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Interview with professional soccer player Manya Makoski of Thor/KA

Manya Makoski is enjoying tremondous success as a professional soccer player. In her first year as a professional, Manya earned the starting position at right back for the Los Angeles Sol in 2009 and played a major role in the team's success as they went on to win the 2009 Regular Season Championship. Now, she has made the transition to the Icelandic Professional Leauge where her new team Thor/KA  has qualifed for the European Champions League. In this interview, Manya talks about her experience as a professional athlete, her keys to sucess on the soccer field, and her mental preparation before a game.

 

You recently transitioned from the Womens Professional Soccer Legue (WPS) in the United States to the Icelandic Professional League and are playing very well. How has your experience been with your new team Thor/KA?
Playing in Iceland with Thor/KA has definitely been a unique experience. I have never played with a team overseas before. I didn't know what to expect coming here, so I just took it all in as things happened. Everyone has been so accommodating and friendly. The landscape of Iceland is so beautiful. I am so grateful to be able to wake up every day and see mountains and the ocean surrounding my club's stadium. I love my teammates. They are so fun and I like learning about their lives here. But I do miss home; my family, my friends, and all of my favorite places to go back home, particularly Starbucks, Chipotle, and Panera. It is tough to be away from who and what you love most for such a long time, but I have been able to get a lot of things done here that I wanted to get done. I am here for a reason, so I am just trying to enjoy the journey.
 
What is the biggest difference with playing professional soccer in Iceland?
I think the biggest difference is the style of play. Here it is not so much technical as it is physical and direct. In the WPS, the focus is technical ability and what you can do with the ball and off of the ball. In Iceland, the refs do not call a lot of fouls, so the game gets pretty physical. And the main tactic here is to go forward whenever possible, usually with a through ball or a ball over the top. However, I am happy to be here to work on that aspect of my game.
 
Do you miss playing in the United States?
I do miss playing in the WPS in the U.S. I have made a lot of great friendships with my teammates, staff, and fans from each of my teams. I also miss playing in front of my family. It is fun playing with friends that you have gotten close with. You learn each others' tendencies, motivations, strengths and weaknesses. Playing with your friends, you become more accountable, and makes you work harder so you can make each other look good. There is nothing like winning games with your close friends, in front of your family, friends, and fans that you have made a connection with. The fans back home create this more personal atmosphere for the games. They want to know who you are outside of the field. They want your autograph, sometimes even more than the younger fans. That is part of the reason why I love playing in the U.S. 
 
Talk about some of the milestones you've reached as a professional athlete?
My first year as a professional was with the Los Angeles Sol, when the WPS started in 2009. I was just so ecstatic to have even reached my goal of playing professionally. So that is a milestone in itself. The Sol was the most professional organization and the best team I have ever been a part of. We created history, by winning the WPS Regular Season and making it to the WPS Final. That year I have played with and against the best players in the world. A big milestone that I achieved personally that year was earning a starting spot (and keeping it) at right back, a position I was relatively new at playing. 
 
My second year as a professional, I tore my ACL the fourth day of preseason. A huge milestone was coming back from that injury 100%. Rehab was mentally tough and physically exhausting. This season I am making my own path to success. I have been playing well and scoring goals. I recently got voted to the Best XI for the first half of the season.
 
What have been the keys to your success on the soccer field?
I am so grateful that God has given me some special talents and abilities. So if it wasn't for HIs plan, I wouldn't even be successful. But I know talents don't just work on their own. I challenge myself to work harder than anyone else. That is the one thing that I can control. My work ethic. Everyone has days where they don't want to go workout. The key to my success has been taking that first step. For the days that I don't feel motivated, if I put on my running shoes, then I am forcing myself to go for that run. The days that I am motivated it is because I don't want to have any regrets. I want to be the best at what I do. If I do a few extra intervals or resistance exercises, then I am going to be one step ahead of my opponent.
 
