Ballet With the Ball: A Love Story

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Originally published by John Lanchester, National Geographic, June 2006

Why do we fall in love with soccer? What happens?

At some deep level, the reason soccer snags us is that good soccer is beautiful, and it’s difficult, and the two are related.

A team kicking the ball to each other, passing into empty space that is suddenly filled by a player who wasn’t there two seconds ago and who is running at full pelt and who without looking or breaking stride knocks the ball back to a third player who he surely can’t have seen, who, also at full pelt and without breaking stride, then passes the ball, at say 60 miles an hour, to land on the head of a fourth player who has run 75 yards to get there and who, again all in stride, jumps and heads the ball with, once you realize how hard this is, unbelievable power and accuracy toward a corner of the goal just exactly where the goalkeeper, executing some complex physics entirely without conscious thought and through muscle-memory, has expected it to be, so that all this grace and speed and muscle and athleticism and attention to detail and power and precision will never appear on a score sheet and will be forgotten by everybody a day later–this is the strange fragility, the evanescence of soccer.

It’s hard to describe and it is even harder to do, but it does have a deep beauty, a beauty hard to talk about and that everyone watching a game discovers for themselves, a secret thing, and this is the reason why soccer, which has so much ugliness around it and attached to it, still sinks so deeply into us: Because it is, it can be, so beautiful.


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The 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup is finally here!

Canadian Living magazine went behind the scenes with the Canadian national women's soccer team. From superstitions to pre-game food to the musicians they rock out to (you won't believe who!), here are the secrets to team Canada's success.

How do you celebrate a win?
“Usually by singing Celine Dion … After one of our big wins last year, or a couple of years in the Cyprus Cups, we had the stereo system in the locker room and we popped in Celine Dion and started singing at the top of our lungs. And that’s usually, as a team, what we do. If anybody walked by they’d think: What a bunch of crazy Canadians. I can’t sing worth anything, but I am singing at the top of my lungs.”
– Goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, 31 years old, from Maple Ridge, B.C.

“A lot of dancing, music … (and, after a tournament) Celine Dion’s Power of Love, that’s a good one.”
– Forward Melissa Tancredi, 29, Hamilton, Ont.

“Usually in the locker room we end up singing some kind of Celine Dion song … You can thank Karine LeBlanc for that one.”
– Forward Christine Sinclair, 27, from Burnaby, B.C.

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What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten from a coach?
“Just to be confident in my own skill and my own ability and just to believe in myself. As a girl growing up you’re not expected to be boisterous or look into yourself and be who you are, it’s always like ‘stay in the back, be a team player.’ For a coach to come up to you and say ‘you’re better than you think you are,’ and to push it out of you is the best advice I’ve ever gotten.”
– M.T.

The team’s pre-game rituals
“Music is a must. And, for me, when I put my shin guards on and my cleats, and even when I get my ankles taped, it’s always left side first …”
– M.T.

More of the team’s pre-game rituals
“Left to right: you’ve gotta put on everything from left to right (when getting dressed for the game). And definitely say a prayer. I always say a prayer right before I enter the field and during the national anthem.”
– K.L.

“I always have to make sure my laces are tied extremely tight before a game. If they’re too lose it sets me off.”
– Forward Jonelle Filigno, 20, from Mississauga, Ont.

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Favourite pre-game meals
“My pre-game meal is always a big plate of pasta.”
– J.F.

“Pre-game it’s usually plain, simple pasta. Especially with an Italian as a head coach, she’s all about the pasta and the crostata before a game.”
– C.S.

“Actually a lot of us have been taking these goo packets, which are supposed to be a lot of simple sugars right before we play and they taste like chocolate icing, so they’re delicious.”
– Midfielder Diana Matheson, 27, from Oakville, Ont.

Post-game snacks
“Post-game, right away we have Parmesan. It’s gonna sound weird to people but Parmesan is what I look forward to. Parmesan is the first thing we eat in the locker room, as weird as that sounds. I’m a cheese-lover, too, so it works.”
– M.T.

“Certain members of our team are obsessed with Parmesan cheese. I’m not quite there: It’s hard for me to want to stick a brick of Parmesan cheese in my mouth after a game!”
– C.S.


As a Canadian owned and operated company, with hotels in both Canada and the UK, Sandman Hotel Group is excited to cheer for both Team Canada and Team England. Who will you be cheering for?

Click here for a full tournament schedule.

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