my steering with her speed could be a really good combination. I always admired Lolo for her athleticism and just being a really strong, motivational, powerful athlete. And so I messaged her and we started talking about her coming back, what that would look like. And so I’m very grateful that she trusted me and the coaching staff and the team and took that risk and felt safe to come back.


Lolo, what was that like from your perspective, getting that message and having those early conversations?

Lolo: It was basically what Kaillie said. We met as competitors. Actually, my job was to make sure that we put the biggest gap on her when she competed for Team Canada, that’s just how good of a driver she is. We were always like, “You have to put the gap on her because she’s such a good driver. Just put as much as you can on her.” My job was to make her have really bad days.

So when she messaged me after crossing over to the USA, honestly, I can only describe it as like Usain Bolt sliding into your DMs and asking you to be on a 4×100 relay race. And that’s essentially what it was like, I almost dropped my phone. I was like, “Is this really happening?” She’s one of the best drivers, not only for Team USA, but in the history of bobsled. So any brakeman would be honored to get in her sled.

But it was by no means easy, we’re making it sound like it was easy, but she recruited me. But that doesn’t mean I was guaranteed to be in a sled. There were levels to this where I had to either prove myself or beat someone or have a good result to actually end up in her sled. But that’s the long short story.


And what do you think allowed you to find such quick chemistry?

Kaillie: Personality wise, how we approach our sport is very similar. I think just mentally, the fierceness, the intensity that we bring, the determination — we are very detailed personalities and are always pushing for perfection. And so I think right from the get go, there were certain aspects of Lolo I could see and understand, and it just felt comfortable being around her.

Like she said, there were definitely some obstacles and some hurdles, and we both had to work individually at the beginning of the season. But then once we were able to come together and reach a certain point, I think a lot of it was a feeling of comfort and understanding for one another, a willingness to push for each other, and then just having trust and faith in the other person. You wanted to compete for them. I didn’t want to just win. I wanted to win alongside Lolo.


Kaillie — you’re now the only woman to win four world championships. Now that you’ve had some time to process that, what does it mean to you? 

Kaillie: A little bit of relief comes with that from the standpoint of, “I always believed in myself and that I could be one of the best in the sport.” I’ve worked extremely hard to put myself in this scenario. This is my life and everything that I do. So to be amongst some of the best is just a really cool feeling. And it does feel like there’s a payday at the end. It’s not monetary, it’s not something tangible, but just the feeling that it worked.

The plan was there for all those years, all those hard days, all those times away from family, from friends. It definitely is a big relief, but also it’s a super cool feeling. It does provide a lot of confidence to know I can jump in a sled and I am one of the best, I can trust my abilities a little bit more. I think I have more confidence in myself for sure after having won this. I have more confidence in my ability as a driver, as a female, in who I am and what I stand for and what I represent. I feel a lot stronger in my feelings and my faith with that.


And Lolo, I know you have a unique story as well. You’re now a world champion in two different sports, and have won those titles across three different decades. 

Lolo: I’m old, thank you. [Laughs]


You started competing in bobsledding almost a decade ago. What has kept you motivated throughout these years?

Lolo: I think as an athlete, we kind of get this stigma that we’re washed up, we’re not of value as we get older. So I embrace that. I mean, Kaillie is 35. So it’s kind of cool to achieve these goals at a later stage.

I’m thrilled that I was able to win this championship with Kaillie and over three decades, it just shows the longevity of my career. But what it probably doesn’t show is all the time in between the losses, the nights where I wondered if I should give up. One of my favorite quotes is, “Never tease an old dog because they might just have one bite left in them.”

That’s for anybody going for a dream who feels like they’re washed up or that they don’t have what it takes anymore. I just tell them to keep pushing. Cause that’s what me and Kaillie are doing. And we’re quite successful at it.

You were training for one last Summer Olympics bid, after which you were on an MTV reality show before jumping into Bobsled camp. How were you able to make that transition so quickly and successfully? 

Lolo: Was definitely not quickly. It definitely put Kaillie at a hindrance, for sure. Because of the quick turnover, I’m not at the weight I need to be for bob, so we actually had to put quite a bit of weight in the bob this year. So that means I had to have help pushing it. Now back in Boston, I’ll be able to put on the weight gain so that we don’t have to do that.


Kaillie, I understand that you’re still waiting for a citizenship decision which will determine whether you can compete for the US at the Olympics next year. Can you give us an update as to what that timeline looks like?

Kaillie: I cannot give you an update because there is none. My application is in, but unfortunately COVID shut down immigration and the government for a period of time this summer. So we’re still in the process of understanding where I’m at. That’s something that my lawyer is working on right now. So we don’t have an exact timeline. There is no exact date. There is nothing official as of now because there’s still a backlog of stuff. And they’re trying to sort through a whole mess of, like I said, immigration as a whole across the entire country. And so where I fall into that, it’s still pretty unknown at this time. At this point, we’re just waiting for a decision.


Assuming it all works out, this will be your first Olympics competing for the US. You’ve obviously competed in the Olympics before and won a fair share of medals. But what would it mean to compete for the US in China?

Kaillie: Well, I think, honestly, it will be a huge honor to represent such a strong nation, such a strong country. Those are huge shoes to step into, and it’s not lost on me. And I’m extremely proud to represent the USA right now, to represent it on the world stage, to know that I feel like I leveled up.

I’m proud to live and represent the United States. It is my home. It is where I live now. I married an American, so this is very much my life. I think just being proud is the biggest thing I can say overall. Now, it will be a first, for sure, but I’m not new to the Olympic world. This world is still the same. So I’m excited for the opportunities, for the chance to potentially bring home medals for the United States in this sport and to show as you know, we’re very strong, proud athletes and females within this sport. And we can do anything we set our mind to.


How are you both preparing for 2022 now? 

Lolo: For me, I need to focus on properly gaining weight. And then mentally, I just have to prepare myself, because I’m going to be returning to where my first Olympics was. I competed in the Summer Olympics in Beijing, which everybody kind of knows is where I hit a hurdle, and that cost me the Olympic gold medal.

