Lianne Sanderson’s is a WPS player who has achieved almost every accolade possible in England. Her second season’s home opener for Philadelphia was cancelled but Sanderson is rarin’ to go. Listen to her talk about PLANNING to score over 50 goals… in a single season.
I signed for Arsenal Ladies at 9 years old, previously playing for a local boys team in south London from the age of 6 years old. I had a massively successful career at Arsenal winning top goal-scorer with 52 goals in 38 games, Player of the Year, and Champions League.
I played for England u17s when I was 14, and made my senior debut for England national team when I was 16. I have played for all England’s age-group teams, in the 2007 Women’s World Cup in China, and European Championships.
I have been sponsored by Nike for 4 years and have been in a lot of commercials, including a campaign with Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. I’ve also been in Nike ad saying I got more goals then Ronaldo. They help me so much.
I have been playing professionally in the WPS, with Philly Independence, for a year and consider it the best decision I ever made. I constantly want to get better. I will never settle for second best. I have a very supportive family behind me. My Dad flies often from England to see me play in America, which is great.
I am an extremely driven individual, with a lot of self-belief and confidence. I am extremely passionate about giving back, and making people feel good about themselves. I have had my own soccer schools in England since I was 18— The Lianne Sanderson Academy— which I want to bring to America. I love working with my partners at Sporting Chances.
I am currently working on starting my own management company— not just soccer players—as I am passionate about this and get a lot of requests. This company will include models, musicians, and comedians. I support Manchester United. I am so passionate about them and go to most games when I am home. I love life and love making others happy.
Interview with Lianne Sanderson
PLAY3RSPORT: Did you ever think that, after signing with Arsenal at a very young age, that you would pick up your entire footballing life and move it to America?
Lianne: That’s a very good question. My Dad always saw me playing in America and I’m a very family-oriented person. Me and my family are very close. My Dad always used to say “Oh I can see you playing in America.” I would always reply, “No Dad. I just want to be in England. I want to be a professional footballer in England—on my home soil.” But for whatever reason, things didn’t really prosper in England, with the League etc. They have the Super League this year but it’s come too late for me because I’d already been drafted to the WPS. I hope the Super League goes well because I think it’d be good for English football. But when I got the opportunity to come to America, there was only one place I was going to go and that’s here. I never imagined I’d love it as much as I do.
Everybody says to me, “You must really miss home.” But I actually feel like an American in the sense that I love everything about being here. This feels like home. When I’m in America I feel like I can just be a soccer player and just wake up every day and do what I love. Whereas in England there are a lot of other things that I have to do, which doesn’t allow me to concentrate solely on one thing. I have businesses in England. I do shoots with NIKE. I love doing those things but being in America enables me to concentrate solely on playing soccer. That’s what I should be doing. My Dad always used to say to me, “Do what you do on the soccer field and everything else will take care of itself.” I love doing photo shoots and interviews but there’s no better feeling than being out on the soccer field. It’s something that I love. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. I’m most happy when I’m playing.
PLAY3RSPORT: I’ve heard a number of women who play soccer say they thought success in the college ranks would totally prepare them for the semi/pro ranks of women’s football but it’s a whole different ball game—the training and fitness level, etc. But you’ve been playing for so long that maybe it’s all the same to you. What is your pre-season preparation like?
Lianne: I remember when I had my first game for the Arsenal Ladies reserves. Even that step up from reserves to the First Team is such a big difference. You have to think quicker. You have to be more grown-up. You have to perform well when you’re up with the big guns. I just took my opportunity when I had it. I won everything by the time I was 18. Coming to the WPS came at the exact right time because I’d done everything I needed to do in England. I could’ve been at Arsenal for my whole career but I was more driven than that. I didn’t want to settle for what I already had. I wanted to come here. Going into pre-season this year, I feel better than I did last year. Previously when people have had one year in the WPS, they’ve always done better in their second season. You get used to everything. Our coach, Paul, keeps us on our toes. I know we won’t be doing the same things this year as we did last year. I think me having one year in America and I’ve moved away from home, and gotten used to being here makes a big difference. It’s great when you’re as happy off the pitch as you are on the pitch.
PLAY3RSPORT: That’s awesome feedback for young players who are having trouble deciding if it’s better to be away or at home. It sounds like one choice can be just as good as another.
