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2020 NWSL Draft
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Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns rookie forward and the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2020 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft out of Stanford University, participated in a Nike panel discussing the impact coaches have on players and ways everyone can help provide more play and sport opportunities for girls.

Nike recently launched the Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide, which shines a light on barriers that are specific to girls in sport and offers insights on how coaches can help remove them or help girls overcome them. The guide is focused on five pillars to create a more friendly environment for girls growing up playing team sports:

  1. Make sure the playing space and team culture work for girls.
  2. Create connections with girls.
  3. Let girls compete.
  4. Focus on progress, not the final outcome.
  5. Encourage girls to be brave, not perfect.

The 2020 Fall Series is currently underway as all nine clubs are playing through Oct. 17 for the Community Shield, a new grant-based award that will be presented to the top club based on points in an effort to support local businesses and programs. The West Coast teams have yet to compete in the competition due to poor air quality conditions in light of the current wildfires affecting the home markets in Portland and Seattle. 

Following Wednesday’s panel, the prized rookie sat down with CBS Sports for a quick chat on her patiently waiting to make her pro debut, Portland’s upcoming Fall Series opener and some personal goals for the future. The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and flow. 

On being drafted back in January and adjusting to a wild and unforeseeable year

Sophia Smith: Wild is a good word to describe this year. I’ve made due with what I have with the training that we were able to get in and the games that were able to get in. Despite what’s happening, I think I’ve grown a lot as a player and as a person. I already knew that patience was very important, but I think I’ve learned it to a whole new extent that things don’t always work out the way you planned. You have to be patient, but you have to keep that mindset of being ready to go whenever the time does come. I think that’s been huge in this year so far. 

Soccer-wise I’ve grown a lot. I was out for an injury for awhile and missed the games in the bubble, but I was still there with my team learning and observing just from a different perspective than actually physically playing in the game. So I’ve learned a lot this year. It obviously wasn’t what I was planning on having left college to play professionally. But this year has been crazy for everyone and I’m just glad that we found a way to get something in.

On building a bond with Portland Thorns and working with coach Mark Parsons

Smith: I think the bubble was so important for our team because it’s a new team and there’s new players — me being one of them. I think just having that time together allowed us to kind of bond even outside of the field. 

We got to really know each other, and know how each other works on and off the field. Building those connections is just huge going into these games because obviously there’s not a lot time to prepare. It’s not a regular preseason, you’re limited with time leading up to each game. So, I think building the relationship in Utah in the bubble is gonna be so important going into these games. I didn’t play, but being able to observe the style of play that the Thorns like to play and style of coaching that Mark does is just important. It’s important to be prepared for when these games happen and when I get time on the field.

On navigating the impact of wildfires and adjusting to constant restart of training due to the pandemic 

Smith: The season was impacted in a positive and negative way, it’s kind of off and on. I think it’s hard to find the motivation every single day when you just have no idea when your next game will be or even if your practice the next day is outdoor in your stadium or if you have to move to a small indoor facility to get the work in. So, it’s been unpredictable, but I think in a way that teaches you patience. It teaches you how to be flexible, how to go through adversity and still make the most of each opportunity that you get.

With the fires happening, it’s been even more crazy. Some of our trainings have gotten moved indoors and then it’s hard to think how we might be training inside leading up to a game outside. You know, how does that transition affect players, affect our health? All of that comes into question. But I think at the end of the day, my team and I have just put our game faces on everyday and make the most of whatever training it is that we have — and ultimately prepare as if we’re going to have a game on the scheduled day that we’re supposed to play regardless of all the things outside that we can’t really control.

On her personal goals and the importance of NWSL’s Black Players Coalition

Smith: The first step was to build that coalition. I think it’s huge because there aren’t a lot of Black players in the NWSL and I think finding and building a platform where we all have an equal voice and our voice really mattered was the first step. 

I think it’s already done so much — so many good things in the league. It would be awesome to see more Black players, more people of color in the NWSL and even young players getting into the game of soccer and realizing that there is a place for them. That there’s people who are just like them who have made it to high levels. It’s a goal of mine, and I just hope that it continues to grow, and that this conversation continues to happen until hopefully one day it doesn’t need to happen, and things are equal, and the world is an equal playing field. 

I think with all this craziness going on, that’s for me the biggest goal that can come out of 2020. That the message is loud and clear and it’s still happening — and when this year ends it still needs to happen next year. So, I think the coalition is huge. I’m so grateful that we all came together, and we all kind of created that and I hope it just keeps going spreading the message.

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