Pitch perfect

Here’s how three soccer stars rose to the top of their game ... and how you can steal their strategies to nail any fitness goal. Score!

Pitch perfect

Where sports are concerned, soccer is in a league of its own. Along with attracting mass global attention during World Cup season, it’s arguably one of the most intricate sports to master, requiring serious coordination, physical endurance, speed and teamwork.

That’s why we’re spotlighting three top players—Omar Gonzalez, Christine Sinclair and Stephanie Labbé—to learn these acclaimed athletes’ strategies for staying on top of their (beautiful) game. We played the field, getting inside the head of a striker (Sinclair), a goalkeeper (Labbé) and a defender (Gonzalez).

Whether you’re training for your first marathon or want to take your workouts to the next level, these team players are sharing hard-won knowledge on everything from meeting nutritional needs to managing stress.

Photo | Enrique Muñoz

Get smart with tech

That’s advice from Gonzalez, a former LA Galaxy superstar and multiple MLS Cup winner who currently plays for Pachuca in Mexico and the US Men’s National Team.

To help with training and performance, he wears a Whoop band (a high-level fitness tracker) to monitor everything from his sleep to his daily wear and tear to his recovery needs. He loves the fact this fitness wearable records the strain training can cause. It even gives recommendations for rest and sleep.

For meditation, particularly when on the road, he uses the Insight Timer app, which times sessions and allows you to add ambient music. Other times, he’ll use the Muse headband, which has sensors to measure brain wavelengths and activity. It helps train your mind to find a calm state and will give you a cue if your mind has wandered during the session.

Play for the team

If you lack adequate support or need more motivation to be active, you may want to join a team sport. For Christine Sinclair, two-time Olympic bronze medalist, captain of Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team and Portland Thorns forward, there’s no denying the power of teammates to keep you motivated and help you maintain a competitive edge.

“There are days when you feel tired or less motivated,” she says. Knowing the strength of the team is behind her, she feels more empowered to perform and “to not let them down.”

It certainly seems to work for Sinclair: she’s second in the world when it comes to all-time international goals scored.

Cycle it up

Not every day is going to feel the same. That’s why you may want to “cycle” your workouts with cross-training and variety. Some days, your muscles are too tired. Others, your mental game may be lacking. Rather than throw in the towel altogether, Sinclair recommends taking a “not every workout has to be killer” approach. On days when she’s feeling fatigued, she’ll turn to a workout she especially enjoys, like tennis, to cross-train and remain active.

Photo | Craig Mitchelldyer

Embrace stillness

When life feels hectic and external pressures are overwhelming, rather than worry or stress over them, try getting still instead. Close your eyes and just breathe deeply and evenly. It’s one of the easiest, most effective ways to calm your anxiety and improve your mental focus.

Stephanie Labbé, Canadian goalkeeper and Olympic bronze medalist, says meditation has changed her life in the most profound ways.

“I have learned how important it is to take care of my body and, more importantly, my mind. Being able to tune in to what I am feeling in an exact moment—to control the thoughts rushing in and out of my head, to focus my attention on one thing—is the most powerful tool that I have,” she says. “It’s where I go for peace, to get grounded and to find my true inner strength—whether it’s for two seconds or 20 minutes.”

Supplement wisely

If there’s one thing all the players agree on, it’s the importance of eating whole, real foods—and avoiding anything overly processed wherever possible.

Gonzalez also swears by key supplements to help fill voids in his diet and boost performance and recovery. Two must-haves are a collagen-based formula and electrolyte replacer powder. Along with these supplements, his favorite foods include a 21-grain bread, organic peanut and almond butters and vegan butter and mayonnaise, along with fresh avocados and high-quality olive oil.

Labbé relies mostly on food for her nutritional needs; however, she supplements from time to time with iron, turmeric and omega-3s when she’s traveling or feels she is otherwise lacking. For both Labbé and Sinclair, a daily coffee or espresso hit is a must, too.

Photo | Mirko Kappes

Ask for help

Back in 2012, Labbé took a step away from her national team to focus on her mental health. She was wrestling with a form of depression she didn’t know much about, but she knew she needed help. Part of her motivation for taking a break was listening to and learning from others who were struggling with similar issues. Soon, she began opening up and sharing her experience—and was embraced by her fans and the media for doing so. Asking for help, along with being vocal and honest, helped move her along her journey to wellness.

“I started talking openly about it with friends and family, and by the time I spoke with the media, I was already so open, I didn’t think twice about it. I wanted to help people like I knew others’ stories had helped me,” says Labbé. “We can all effect change no matter what side of it you are on.”

Bullet round

Omar Gonzalez’s …

Favorite cheat meal: A “pulled pork” sandwich made from jackfruit!

Favorite quote: “Don’t let what you can’t control destroy or consume you. Focus on what you can control and let the rest go!” (As told to him by his former college soccer coach, Sasho Cirovski.)

Stephanie Labbé’s …

Most admired athlete or author: Hayley Wickenheiser for her trailblazing, and Oprah Winfrey for SuperSoul Sunday.

“Can’t live without”: A Vitamix blender for smoothies.

Christine Sinclair’s …

Jersey number: #12, a tribute to her favorite baseball player, Roberto Alomar.

Person she’d like to meet one day: Céline Dion, like a true Canadian!

Bringing your best to your sport is one thing, but how you choose to spend your time off the field matters too. For C.F. Pachuca star Omar Gonzalez and his wife, helping underprivileged children and adolescents in Pachuca, Mexico, is a high priority. They support a local organization that provides shelter and comprehensive care to young people in a state of loss or partial or total abandonment. They also support a privately run dog shelter and have rescued, vetted and found homes for more than 20 dogs, with more to come. (“Send another 20 doggos to alive HQ, por favor!” –The alive editors.) Gonzalez once attended a press conference in a Darth Vader costume (true story), but he is definitely a force for good!

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