Lianne: It’s interesting because I was writing an article the other day for my website about inspirational people—talking about what it takes to be an elite athlete. I get a lot of questions from young girls, women, men asking how do to reach the level of excellence I’ve attained. First off, I answer everybody who writes to me. If they’re taking the time to write, I should be respectful and do the same. I hope I give the right advice but at the end of the day [the drive to excel] has to come from within. That’s the massive problem. A lot people think that if I reply to them and say, “Just do your best. That’s all you can do.” That’s enough to be successful. It’s not. I can give you advice but you have to have that self-motivation, self-drive, ambition and discipline on your own to be able to reach the destinations you’re aiming for. It’s great to ask role models their opinions and I can help to a certain degree but the saying goes, “The only thing that holds you back is yourself.”
JOAN: You can give them all the fuel needed but if there’s no oxygen in the room, the fire won’t start.
Lianne: Yeah. That article I wrote was such a release. I’ve been getting these questions the last few years. I’ve been replying to them all and I hope they do well when they go to their trials with academies and colleges. But I want them to know that they need to have everything in order off the pitch for things to go well on the pitch. You have to sleep well, eat well, and do everything necessary to be your best, rather than simply listening to someone who is your idol.
Coming to America made me realize that you have to take good care of yourself off the field. I’ve developed better habits than I had in England. When you’re young, it’s easy to get wrapped up in going out and socializing. In America, I’m a lot more disciplined—going to bed instead of staying out late, having dinner with friends. You have to be disciplined. That’s where a lot of people fall through the net. Growing up I had friends who understood that I had a game the next day and wouldn’t pressure me about going out. Some aren’t lucky enough to have those kind of people around them. I’ve seen friends who are good enough to play football at the national level but they fall through the net because they lack discipline.
PLAY3RSPORT: So you gotta be careful who you hang out with?
Lianne: Yeah! Outside factors help you go from good to great. From the age of 6 or 7 years old I said I wanted to be a professional football player. That was 15 years ago. Back then, in England, if I walked down the street in my Manchester United kit people would look at me saying. “That’s a girl in a kit.” Times have changed. It’s [socially acceptable] for girls in England to walk around in a kit.
JOAN: You’ve been on highly competitive teams from a very young age. Team chemistry comes up a lot, especially for women nowadays. How has your idea of chemistry and its necessity changed over time? Has the move from England to America changed your perspective at all?
Lianne: We’re not in an individual sport. I’ve heard managers say, “If you want to be an individual, you should play something like tennis.” You know when you get players who don’t pass the ball and are really selfish? Every athlete who plays on a team sport must’ve come across players like that. Chemistry is a massive, massive part of playing. I can [push myself to] be as good as I can be but I need my teammates as well. Nobody can win a game on their own.
PLAY3RSPORT: What do you do when the chemistry on a team isn’t great? What is your role in ensuring that everything is cool in the locker room or during practice?
Lianne: I can honestly say that I’ve been on teams with great chemistry—touch wood. I would tell you if I’d been on teams where the chemistry wasn’t great. But I’ve been on teams for a long period of time. I was at Arsenal for 11 years. A lot of people I’d played with had been around me for a long time. Arsenal won the Quadruple in 2007. Winning the UEFA Cup and Champions’ Legue then— there’s no way we should have won it. We were up against Umea. At the time, they had Marta and Bachmann. They had everybody. We were the underdogs. But I believe, and I know a lot of the girls would say the same, that we had the best chemistry. Until I came to the WPS, Philly Independence, I didn’t think I’d ever experience that chemistry again—best of friends off the field. When you’re going on the field, you need that. You want to know that if you’re going in for a 50-50 tackle, you want to know your friend’s right behind you. I’ve been quite lucky where I’ve been on teams that I feel like I can be “me”. I don’t ever feel like I’ve been restricted. Coming to America has allowed me to be even more extroverted in the way that I play.
The problem in England, as well as other places, is that it comes down to [player] management. How the coach and manager manages the team affects the whole team. If managers and coaches have favorites and they play players that are not particularly good at that moment in time, over someone who is better because of who they are, that can play a part in team chemistry. At Philadelphia Independence, our coach Paul doesn’t operate like that. That’s why a lot of the players have the utmost respect for him. They know that if they’re not in the team it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the way you play. Each week, it doesn’t matter if you’ve played the last 10 games, you have to perform well everyday in training in order to play on the weekend. That’s how it should be.
PLAY3RSPORT: If you were talking to a young girl who felt like her coach can’t stand her—doesn’t matter if it’s a male or female coach—what do you tell her? If they struggle to get feedback from the coach on how they’re playing. Or maybe they’re not getting off the bench and their teammates don’t understand why. What would you advise that girl to do?
