By Greg Bach
Briana Scurry, one of soccer’s greatest goalkeepers who protected the nets on the U.S. Women’s National Team’s march to the 1999 World Cup, leaned on a marvelous mental trick to help be at her best in challenging moments.
And she encourages young athletes in all sports to embrace this technique when adversity strikes.
“I had the most fantastic trick that was taught to me by our sports psychologist Dr. Colleen Hacker, which I think every athlete in every sport should take to heart,” says Scurry, who also won two Olympic gold medals during her glorious career and is the author of the new book MY GREATEST SAVE. “She said if a goal is scored on you, you have between the time the goal is scored and the kickoff to be upset about it. Then you visualize taking that mistake, or that feeling, or whatever it is surrounding that moment that I didn’t like and putting it in a box and putting it on the shelf. It will be there later, but right now you have to be in the moment. And so by using that trick it was actually harder to score on me. The more the game went on the harder it was to score on me because I was so focused on the present.”
It’s a technique that she has carried with her and uses these days to keep that all-important in-the-present mindset that is necessary for being at your best in all aspects of life.
“That’s a skill that I learned that was so vital to me and I still use it to this day,” she says. “When I am broadcasting a game if I make a statement that isn’t as clean or concise as I wish, I don’t worry about it. I tie it in a bow and I put it on the shelf and I look at the broadcast again later and work on that. But I don’t dwell on it because it infects the present and you don’t want that.”
Scurry’s journey to the top of the sport is fascinating.
And filled with so many moments that resonate in history.
She won a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, the first time women’s soccer was contested at the Olympics.
Three years later she was a huge part of the famous ‘99ers and their massive win in the Rose Bowl against China, and in 2004 she scooped up her second gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Athens.
“The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is a special team,” she says. “We have done so many amazing things for young girls in this country and for women in this country and around the world. We played amazing soccer, we represented our country with such honor and integrity and dignity, and we give everything for our sport on the pitch while also doing a lot of work off of it. I am so proud to be a part of that. I really feel like my life has been well lived because I am one of the sisters of the WNT. It is such an honor to be a part of that team.”
Scurry’s career came to a horrific and unexpected end in 2010 during a match in the Women’s Professional Soccer league when an opposing player’s knee collided with her right temple.
It would be the last game of her magnificent career.
Sustaining a traumatic brain injury, her days were filled with agonizing headaches, blurred vision, and depression.
All these details, and more, are shared as Scurry takes readers into those dark moments and what it took to survive and later flourish.
“If you consider your life like a house, the rooms of your house are like the events of your life and some of them are barricaded and dark and you don’t go in there,” she explains. “Some of that stuff is unpleasant. You might have some unresolved feelings around that stuff, and a lot of times people have these experiences and they leave them there and they never visit it again, and I had to be willing to revisit all those rooms. I decided that I was in a good enough place in my life where I could speak about the great things in my life but also the bad stuff that has happened and be honest and have authenticity and integrity around those things.”
LOVE OF THE GAME
Scurry took a most unlikely path to soccer.
Growing up in Dayton, Minn., her fourth- and fifth-grade years were spent playing tackle football. Her mom said she could play as long as she was in the lightweight division that was for kids 95 pounds and lighter. But after those elementary years came to a close, she was no longer eligible for the lightweight division, and with the heavyweight division looming her mom closed the door on the sport.
“She said I couldn’t play anymore, and I was devastated,” Scurry says.
Looking for something to fill her unwanted free time, she came across a flyer advertising soccer, and brought it home to her parents. And it was the starting point on a golden career that was punctuated with induction into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I needed something to do and they were starting small rural leagues in the area I lived in,” she says.
They only had boys teams initially, so she played and excelled on those. When girls programs were unveiled she played in the field and goal, and by her mid-teen years she moved in front of the net for good.
“I wanted to stop these other teams from beating us,” she says. “I was a young control freak back then trying to dictate the other team’s destiny, and that’s why I went back to the goal. I love it so much because I can keep you from winning and I love that about the position.”
Follow Briana Scurry on Instagram @briscurry and Twitter @BriScurry
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Erica Suter, former soccer standout at Johns Hopkins University and author of THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE, on helping female athletes enhance confidence, reduce injuries, and boost performance
Former NFL safety Dr. Myron Rolle, author of The 2% Way, shares the mindset that he uses every day to keep moving forward and how young athletes can benefit from it on their journeys, too