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Commentary Jun 12, 2015

You do you, Pia, and we’ll do US

Talking trash. Such a fascinating part of sports, but usually it’s player to player, not coach to former players.

Pia Sundhage is pulling no punches with this mental assault against players she used to coach.

Hope Solo is a challenge to coach, “especially when it comes to trouble.”  Well, who doubts that?

Abby Wambach should be relegated to the bench. Ouch, but arguable.

Carli Lloyd…now this gets interesting. Sundhage singles her out as emotionally fragile.

“When she felt that we had faith in her, she could be one of the best players,” Sundhage told The New York Times about Lloyd. “But if she began to question that faith, she could be one of the worst.”

The media accuse Sundhage of mind games. “I’m not that smart,” she quips in a pre-match news conference, where she doesn’t withdraw her comments, but “softens” them.

Which is exactly what women do when we go head to head. We mess with you, and then when you call us out, we go all humble. Who, me?

I’d say Pia is about as savvy as they come, and competitor to the hilt. She is obviously preparing her team by gouging U.S. players who have grown over-large, if not in physical or playing stature, then in the minds of Swedish players. Sundhage is just right-sizing them. Ladies style.

Why? Because it works. A frontal assault isn’t our way. We attack the flanks, looking for a weakness and then exploiting it. Who’s dangerous? Lloyd from distance. Pia should know, having celebrated two Lloyd strikes from distance that won her two Olympic contests. Lloyd’s weakness? Her confidence, which falters when coaches withhold their belief in her. Former coaches included.


Mentally tough players actually gain momentum from trash talk like this. So, I’m told, do guys: let’s settle this with our fists, or with weapons of choice at 10 paces.

Certainly, mental toughness, along with physical fitness, is a mainstay in the upper echelons of the U.S Women’s ranks. In fact, it’s what seems to separate the young, talented players who make it from those who don’t.

Make no mistake, while the World Cup is a physical contest, it’s mental mayhem. But for those of us with merely average mental toughness, which is 99.99 percent of the female population, we need a cheering section. Take that away from us and we will flounder. Criticize us and we sink like a rock.

Pia knows this. “Not that smart”? Oh, please.

So Ms. Lloyd — may I call you Carli? — Brene Brown, social scientist and media maestro, has some advice for you. Perhaps you have heard her TED talks or read her best seller, Daring Greatly. I know you have been busy, so in case you’ve missed it, here’s the gist. She launches from these words, attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, which set her on fire.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man (or woman) who points out how the strong man (or woman) stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man (one) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood (and turf turds); who strives valiantly; … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he (or she) fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his (or her) place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” (italics mine)

There is no bigger arena than the World Cup, and our world is full of critics. If you put yourself out there, you enter the danger zone.

But we women are generally not armed for battle, we are better suited for self-doubt. This is where Brown really gets rolling and has a message that we all need to hear: Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count –

All of us who enter the arena do it with full knowledge that criticism will come. Brown says, save the critic a seat. Don’t deny it. Don’t close your eyes to it. Don’t imagine it doesn’t exist.

Acknowledge it, and in fact, reserve a place for it. Oh, and save a seat for yourself, because we are our own worst critics. That’s the voice Pia is trying to imitate.

Brown offers good advice. Tell her, “I see you. I hear you. But I’m gonna show up and do this anyway.” Then say, “I’m not interested in your feedback.”

Because the only opponent worth taking on is the one who is willing to enter the arena with you. To risk sweat, blood and turf burns. Come on down and let’s settle this like women.

Pia is picking on you exactly because she knows how dangerous your are in that arena. She’s on the sidelines in those critic seats. Her message is meant to keep you small. Be bigger. Go ahead. Shake her hand, wish her a good game and mean it. Then, speak with your feet.

We believe in you. U.S. Soccer has even given us a place to drown out those critics: #SHEBELIEVES .

And Carli, don’t forget Roosevelt’s other famous phrase: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.

In soccer speak, that’s: Be silent, but deadly from distance.

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