Lianne: In my experience, your teammates are the people that help you the most. It helps to have their support. But I’ve heard younger players talk about feeling on their own or singled out on a team. A lot of this comes from kid’s parents. If their kid is not getting in the team, some parents say, “Well, it’s because the coach doesn’t like them.” That’s not always true but it’s instilled in the kid through being around the parents. That feeling rubs off on the child.
Worst case scenario, the young player should think about leaving the team, if they think they’re being completely singled out. But I don’t think it happens a lot when players support each other. Players don’t commonly let those cases happen. Here in America, a lot of my teammates are behind me 110%. We’re up for each other. We look after each other. We’ve got a lot of new players coming into the Philly Independence this year. Joanna and I can’t wait to have them around because we want to make them feel welcome. If you feel welcome off the pitch, you feel like you can perform on the pitch.
PLAY3RSPORT: It’s hard for young kids to consider leaving their team just because of their coach. They might think, “Now I have to go to another team and make new friends. I might get on the pitch more and get better feedback but it’s going to be a completely different experience.” Everybody has to decide how much they’re up for adventure.
Lianne: The only time in my whole career where I’ve felt like I’ve had that situation is with my national team. I’ll speak honestly about that situation. I was on the national team from a young age. I love playing for my country, and I still would love playing for my country. It’s a massive honor. But I think the situation that arose between me & the coach was affecting me in my personal life. I wasn’t in a position where I can go play for another country. That’s not what I’d like to do. I always want to play for England. I’d still be open to playing for England.
There are still people that don’t give women’s soccer a lot of respect. Just because it’s our job doesn’t mean it’s not something that we care about. People know how passionate I am about playing. Nothing comes between me and being the best that I can be. The situation with the national team is the only time I’ve felt singled out and it was having a bad impact on my life. Not feeling like I couldn’t play was the least of my worries. The situation was making me feel like it was making me become less of a person. Anybody that knows me, knows that I’m a confident person—willing to speak to anybody. I’d like to think a lot of people would say I’m a nice person because I make time for people. That situation is something I couldn’t deal with any more. It’d been going on for 4 or 5 years. So it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone close to the situation when I decided to not play for my national team any more.
PLAY3RSPORT: Four or five years is a long time.
Lianne: A lot of people think it’s just because I wasn’t playing. That’s not what my decision was about. Everyone will have their different opinion. I’m a very down-to-earth person and level-headed. But if you know that you’re really good at something, you’re performing at your best, and are one of the best players— then you should be playing. It’s the same in a workplace. Say you’re a lawyer and there’s a promotion available and someone else gets the job, you might think, “I wonder why that person got the job.” Hopefully in the future my national team thing will get sorted out. At least I’m able to concentrate on being in America, playing in the WPS. It’s been the best experience of my life. It’s a tricky one. I feel like I’ve experienced it first hand, where the coach doesn’t like you for personal reasons. I think if it’s affecting you off the field, then you need to do something about it. A lot of people give me a lot of credit for what I did because they knew how it was affecting me.
JOAN: As an elite athlete, you must set goals for yourself. How do you do that?
Lianne: From a very young age, I’ve been very self-motivated. My Dad has taught me to set goals for myself. Even little things like if I was playing for u10 and I would go into a game saying, “ I’m going to score three goals today, Dad.” And then I would score those three goals. It’s important to instill in young kids that you can have discipline and set yourself goals. Not just when you reach 18 should you start setting goals because it could be too late. So whenever I talk to the kids I tell them to set yourself goals and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
Now I tend to keep a lot of my goals to myself. When you start telling people about them, they look at you like, “Really?” I’ll give you a quick example of that. In 2006, or 2007, I remember saying to my Dad in the middle of pre-season, “Dad, I’m gonna score 50 goals this year.” And he said, “I believe you darlin’. You can.” My Dad’s always like ‘Why not?’ I never told anyone else that. The highest scoring in the English women’s league is somewhere between 30 and 32 goals. That’s just in the league. When I set myself that target I didn’t want anyone else to know it. That season I scored 52 goals. It’s never been done before.
PLAY3RSPORT: How did you pick that number? Did Ronaldo score that many or it was just a nice round number?
Lianne: The year before I had scored a lot of goals—like 35. No, 48, sorry. I scored 48 goals the year before and that was still unknown. I did it two years in a row and just because I’m a forward doesn’t mean I only set myself targets to score. I set targets for assists and other things I want to do. But it’s not just on the field. I set myself targets for business too. I think it’s important to have something to reach, within yourself. When I wanted to score 50 goals, I didn’t need help from other people because I knew that could come from me. If I said to my coach, “Coach I want to score 50 goals this year.” He or she could say, “Yeah Lianne, you can do it.” But really it comes from me, and how I am. It goes back to what I said before about being confident in my ability. Whereas if I say to some people “I’m going to score 50 goals.”, they might say to me, “You’ve got no chance.” A lot of people are pessimistic.
