For the first time in depth and in public, Olympic soccer gold-medalist Christine Sinclair, the top international goal scorer of all time and one of Canada's greatest athletes, reflects on both her exhilarating successes and her heartbreaking failures. Playing the Long Game is a book of earned wisdom on the value of determination and team spirit, and on leadership that changed the landscape of women's sport.
Christine Sinclair is one of the world's most respected and admired athletes. Not only is she the player who has scored the most goals on the international soccer stage, male or female, but more than two decades into her career, she is the heart of any team she plays on, the captain of both Canada's national team and the top-ranked Portland Thorns FC in the National Women's Soccer League.
Working with the brilliant and bestselling sportswriter Stephen Brunt, who has followed her career for decades, the intensely private Sinclair will share her reflections on the significant moments and turning points in her life and career, the big wins and losses survived, not only on the pitch. Her extraordinary journey, combined with her candour, commitment and decency, will inspire and empower her fans and admirers, and girls and women everywhere.
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|Publisher:||Random House of Canada, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
STEPHEN BRUNT is an award-winning writer and broadcaster, and the author of many bestselling books including Facing Ali, Searching for Bobby Orr and Gretzky’s Tears. He is the co-founder and artistic director of the Writers at Woody Point festival, and divides his time between Hamilton, Ontario, where he was born, and Newfoundland.
Read an Excerpt
Looking back, I think we were perfectly built for a pandemic Olympics.
The thing that has always separated the Canadian women’s national soccer team from other teams is how close we are, how connected we are, how much we enjoy each other’s company. Athletes like to talk about how they have a great team culture. Ours is unique, in my experience, and not just the most recent version. It’s a culture that was built over the years. During the pandemic, when we were locked in our hotels or the Olympic Village and couldn’t even grab a coffee together at Starbucks, we could still rely on each other. We thrived on that.
When the COVID-19 lockdowns hit in March 2020, we were playing in the Tournoi de France. Things were going well— we lost to France, beat Holland, tied Brazil— and it felt like we were on track to have a good Olympics in Tokyo that summer. But the world changed over the course of those few days. The tournament went from completely normal, with fans in the stands, to no fans and no handshakes by the end. I remember our team doctor saying that he didn’t think COVID was going to be that big of a deal and that everyone was making more of it than they should. The next thing you know we were being told to get out of Paris as fast as we could before we were trapped there.
The day after we flew home, the NBA shut down— and you know the rest.
I spent the first month of the pandemic in Florida. I had planned to go there on the way back from France to visit some friends before the start of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) pre-season. It was maybe not the safest place to be, given the lack of restrictions. Gyms closed for two weeks and then they reopened and everyone acted like COVID was over. I was hearing stories of teammates back in Canada who couldn’t leave their houses and thinking that I had it pretty good there in the sun.
But then I went home to Portland, Oregon, and things got real.
As an athlete you are on a set schedule. You know exactly what you’re doing tomorrow and the next day. Everything is planned out for you. But in the middle of the pandemic, we had to give up on that. Everything was changing so quickly. We had to let go of expectations and learn to accept that, for the time being, there were far more important things on this planet than kicking a ball around.
All our players were isolated, and all the clubs were shut down. But we chose to make the most of it. As a team we were going to use every day in the hopes that there would still be an Olympics. Our goal was to train more efficiently and effectively than our opponents despite the obstacles. We weren’t going let a lack of games and a lack of normal preparation become an excuse.
Our strength and conditioning coach had us doing workouts together on Zoom. Desiree Scott ran a virtual Zumba class. All of us had our own homemade gyms where we could work out as best we could with whatever equipment was available. Mine was in my garage.
And then Canada pulled out of the Olympics.
I had the same reaction I’m sure a lot of athletes had: What? Really? There is going to be an Olympics and Canada is not going? I’ve trained my whole life for this. If there is going to be an Olympics, they’re going to do it safely. Shouldn’t we be part of it?
But within a day or two it became clear that the 2020 Games were going to be postponed for everyone.
That was at the end of March. In June, our coach, Kenneth Heiner-Møller, stepped down to take a job in Denmark, his home country. We understood. It was the right move for him and his family. His contract with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) ran through the Olympics, and now there weren’t going to be any Olympics, at least not in 2020. He had been offered his dream job. It all made sense, but it meant that we no longer had a coach. As it turned out, we wouldn’t have one for a long time.