So I’m going to fight like hell to earn my spot on the team, to go back there and just have redemption. I don’t want to just go and win a medal. I want to go and win a gold medal. Because of what happened, I am just going to work my tail off to make sure I’m in the position to do that.

Kaillie: And the cool part is, Lolo is not going to be alone this time. Not that she was last time, but it’s not going to be just her. We have a very, very strong women team heading to 2022. The team is one of the strongest women bob teams in the world. So we’ll be there to support Lolo. Everybody has their individual goals, myself included, but as a women’s group, as a women’s team, we are extremely strong. And so that’s very motivating for me specifically. I think I definitely want to go, win an Olympic gold medal in 2022. It’s not just showing up and making the team. I lost that in 2018. I was a champion before, but somebody else got it last time. So I want it back. That’s my goal.


Was there anything else that you wanted to bring up that I didn’t mention at all?

Lolo: I just hope there are women out there that are just inspired. If they can look at Kaillie and just see her dominance and see how she was able to break history and just be really spot on at the prime of her career — that’s incredible. And I hope it inspires women to just keep reaching for new levels. And then I hope that they see my story and know that through it all, through the ups and the downs, they just need to keep pressing. Because both of us have gone through a lot of hardships and I know it may seem easy, but it wasn’t. So just keep fighting.

The captain of the U.S. U20 Women’s National Team, Naomi Girma was recently voted the 2020 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year. Girma also plays for Stanford University, with whom she won the NCAA Championship in 2019 as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.  

Congrats on the big award. Can you talk about what it meant to you to be named the 2020 Young Player of the Year?

It was an honor, and I think it was just a really cool way to end this year and award all the hard work that has gone on behind the scenes. We talked before camp, and I feel like I’ve just been working and trying to find the time to compete. Sadly, we didn’t get to play in the fall, but hopefully the team gets a season in the spring. But I was just really thankful and humbled to get the award, especially with Trinity [Rodman] and Mia [Fishel] having great years as well.

Coming out of national team camp in October, what do you think were your biggest learnings from playing with the USWNT?

It was an amazing experience, and I think I learned a lot from watching the older players and watching the more experienced defenders. Just seeing the little movements, and the way they communicate, and how everything is done with intention—I learned a lot just from watching them, which was really cool.

And from the coaches, we went through a lot of defensive shapes and the things we focus on when we’re defending in the box, and I think it was cool to be exposed to the language that they use and the specifics behind everything. Because although it’s a similar style throughout these national teams, the details are really emphasized there. I think learning those was really, really beneficial for me.

What kind of feedback did the coaches give you coming out of camp?

I think just being a younger player, a lot of times the things that separate us are the details. We talked a lot about that and just obviously being comfortable in that environment and just feeling like you belong and using your voice there, which I think I did a decent job of, for my first camp, but obviously that’s something that improves with experience.

15 former Young Player of the Year Award winners have gone on to play in a World Cup for the US. Does that bring pressure or excitement?

Oh wow, I did not know that. I think it brings excitement. Obviously, they didn’t win it and then just make the World Cup team. A lot of work went in behind it. And I think this is a cool step to take along the way, but this isn’t ultimately the end of where I want to get. So I think it motivates me to keep working and especially after going to that camp. Keep seeing or focusing on the little details I can work on.

How’s everything going? Are you on break still from school?

We just reported to campus a few weeks ago. But I tore my ACL, so I’ve kept it pretty low key so far.

Oh man. So are you on the path of recovery now? Did you have surgery and everything?

Yeah. It happened after camp. Sometimes you have to wait a while for your ACL to get the surgery, but luckily I wasn’t super swollen, so I got it the next week after I found out.

What does the timeline look like for you now?

I’m definitely out for winter or spring, whatever happens, but I can play in the fall, which I’m happy about. We are supposed to have a spring season, but it is still unclear. We’re currently having to deal with Santa Clara County restrictions, so we’re very limited in what we can do. I’m not sure if you’ve seen, but women’s basketball and men’s basketball are just continually on the road, because they can’t come back to Santa Clara County. So for now, we’re waiting for the county to lift those mandates, and then we’ll see.

Obviously everything is up in the air, but individually, what are your goals for the next year? 

Going into 2021, I just want to attack everything. That’s something I’ve been thinking about throughout rehab. After such a high of getting invited to camp, it was such a disappointment, but I’ve just been focusing on how I approach PT and my treatment and rehab and things like that.

As I start progressing, I want to do every little thing at each step of the way to make sure I can come back fully fit. And then I’m really looking forward to my senior season in the fall. I just want to be fully ready to compete and play with my teammates and lead the team.

You’re a year out from graduating, but have you given any thoughts to what your plans are afterwards? You could easily be the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick in the NWSL draft in 2022. 

Yeah, I mean, I’ve definitely thought about it, but I think for now, I’ve just been focusing on my rehab instead of thinking too far ahead past my senior season. Especially being injured, I feel like it gets overwhelming to think about that too much.

Was there anything else that you wanted to mention about the award and the excitement around that? 

I would just like to say how thankful I am to the Ethiopian community in my area. I grew up playing with them, and I’m just happy they’ve been with me along the way. I know this was really exciting for them too, because it’s a product of everyone’s hard work. So I’m just really grateful. And being given the award was just a huge blessing amongst a lot of other things happening.

Odessa Jenkins is the CEO of the Women’s National Football Conference (WNFC), a professional women’s tackle football league with over 20 teams and 1,000 women and coaches in 17 states. She spoke with Just Women’s Sports about the future of tackle football and why 2021 is shaping up to be a critical year for the WNFC.

You have an extensive background in both business and sports. Obviously, we believe that women’s sports are one of the most exciting opportunities in the space. What convinced you that the WNFC could succeed as both a business and a sports league? 

I worked at a startup for several years, and in 2014 I also came to be the owner of my first women’s tackle football team. It was in a different league, and I was really excited about becoming an owner. So as I took on that ownership, I was also learning the basics of building a business from the ground up in my startup work. I learned to ask questions like, Is there a viable market for this thing? What is the value proposition? Who is the consumer that will be consuming it and growing it? How will it look 50 years from now? How is it going to make money? All of these things that I think a lot of people never consider in women’s tackle football, to be honest with you.

