Stephanie Labbé: ‘Play free’ and we all succeed
— By Rachel Sovka
Being a goalkeeper is a huge responsibility. It’s arguably the most important position on a soccer team and comes with a lot of pressure. International soccer player Stephanie Labbé shows us how to handle it.
Heroes and villains
Labbé, who won Olympic bronze with Canada in 2016, works hard through training and meditation to keep her role in perspective.
“When you make a mistake it's heightened,” Labbé says of the keeper position. “Everybody sees it, everybody criticizes it. You’re either a hero or a villain.”
Historically, fans have been known to ‘blame the goalie’ after unfavourable outcomes in high stakes matches. Labbé says she’s learned to understand that being scrutinized is part of the job.
“You make one miscalculation and it’s a big deal. You have to realize that's part of having a position in the spotlight.”
But being in the spotlight has its advantages, too.
Labbé’s unique viewpoint lends itself to a leadership position that’s deeply valued by the rest of the team.
Leading with laughter
“The goalkeeper is a leadership position,” she explains. “We can see everything, and we have to communicate that point of view to our team’s advantage.”
Labbé is a leader in her own right.
At 30, she has calls herself an “older player” who understands the game well.
She has a lot of experience.
She’s played soccer since she was 12-years-old, led Canada to Olympic bronze in Rio, competed in World Cups and in the highest women’s league in Sweden. She currently splits her time between playing professional soccer for the Washington Spirit in the NWSL and Canada’s national team, as well as coaching and running Labbé Keeper Camps for aspiring young goalkeepers across Canada.
Labbé is busy, but she isn’t keeping her keeper knowledge to herself.
“I try to bring my experience to help everyone, just like when I was young, people helped me grow into myself on the field,” Labbé says.
When she’s on the field today, she says she tries to talk a lot because of her understanding of the game, and off the field she talks in order to stimulate confidence and fun among her teammates.
“Because people play their best when they're enjoying it,” she says, “I try to encourage people to laugh and play free, that’s when we all succeed.”
The meditative mind
Labbé’s success is something she’s fought hard for, especially in such a crucial position. In an effort to remain in that mental space of enjoyment and confidence, Labbé has invested a lot of time into meditation to build mental strength.
She’s been deliberate about seeking out ways to maintain her personal equilibrium during high- stress situations and not give in to the pressure.
“I got into meditation in 2015,” Labbé says. “I started working with Lululemon as a sponsor, and a yoga instructor helped me see the other, more mindful side of yoga.”
Through meditation and yoga, she was able to find strength of mind, control her thoughts, and be more present while she’s playing.
“I enjoy the sport most when I'm not thinking about past mistakes, when I keep a level emotional state, and don’t get so excited about a previous save that I miss the next one,” she says. “The reverse is also true. What happened is over, you have to move right on to the next task.”
As a goalkeeper, Labbé says her first thought is always what she did wrong, but going back and reflecting helps her to realize all the great things she did right, and challenge herself to remember the positive.
Helping her to meditate on the positive, her teammates are the support system she goes to in such times.
“I feel the most me on the field,” she says. “I have so many vulnerable moments, but through that you gain a real sense of trust with your team. When you need to talk, they’re the first people you go to because they've seen you at your worst and best; there’s a level of deep trust.”
Goalkeepers keeping the faith
Labbé says that trust runs deep throughout the team and in the athlete community at large because athletes of all sports understand the same struggles.
She gives the example of the three goalkeepers on the Canadian women’s team.
“We all have a good dynamic; off the field we’re great friends, we have lots of respect for each other, and just want Canada to do well,” she says.
Labbé wants Canada to be the No.1 team in the world and to do that they need the No.1 goalkeeper in the world. That’s why they push each other.
“We’re after the same goal,” she adds. “Negativity has no place among teammates. A toxic environment doesn't help anyone get better.”
In Labbé’s own pursuit of excellence, her next goal is the World Cup in 2019 then the 2020 Olympics when she’ll be 34.
She notes that most soccer players play until their mid-30s, but given that women's professional soccer isn’t especially lucrative, she considers what’s required to sustain a lifestyle with so much travel involved.
“I think about the long-term plan for two or three years from now, but the best way to actually do that is to maximize today,” she says. “In order to achieve the most, I think about the little things to maximize the moment. I fight myself to be present in the moment, and I put myself in an environment to keep getting better. That’s how I do it.”
And that’s how it’s done.