By Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie
What does it take to become a pro athlete? According to Lauren Sesselman, a professional soccer player who earned her bronze medal for Canada in the 2012 Olympic games, it takes sacrifice, dedication and a whole lot of love for the sport. We caught up with Lauren to chat about how soccer became her first love and how she stays at the top of her game mentally and physically.
Lauren Sesselman: I loved sports growing up, and I always dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. I just didn’t know which sport! I loved tennis and basketball, but I didn’t discover soccer until the 6th grade. My mom signed me up for a co-ed soccer league but I was not into it. First I wouldn’t get out of the car. Then I sat on the bench for most of practice because I didn’t want to play. Finally I was talked into it. I went on the field, threw a boy on the ground and scored a goal. I liked showing up the boys in whatever we were playing so I was sold! From there soccer became my first love and I worked as hard as I could to make my dreams a reality.
LS: I come from a small city where it was hard to get noticed by big Division 1 colleges. So when I was in high school I joined a team two hours away in Milwaukee. I didn’t have much of a social life in high school because I spent most of my time driving back and forth, and traveling around playing in the big tournaments.
After college I wanted to continue playing, but there wasn’t a pro league at the time so I got a job at IBM. When I heard the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league was coming back, I left a great paying job to play for little pay. But I was so happy doing what I loved it didn’t matter to me. My professional career has been amazing. I don’t see my family much because of all the travel, but when I do get to see them I cherish every moment.
LS: I think the biggest mental challenge that I endured was the constant "you are not good enough." I had a great college career, but when I got to the pros I was told I was too slow, not technical enough, and that I probably would never play. Hearing that is never easy. But I told myself I wanted it bad enough, so I took the criticism, turned it into a positive and pushed myself harder. It paid off!
Another mental challenge I’ve faced is dealing with injuries. I am currently recovering from ACL surgery and the recovery time is eight to twelve months. Not knowing if you'll be the same player or if there will be a roster spot for you afterwards is hard to think about. You just have to stay positive and take it day by day.
LS: This past year I started doing meditation the night before and the morning of games. With the national team we have a sports psychologist who works with us and we do an exercise called Brain Paint. They hook electrodes up to your head and you close your eyes and practice allowing your brain to relax, focus and refocus on your performance through imagery. By envisioning yourself performing at your best, you are putting positive energy into your mind. And that translates onto the field. I absolutely love it and believe it really works!
LS: I push my body a lot every day — and what drives me to work is knowing that my teammates and opponents are working harder. Having that mentality every day gets me out of bed each morning!
LS: We are lucky enough to have a sports nutritionist who works closely with us. She helps us map out our eating plans and makes sure we get the right amount of sugars, carbs, fat and protein. I love almonds, spinach (I put it in my smoothies), and yogurt for the healthy bacteria. And I always eat breakfast, like steel cut oats and eggs. I eat pretty clean, but also allow myself sweets once in awhile. Cake and Oreos are my guilty pleasures! Everything in moderation, though — I don’t believe in depriving yourself of things you love. If you do, you’ll be unhappy, and unhappy people are not motivated!
LS: I think the best part of my job is being an inspiration and role model to others. When people tell me I’m their favorite player and say that they look up to me, it lets me know I’m doing something right. And that drives me even more.
LS: I believe recovery is key. After a workout or game we have a set amount of sugars, carbs and proteins based on our body weight that we have to put quickly back into our bodies. I always make sure to warm up before exercise and cool down afterwards. I do a lot of stretching and foam rolling in between sessions as well! I also use contrast therapy (alternating between cold and hot water) and get massages once every week or two depending on my training.
LS: I love watching and studying soccer as much as I can — so I’m beyond excited. I always love watching Spain (I think they have the best all-around talent), but you never know who is going to come out on top. Everyone seems to amp up their game on the world stage. The atmosphere, fans, and the play just gets me even more excited for the women’s World Cup coming up in 2015!
Want to be fit like a soccer pro? Check out Lauren’s new series of workout DVDs, Fit as a Pro, which features 10-minute circuits based on what she does to stay fit on the road with a busy travel schedule.
Published June 23, 2014
Natalie is a freelance writer, editor and ACE-certified personal trainer based in Syracuse, NY. She's also the author of Tone Every Inch (Rodale).