For a young professional, having the opportunity to be ingratiated with tidbits of wisdom from those who are wiser than they are is often a gift for their character and career development. The same can be said for rising professional athletes.
Such moments of enlightenment may occur on the practice pitch, in a stadium dressing room, a roommate-assigned hotel suite, even on the team bus.
U.S. Women’s National Team luminary Sophia Smith has been consuming her morsels of advice at the dining room table. USWNT dining hall table number 3, to be exact. And her tableside counselors? That would be the likes of Carli Lloyd, Lindsey Horan, and Kelly O’Hara.
“I have actually had the pleasure of sitting with Carli at meal tables the past few camps, and I definitely don’t take that for granted. I pick her brain,” the 21-year old said during her pre-Paraguay game meeting with the press. Smith hails from Windsor, Colorado, and played a majority of her youth football with the Colorado Real Soccer Club. Smith wore Real’s badge from 2014 through 2018. Her most productive year being 2017 when the forward was heralded as the U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year.
“I ask Carli questions. I just try to learn from her. Because she’s been through it all,” Smith added. “She has the experience, unlike anyone. And so, for me, to be able to be in the presence of that, and use that for me — I’m gonna take advantage of that.”
She elaborated: “Because it’s not every day that you get to interact and talk with a legend. Carli’s amazing, she’s there really is no one like her, and getting to learn more about her, you really start to understand why she is who she is, why she’s accomplished, what she’s accomplished. And, she’s just different. She does everything, you know exactly how she needs it to be done. That’s what separates her. That’s what makes her great. And she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. And that’s I think that’s one of the biggest qualities of Carli that I admire... she’s doing what she needs to do. And that’s all. That’s all that matters... I’m just lucky to be able to have these few camps, to learn from her and witness her.”
The dining table seating charts are created by the “higher-ups” as Smith likes to say. Presumably, that is head coach Vlatko Andonovski and his staff. Its purpose is manyfold, but team building is likely the foremost.
“It’s a pretty entertaining table. A lot of different personalities going on, but I’m just lucky, you know, to be able to be at that table and learn from so many great players. It’s a fun table.” Like with high school lunchroom vibes? she was asked. “For sure! We’re TABLE THREE! That’s what we go by. I think every table is proud of their table.”
Smith has been soaking up all the coaching that has been afforded her during the short training camps and friendly contests before and after the Summer Olympics. Team dynamics, interplay, and chemistry have been key themes recently.
“What has stood out to me the most is there’s a lot of emphasis on being a team, and not just on the field, off the field as well,” said Smith. “There is a big age range on this team. But I don’t think that matters. I think there’s mutual respect between everyone and every player, in between the players and the staff. And I think that’s the biggest takeaway I’ve got from this camp so far is that we have to be a team.” Smith continued, “In order to win big games, we have to have that chemistry on the field. And that chemistry on the field comes from chemistry off the field. So just working together on the field, always having the best interest of our team, being selfless, playing selfless, doing whatever we can to help this team win. I think that’s huge. And I think that’s a very important thing moving forward that we need to, you know, pay attention to and figure out so that we can continue to just get better. I think the table system obviously helps with that.”
“I think we’re always trying to learn more about each other and get to know each other, and just build those relationships, you know, individually, so that when we do step on the field, you know, we’re comfortable with each other, we know each other really well. And, I think everything that we do is for building the team chemistry.”
USWNT fans should expect to see more of that organic chemistry in action during the coming hours and weeks The Lady Yanks host Paraguay tonight in Cincinnati, then South Korea, twice in mid-October, in Kansas City and Minneapolis.