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Erin Mcleod Talks Motivation and Mindfulness

Goalkeeper Erin McLeod / JWS
Goalkeeper Erin McLeod (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

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.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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