“Just Play”: New Jersey’s Tobin Heath Poised to Seize the World By Storm… Again

By Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan and www.Facebook.com/CoachMcCartan)

BASKING RIDGE, N.J.-  Speaking with me at her alma mater, Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, Tobin Heath was beaming as two hundred campers were learning the game of soccer behind us. Last year, Heath and I discussed the importance of unstructured play in an athlete’s development. She told me: “I do believe the organization of sports in this country…. so organized and with someone telling you what to do… has hindered that ‘backyard feel'”.  As a result, a player’s improvisation skills and overall feel for the game suffers.  Today, breaking down that “need-for-structure” mentality was clearly a goal for her . She excitedly told me: “Even in these drills, I was telling [the campers] ‘no! no!’ ‘no rules, let’s go and just play’!”

Tobin Heath and Danielle McCartan at Citi Procamp in New JerseyAs she did last year, Heath is sending each player home from her Citi Soccer Procamp with their very own soccer ball. “That’s still a huge part of this camp and what I like to share with the kids is to get out and play, play, play. Obviously, all you need is a ball: That’s what makes this sport so special. So, I just want everyone to go home with a ball and play as much as they possibly can.”

NEW JERSEY

Last year, Heath explained to me that “[New Jersey] is a hotbed for soccer. I grew up in a great place for soccer. It’s always been that way, traditionally, on the national team. Some of the best players have come out of this area. It’s no surprise, because soccer is great here.” Somebody tell that to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

Recent reports of (now) New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s professional women’s soccer team, Sky Blue FC, paint a dismal picture of the struggling club.  It has been brought to light, within the past three weeks, that Murphy subjects his soccer team to deplorable conditions abnormal for a team at any level, nevermind a professional one. The pushback to the reports was so strong that it forced Murphy to issue a statement from the Governor’s office within twenty-four hours of the breaking news. In it, Murphy says: “…These players deserve better. They deserve to operate in a professional and supportive environment so they can do what they do best – play the game, inspire fans, and build community through the power of the world’s most popular sport.”

Heath played for Sky Blue in 2011 and when I asked her about her experience with the team, prefaced her response with: “Obviously I was thrilled when I got picked up by the team, being from New Jersey, and just also because this is an amazing state for soccer. Some of the best players in the world, both men and women, have come out of here. We’re lucky because we are the melting pot of many different styles of soccer that have come to us from different places. That has helped me. I always say that part of my success, I mean a lot of it, is because of where I was born, in New Jersey.”

A “melting pot” New Jersey certainly is: Sunday, in addition to campers from the Tri-State area, young soccer players traveled from Michigan, Texas, and as far away as California to get a chance to “just play” with and learn from one of the greatest players in the game, Heath.

As far as her thoughts on Murphy’s Sky Blue, her former squad, Heath said: “I think it’s a shame that that team and the communities around it haven’t really supported it in a way that we enjoy and love…and deserve, for sure. It’s hard with the infrastructure of the league, but you would expect better and I would want better for the players playing there because we have grown as a professional league.”

EQUALITY

Many (professional) WNBA basketball players have to play overseas during their off-season in order to make ends meet financially, so I had to ask Heath about the culture surrounding professional women’s soccer. Is it a developmental or a financial decision for women to play professional soccer abroad? She replied: “I think it’s both. I think there is a lot more money over in Europe with certain clubs…”

Though it may be merely an inconvenience for younger players, it’s not so easy for veterans to pick up and live abroad for extended periods of time. Besides missing out on family life, sustained, year-round play at an elite level definitely takes a toll on one’s body. “It takes a huge toll. I feel like any professional athlete thats been playing for as long as I have in any career. I’m lucky to still be playing and [to] still be healthy.” Heath, now 30 (we share a May ’88 birthday!), played for the Paris Saint-Germain Football Club while she was 25 and 26 years old. The team is based approximately 35 minutes from Paris’ main tourist attractions: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Heath added in a touch of Heath-ian optimism. “…For me I think it was more of an experience. I was kind of a little bored of just the American style of soccer… I wanted to change it up, I wanted to learn a different style, be a part of a different culture, a different language. I learned so much when I was in Europe and it helped me I think both on and off the field… I’m fortunate enough to be in so many awesome championships and part of great teams, and I love that. I love competing so it’s something I continue to strive for.”

UNITED STATES WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM

The United States Women’s National team has achieved greatness during Heath’s tenure. Most notable are its FIFA Women’s World Cup Championship (2015) and gold medal finishes at two of the last three Olympic games (2008 Beijing and 2012 London). With Heath on the team, the USWNT has captured one of its three World Cup victories and two of its four Olympic medals.

The USWNT, lead by Heath, is poised (and favorited) to defend their title and win the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. “I would assume so”, Heath told me with a laugh.  It’s a valid reaction: less than two weeks ago, the USWNT  swept the floor with some of the best competition in the world during the Tournament of Nations. They scored nine goals in three games, and Heath, a human highlight reel, put on a technical clinic on an international stage.

^ Viral Moment Alert! ^

HEATH, THE ARTIST

When she is not dominating opponents on the pitch, Heath is an artist and has a keen eye for photography. A piece that caught my eye during a quick perusal of her instagram account was actually mosaic of nine posts, each, when put together like a puzzle, created a whole image. The posts, collectively, garnered 110.4k likes and 746 comments. The title of the work was a definition form the Oxford Dictionary for the word “Intersectionality”: The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage; It takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face.

The series of posts clearly had people talking, so I had to ask Heath about it. “I actually have a whole series that I’m not quite sure what I’m gonna do with it. But it was a piece that kind of was inspired by a few things. A lot of it was to do with equality and to do with people, all people, and to have everybody to have a voice and be equal and to be heard; to realize that we’re all the same. It’s a pretty cool piece cause it still speaks to me; every time I look at it, it’s something different. And I think that’s whats so special about art.”

CONCLUSION

Though she’s one of the most prolific, exciting, and technically-sound players to set foot on the international soccer stage, Heath is as grounded as they come. “I think, a lot of the time, professional athletes take themselves out of the world. LIke kind of become untouchable. For me, I dont want that to be my life. I want to come into the world and for players like this to be able to see me as a real person. as a person they can be.”

Hosting her second annual Citi Procamp, held in the New Jersey town in which she grew up, is a great avenue to maintain her accessibility to fans. “This place has been so important to me. This town raised me and I spent my whole childhood here until I went to college.  A big reason why I was successful in my career was because of this town, the people, and the places like here: Ridge High School. The community really supported me and I feel like it’s only right to come back every year and to just give back my passion of playing soccer with the kids.”

Tobin Heath: appreciated, celebrated, and embraced in New Jersey… and in the world.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Öztürk says:

    Such a great interview, thank you.

    Like

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