Women have been playing the sport for 75 years, yet there’s never been a corporation formed for women’s tackle football, which I couldn’t believe. There were charities and other kinds of businesses, but never a corporation. So I started to look at women’s tackle football like a startup. What’s my value prop? What are our lines of revenue? And that’s when I started to think about how to create the WNFC.

So why do I think it could be valuable? It’s not me, it’s the market that’s telling me that it could be valuable. There’s been $600 million invested in alternatives to the NFL over the last seven years. We have the WFNC called an alternative to the NFL, which is a compliment. And the fact that nobody knew anything about this sport outside of lingerie football, to me was a business opportunity.

So that’s what kind of got me thinking, it’s been around for 70 years, it’s not going away, there’s enough players, there’s enough coaches to spin up a new league every single year. That means that the product itself is viable. Now how we make a viable business around it is the problem that I’m solving with the WNFC.

What do you think makes the WNFC different and how are you positioning the league to be the league for womens’ football?

There’s a couple of things you have to do to be at the pinnacle of the sport. One thing we’re doing is that we aren’t taking from our team in a way that leaves them in a financially desperate situation. So for example, we’re the only league that doesn’t require a team to pay us annually. We actually have profit sharing with all of our teams.

That was the first thing we did in the WNFC. Instead of having the teams pay us, we actually paid them. A part of our five-year plan is to actually invest back into the teams and grow them to be profitable businesses.

The other thing is our branding and our marketing. We’re the only women’s tackle football league, which is crazy, that has had a chief marketing officer and a chief branding officer. Our team is structured like any other executive team would be. And so our branding, our content, is always fresh. It’s always new.

I think the other thing that makes us unique is because we’ve done those other things, we’re attractive to sponsors. So we were the first football league of our kind to solicit a global sponsorship from a major brand with Adidas. We were the league that made brands pay attention to women’s tackle football. That’s how we’ve been different is that we have actually developed revenue lines.

I think the other thing that makes us significantly different is what we’re doing with apparel. We’ve created a viable line of business with our fan shop. It’s going to be a six-figure business in 2021. That kind of volume has never really been done, frankly, because an apparel line coming out of football has never been built. So doing those kinds of things differentiates us. And I think the team that’s running the league differentiates us as well. It’s a big group of people who are doing it because they want to see women’s tackle football become a professional sport.

I was looking at your site earlier and saw the uniforms — they are really fresh, and the colors are awesome. I also saw a bit about a new TV channel, WNFC TV. Can you talk about that? 

What I’m trying to do as a woman of color, and frankly as a startup founder, is to try to find other high growth businesses that are like mine and connect them to the WNFC. So we connected with this amazing company called Vyre Network, and they are a TV and live streaming network that is based in 116 countries. They are basically creating their own Hulu, with mid-level content. And so this group, Vyre Network, is now going to globally distribute all WNFC games. So we will be the first league ever to have every single one of our games globally distributed.

Everyone always asks, “Where do I find a game?” Even with the more established leagues, right. Where do I go to watch the WNBA? Now you’ll have an answer to that question for the WNFC in 2021.

You’ll go to Vyre Network. You will be able to watch our game on a mobile app. It’s free. There’s no barrier to entry, no sign in. You download it on Android or iOS. You download the application, you go to our channel, and you can start watching our games anywhere in the world. It’ll be on a website, it’ll be on Roku TV, Apple TV, and it’s coming to smart TVs in the summer. So it’s a great partnership. It’s another revenue generating opportunity for the league as we continue to grow.

And I saw that you guys had the 2021 schedule up on the site too. I mean, pending what happens with the pandemic, is that pretty much set?

Yeah, it is. Our schedule is set right now. What’s crazy is that we’ve been talking to a couple of expansion teams, so our schedule is set and done. But we might have some surprise announcements coming here very shortly where we grow a little bit.

Our championship game is going to be the weekend of August 6th and 7th. It’s going to be hosted in Dallas, Texas, at the University of North Texas, Apogee Stadium. So it’s a 60,000 person stadium, and it’ll be a big deal for us.

Our season doesn’t start until May. So we’re going to try to stay away from the pandemic as much as we can. But barring everything being shut down in May, this is going to be the most exciting year in this sport that we’ve ever had.

I wanted to chat a little bit about you specifically and more about your background. I know you referenced working at startups and how that experience shaped your perspective. I know that you also spend time in the NFL as a Bill Walsh coaching intern. I’m curious as to how that experience shaped your perspective?

I was in the NFL for eight weeks doing an internship, mostly with the Falcons, and a week with the Dallas Cowboys and their rookie camp. I don’t know that anything was more impactful for me than truly seeing the lack of parity in the athletic experience of professional female football players compared to professional male football players.

I also learned a lot from a business perspective, frankly, walking into and getting behind the scenes of the Dallas Cowboys. Even for a week, you get a clear understanding of why they have one of the most impressive and valuable brands in all of the world. It is attention to detail, always sticking to the brand, the level of professionalism, always sticking to the plan, the way they buy into their people, keeping their culture internal, but letting it be started externally. So all of those things I learned.

But when I got to the Atlanta Falcons, Sam Rapoport was critical and has always been an ally for me, and Scott Pioli, who’s a mentor of mine, was the assistant general manager there at the time. And him and coach Dan Quinn really opened the entire organization to me. Katie Sowers had been there before me. And so that organization was very open to the idea that a baller is a baller, a coach is a coach, and it didn’t matter if you were one of the men. So they really gave me an open eye to the entire operations team. And what I really saw there was that you can’t have that level of success without a significant level of investment. And that’s why when I was with the Falcons, I determined then and there that I was going to create the WNFC, because that was the missing piece in women’s football.

Obviously the pandemic has been a big hurdle in your time as a CEO. Have there been any other big hurdles that you’ve had to get over? And if so, how have you worked to overcome them?

