Jessica, you are the longest standing student in the Academy. You have been with the Academy since you were 12 years old. How has the Academy helped you in life and soccer?
I feel very fortunate to have been part of the academy for such a long time. I initially joined the Universal Soccer Academy to become a better player and it undoubtedly helped me mature as a player physically, technically and tactically. However there were also many unexpected benefits, such as mental toughness, confidence and lifestyle choices. Throughout my time training with the academy I developed a strong mentality and learned to make the right choices in my life. I learned the right things to put in my body to perform at my best, and gained confidence with my play. One of the greatest things about the academy is the feeling of family; I developed rewarding relationships there and always had the feeling of support on and off the field. Whether it came to school, soccer or friends, I knew I could turn to the staff at the academy for advice. They truly care about you as a player and person; they take pride in your success and strides to become a better player and person. It is the perfect environment to grow and become successful. I truly could not be more satisfied and happy with this academy.
In your younger years you had no real weakness but needed to improve on all areas of your game. Can you please briefly explain your training program with the Academy?
My training program always consisted of skills and technique. It was back to the basics, I would start from the beginning polishing my technique and skills then progress to more advanced methods. We would cover receiving the ball, on the ground, out of the air, driven balls, turning and receiving, receiving under pressure any situation you could imagine in the game. My sessions also included delivering balls, on the ground, chipped, in the air, bending balls, crosses, and driven balls. Not only did we practice these different types of passes, but also discussed the situations when each should be used.
How bad were you when you first started and when did you realize the training methods were working?
When I first started playing, I was pretty bad, I just relied on my athleticism to carry me, but as you move to the next level, athleticism alone isn’t enough. I noticed a difference in my comfort with the ball almost immediately. Yet, I really realized the training methods used at universal were effective when I was 13, a year of training with James and the academy. The years prior I had tried out for the New Jersey ODP squad and had no success being selected. However after spending a year at the academy, I was brand new player and gained a starting position for the New Jersey ODP State team. I remember being ecstatic when I opened the letter that said I was selected to the team, and that’s when it really sunk in for the first time that I was making huge strides in becoming a better player. I was so happy with the progress I had made and knew I owed the success to the academy and the hard work put in there.
When did you realize you could play Pro Soccer?
I guess I didn’t really realize I could play pro until I started playing and earning time in matches. There are so many talented players and once you reach a certain level there are few differences in playing ability. I think what sets the pros apart from amateurs, or those who make it and don’t, is your mentality. Your mentality dictates your discipline and hard work and that is ultimately what carries you through. You have to work hard every day, make the right decisions with your body and have the will to prepare.
Before heading to Europe you spent a lot of time preparing at the Academy. The word is that you went through a lot of real physically demanding training sessions to prepare. How hard were these sessions and how have they benefited you?
Yes I was doing double sessions at the academy for quite a few weeks, before leaving for Europe. They were definitely very physically demanding and exhausting. We did a lot of work with hurdles; shuttle sprints, 400’s and 800’s, and of course sprints up the Laurel Acers hill. After a morning session at the hill and a night session of six 400’s plus two 800’s, followed by pushups and sit-ups, I remember Carli and I asking each other when we would see a soccer ball again. Haha. But at the academy you do what it takes to be the best and James knows what he is doing. These sessions benefitted me tremendously, because when you’re fit everything is easier. I felt light on my feet and could focus better on the tactical aspects of the game, instead of concentrating of technical parts because I was tired. Sure enough after these rigorous training sessions I arrived in Spain by far the fittest and most prepared on the team.
You are now playing for Russian side WFC Zvezda-2005 and will be competing the European Champions League this season. Did you ever imagine you would reach this level?
I had always hoped and imagined playing at the highest level possible, but honestly it had never crossed my mind to play in Russia. I am very happy I chose to play in Russia, because not only am I realizing my dreams but it also has been an incredible learning experience.
What are your goals for the upcoming season and how are you settling with your new team?
My goals for the season are to help my team in any way that I can to win titles and to compete every day, better than I had before, to constantly improve my game. It would be a dream to return back here next fall with a champion’s league trophy. Right now that is what I think about every time I go to training and step on the field.
What words of wisdom would you have for any upcoming aspiring players?
First and foremost have fun. There is a way to have fun at training while also working hard to achieve your goals. Finding the balance is key. Although I trained a lot when I was younger, I wish I could go back and put in even more extra sessions. When you develop the skills at a young age they stick with you and become natural, you do them without thinking in the game. I have a few moves that I always practiced with James my first years in the academy and now they are like second nature to me. My only regret is that I hadn’t added more to my repertoire early on. The last important piece of advice I have to offer is to watch as many soccer games as you can. It’s not only entertaining but the best way to learn tactics. Especially now with the 2010 world cup taking place, watch as many matches as you can… and don’t forget to cheer on the RED WHITE and BLUE! Go USA!
When can we expect to see you again at the Academy?
I am looking forward to coming back to my home at the Universal Soccer Academy, after a successful season at the end of November. I plan to spend my two month off –season there training hard and preparing