The continuous growing excellence of the SWNT. Part 3 - Ability
In the first article, we covered the evidence of a growth mindset which permeates the recent successes of the Scottish Women's National Team. We considered the observable development between tournaments; with disappointment at the Euros leading to a marked improvement regarding consistency, and resilience, as they topped their World Cup Qualification group en route to France.
Part 2 should pop-up as an option afterwards
Next, through our interview with one of the best players in the team, Caroline Weir, we gained significant access to the squad's current goals and aspirations. This was made evident to all in the first qualifier for Euro 2021 at Easter Road Stadium when a ruthless Scotland squad crushed Cyprus 8-0.
That is to say, if you're reading this unfamiliar with the SWNT and unsure of what to expect, you've arrived at a fascinating time; for they are hungry, hard-working, increasingly mature and non-complacent in their dedication to success. So just what can this Scotland squad achieve?
'I think it's exciting for us to be Scotland and know that there's an expectation to qualify... Right now, for me, I think the Scotland team, the whole group of players, has so much potential.'
- Scotland Captain, Rachel Corsie - Behind the Goal
'With the squad we've got we've shown we can compete with the best teams'
- Caroline Weir - Behind the Goal
Belief. There's something palpable about it. We've explored this before when tracing the collective living organism that burst into life under Smith, Burns and McCoist's stewardship on the MNT, challenging and even beating the World's best, twice. You can see the bones of that same beast on the pitch under Shelley Kerr.
When trying to describe this characteristic, it's really not adequately covered by such phrases as 'passion', 'togetherness' or 'competitiveness', as true as that may be, and we unpicked it in detail in Part 1, one phrase is far too trite. Rather; there's something evident in SWNT's play that belies a certain calm and measured component at work behind the scenes, something with a gravitas that underpins everything, holding it down.
You can see it in the brand of football Kerr has instated. Firm. Secure. Controlled. We can understand this further by reflecting upon our Talk\Matters episode with Caroline Weir. One of the listener's comments referred to her positive mention of holding fast to 'a process', and not becoming too emotional on the pitch. At Manchester City, they have a winning mindset which does not accept second best and Weir described it as being 'ruthless' in 'sticking to the process'; or in other words, and as she said later in the dialogue, having a firm 'belief' in said process.
This, says Weir, is well-founded upon reliable evidence, in that, as you look around the changing room, you see that you are surrounded by the best players in the league. You have been hand-picked, signed and blended together for a reason - to win football matches and titles; if you don't get with the process, they'll get someone who will.
This same competitiveness is increasingly evident in the SWNT as now 90%+ of the squad are full-time professional footballers. This means that there is a fight to retain your place to be involved in the outworking of that process on the pitch, and it's that which we must consider. What exactly these players do on the pitch matters more than ever.
At 0-2 down against Poland (away), the team never stopped playing through the process they had committed to on the whiteboard in the changing room. You could see this clearly when Cuthbert consistently ran the channels, showing for the ball and eventually winning the free-kick that Little converted to begin the 11-minute comeback. Watching now, you can see it the belief grow as the ball is consistently worked out to Lisa Evans to run at her tiring marker, something that eventually produced the match-winning goal.
I recall watching it at 0-2 thinking, 'we're playing brilliantly', which was strange, but it goes to show... As a spectator, I began to believe in how we were playing because you could see the players believed in one another, you could see the process working in real-time. Essentially, this belief resulted in a calmness under pressure which maximised potential in the moment, with Evans' brilliant individual run and goal the difference. Weir again expounded upon this;
'I think that's where the 1% maybe makes the difference in a pressurised environment... in games, where it really matters... it's about practice, and, in the moment, being at the best place you can be mentally and physically which literally goes into that one moment... that's what I've learned, football is literally made up of moments.'
- Caroline Weir, Talk\Matters
It's easy to dismiss this with a nod and a smile. Of course, I tried not to in interviewing Caroline, but, as I found out, it's impossible to say perfectly 'in the moment' what you can access and analyse semantically afterwards. I guess this just goes to prove her assertion, that I can practice interviewing technique all I like in the hope that it will transfer into a Daryll Currie-Eden Hazard moment 'on the pitch' - that's, of course, the gold-standard, and it's part of the everyday process - but it isn't consistently part of my game... yet.