I think the biggest hurdles dealing with women’s tackle football right now are the pipeline, because girl’s football isn’t developed. We have to develop women’s football from the top down and not from youth to professionals. So that’s always a challenge. In developing this thing, we also have to work to develop a pipeline to help girls. It’s more challenging than it is for other sports, because Title IX doesn’t include girls playing football in college.

I think the other big challenge is fundraising. We’ve done a good job of fundraising but I think that a lot of sponsors just don’t know we exist, so we need awareness. Once they figure out we exist, they’re like, “Yeah, let’s do business.” But I think that lack of awareness, and, frankly, the fact that most people think of half naked girls when you say women’s football, is a barrier for us. And so we’ve tried to respectfully market against that and market for what we’re about.

I am curious, in terms of that pipeline that you’re talking about, how does it work right now? Where do a lot of the players come from? I’m sure a lot of them grew up playing the sport, but I am also assuming that some of them transitioned from other sports. Is that true?

Yeah. And so that’s what’s crazy. And that’s where I think the value of women’s football is even more clearly stated. Even though there is no college level, there is no high school level, there is no junior level, there are still thousands of women every year finding football. So it should tell everybody something that women continue to play it, they continue to find it. It’s generally women who played other sports and didn’t realize, “Oh my God, I could play football.” So, college athletes, basketball players, cross fitters, runners, any woman who loves the game and is an athlete. So most of our recruiting it’s done on social and at events, at practices, in our local communities. But frankly, thousands of women every year are discovering that they can play football for the first time through us, through our league, because there’s nothing else introducing them to the idea of playing the game.

Athletes are athletes, but when a football player finds football, it is the most beautiful thing ever, because frankly for a woman, not only is she finding her purpose in her sport, she is embarking upon something that she never imagined doing. You don’t know how good or how amazing or how electric you are as a football player until you play football. And that takes 22 people to be on the field at the same time, 11 on 11. That’s what also makes this sport extremely special.

Was there anything else that you wanted to bring up that I didn’t mention at all?

The only other thing I wanted to talk about is a partnership that we haven’t announced yet, but it’s coming. I want to give a shout out to She Plays CEO Ashley Hart. We’ve been talking about partnering to make the first fantasy football for women. So I want everybody to look out for that, because that is also something that will, I think, change the industry.

Maddie Rooney is a goaltender for both the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team and the PWHPA. The starting goaltender for the U.S.’s gold medal run at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, Rooney has also won two world championships with the team, and was the named 2018 Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year while playing for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. 

The National Team just had a camp in October. What did that look like and how did you feel getting back on the ice?  

That was my first time being back with the national team since, I believe, December. So that was a long time coming, due to the cancellation of the World Championships. And then we couldn’t have an August camp like we usually do. So it was just great to be back in that elite environment, see everyone, even though it’s socially distanced, with masks on. It definitely wasn’t a normal camp. But on the ice, it was just so good to be back. And the level of competition was high. It was just a very intense camp, but it was also really fun. And it’s always the best when we’re all with each other. And fortunately enough, here in the Minnesota region, there are about seven of us who were on the National and Olympic Team together. So I’ve been practicing regularly with them since early September, and we did some stuff in the summer as well. So once I got back into the National Team, I was already used to the pace of the game, and the speed of the shots. It was like riding a bike in that sense.

I read that the team invited about 53 players to camp. Is that a normal roster size for this type of camp?

Yeah, usually our biggest camp is in August. And since we weren’t able to have that August camp with the big number of players, I think it was shifted into that October camp.

Were there any new faces at camp that you were excited to compete with and against? 

Yeah, it was definitely a younger camp, I would say, due to some of the veterans and all the girls that weren’t able to attend due to travel restrictions or certain personal reasons regarding COVID. But I was really impressed. The younger girls definitely kept the pace up, and I know, just as a core group, they impressed a lot of the older girls too. It’s definitely exciting for the future of the program. And I’m excited to see how they progress and who will get their shot.

How was managing the COVID protocols? 

It was very seamless. I thought the doctors and training staff and National Team staff as a whole really laid out the protocols well. And we had multiple calls about it before going into camp, so we all knew what to expect. We knew the rules. And everyone obviously followed the rules. And we got tested right when we got there, tested before we left the camp. And then you were able to get tested if you felt funny or anything like that. But it all went very well. I was actually very impressed. And yeah, because of all the protocols, everyone came out testing negative.

The national team is supposed to participate in a Rivalry Series in February against Canada. Do you know what the status of that series is? 

I’ve been told it’s still to be determined. But we’re hopeful because it isn’t canceled yet.

Like you mentioned, the World Championship was canceled in 2020, and it’s been moved to 2021. Your team has won the past five championships. What do you think is the secret to the team’s success at the World Championships?

I think just overall, our record in the World’s gives us a ton of confidence. And then I think we’re really focused on preparing every time we are together the whole year. So we really take advantage of our camps. I mean, whether it’s video, intra-squad scrimmages, and obviously the games, like the Rivalry Series, we really just take advantage of the time when we’re together. And I think all of that, building up to the World Championships, we really always come prepared, and we know what we need to get done.

What do you think needs to happen from now until April, when the 2021 World Championships are supposed to happen, for your team to repeat?

I mean, all the teams are in the same boat here, not having camps together. So I think everyone’s probably going to have a similar game plan, just to, when we are together, really take advantage of it, really bear down, know the system’s effort level, know what we need to do and be prepared for those World Championships. And we just need to build off our current system and what we’ve been doing in the past, and just gain overall confidence.

You were obviously an integral part of Team USA in the 2018 Olympics, where your team finally took home Gold against Canada and you made some epic saves in the shootout. From that year forward did you feel a lot of pressure to continue to perform and make big plays like you did that year?

Yeah. I went back to college for another two years. Right after the Olympics, I went back for my junior year. And I definitely had a ton of pressure on myself. But also there were high expectations from the outside as well. And it was tough. That junior year was tough for me. But coming out of that, I definitely feel mentally stronger, and I had a great senior year. The pressure was tough, but I bounced out of it.

