NWSL-Stars Favorite Sports Soccer (Other than Soccer)

Originally published at Girls Soccer Network

When you live, sleep and breathe soccer, sometimes it’s necessary to take a break from the field and cleats. Off-season, pre-season or just during a friendly competition between friends is a great time to flex your skills in other sports. This will help you stay active and keep your soccer skills sharp. Seriously, running track, whether long distance or sprinting, will do wonders for your cardio and stamina.

Many top socceristas, like retired USWNT forward Lauren Holiday and former USWNT defender and Boston Breakers captain Whitney Engen, engaged in numerous sports throughout their childhoods. These ladies believe their experience with different sports helped them dominate in their soccer careers. Engen described her childhood as a “whirlwind of athletic activity,” as she competed in gymnastics, tennis, baseball, softball, swimming, lifeguarding, volleyball and beach volleyball.

“Having that variety is an awesome thing and I would encourage any young athlete or parent not to restrict themselves,” Holiday said. “Doing different things develops different parts of your body. It can help prevent injuries and definitely help prevent burnout.”

So which sports helped pave the way for soccer legends Abby Wambach & Alex Morgan?

Abby Wambach: Basketball

It’s no secret that Wambach is one of the GOATs in the female soccer world. She has won two Olympic gold medals and is a FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion, coach, retired USWNT soccer player and considered one of the greatest forwards in the league. If you ever wondered how she gained her skillset and would like to follow in her footsteps, then consider becoming a multi-sport athlete and grabbing a Spalding ball.

In an interview with USA Today she stated that, “Playing basketball had a significant impact on the way I play the game of soccer.”

While Wambach was excellent on defense and was even good enough to play D-1 college basketball, according to her high school soccer coach Kathleen Boughton, she just didn’t have a passion for it. However, the skills she learned while earning more than 1,000 points during her high school basketball career definitely crossed over into her soccer career.

Wambach went on to say: “I am a taller player in soccer. In basketball, I was a power forward, and I would go up and rebound the ball. So learning the timing of your jump, learning the trajectory of the ball coming off the rim, all those things play a massive role.”

Alex Morgan: Volleyball

In an interview with Sports Nation, Alex mentioned that she played many sports as a child.

“I played volleyball, basketball, softball, and I started to love soccer the most around 7–8 years old because it was a physical game,” Morgan explained. “I could use my speed and strength to my advantage.”

According to United Soccer Coach Podcast, Morgan loved playing multiple sports because it wasn’t constant repetition. As she grew older, she began to make her own decisions on which sports she would specialize in. She picked up track in high school as a leisure activity but was serious about volleyball.

Morgan went on to explain: “Volleyball, I was actually pretty committed to my freshman and sophomore year and after that time, my high school volleyball was in the same season as club soccer so I had to pretty much choose one sport from then on. I chose club soccer because I was missing either high school volleyball practice or club soccer practice and I knew I needed to choose one. After sophomore year, I stuck with soccer.”

Although she ultimately chose to focus on soccer, she still shows appreciation for her former sport. When asked what Olympic athletes outside of soccer she was most impressed during the 2016 Rio Olympics, she mentioned beach volleyball Olympians Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross.

“They’re dominating, like they usually do,” Morgan explained in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “It’s incredible to see everyone who has been hyped up by media and coaches and everyone do well has done well.”

Besides Wambach and Morgan, may top professional athletes have played multiple sports throughout their adolescence. In 2015, between the entire USWNT roster, the players collectively played at least 14 different sportsgrowing up. The benefits of sampling multiple sports and not specializing in one early on are tremendous, including avoiding burn-out and developing skills that may even give them a competitive advantage over an opponent. This fact seems to fall by the wayside in a competitive sports culture where athletes as young as 10 years old focus solely on one discipline as they contend for college scholarships and professional careers.

Learn from your beloved Pro Soccer stars and learn to appreciate and play all kinds of different sports. The next time you just can’t fathom doing another footwork drill in your backyard, grab a tennis racket or basketball. It’s perfectly OK to play a sport other than soccer from time to time.