Carli Lloyd’s simple, 17-year blueprint for greatness

3 Carli Lloyd vs. Mexico, Oct. 24, 2014. (Rich Schultz/AP)

Carli Lloyd vs. Mexico, Oct. 24, 2014. (Rich Schultz/AP)

Shape magazine interviewed Carli Lloyd and her trainer James Galanis about the principles that have guided Lloyd’s evolution into one of the world’s elite soccer players.

The two of them have been working together since 2003.

They tell Shape that a key to Lloyd’s program involves keeping a set of written multi-year plans, each with specific timetables and goals. (More on this later.)

carli galanis

Carli Lloyd and James Galanis after the 2012 London Olympics. (AP)

The plans, which are updated as needed, now cover a 17-year span, beginning in 2003. They would carry Lloyd’s training through 2020. The 33-year-old midfielder  has said she’d like to play in the next two Olympics:  the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and the 2020 Games in Tokyo.  That would mean she’d also be around for the next World Cup, in France in 2019.

Galanis’ success with Lloyd is undeniable; she says she never would have become the player that she is without him. The origins of their remarkable partnership are  recounted in this feature by Jeff Carlisle for ESPNW.

Of course, any trainer’s job is easier if he’s starting with a gifted pupil, and in Lloyd, Galanis had a soccer prodigy.  But she was a prodigy who’d lost her direction.

Earlier this year, Lloyd addressed the current U-20 team and talked about the obstacles she encountered as a star of the youth program, and what did — with Galanis’ help –to overcome them:

When she first met Galanis, Lloyd, to her astonishment, had just been cut from the U.S. under-21 team. (In her talk to the current youth team, Lloyd acknowledges that she’d gotten lazy and wasn’t giving her U-21 coach and teammates her best.)

She was dejected, filled with self-doubt, and floundering. She thought about quitting soccer entirely.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she says in the ESPNW profile. “I had mentally checked out.”

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When he met Lloyd for the first time, Galanis saw a young athlete on the verge of a meltdown.  “She was very unfit, like very, very unfit, across the board,” he tells Carlisle. “Strength, endurance, flexibility, aerobic power, non-aerobic power, the whole lot.

“I discovered a player who was full of excuses as to why she couldn’t make it to the next level. She worried about things that she had absolutely no control over, and she had poor training and living habits.”

Carli Lloyd vs. New Zealand. (Tony Avelar/AP)

Ready… aim… fire! (Tony Avelar/AP)

But beneath all that, he saw something else: He saw the world-class footballer that Carli Lloyd could become.

She was tough and smart, sharp on the ball and smooth on the pitch.

She didn’t back down from anyone.

And, she had a shot like a bazooka.

Lloyd shoots with as much power, accuracy and range as any American woman since Michelle Akers.

Anson Dorrance, the renowned University of North Carolina coach, called her “the best player in the world at striking the ball on frame and finishing it.” (And, no, Lloyd is not a Tar Heel. A Jersey girl, she went to Rutgers.)

Tony DiCicco, the former U.S. women’s coach,  said she’s “the best scoring midfielder in the world.  And maybe that we’ve ever seen in the women’s game.”

Carli Lloyd and Kim Hyeri of South Korea, May 30, 2015. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

Carli Lloyd and Kim Hyeri of South Korea, May 30, 2015. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

Beyond having immense natural talent, Lloyd has had the good fortune to avoid debilitating injuries, the kind that shorten or end careers.

shinerShe broke an ankle playing with a club team in 2010, but still managed to appear in 15 games for Team USA that year. She broke a bone in her shoulder in early 2013, and missed a couple of months. That’s about it, if you don’t count the occasional black eye or busted nose. (She still doesn’t back down from anyone.) Not bad, for someone who’s played in more than 200 international matches over the last 10 years.

And beyond that, she’s enjoyed another huge advantage: On the U.S. team, she’s surrounded by the best female players on the planet.

But the real secret to her success, Lloyd has said over and over, isn’t the talent that she was born with, or the stout health that she’s been blessed with, or the remarkable support system that the U.S. women’s team provides.

What’s made Carli Lloyd the reigning queen of women’s football is her cast-iron determination to work harder than anyone else; and her unquenchable desire to keep getting better.

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Forty-five minutes after this summer’s World Cup final ended — 45 five minutes after Lloyd led her country to the title with a performance for the ages, scoring three goals in the opening 16 minutes and erasing any hope that Japan had of keeping the Cup  — Lloyd called Galanis.

“I’m not stopping,” she said. “What’s next?”

Next was the U.S. team’s Victory Tour, which has proven that Lloyd was right: the World Cup MVP hasn’t stopped. She’s barely slowed down long enough to catch her breath.

victorylogoIn the six Victory Tour games played so far (with four to come in December), Lloyd has nine goals, including back-to-back hat tricks against Haiti on Sept. 17 and Sept. 20.

Against Brazil on Oct. 21, the United States was trailing 1-0 with just over five minutes to play. A remarkable streak — 11 years without a loss on American soil — was in jeopardy. That was when Lloyd slipped in  on the end of a deft pass from Meghan Klingenberg and knocked in the equalizer.

Lloyd leads the team in scoring for 2015 by a yawning margin. One of only two players to have appeared in all 23 U.S. matches so far this year (Klingenberg is the other), Lloyd has 17 goals. Abby Wambach is second with seven.

