They say sport imitates life. If that’s true, then taking up goalkeeping is going to give you some pretty useful life skills.
Especially if you take Lydia Williams on as a role model.
The 31-year-old is about to enter her fourth World Cup as goalie for the Matildas. She is one of the best goal stoppers in the world. To be a great goalie, you have to find comfort in the moment. Being present, not thinking about anything else, for 90 minutes.
It’s a skill many of us are still practising and it’s even harder in the times we live in, thanks to the ubiquitous internet. It’s always there to entertain a wandering brain.
Don’t get us wrong, Williams loves the internet. She is a favourite of fans on social media and regularly the front-girl for the Matildas’ media. Her voice is confident, fun-loving and thoughtful. But she has made a career out of ignoring the whispers of doubt that sneak up from the past, and eliminating anxiety by worrying about the future.
These mental skills, as much as her agility and power, make it possible for her to read the opposition striker and anticipate her final move.
In France, Williams will be a key to Australia’s success and she’s excited by how freakin’ good female soccer players are getting. Of her four World Cups, this is going to be the hardest.
“I think it’s going to be a crazy, crazy tournament and I don’t think you can predict anything,” Williams said.
She almost didn’t make it to the last World Cup.
While playing for the Western New York Flash in the 2014 US National Women’s League season, Williams came down awkwardly on her left knee trying to stop a corner.
She tore her ACL and her meniscus, eleven months from the 2015 World Cup.
Immediately she knew she had a race on her hands.
“We kind of had a period of ten months. And there was a period of about a week either side of that, it could take a week longer or shorter. So, basically, there was no room for error.”
“With my life, I’ve gone through harder times. And I was like, this isn’t the hardest thing that I’ve gone through.”
“But also, when it did happen, I had probably one of the best players at the time come up to me in America, Abby Wombach, and she told me, ‘You have this night to cry about it. Then tomorrow, you get to work, and you’re going to make the World Cup.’”
“Knowing how she was her whole career, it just made me believe that I could.”
Doubt cast by the media and ‘realistic’ physicians was muted, thanks to the powerful combination of Wombach’s words and Williams’ perspective.
The doctors said, “We can get you there, but we don’t know what state you’re going to be in.”
This story is a useful glimpse into the power of Williams’ mind. Her ability to shut-out the noise is one we would all do well to practise.
She was forced to learn how to focus on the moment in the most devastating of circumstances.
Her beloved father passed away while she was a young teenager, sixteen years ago, before she had even started playing football.
Her dad left her with a couple of treasured skills. The first was the ability to talk to people and revel in sharing stories with everyone she meets.
“Dad loved travel, he loved to experience new things … All of our family still live in Kalgoorlie, in Western Australia, whereas Dad travelled to Alice Springs, to Albany, Esperance, Broome, Canberra—he wanted to travel everywhere and meet everyone he could. He wanted to learn as much as he could. He just loved people and having conversations.”
“And I think that rubbed off on me. I just love meeting people and helping them and communicating and learning about new cultures.”
The second skill, a silver lining moment out of something you can never fully recover from, has been central in her ability to focus as a ‘keeper. She summarises this skill in a single line: “Being able to feel your pain but not letting it overwhelm you.”
“Not everyone should go through something like that, but I think as a goalkeeper the mental side of it and the emotional side of it is really important.”
This World Cup
The Matildas’ preparation for the World Cup is a little more broken up this time around. The women are all playing for their overseas clubs (Williams with Reign FC near Seattle), and short camps have brought the Aussies together only three times in 2019, before the big show starts early June.
Predictions, as Williams observes, are ridiculously tough this time around. The women’s sport boom we’ve seen in Australia is happening across the world. Football is taking off for girls and this World Cup is set to be on the biggest stage yet, with bigger crowds and tighter competition. Money is starting to flow to the event and the players can feel the excitement.
Williams will take her love of learning new cultures and sharing stories with everyone she meets into the event. But it’s her ability in front of the net that Australia will be watching closely. In potentially the toughest World Cup in women’s football history, she is going to have to use all of her mental skills, and perhaps something more that lies in her Indigenous roots.
“We’re such a rich culture with all these x-factors that haven’t really been discovered yet. And I think when we do play, it’s like a layer of onion being taken away. And that kind of passion comes out,” Williams said.
By Keiran Deck