Some big named players decide to leave college early to pursue a professional career. What went into your decision to go back to school, especially after your epic 2018 Olympic performance?

Honestly, I really loved college hockey. I loved the routine of it all. And if it wasn’t for Duluth, I don’t think I would have made that Olympic team. And I also just wanted to get my degree. I majored in business marketing, and I definitely want to pursue something in that field once I decide to hang up the skates. It was definitely about just going back and finishing what I started at UMD, and then also for my degree.

Once you graduated from school you decided to join the PWPHA. What went into that decision?

Being around my actual teammates, and they had already been in the PWHPA for a year, since it started. I was always around the conversations, and it was just really familiar to me. And I also really appreciated what the league stands for, and the initiatives that they have taken outside of the rink as well, and just their overall motivation for growing the game. I think just the familiarity and what the league stands for was the main driving factors in my decision. And here in Minnesota, I would have a great setup. I live very close to a training facility for the PWHPA. So it just worked out very well.

Overall, heading into the new year, do you have any specific goals for yourself with both the national team and the PWHPA?

Yeah, within the PWHPA, I mean, it’s such an elite atmosphere. It’s the top players coming from both Canada’s national team and the US national team. And then just a lot of standout college players as well. I think it’s just overall a great league. So being a goaltender, I just want to take everything in and challenge myself every day, whether it’s in the games or the practice, and just continue to grow in that sense. And hopefully this year the PWHPA will prepare me for that world stage next year and any opportunities I can get with the national team. So I just want to continue to grow and take in all these opportunities.

Although you have had awesome experiences with the national team, you are still a young player. Is there anyone in particular that you look up to, both in your position and outside of your position?

For my position, when I was younger, I always looked up to the national team goalies, whether it was Jessie Vetter, and then from the men’s side, I mean, my idol has always been Marc-André Fleury. I just love the fun he has with the game. And I’ve always tried to model my game after his as well. And then within the team, when I was named to my first national team, which was the 2017 World’s, I’ve always looked up to Meghan Duggan as a leader, and I just admire her drive to grow the game, and the leadership she displayed on the national team.

Colleen Quigley is an Olympic middle-distance runner who placed 8th in the 3000m steeplechase at the 2016 Rio games. An NCAA All-American and national champion at Florida State, Quigley spoke with JWS about what she’s learned in quarantine and how she’s getting ready for next summer’s Olympics. 

What’s your current training routine and how has it been affected by the pandemic?

Luckily, I’m in a sport where the majority of my training is done outside, and running is one of the most safe things that you can do during the pandemic. So that’s pretty awesome that we don’t have to go to a gym. We’re not worried about coming in contact with other people. The majority of my training I can do outside, and so it hasn’t really changed. The gym part has to be tweaked a bit, in terms of weight training and strength training stuff. I can’t really do that in the way that we’re used to. So just like everyone else, I’ve pivoted to the living room workout and just making the home gym work. It actually hasn’t been too bad. It definitely gets a little bit old, but not too bad. I will say, too, I really am leaning more than ever on my at home recovery tools, like my Hyperice and my NormaTec, for when I can’t go in for treatment or get a massage.

Are you on schedule for Tokyo next summer?

With track, it’s kind of interesting. The track and field Olympic team trials are not until July, so we have some time to train, and then it’s a one week process of a prelim and then a final. It comes down to one race deciding your fate. It’s crazy, but that’s how they do it. Every four years, there’s an opportunity to show up as fit and ready as you can and try to earn your spot on the team. It seems like it’s far away right now, but I know it’s going to be here soon.

How do you handle the pressure of going into a race like that?

It’s a lot. Every race that I enter there’s always something on the line. There’s always a team to make or a medal to earn, or an opportunity to get a record, or earn a bonus, or whatever it is. I think the last couple of years, a big part of my preparedness has come from working with a mental coach or a sports psych, however you want to call it. That has been a huge help to me. I realized that I work so much on my body, that it would be a shame to get in the best shape of my life and then show up on race day and let the nerves overpower me so that I can’t even use all this work that I’ve put in. And it’s helped me get over some of the stereotypes, like, if you see a sports psych, that means that you’re weak, or that you have issues. I realized there were lots of gains I could be making, and I really want to end my career realizing that there’s no stone unturned.

I think that’s what really helped me get to the starting line feeling excited for the challenge ahead, instead of overcome with nerves and fear. I really recommend that to any athlete who feels like they’re struggling with the pressure. There’s people that can help you. And they really do a good job.

How will the next 6 months differ from your run up to the 2016 games? Are there fewer races and competitions?

I think you have to go with the flow as we’re going through the waves of this pandemic. And right now, we’re in an uptick and everyone’s kind of shutting down again because cases are rising, and hospitalization and deaths are rising. So everyone’s kind of going back into super careful mode, which probably is going to mean no races for a while. We don’t really know at all what the schedule looks like this time around. We’re going to have to be more flexible and open to not having a plan or knowing that we have a plan, but it’s probably going to change, and being okay with that.

If a race opportunity comes up, you gotta take it. And if that opportunity goes away, then you just keep training. Everyone’s in the same boat, everyone’s just trying to stay safe and stay healthy and get to the starting line. So there will definitely be a lot more unknowns this time around, but that could just give everyone a bigger sense of gratitude when they do get to race. We have to make it count.

What have been some habits that you’ve had that have helped keep you sane during quarantine?

I don’t know it’s anything revolutionary, but what works for me is just getting a good routine going. Feeling like you don’t wake up in the morning going, “Oh, what am I going to do?” Just being like, okay, I wake up, make coffee, walk the dog, and then come back, have a little light breakfast, do my pre-run routine, go for my run and come back, do my strength routine, Pilates, whatever. Maybe have a snack or maybe it’s just already lunchtime. And then I go into my afternoon stuff, maybe have interviews or just check emails, work on projects I’m doing, make a video, work on my Instagram. And then like, okay, 4:00, I’m going to hop on the bike. Maybe I have PT in the afternoon or whatever, and then make dinner and go to bed.

I feel like just getting a routine and feeling comfortable in that routine helps you feel less lost or like you’re being tossed in the wind. You just have to get a really good rhythm going that makes you feel less  scattered.

