Lionesses Leah Williamson, Rachel Daly and Bethany England have all discussed how staying positive during the toughest moments has helped them reach where they are today.
All three players have suffered setbacks at different times in their careers, with England recalling a 23-0 defeat in her first-ever game of grassroots football and Daly recalling the disappointment at missing out on a major tournament with the Lionesses in 2017.
Williamson, Daly and England were speaking to Saunders CB and England women’s senior team legend Karen Carney on Positively England – a brand-new podcast supporting the FA’s 21 Days of Positivity campaign, which is all about celebrating the importance of building a positive environment in grassroots football, by encouraging players to enjoy the game. The campaign is supported by Nationwide Building Society and is all about building mutual respect on and off the pitch.
Despite the setbacks, all three players were quick to emphasise how they have not allowed the difficult moments to affect them negatively, rather using them as a springboard to progress and develop.
Speaking about that first-ever football match, England said: “I used to play football on the street at my grandma’s house with a friend. He introduced me and my sister to playing in his football team.
“I’ll never forget the first game we ever played for them. We played against Spa Rangers and I think we lost the first game 23-0. Even then, we still wanted to go back and continue.” But it wasn’t just setbacks as a child that have helped define England, who made her debut for the Lionesses in 2019.
“There was definitely one particular time I remember having the conversation with my mum,” she recalled. “I was just crying saying ‘I’m done, I can’t do it anymore’. I think had it not been for her reasoning as to why it is I do what I do, I definitely think I would have quit.
“My mental state went from ‘why am I not good enough?’ to more like ‘I am good enough and I’m going to show myself first why I am, then everyone else after will see that’.”
For Williamson, who progressed through the England women’s youth setup all the way through from Under-15s to senior level, says staying positive was crucial for her when out of action with a long-term injury. “I’d had a great youth career with England,” Williamson explained.
“I’d always been picked for the camp and moved on to the next one. I made my debut for Arsenal, everything was great.
“There were injuries so I walked straight in to the team and was involved. Then I got injured the next season and I was out for altogether about two seasons. I’d never really had that before and I’d never really been on the bench, let alone not involved at all.
“So for me that was probably my biggest learning of just never to take it for granted and it sort of changes your perspective. You get a bit caught up in yourself.”
Up next on our brand-new podcast, Positively England! 🎙— Lionesses (@Lionesses) January 21, 2021
In support of the @FA's 21 Days of Positivity with @AskNationwide, @leahcwilliamson chats self-belief, motivation and how to keep going when times get tough.#WeOnlyDoPositive
That feeling of missing out is also what drove Daly to improve and develop. After missing out on a place in the Lionesses squad for the 2017 Euros, the 29-year-old used that as motivation to come back stronger.
“I remember not making the 2017 Euros squad and I was gutted,” Daly reflected. “I thought I’d got back in to the England setup, I was doing well and I just didn’t make the squad. I was just like ‘oh no, it’s happened again, what am I going to do now?’.
“But being in a comfortable environment isn’t good for me, because I don’t like being complacent. I like to be challenged every day. I like to be pushed and I like to push myself, so even though they were negative experiences, they did end up turning positive.”
Daly’s enthusiasm is always evident on camp and her advice to young players is to follow her lead: “I think you have to remain free within yourself and not take things too seriously.
“If you love something so much and you’re so passionate about it, not one day goes by where you think ‘this is hard’. You just think about the decisions you have to make.”
It’s a message reinforced by England, who adds: “I think there are so many pressures on your people at the minute, that they are probably losing the love and enjoyment out of things so first and foremost: just enjoy it!”
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