This article is part of the USA Women's Eagles Final in '14 blog. All entries are written exclusively by members of the women's national team.
We are now settled in Paris and it is the day before the first game of the World Cup against Ireland. Three years ago I took the position of Head Coach and everything we have done is to prepare for the next couple of weeks. Our preparation in Granville was very good and yesterday for our last practice we ran a semi-opposed game with the local players from Ris-Orangis and other Paris clubs. I think everyone is excited to get the game going and we only have a captains run this afternoon.
While the skills, tactics and strategy will be important for Ireland I am very happy with a couple of other areas of the program that will serve us well through the World Cup. Last night at the jersey ceremony I talked about ownership and by giving the players their jersey they are taking the team away from the staff. We have worked hard to build a culture that is player-driven and on this trip they have really taken this on. Any player, man or woman, knows that I believe that what we do off the field and the relationships we build, will translate to on-field performance. We have a five-person leadership team and while I have been an advisor to them when needed they have really taken over the building of the team culture. They worked hard to front-load team meetings, events, and other activities in Granville so we could give players time during the World Cup. The players bought in and the culture is strong.
The other area that I believe we are really pushing the envelope is in High Performance (look for an article about our HP team later in the World Cup cycle). We are known as one of the most physical teams in the world, and while that makes us tough opponents it also puts demands on the players to recover with only three days between games.
Adam Russell is our director of Player Development and has built a system that integrates medical, physical and psychological components. Each day the coaches get a report of each player’s “wellness” and how intensely they can train that day. This allows us as coaches to manage the intensity of practice overall, but also manage the intensity for each individual player. We have held players out of sessions because they are physically fatigued or psychologically exhausted and not only because there is a medical issue. This will allow us to make sure that the players will not only be at their best for Ireland, but we can help them perform in all five games as close to their best as we can make it.
Tomorrow we will find out where we stand as a team. The Eagles went 1-1 with Ireland at the last World Cup and since then Ireland have won the 6 Nations in 2013 and cemented themselves as equals with England and France this year losing two close games 17-10 and 19-15, respectively. We are in the “pool of death” where three teams can consider themselves one of the top four in the world. It is a great challenge, but one that this team is ready for.