What are some other projects or hobbies you’ve been able to spend more time on?

I feel like I’m always behind on a million things that I owe people or things that I’d like to do. I have an idea and I write it down and then it may or may not get done three months later. I feel like there’s always so many cool opportunities and I definitely have a lot of interests. One thing I’ll shout out is a company I’ve gotten involved with called Voice in Sport, or VIS for short. Stefanie Strack, the founder, used to work at Nike, and she contacted me about their podcast. So I got in a podcast and we had an hour and a half conversation. Everything that she’s doing with VIS for young girls is so cool and unique. She’s taken the time to develop this really awesome platform and the backend stuff is really at a high level. I became a mentor with them and I just started this month, working with a group as well as some one-on-one meetings. I’m new to the community, but I’m really excited to be a part of it and to give these young girls the resources they need to feel supported.

You chose running over a modeling career, saying you just couldn’t quit the sport. Has quarantine strengthened or altered that conviction?

Oh gosh. It’s one of those things where I think that, it was definitely a big decision at the time. It was kind of a crossroads in my life when I was 18 years old. I graduated high school and was given these two, honestly, really good options for the next steps in my life. I could move to New York and sign with an agency that was really excited to represent me and make a bunch of money and maybe become famous. And that seemed great. I love New York city. Or, I could take the scholarship and go to school for free and be a D1 athlete and have a chance at winning a national title. And that was also a good option. I could have gone either way, but I knew within a few months of being on campus at Florida State that I had made the right decision. I haven’t looked back since, and I can’t imagine not going down the road that I did. It’s led me to meet so many incredible people and given me the chance to make an impact on young girls and on a lot of people I’ve never met in a way that I just don’t think modeling would have offered me

Anything else that you wanted to add? 

I’ve been slacking on a few Instagram accounts that I run, my dog’s, my own, and then an account called Fast Braid Friday, but that last one is all about braids and hair and how doing something as simple as putting a braid or two in your hair before you go out for a hard workout or a race or into an important business meeting can make you feel more confident. It can make you feel like you’ve got your shoulders back and your head up and you’re ready to take on that challenge, whatever that might be. And so every week I post about my fast braids, with the idea that braids make you feel fast, on my own social media using #FastBraidFriday. And then I try to keep up with the Fast Braid Friday Instagram account as well, but I need to get back on that. That’s one of those things that’s fallen on the to-do list. I’ll also repost other people’s photos and share their stories. It’s become a community built around hair and braids, which is really fun.

Minna Stess is a member of USA Skateboarding and is on track to represent Team USA at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The 14-year-old prodigy talked to JWS about training in quarantine and what she’s looking forward to in 2021.

You started placing in skate competitions when you were eight years old. Now, a few years later at age 14, you’re the youngest skater on team USA. How did you develop so quickly, and how do you handle the pressure of skating with adults now?

I don’t know. When I was eight, I was just having a lot of fun. I was just skateboarding for the fun of it. I’m not really sure. I don’t remember much, to be honest. I remember having fun, but that’s all.

It’s kind of weird to think about it, but I don’t know. I’ve been friends with a lot of them and some of them are older too, so I’m just making friends with people that are a little bit older than me. It was not that weird, it’s not like I’m so young. I mean, it’s everyone just skating. So we all have something in common, especially to talk about. So it’s not really that weird.

That’s awesome. I can imagine you’re still in school, probably doing online stuff with the pandemic, but how do you balance that while competing at the highest level?

Where I live there’s an independent study school, which basically means I go in once a week to get my work. And then the next week I come back with that work and I do that all over again. So I can travel pretty easily, I don’t stay at school, I just go one day. Especially with online now, it’s just Zoom calls, while before it was just going on for like an hour. But yeah, it’s pretty easy travel and stuff.

Skateboarding is making its debut at this summer’s Olympics. What do you think that means for the growth of the sport?

I think it’s really cool. I mean, hopefully it stays in for a while. This is the first year they’re going to have it, but I think it’s really cool because I don’t think a lot of people see real skateboarding. They only see skateboarding as being for people who do drugs and stuff. I feel like there are those stereotypes, and I think it’s really cool to try to get rid of the stereotypes, and show what skating actually is. It’s just having fun and just competing.

You were on track to qualify for Tokyo 2020 before the games were all pushed back. What does that timeline look like now for 2021?

Right now, I think they’re talking about having a competition in March. But from what I’ve heard, a lot of it is based on vaccine progress from whatI know. That’s what they’re saying, but nothing’s really set. I would assume they’re trying to get contests but I don’t know. At this point I have no idea anymore.

I read that you have a skate park set up in your backyard, which is awesome. This must’ve been super helpful during the pandemic. 

Yeah, it’s very nice to have somewhere in my backyard where I can just go out there and skate. All my friends have been asking me like, “Oh, can I come over to your backyard and see you skateboard?” But all the stuff in my backyard is kind of small, so I can’t do everything. But I can at least do most of it.

And how about working with your coaches? Are you able to see them at all or do you do Zoom sessions? 

One of my coaches lives in Southern California. I saw him at the start of summer, but not really much anymore since the pandemic has been getting worse. But I do use some Zoom calls with the USA skateboarding personal trainer. And the training for that. And then in my town too, we have a trainer, his name’s Brandon, which I work with. But I had to stop for a little bit because I sprained my ankle so I couldn’t really do much.

How are you feeling now? Are you getting back from that injury?

Oh, yeah, I’m fine now. But it kind of stopped me for like a few weeks. I had a boot because it was a pretty bad sprain, it was doing something stupid too, so…

I feel like that’s the theme of 2020 though, you never know what’s going to happen. Do you feel a lot of pressure when competing at qualifier contests? 

Yeah, definitely, because I don’t really know how many contests we’ll do. Maybe one or two, which is not that much.

What is your mindset heading into those contests when they happen?

I don’t know. I just try to do the best I can. Right now, for me, it’s hard to have a mindset when I can’t really know when it’s going to happen, so it’s weird. But overall I am just going to have fun with it which is the most important thing anyways.

