Full Name: Jillian Loyden
Date of Birth: 25th June 1985
Place of Birth: Boston MA
Previous Clubs: St Louis Athletica, Chicago Red Stars, Magic Jack, Sky Blue FC, US Women’s National Team
What football club do you support?
Liverpool, I became a fan back when Pepe Reina played for them (I named my dog after him!). They just stuck after that.
How old were you when you first started playing football and did you always want to be a goalkeeper?
I was 8 – My parents booted me out of the house so that I could run around and exhaust all that energy I had! I had no idea I would fall in love with it. I became a goalkeeper in my second game ever. Our goalkeeper refused to use her hands so they threw me in the goal because I was the tallest kid. I think we came in dead last that year, but with all the action I loved being in goal.
What was the women’s football scene like when you first started playing and did you face any adversity growing up as a girl wanting to play football?
I played rec soccer in my town for two years. It wasn’t until I was ten that I joined a local club team. I personally didn’t face any resistance in my soccer career, but growing up in south jersey there weren’t many resources to pursue my goalkeeping career.
Where and when did you get your big break?
After college I was drafted to play in the WPS with St Louis Athletica. Fortunately for me I got to train with the US Women’s National team goalkeeper coach everyday. He saw potential in me and after that season I was called in with the team. I remained on the team for five years before I retired.
Did you face any obstacles along the way, ever think you weren’t going to make it to where you are now and if so how did you get past the obstacles?
I faced a huge amount of adversity throughout my entire career. I was the goalkeeper that wasn’t good enough growing up to be on the best teams. I got recruited really only by two colleges. Not many people saw the potential that I embodied. But finally I got my big break into the US Women’s National Team, only to break my hand right before the 2011 World Cup team was named, I came back from that injury to make the team and travel to Germany. The following year my sister passed away, which was an enormous tragedy that kept me off the field for three months. A year later, after winning the starting spot in the Algarve Cup, I was stepped on in training the following day and was sent back to the US to get surgery and be out for another two months. My career was plagued with adversity but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
How did you prepare for a big game?
To prepare for big games, it started with a good week of training and a lot of mental preparations. The mental side of the game was something I learned in the last six months of my career, better late than never, but it once I wrapped my mind around the importance it really helped me to settle nerves and allow myself to succeed. On game day I would make sure I had enough sleep and a proper meal before the game. As the game approached I would just listen to music that calmed me down a bit, gave me some peace, and allowed me to visualize what I wanted to do in the game. Oh and I cant forget pregame dancing in the locker room!
Any tips on warm-ups?
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. I remember before my first cap with the USWNT I was wearing a heart rate monitor. After the game our conditioning coach asked me if I was nervous because I was warming up at my max heart rate for over thirty minutes! Warm up is just a time to get a few passes, catches, dives, shots, and crosses in before the game. Just to feel warm and ready to go. To allow your mind to switch on and see the pace of a live shot.
Are you superstitious or did you have any pre-game rituals?
I used to be superstitious when I was a younger player, but as I got older I realized I was spending too much mental energy on making sure everything that I could control was perfect to a T, so I left that behind as I got older and just focused on what I could control throughout the week, Ie work ethic, mental training, sleep etc.
What techniques did you employ to keep focused for the full 90 minutes?
I would talk to myself out loud during games. I know that sounds a bit crazy, but it always brought me back to what I needed to focus on in that moment to be successful for the team. I would make a performance statement for the game, a small goalkeeper game-plan, and make sure I stuck to that. If I started to think about the score line or a mistake or an error I would just say my performance statement out loud and it would bring my focus right back to where it needed to be.
What goalkeeper gloves do you wear and how important is the right goalkeeper glove to you?
I wore Nike Vapors my entire career. I loved them, they just fit right with my hands. My hands were my biggest asset so I needed to make sure they were always comfortable and sharp.
What are the main features you look for in a goalkeeper glove?
Just a glove that i felt confident wearing. If I could catch a ball in them that’s all I cared about!
Since you started playing what is the most important bit of advice you’ve been given and by whom? A teammate of my mine constantly reminded me that I am not defined by my performances. That making a mistake or making a big save doesn’t make me any less or greater of a person. Knowing that my identity isn’t defined by soccer really allowed me to be free on the field and enjoy all the preparations and hard work that had been put in until that game!
Who was your toughest opponent and did you prepare differently to face them? (Team and player)?
My toughest opponent was always myself. I was so hard on myself as a goalkeeper, usually too hard on myself. I never allowed myself to make mistakes, I always thought that I had to be perfect. Which is not the case. If you watch some of the best goalkeepers in the world, they all make mistakes. But holding myself to that standard wasn’t realistic and sometimes caused me to get frustrated and indifferent. Overcoming the notion of being perfect and the idea of not being good enough was always my hardest competition.
Any advice you could give to young goalkeepers trying to break through?
Dream Big! When I was 10 years old I saw the USWNT win a gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. That day I knew that my dream was to play with the USWNT, 15 years later I found myself playing with that team. When we wake up everyday with a vision cast and spelled out, we are able to see opportunities around us everyday that are going to help achieve our dreams. Dream big, work hard, and always have fun! (oh and watch the game as much as you can)
Away from the football pitch and training ground what do you enjoy doing?
Well since I have retired, I have started a goalkeeper training school called The Keeper Institute. We educate, equip, and empower young goalkeepers to not only become great goalkeepers, but great people as well. We train them technically and tactically on the field, but we also spend a lot of time in the classroom breaking down video and learning more about leadership. We bring in experts in the fields of strength and conditioning, mental training, nutrition etc. It’s my passion and something that I love to do. I never had the resources when I was a young player, so I want to make sure that I do my best to give back to the young generation of goalkeepers now. I also have been busy with my non profit organization, traveling across the country to talk to people about the dangers and signs of domestic violence. My hope is that if just one person can be impacted from my story and my sister’s story, all the hard work will be worth it.
The women’s game (particularly in the USA) seems to keep growing and growing, how much do you notice the changes from inside the game?
The game has been growing so fast in the US. I think after the success of the 2011 World Cup and 2012 Olympics, our country has fallen even more in love with soccer. Some of the first women in our country who started playing soccer are now having their own children and are signing their children up for soccer. Those women are now educated in the sport and can help their children to better understand the game, watch games on TV more often, and encourage them to train on their own. With the emergence of more MLS teams and now the NWSL, most teams are within a couple hours drive so people are able to go and watch more soccer, have a team to route for, and be encouraged to pursue their own soccer careers. The game is only getting better here in the US and the play from the top US players is a direct reflection of that.