She is on the short list of 10 nominees for FIFA’s Women’s World Player of the Year Award. Three finalists will be announced on Nov. 30, with the winner honored at a gala in Zurich on Jan. 11. Not even the rank corruption that permeates FIFA could prevent Lloyd from claiming the award.

Sepp Blatter, the hero of "United Passions," delivers a moving speech to a soccer ball.. (AFP)

Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s disgraced but somehow still not incarcerated president. (AFP)

When Lloyd and the rest of the national team visited the White House last week, President Barack Obama told a story that illustrates her singleminded, almost superhuman drive.

After the World Cup title game, the president said, “Carli was asked if she ever thought that she would score three goals in a World Cup final. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I dreamed of scoring four.”

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Away from the packed stadiums and exuberant crowds, away from the network anchors and camera crews, the press and their PR courtesans, away from the adoring fans who push against chain-link fences and line sidewalks five deep hoping to catch a glimpse of their soccer idols, away from everything flattering and glamorous and intoxicating about being a global sports star, Carli Lloyd puts in long hours at her “office.”

That’s her name for the practice fields where she does her real work.

Neither snow nor rain...

Neither snow nor rain…

(In Wayne Gretzky’s day, the area behind an opponent’s net was dubbed  “Gretzky’s office” because of The Great One’s singular practice of setting up there to begin his team’s offensive attacks. Gretzky said he developed the tactic as a matter of survival: He wasn’t big and muscular like most hockey players — he weighed just 147 pounds when he turned pro at age 17 — and the net afforded him a measure  of protection from bruising defensemen eager to separate him from the puck, and from consciousness. Before Gretzky,  centers typically positioned themselves in the slot, the space immediately in front of the goal, between the faceoff circles. “I couldn’t stand there,” Gretzky told Conan O’Brien last year. “I would get the crap beat out of me.”)

Wayne Gretzky in his office...

Wayne Gretzky in his office…

... and Carli Lloyd in hers.

… and Carli Lloyd in hers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lloyd is the quintessential gym rat.  (Except that soccer, being an outdoor sport, doesn’t afford its practitioners the relative comforts of a gym, with its roof, heating, and air conditioning.)

She’s fanatical about training, come rain or shine, snow or gale winds. She puts in longer hours at her office, and gets more done while there, than many players half her age. To watch her practice, you’d think she was one of those youngsters, a hungry kid trying to claw her way onto her first club roster or a college squad.

She pushes herself relentlessly, and if you’re not willing to do the same, then stay out of her way.

When she leaves the office, she may chill out, but not with an Amstel Light. Lloyd’s post-workout ice baths are the stuff of lore among her teammates.

iceice

 

As Lloyd told USA Today last, month, “The [World Cup] final wasn’t won on July 5, 2015. It was won when nobody was watching.”

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So about that 17-year blueprint…

You can read the Shape article for further elaboration from Lloyd and Galanis, but here are the six bullet points they say have been the constants in their approach:

1. Stay in the Moment

“I never looked too far ahead,” Lloyd  says, ” because when you’re constantly looking at the end-results, you tend to overlook those important middle bits.”

2. Take It Slow

“We started out building very slowly on and off the field,” she says.

In phase one, her goals were to make the national team and score a game-winner at the 2008 Olympics. That took five years.

In phase two, her goal was to become a regular starter and score two game-winners at the 2012 Olympics. That took four years.

“Phase three was about taking over and really separating myself from everyone else,” she says. She and Galanis figured that would happen at the 2016 Olympics, “but we feel that we achieved that a year early.”

3. Raise the Bar

When she signed on with Galanis, Lloyd says, “James needed to see if I was willing to do things like eat better, take care of my body off the field, and continue to make strides on my own.  He keeps raising the bar, making the training harder. … The only way I’m going to grow as a person and a player is if he makes it uncomfortable for me,”

4. Shatter Your Comfort Zone

Carli Lloyd at James Galanis' Universal Soccer Academy in 2013.

Carli Lloyd at James Galanis’ Universal Soccer Academy in 2013.

Galanis’ training regimen often called for two-a-days.  He’d make the morning workout so intense that Lloyd would wonder how she’d make it through the afternoon session.

But somehow, she’d always find a way. And in the process, she might discover some new technique, some move she’d never tried before, some trick that just might catch an opponent off guard.

These new bits of knowledge could be forged into tools — or weapons — for use in future matches.

“Once Galanis saw her getting comfortable with a particularly challenging move,” Style says, “he would then take her out of her comfort zone again with another seemingly impossible drill.”

5. Train Like an Underdog

No matter what we’ve accomplished, Lloyd says, no matter how good we  are, we can always get better. Always.

“In order to make it to the top and be the best ever, you have to keep going.,” she says.

Carli Lloyd and Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori. (USA Today)

Carli Lloyd and Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori. (USA Today)

Over the next five years, she and Galanis will focus on her attacking in the final third.

“I can be better at shooting,” Lloyd says. “I can be better in the air. I can be better with playing through balls.”

With an eye toward next summer’s Olympics, she adds. “I’m back at training like I’m a rec player.”

6. Celebrate Your Achievements

Galanis may be the only person on Earth more demanding of Lloyd than Lloyd is. And even he tells her from time to time that pause and reflect.

In that phone call 45 minutes after the World Cup ended, Lloyd excitedly asked him, “When are we training again?”

Galanis told her to enjoy what she’d just done.

They could worry about their next set of goals later.

Elaine Thompson/AP

Elaine Thompson/AP

 

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