JOAN: Do you ever have to adjust your goals? You broke off from the national team and maybe you had goals there. How does that change affect your goals?
Lianne: Obviously I have long-term goals and shot-term goals. Long-term I want to win the World Cup with England. I want to win the European Championship with England. I still don’t think that can’t happen. They are still long-term goals. But for now, I set myself realistic goals for what I can achieve in the future. So for example in the WPS, for next year, I’ve already set my own goals for what I want to do.
Because I had such a bad experience with my national team, I stopped me from wanting to set goals for my national team [performance]. But it didn’t stop me from being motivated. I always 110% for my country, and I still would. But I think it’s important to continue setting goals—ones that are reasonably hard. The higher you reach, the harder the goal is to get to.
PLAY3RSPORT: You set yourself soccer goals, and business goals. One f the things I love about soccer is that you can play until you’re 80 or 90 years old. But as a professional athlete, there will come a time when you’ll have to focus on something else. You’ve mentioned your management company and I wonder how you these people from all different walks of life. How did you stumble across this being something you want to do when you’re not playing soccer any more?
Lianne: That’s a really good question. I’ve been lucky to meet amazing people through doing what I do. I’m sponsored by NIKE. I go to amazing photo shoots and meet athletes. I get invited to many events and I go to these things. I believe that, when you go to events, you should always try to get something out of it. Not something free. If you only meet one person at an event, that you can be friends with, or has something to offer you and you can help them in return, that’s a good thing. So I would just go to events and meet people.
I could talk about this all day but I’ll try to keep it short. I get a lot of messages on my facebook and Twitter from people sending me demos of their music. And I think to myself, “Why are they sending them to me? I’m a soccer player.” Now this is something I wanted to do anyway before I got into soccer. But people sending me their music makes me want to get into it even more. I go to a lot of events in England like open mic stuff. It’s one of my favorite things to do. So I’ve been able to meet some great people. If people look on my facebook and Twitter, they’ll see that I love Jessi J and now she’s gonna have a #1 album after having a couple of #2 songs on the charts. It’s just interesting because I think I’ve got a good eye for talent, soccer or music. Modeling and comedians is just something else I want to touch on.
Me having my own soccer schools in England and coaching in schools was an idea of mine from like 9 years old. Now for me to tell that to people, they’re like, “How can you be a 9 year old and want to have your own business?” But I said that by the time I was 17 I wanted to have my own business and I did. That’s kind of unheard of but it comes from having a really supportive family. I think that makes a massive difference.
PLAY3RSPORT: When your parents, who should know you better than anyone else, hear you say something like that they should encourage you to do it. If you’re doing things, excellently, that are simply a natural extension of who you are then life is much easier.
Lianne:I knew I wanted to be a soccer player when I was 6 years old. I was very luck y to grow up in a family that encouraged me. My Mom and Dad would drive hours for me just to play 10 minutes in a football match. Not a lot of people are lucky enough to come from families like that.
If my family would’ve been like, “You’re not playing….” I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “Bend It Like Beckham”. Some families are not that supportive of their child playing soccer because they don’t think it’s a thing for a female to do and stuff like that. Whereas I was always encouraged. That helps. Not everybody has that support from their parents to be able to do whatever they want to do. Make sure you’re disciplined enough to do it.
I enjoy music, as you already know. This is just something that I want to get into eventually, when I stop playing. If I work on it now then hopefully it can be there for me in the future, rather than start working on it when I’m 35. I’m really passionate about it, which you can probably hear in my voice. If it’s something I’m good at, I don’t see why I shouldn’t capitalize on it now.
Everything comes back to pursuing things from within. It doesn’t just come from other people. It comes from how motivated you are. Whenever I do talks in schools, I say to the kids, “Make sure you know what you wanna do from a young age and don’t let anyone get in the way of you doing that.” I’ve had a very good upbringing and I had a lot of good friends around me from when I was at school, that helped me fulfill my potential.
Even though I’m 23 and I feel like I’ve done a lot, I don’t feel like that’s the end. I always want to make sure I get better and learn something every day—whether that’s in training or in my personal life. Not only has America made me better as a soccer player, I feel like I’ve grown as a person as well. When I go back home people say, “You’ve changed for the better. You’re more grown up. You know what you want now.” I’ve grown more mature. Living away from home you have to grow up quicker.