Stephanie Labbé ready for challenge at Rio 2016 with Stephanie Labbé

Words by – Photos by Canada Soccer

Outfield players make several mistakes each game, but none of them are under the microscope in the way an error from a goalkeeper can be. A misplaced pass in the middle of the pitch from a midfielder will largely go unnoticed. On the other hand, a misplaced pass from a goalkeeper could mean the difference between winning and losing.
In modern football, goalkeepers have become more a part of the flow of games and in many cases they represent the beginning of an attacking sequence for a team. Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé personifies what it means to be a modern day keeper with her ability to distribute the ball effectively and precisely to her team-mates. Her skills will be front and centre in Brazil this summer as she steps in the spotlight for Canada.

As Canada prepare for matches against Australia, Zimbabwe and Germany in Group F at Rio 2016, Labbé took time to speak with about how she plans on staying focused in what will be a major milestone in her career. In terms of your career so far, what does this upcoming Olympic campaign represent for you?
Stephanie Labbé: It’s an incredible milestone for me. I’ve been working hard my entire career. It’s not always about what’s coming right now. There’s been a lot of hardships and good times and I’m just really excited for the opportunity for me to show Canada and to show the world what I can do and bring. I’ve had moments of that in the past but I’m just really excited to be able to help this team to success. I’m trying not to think about the magnitude of everything and the fact it’s an Olympics. It’s just about being my best every day and trying to bring what I can bring every single day. In the end, I hope that helps me and the team to be successful. What does it mean to be the best Steph Labbé? What are your qualities as a goalkeeper?
The biggest thing I think about is my quality of distribution. I love to be able to use my feet and be a part of the start of the attack. I know my confidence and my ability to be on the ball and pick out the right pass at the right moment is there. To be a modern day goalkeeper, that’s a huge part of it. 90 per cent of what we do now is with our feet. The fact I have great confidence in that and I know my team has confidence in that, that’s a huge part of my game. Along with that, my understanding of the game helps me to be a great leader and communicator. I can help everyone in front of me be calm and confident because they know they have somebody behind them who’s going to help them. You practice meditation. How does that help you as a professional goalkeeper?
Meditation is something that always brings me back to being present and being in the moment. We all set goals and it’s so easy to think about that end target or that end result of what we want, but if we’re not truly in the moment and enjoying the journey to get there, it’s not going to be worth it. Meditation enables me to be present. Especially on the field as a goalkeeper, you make a mistake and everybody sees it, everybody notices it and everybody critiques it. Anytime anything happens on the field, I just come back to my breath and come back to the total present moment. It allows me to flourish and to be the best me, because I’m not thinking about what just happened and not anticipating too much in the future or what’s going to happen. It’s just all about being in the moment and completely focusing on what I’m doing in that moment and that’s enabling me to be more successful. That’s the biggest impact meditation’s made on my life. It’s made impacts on my everyday life, but specifically on the field it’s helped me to be more present and in the moment. Have you noticed that change in yourself, if you compare the days before you were practising meditation to the present day, personally and professionally?
I notice it just in the sense of controlling my thoughts. Once my mind starts to drift, I’m able to bring it back to being present right away. Not to say that I never think about negatives or mistakes, but it’s just my ability to quickly come back to the present moment is getting much stronger. I’m able to control that so much more. You took and scored penalty kicks during your college career at the University of Connecticut, so is that something we can expect to see in Brazil if Canada ever finds itself in that position? Are you going to be telling coach John Herdman to put you down in the first five?
(Laughs) Hey, you never know! I’m a very confident person and goalkeeper and that’s who I was in college. I was confident to step up to the plate and take it if that’s what my team needed. I love using my feet and I’m confident in what my feet can do with the ball and if it came down to it, I’m 100 per cent confident to raise my hand and take one for the team. That said, I know there’s a lot of other players out there that feel that, so maybe I’ll let the goalscorers do that first! And that shows leadership on your part too, so what kind of leader are you?
I like to lead by example. One thing I really pride myself on is working hard every single day and not letting anyone out work me. I like to lead by example in that sense. As a goalkeeper, I really like to be a vocal leader on the field. I can see everything, it’s all in front of me, so I take that pressure on myself in order to know that I do see everything, so it’s my job to help the people in front of me and to be their eyes when they can’t always see everything. I’m pushing myself every day to be that vocal leader on the field I can be and really help everyone else see things that maybe they can’t see with their own eyes. What will Canada need to do in order to win gold in Rio?
First things first, we want to be a team that controls each game. We want to find a way to make our impact and control the game in the way we know how to control it. With that we’re going to need everybody. It’s a long tournament and a lot of games in a short amount of time so we’re going to need the depth of our team and the squad to be able to contribute in whatever way they can. ​We have such a great group of girls, a great mix of youth and experience. Everyone brings something different to the table and everyone’s going to be needed at a different point in time. For us, it’s when people are called upon: we just need them to step up and play their role. We have all the talent and the tactical awareness. We have what we need. It’s just about going out there and knowing we’re prepared and have that belief in ourselves that we can step out there and play the game we know how to play and bring home that gold medal.

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