You obviously have a very bright future ahead of you at such a young age. What are your ultimate goals in the sport?

Right now, definitely just make the Olympics. And I don’t know. I keep saying this, but just the timing right now is just terrible. It feels like I’m stuck in like… I don’t know. It’s like I’m just stuck in a specific time. And everyone is, but I hate it so much. So right now I’m just thinking about getting out of this moment and competing at the Olympics.

Erin McLeod is a goalkeeper for the Orlando Pride, who spent this fall playing on loan to Stjarnan, in Iceland. McLeod has recorded 118 caps in her career for the Canadian National Team, and at age 37, is still going strong as she competes for a shot at the Tokyo Olympics. JWS spoke with McLeod about her career persistence, the benefits of mindfulness, and the perspective she’s gained as a veteran player. 

I wanted to start with just chatting about your soccer career. You’ve obviously been around the game for a long time. Can you compare this past year soccer-wise to anything else in your career?

Oh gosh. I would have to say that, for obvious reasons, the pandemic has made this year more challenging and interesting and difficult in a lot of different ways. For me personally, I was really happy to be with Orlando, back on North American soil. And then obviously we weren’t able to go to the Challenge Cup with the team which was a bummer, so I just feel very fortunate that I was able to come to Iceland and to still play and to be healthy.

I think the other thing that has really come to the forefront this year with obviously Black Lives Matter and politics, is that it’s been really cool to stand up for things beyond just soccer. In some ways, it’s been really incredible, I think, as far as raising our self-awareness and understanding the topics around us.

You’ve played for a variety of teams in Europe over the last five years. What has kept you coming back?

Well, this year is kind of unique because of the pandemic. I’ve been wanting to be in the U.S. to be in a similar time zone to my family, but I really love the football in Europe, in the sense that it’s really helped me to evolve the tactical side of my game. And now you all these NWSL players here, and I think we all are becoming stronger tactically, stronger technically, stronger athletically. And the soccer culture in Europe is happy all the time, and everyone is crazy about it. I just love that. I think that it is also growing. That’s a huge draw for sure.

You signed with Orlando but, as you mentioned, the team couldn’t play in the Challenge Cup due to positive Covid tests. Can you talk about that situation and what that was like from your perspective?

It was hard just because we were so close to the tournament, and we had worked so hard, and we were feeling really connected as a group. It was such a hard thing to swallow, especially because we had been so careful and we were essentially in a training bubble.

Historically, Orlando hadn’t done well for years, and I was excited to be a newcomer to the team and realize how much it really means to them to play and get better. And then for that to happen, it was hard. And you see a lot of pride with people when things are really challenging. But I think the way that the team rallied and had a lot of new players coming into the mix, that really impressed me during the Fall Series.

How much longer do you hope to keep playing for?

That is a great question. I don’t know. The thing is right now, I feel really good and healthy and I love the game so much. I try not to put an end date on it when I would really love to plan out a year, you know, make it to the Olympics. I would love to be on that Olympics squad. And I know it’s a far stretch, but yes, in a dream world I would play another year and then, you know, hopefully be healthy and in a good place to evaluate whether to play another year or turn off. At my age, it’s kind of a day by day kind of thing, you know?

How do you think your motivation to keep playing has changed over the years? I could imagine it’s different now than say when you were like 25.

Oh, absolutely. I think when I was with Denver, I would say I was a lot more selfish, in the sense that what I was most concerned with was probably my own development, to be pretty honest. And I was obsessed with being the best and being number one, and I wanted to be the best in the world. It’s not that I don’t want those things now, it’s just the thing I get really excited about is now I’m playing on a team and I come back and some 16 year old is on my team and I see their parents pick them up who are my age, and I’m like, alright.

But I see these young, talented players, and I think you want to see them get the most out of themselves, and that for me is motivating. And playing on a team where I can play forever and give to the team — I really love that. And driving a standard and creating and focusing on the things I can control and also trying to have an impact in a positive way. It’s much more exciting now than it has been in the past.

You’ve lived a very active life off the field in terms of your art, your philanthropic works, and your clothing lines. Do you think having all these other passions has helped extend your soccer career by helping you keep perspective and have creative outlets? 

Oh yeah, absolutely. I think for me, there’ve been a few moments in my career where I was forced to step away from the game and I kind of lost my identity and who I was. And I think what’s important and what I really encourage young people to do is to find things that they love but to still find that balance. And it’s still something that I struggle with, because I want to do so many things.

I’ve really learned to make sure now I try to go for walks, meditation walks, just making time away from the field actually helps my game. So it’s important, not just for my game, but also for my mental health.

Can you give a quick intro on The Mindful Project and how mindfulness was introduced into your life?

So I met Dr. Rachel Lindvall, my partner, who has her doctorate in mindfulness, a number of years ago. Her and her husband worked in Europe to get inspiration for their university soccer in the US and long story short, they were in Jena in Germany when I was in the Bundesliga. And they said, Hey, we’re in town. You know, I didn’t speak a lick of German, and I was broke and they were like, do you want to go for dinner? And I was like, yes, please.

So we first started chatting about soccer and it naturally transitioned into mindfulness. And at that point I had already been using a lot of mindfulness for my soccer, but also off the field, so we started chatting. And then we also talked about mental habits and mindset and at what age we start developing these, how they can work against us, even at three and half, four years old.

That’s kind of where we started, discussing how can we just help young people develop positive habits and develop those mindsets. That’s how it started, and we created a sports program and an education program for kids eight to 12, 13 years old and we ended up getting into a lot of after-school programs.

And, and then we ended up trying the same program on a couple of Rachel’s classes and her university team, and the results were unbelievable. And it’s like the increase in quality of life was like 200%, and then the decrease in stress and anxiety was 194%, and we’re like, we can do something about this. Then we started talking about a way to create a high performance program and shipping it over.

