We laced up our cleats for a pro soccer practice
Who Tried It: Briana Draguca, Style and Beauty Intern
Level of Difficulty: 7/10. It’s not every day that a regular person gets to work out like a pro athlete. My muscle memory definitely needed some refreshing (I totally forgot how to strike a soccer ball). Luckily, the players took it easy on me.
I played soccer in high school, so professional women’s soccer has always been something I hold close to my heart. When the U.S. Women’s National Team won the World Cup in 2015, it felt like female athletes finally earned their long overdue respect. The final game between the U.S. and Japan had the highest number of viewers of any other soccer match in American broadcast history — including men’s matches. This season the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was granted its first television deal with Lifetime — games will be televised and streamed online and on the Lifetime app once a week.
When I was asked to channel my inner athlete to practice alongside the women of New Jersey’s professional soccer team, I couldn’t say no. I dusted off my cleats, asked my little brother (who is a soccer goalie himself) for some tips, and headed over to the stadium in New Jersey to try to earn a spot on the team.
The Prep: As soon as I stepped onto the field, I was given a Nike practice jersey, a matching pair of shorts and socks. I did some basic stretching on the sideline before the coach, Paul Greig (known as PG by his players), called me to join the team in their huddle. I was thrown right into the practice and coach PG explained that I was expected to give it my all on the field no matter how difficult playing with the pros might get.
Drill #1, Practice Passing: Since passing and controlling the soccer ball is the foundation of the game, our first drill was a fast-paced, short distance passing exercise that left my head spinning. We stood in a 4×4 formation and took turns running in and out of the middle of the square to pass and receive the ball from different directions.
This is definitely something that takes time to learn. Even after my first couple of tries, I still found myself confused about where I was to receive and pass the ball next. The team kept me on my toes but directed me the entire time so my mess-ups weren’t as embarrassing as they could’ve been. I was so impressed with how fast these women moved — their bodies were in complete sync with their brains as they controlled the ball with ease and kept the drill moving seamlessly.
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Drill #2, Practice Shooting: This drill really highlighted the athletes’ strength and teamwork. Scoring goals is no easy feat — at least not for me! The first tip I was given before starting: Always try to shoot with the top of your laces and never with your toes to avoid injury and to get a better touch on the ball.
I hit the field along with a few other teammates to dribble the ball up to the goalie as if we were playing a real game but without the added pressure of the defense. Once we got in the goal box, we were to try for a good finish and put the ball at the back of the net. The players taught me well — and after setting me up to take a couple of shots of my own, I was able to get past the goalie and score my first pro goal! It was the highlight of my day.
Drill #3, Scrimmage: It was time to put my skills to the test with a mini-game where nothing was off-limits, not even slide-tackling. I learned how to communicate with the rest of the players on the field to keep the ball moving efficiently around the defense and towards the goal.
Staying alert and never standing still was the key to nailing this drill. Even if I wasn’t touching the ball, I was advised to always know where the ball was headed so I could help out if it was too tough to get around the defense. Once coach PG blew the last whistle, we got together in one last huddle to end the practice with a unifying team cheer.
Verdict: This group of women made my first pro soccer practice a lot less difficult than I expected. The players welcomed me with open arms and patiently guided me through every drill so I was able to quickly pick up their skills (to the best of my ability). Being surrounded by so many strong and confident female athletes dominating the field left me feeling empowered, uplifted — and a little sore — for the next three days.