'Yet' is an important word in Growth Mindset, because it implies that with effort, over time, goals are possible. It instils the greatest of all beliefs, that of hope. That things can and will change for the better.
Let's now pause and consider the moments at the end of the hard work that the players of the SWNT have shown us over the last couple of years. Moments of quality which reflect outstanding ability.
'It just always has been engrained in me, that you work hard for what you get. But also, the ability to bring the best out of other people, and put other people before yourself. I saw the real value in bringing that to the table. I definitely try and bring that to the National Team, in a way that ultimately, I can serve the team in a way that lifts up other people.'
- Rachel Corsie, Road to the World Cup
Rachel Corsie doesn't just act like a captain, she is a Captain. Strikingly confident, insightfully articulate and passionately patriotic, Corsie is the Captain you want to follow. With such powerful tools at her disposal, both physically and mentally, she could, of course, strike people down to stay at the top - instead, she 'lifts others up', and in this way, respect is earned and teammates follow. A self-assured centre-half, Corsie typically plays alongside Jen Beattie at the heart of Scotland's back four. She is calm on the ball, often picking passes out wide to full-backs or dropping it into midfield for Weir to dictate from deep. As Scotland are increasingly becoming a possession-based side, such is Corsie's comfort on the ball that occasionally she'll break the lines with an accurate pass into Kim Little or Erin Cuthbert, who like to drop deep to create space between the thirds. Even still, I've sat in the stand applauding many a longer pass out wide or into the channel for the advancing Emslie and Evans. Distribution is a strength. Positionally, she is very astute, and a constant communicator for both parent club, Utah Royals, or when on loan last season (2018-19) at Canberra United, where she was again immediately instated as club captain. This constant desire to stay focussed at all times on the process is what makes her leadership skills so important to whatever side she is on. She demands that you are on the same page.
Her poise on the ball is admirable, but it is her self-styled ability of leadership that is the bedrock of the SWNT. She enables others to play to their strengths by first considering her own, executing them with finesse, and it is those qualities, in the air as well as the ground, that we'll look at briefly from Utah Royals against Orlando Pride in July 2018.
In the 8th minute, advancing as a full-back, Corsie was available for the cross-field pass, taking the ball superbly on her chest. In a split second, a moment even, she used her weaker left-foot to lob the ball expertly over the defender's head with such precision that Amy Rodriguez was able to get a sight of goal from an otherwise impossible position. The run, control and pass had to be perfect and they were. Execution.
If Alexander-Arnold does this for Salah, we're salivating.
In the second half, she found herself alone defending her own goal in the 65th minute. Although her positioning was excellent, it was her reactions in somehow glancing the goalbound shot past the post which drew gasps from those watching. I've watched it a hundred times, give or take, and have no idea how she got to it. The pace of the ball in real-time made it almost miraculous how quickly Corsie rearranged her footing to extend every sinew in influencing the flight of the ball.
Now, think about what goes into putting yourself in that position to succeed? You must have the positional awareness of course, but also the fitness and anticipation to cover, then the strength and conditioning to have the physical ability to produce the block. This is more than 'tracking back', this is the 1%, and this quality - oft lazily described as 'bravery' - is her game. Total commitment.
Consider the impact this has on you as you watch repeatedly. I'd be curious to know what it instils. For me, I am full of admiration. There is selflessness to this kind of play that demands another's' respect. If I see her doing this consistently, with this level of concentration, it makes me think I should be doing that too. If we feel that by watching her, then how much more influential might you find it to be on the pitch next to her? As a selfless leader, whose ability it is to build other's up, and defend her own goal, let's praise a rare moment in front of the other goal which relies upon that same tireless devotion to concentration all the great players have. That ability to keep going until the whistle; a last-minute leveller.
So what then of the players influenced by Corsie's leadership? We have mentioned Caroline Weir prominently, and have in mind a feature on her game very soon. We've covered the similarly world-class Erin Cuthbert in-depth, and will no doubt do so again. However, it is her partner in the midfield whom we want to consider for this piece, and to glimpse these moments, we'll first use a single game to see her obvious qualities.