My club team, the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League, returned to training around that time to prepare for the Challenge Cup, the first “bubble” event in professional sports. It was “distanced” training. Everyone got their own little square on the field, trying to prepare to play as a team at a time when we couldn’t go near other people.
Still, we were proud that the NWSL was the first professional sports league to come back and play. We were the guinea pigs, and the league made it work. We showed that it could be done, and safely.
The tournament was held in July in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was one of those situations where you had to go in with an open mind and roll with it— and stay grateful just to have the opportunity to play and compete when everything else was still shut down.
Our team lived in a hotel in Salt Lake City for three and a half weeks. We couldn’t leave the building except to go to practice or games, and though the food wasn’t the greatest, the organizers did their best to make us comfortable. We had a massive games room with foosball and Ping-Pong and a basketball hoop, but being isolated was still hard for players who hadn’t experienced anything like it before. I’ve been travelling with the national team since I was sixteen and have been away from home for months at a time, so I adapted more easily than some of my teammates. We played well, but lost in the semi-finals.
After the tournament, I went home to Portland and things went quiet for quite a while. That fall there was a moment when we wondered whether we were ever going to get a head coach. There’s only so much a team can do when its players aren’t together, but if we had a coach we could at least start.
Diana Matheson had been playing with the national team almost as long as I had. Together, we called the Canadian Soccer Association and told them that the team was starting to stress. They asked for our opinions on what we wanted in a head coach— not for recommendations of individual people, but more generally. We said that we couldn’t have a coach that had to start from scratch. There just wasn’t enough time to hire someone who didn’t know anybody and didn’t know the program.
A week later that they named Bev Priestman as the new head coach. I don’t think many people were surprised. Bev had been involved with our program as an assistant under John Herdman, who coached us from 2011 to 2018. She had also been the head coach of the youth national team, so she knew the athletes, knew how we had been playing, knew the language we used on the field.
The first word that pops into my mind when I think about Bev is energy: she is a ball of energy. But we could also tell that she had changed during her time working with the English women’s national team; she’d accepted that job after John moved on to coach Canada’s men and Kenneth took over our team. She was a more commanding coach than she had been. You could tell from the way she went about the work that John had had an impact on her— John generally does have a big impact on people. Compared to Bev, John is a little more black-and-white with tactics. With him, you play three different formations and know exactly what to do and where to go. Bev likes our game to be a bit more free-flowing, and she puts more emphasis on the players figuring it out for ourselves. John really focused on individual players at a deep level, connecting with each of us and getting the most out of us. With only seven or eight months before the rescheduled Olympics, Bev approached us as more of a collective, sparking a team conversation— with time so short, she had to get us to perform.
Right off the bat, though, she understood our strengths and let us play to them instead of trying to make us play a style that didn’t fit our personnel. As a coach, that was the biggest difference between her and Kenneth. He’d tried to get us to play a more possession-oriented game, and it never really worked. We are a world-class defensive team that doesn’t give up many big goals and thrives on the counterattack.
We were primed to have a good tournament based on age, experience and the mix of younger players with veteran players. As a team, in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, we had really nailed down the Olympic tournament format, where there are such short breaks between games. And Bev also set a clear goal right from our very first meeting. She said, “We’re changing the colour of the medal.”
Bronze in London. Bronze in Rio. Now we were shooting for the top of the podium.
Would we have won the gold if Kenneth had stayed as our coach? Would it have gone the same way if the Olympics had happened on time and Bev hadn’t come in? Who knows?
Table of Contents
1 "We're Changing the Colour of the Medal" 1
2 "Make Sure You Come Back Alive" 25
3 You Aim High, Right? 37
4 Yes, I Had a Soccer-Ball Flip Phone 45
5 My Best Moment on a Soccer Field 57
6 Fourth in the World Cup. What's the Problem? 71
7 Holy Bleep! We Qualified for the Olympics! 82
8 A Broken Nose Wasn't the Worst of It 91
9 Earning My Doctorate in Soccer 113
10 "I'm Not Leaving Without a Medal. So, Let's Go." 126
11 "What the Heck Did You Guys Just Do?" 156
12 One Big Emotional Blur 180
13 Countdown to Breaking a Record Before It Broke Me 191
14 Gold. It Wasn't Pretty. It Was Close. And It Was So Us. 203
15 A Woman in Sport 217