I never imagined I would have an opportunity to play a sport I love in a country that loves it back.
It started when my coach, Milwaukee Kickers Soccer Club's Pete Knezic, mentioned the Generation Adidas International and the Olympique Lyonnais Select training program. This program was by invitation and geared towards female players in either the 2001 or 2002 age group who played for an Adidas soccer club. It was a chance to travel to Lyon, France with 32 girls from across the country and train with one of the best women’s soccer clubs in the world.
To be honest, I never thought I would actually be invited to participate in this program; it was more of a dream. After being nominated by Coach Pete, providing a soccer resume and completing a SoccerScout profile, my dream became reality when I received a congratulations email telling me that I was in for the trip of a lifetime - and indeed it was.
My journey began Saturday, August 12 at O'Hare Airport in Chicago where I would fly to JFK International in New York City to meet about 20 of the 32 girls invited to participate in the program. As soon as I was introduced to these girls, I knew this was going to be one of the best times of my life. Everyone was outgoing and welcoming which made me feel like we had known each other for years even though we had just met. Despite this feeling, there was still a fear and intimidation factor lurking in the back of my mind about how the girls were as players. This fear and intimidation factor would soon subside.
We ended up traveling for about a day and a half before finally arriving in the afternoon on Sunday, August 13 at our hotel in Lyon, France. Our coaches and supervisor recommended that we rest up for the remainder of the day so we would be ready for our training in the upcoming week.
Our first two days we trained twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon at the Olympique Lyonnais Academy Complex. We traveled from our hotel to the complex by bus which was about a five minute drive. When we first arrived, my excitement level went through the roof. The complex was amazing, surrounded by fields, both turf and grass, along with different buildings for different purposes. After our first training session which lasted about an hour and a half where we primarily worked on technical skills such as possession and passes, the coaches took us on a tour of the facility.
We started our tour with the main and first buildings which consisted of the medical, wellness and fitness centers, locker rooms, kitchen, and dormitories along with offices and classrooms. It was beyond crazy to me the magnitude of the complex. It was incredible! Our second training session consisted of short scrimmages and shooting games. It baffled me that even though I had never played with these girls before, I still felt a connection and understood them as players which allowed us to truly play as a team. The training sessions for Tuesday followed the same pattern as Monday but on Wednesday, we were in for a treat.
Our team was down to one training session per day and Wednesday was the day we would combine with the Olympique Lyonnais Academy U15s team. The academy girls had such great personalities. They were funny, sweet and very welcoming to us. The only thing that was a bit of a challenge was communicating because we came from different backgrounds and had to basically play Pictionary to understand each other. And, as we trained and scrimmaged with them, the differences in our styles of play became evident.
The whole idea behind how the French play is through knowledge and simplicity meaning each player makes sure to play the perfect balls, only runs that are open and they don't end up forcing which leads them to hold the majority of the possessions. This differed from our American team that likes playing directly and with 110% effort every time. To me, it was eye opening to be able to understand the different perspectives of play through players just like me. The trainings continued throughout the week until it was game time! We ended up playing our first game against the same girls we trained with which gave both of us the advantage of knowing our opponents. We played our game which was fast paced, but we were able to match their style of play, taking the lead and a win of 4-1.
On Friday we were scheduled for one training session and recovery, but plans changed and we ended up taking a trip to Switzerland. Let me tell you, the Swiss landscape and chocolates are AMAZING! It was a well-deserved break that we received from our coaches that I am very thankful for. Next up, Saturday; the day before we left to head home, our last day in Lyon and the day our team had the opportunity to watch the Men’s Olympique Lyonnais Club team. The stadium itself was breathtaking; it makes you dream of playing on that field with the support of thousands of fans.
This trip was one for the books considering I had never been out of the country before and it was all because I joined the amazing Milwaukee Kickers Soccer Club years ago. Thank you again Coach Pete for teaching me the knowledge of soccer, for pushing me to be my best and to never stop improving, and for making me a better player every day. Thank you also to Coach Daniel Carpenter for putting in his personal time and providing training outside of team practices, and to MKSC Executive Director and Coach Alvaro Garcia-Velez for his club leadership. This experience changed my perspective and expanded my knowledge of the game that I hope to continue to use as I grow and improve as a player.