Pick your jaw back up off the floor. Yes, Kim Little really was that good in a single football match. I really don't mind if you just pack in the rest of the article in and go about your day with a smile, well I do a wee bit... but I don't blame you at all. This collection of moments in the North London derby - incidentally in front of a record attendance of over 30,000 - brought such joy to me on first viewing that I wanted to watch it again. So I did. Then again, and again...
At 29, Kim Little is at the peak of her powers as captain of the Gunners, and it's not hard to see why. If Corsie's vocalisations and commitment to executing the process are her voice on the pitch, commanding respect - then Little's method is via the silent dancing feet and darting runs which terrify the opposition.
Have you ever had a teammate like that? Who struck fear into your opponent every time they had the ball? How did it make you feel?
Whilst at university, I played amateur football with a dear friend who tragically passed away not long after this story. His left foot was as good as his right, and I sincerely mean that. I think he was right-footed, but I couldn't be sure, it was Moravcik-esque. He did things effortlessly in the middle of the pitch with such grace that it made the rest of us marvel at his talent. He once scored a first-half hat-trick at the Firhill Complex. I can't recall two of his goals, but one of them, I was standing behind as he dribbled past yet another player, lined one up 25 yards from goal and rocketed the ball into the top corner with his 'weaker' left foot. Walking off the pitch at half-time, one of their players looked shell-shocked and was overheard quivering, 'that ball... it was like a Jedi mind-trick!'.
How did it make us feel? How did playing with Andy Murch make us feel in that moment? Well, you grew with him. Those type of players take you with them as they change games. They do things which make you unafraid to try them yourself.
A short while later, again at Firhill, we waited for him to appear for a derby game, strangely, he didn't show. A little later we got the terrible news, that Andy had gone to bed feeling unwell, and passed away in his sleep due to an unknown cardiac problem.
This is a peculiar thing to share when writing about the SWNT, no doubt, and I've been taken on a strange journey over these last two paragraphs. I have felt sad, and have shed a tear. That's okay. I've laughed when remembering that poor defender, shaken to his core. But I've also felt joy at recalling Murch with a football at his feet, dancing by players and doing impressions of the manager in the changing room.
Simply put, he did things others couldn't do, and it inspired his teammates. It's the same with Kim Little, and watching her reminded me of Andy because it brings me that same joy - I can't praise her any higher than that. I'm also not alone in marvelling at her talents:
At the Cyprus game, this (legal) intoxication finally hit my daughter, who, by the time we got into the car, had a new name to add to her bedroom wall list of favourite players, and it wasn't hard to guess who. Scotland had got 8, and Little had scored 5 of them.
It's the sheer pace with which she does things in tight areas of the pitch that is most impressive. She often seems to be operating at a faster speed, both cognitively and physically, than that of her opponents.
That's why in describing her game, it is difficult to criticise defenders because she moves with such effortless speed past them that these professional athletes look a bit... well... silly. That is to say, you can imagine the Cypriot and Tottenham defenders trudging off murmuring something about Jedi mind-tricks... or whatever the cool kids talk about these days.
What then have we gleaned from this all-too-brief exploration into the SWNT?
Firstly, there is a mindset which binds them together. They are friends, or more than that, sisters, and sisters work hard for one another. As a family, they share a process towards a common goal, one built upon their strengths as they look around the changing room, one that is ever-improving and one that is, I believe, still to reach its peak.
We've learned that moments of quality, built upon the increased professionalism of the squad, are what wins games - and Scotland have more than one world-class match-winner competing for a starting place in order to produce these moments.
Through Rachel Corsie and Kim Little, we've seen that there are different types of leaders within the squad, some vocal with their mouths and others with their feet, but each as valuable and influential in their own unique way.
Lastly, we'll find in continuing to explore the SWNT, that there are as many individual moments of quality as there are players in the squad, each expressed by their own individual creativity, with sublime skill, but also corporately committed to the process. The question we posed was, what does the future hold for these players and this team? Well, they might not have made their mark on the Euros and World Cup in the way they'd wanted to yet, but as we've learned with growth mindset, 'yet' is a very powerful word.
In honour of Andy Murch, please take a moment to familiarise yourself with the excellent work CRY are doing, and please consider taking a heart screening. Andy's parents have worked hard to raise awareness of the importance of screenings and it literally could not be more precious. Thanks