For me personally, I had a moment in my career in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics where depression had become so much, that I remember actually wanting to get hurt, because I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore. I was afraid of playing. I was afraid of making mistakes. Long story short, I tore my ACL, and I just re-evaluated everything, how I was working so hard just to be miserable. I had to change. And for me, that was kind the moment where I started evaluating my mindset and then a few years later, we had this wonderful trainer who gave me all these breathing tricks and focus tricks and awareness tricks which d opened my vision to see the whole field. And I didn’t realize at the time that they were mindfulness tricks, and then I started reading more and more about it and it helped me obviously become more consistent, more in the present moment, which is key for athletes. And I just started enjoying it more.

And ever since then, Rachel and I have been committed to creating The Mindful Project, to help others when you’re on your own. It’s like, if I’m doubting now, this is my attempt to learn and see.

You’ve mentioned elsewhere that mindfulness could have changed your career and ended up being really useful for you. Is that your pitch to other athletes who may be considering it or is it something different?

I think the trend with a lot of athletes is that we’re hard on ourselves. What I’ve learned from the research side, because of Rachel and her research, is being hard on yourself doesn’t help them learn any faster. It actually slows your learning and it makes it less enjoyable. So for me, it’s becoming aware of my self-talk, where my self compassion was at, how I viewed mistakes, and how I dealt with failure.

I think for me, if I could talk with athletes, it would first just be about enjoying it more, being in the present moment more. Because that moment where you just trust yourself and you let the ongoing monologue inside your head go for a second, it’s so liberating. And if you’ve got a great breathing thing and it keeps you focused when you’re stressed out, it’s also going to work when you’re off the field. And for me, it’s about the life tools that will help you become a better person.

That’s so well said. I wanted to end with talking about the upcoming 2021 Olympics. What is your status there? 

Well, we’re down to the wire, because obviously, you know, the pandemic made it really challenging. There was supposed to be a camp in October, which I was invited to. And you know, I think it’s been over a year since I’ve been with the national team. So I was obviously really excited about that, but it just wasn’t going to work with health and safety protocols. So I’m still in the mix, and there’s four keepers for Canada. And I can’t really say much more than that, but I’m in the mix and I think for me, that’s the first step. I think it’s important for me to stay healthy and to be playing games. You know, obviously I hope that will be possible. And with the pandemic and everything, we’ll see.

Kim Little captains Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League and vice-captains the Scotland women’s national team. 

How has being in lockdown affected training and games?

The first lockdown from March until, God when was that, until June, obviously that stopped everything completely. And then we restarted again in mid to end of August with the games. And training and games are pretty much back to normal in terms of what we do in terms of training and playing. Obviously the external and the surroundings with fans and interactions in person are obviously way fewer, if not completely missing now.

You kind of get used to it, I suppose. It’s been a few months now, so it feels a bit normal. It’s still very unusual and a unique situation in terms of the restrictions in place even when we are at our training ground, and in the stadiums.

And I read that in February you were coming off of an injury and had surgery on your foot?

Yeah, I had surgery early February, so before the pandemic hit, or around the time when everyone was finding out. When I went into lockdown, I think I was still in a boot at that point actually. I was just going through early stages of my rehab, which was interesting. It seems a long time ago now to be honest.

Was it a hard transition to get back into playing after the lockdown and your rehab?

When you look at it in the whole perspective, I didn’t necessarily miss too much football. So, if I’m looking at it from a selfish perspective, that was obviously good I think. Doing rehab in lockdown was obviously very different, I did most of it at home, which is with no kind of treatment or seeing a physio regularly, not until later down the line into June and stuff when we were allowed to see people and be treated by people. So that was different, but you just adapt, and obviously you can’t do anything about the circumstances. I tried to make the most of the situation with just a focus to be back whenever football started again.

Before the international break, you had a tough loss to Manchester United which knocked you off of the top spot. What do you think needs to happen to get back to the top of the standings this year?

I think the league is more competitive than it’s ever been. All the games are challenging, and you need to be at the top of your game if you want to get the results from them. And we didn’t play particularly well against Man United. They played a lot better, were very physical, and dominated parts of the game which we just didn’t control. It was disappointing to lose, but obviously credit to them for turning up and being better than us.

We can turn it around. I think we need to show up, first and foremost, individually. I think too many of us will put our hands up and say we didn’t play to our potential. And then with that, come together as a collective, and make sure we’re hard to break down, and then obviously our creativity and our ability will take care of itself. But yeah, it’s just focusing on the fundamentals and the basics for us.

Do you think FAWSL is now the most competitive league in the world?

I think it’s hard for me to comment on that. I wouldn’t say I watch too much football from the other leagues, so I can’t say I can comment too much on that. But I think in terms of the players you have here now, in terms of the competitiveness for all the teams, I would say so in comparison to maybe the German or French league, or even the Spanish. I think that’s due to obviously the players that have been here for a long time, but also the influx of international players from Australia, from America, who raise the standard across the board.

We saw a bunch of US national team players jump overseas this year. What do you think it means to have so many big Americans playing in the FAWSL?

I think it’s good for the league over here just to have them come in. I think European players have been coming into the league for the last few years now, but maybe not so much globally from America, and Australia, and different continents. I think it brings another kind of edge to the game, and obviously a bit more exposure to the league here from America and Australia, like I said. And I think it’s great for the women’s game that there’s all this movement and diversity within the league, and it’s only good for providing a great product to watch.

You have also played a few seasons before in the NWSL. How do you think it compares to where you are now?

Yeah, I played in Seattle for three seasons under Laura Harvey. I would say at Seattle we had a few European players and Japanese players, and we played quite a European style. It’s kind of similar to how we play at Arsenal. Obviously, there’s different players so it varies a bit. I think the leagues are so different just for many reasons. The form of the league, and how it works in America is obviously different to Europe in terms of championship matches, playoffs, which we don’t have here. Here we have so many more competitions, the season is so much longer. So, it’s quite nice to have played in both, and to understand the difficulties, and what makes them so good. And then obviously in America the travel is such a big part of it, and you’re going from timezone to timezone weekly. And when I was in England obviously our longest journey was maybe a three or four hour bus journey. So, there’s so many contrasting things about the leagues that make them what they are. I’m glad to experience both, for sure.