Also, I set goals and pathways to those goals. If you don't write down something that you want to achieve, then how are you going to get it? Some people do write down goals. But do they write down how they are going to get there? I am so grateful to have a great team of family and friends on my side, each with a different perspective, to help me figure out what's the best pathway to my goals.
 
What is Manya Makoski's mental preparation for a game?
I have been working on my mental preparation since high school, when I went into camp with the U.S. Under-19 National Team, and sports psychologist Tiff Jones taught us the importance of having a strong mental game. I know that I have not perfected it yet because on game day, I am still an emotional roller coaster. But I think this is normal. To be excited, nervous, happy, anxious, motivated. But the key to my mental preparation is staying positive and mental imagery. I imagine myself in the game in different situations; dribbling, scoring, playing defense, and making runs off the ball. I think this helps with my confidence going into the game because then I remember that I am capable of doing these things and gives me motivation to carry them out during the game.
 
As a professional athlete, I'm sure that the grind of training day after day can take its toll on your body. What steps do you take to stay healthy throughout the season?
I have played the game since I was three years old. I may be 27 now, but sometimes I feel like I am 60, with the way I feel the day after a game or a hard training session. Since developing a system of recovery (and realizing the importance of taking care of my body), I have never felt better. Thanks to all of my trainers I have had recently, Ben and Chris (from LA Sol) and Cookie (from ATL Beat), I have been able to stay healthy and feeling good. My foam roller and stretching band have become my best friends. We usually hang out together before and after training sessions. I take warm epsom salt baths when I know I am going to be sore. Even though I like to think I am 100% recovered from my injuries, I still do my rehab exercises every day. It seems tedious to do these little exercises, but I have noticed a bigger overall strength in my core and longer lasting energy level.
 
I have also focused a great deal on my diet. My body needs the proper fuel to be able to perform at its best. Everyday I write down what I put into my body (food, drinks, supplements) and what I do to my body (training and games). This helps me evaluate whether I am getting enough energy and what I am lacking in my diet. It also helps me be more accountable for what I put into my body. 
 
Do you ever get nervous before you step on the field? How do you handle fear before a game?
I think nerves are a good thing. I am always nervous before a game. But I try to control them so it is not overpowering and I feel like I want to throw up. My mental preparation routine has helped with this and to control fear. Everyone has a certain degree of fear of failure or not winning. But to combat that, I think positively and confidently about my abilities and performance.
 
Most pro athletes have had someone to inspire them.  Who are the inspirational figures in your life?
My mom. She has been through so much turmoil in life, yet she is so free-spirited and opportunistic. She has done things that she never thought she would be able to do. We have a great relationship. She is more than just a mom, she is my best friend. And she is the one who has always told me that I could do anything that I wanted to do if I put my mind to it. I know that she has sacrificed a lot for me to be able to achieve my dream, so I am ever so grateful to have such a support in my life.
 
On your professional website www.Makoski22.comthe headline on your homepage is "Live the game, Love the game". What do you mean by that?
If you are not going to do something 100% with all of your heart and all of your soul, then you shouldn't be doing it. Soccer has been an integral part of my life since I was three. The game is me. I have traveled all over the world, playing the game that I love. My family and friends have followed me wherever I go to be able to see me play. I teach what I have learned about the game to younger players. I watch as many games that I can, to learn more about the way the game is played. I live in soccer clothes. I love working out. I love putting on my cleats and having the ball at my feet. I live the game. And I love the game. 
 
What is it about soccer that you love so much?
The game is like no other. It is the world's game. You don't have to speak the same language as another player because so much can be said with the ball. The game is beautiful, passionate, heartbreaking, poetic, rewarding, and sometimes unfair. When I play, I feel so much happier and passionate. It brings out my inner competitive beast. 
 
What are your long term goals as a professional soccer athlete?
I would love to play professionally in the U.S. again, just so I can play in front of my family and friends again.  I just want to play professionally as long as I can. I want to develop and learn more about myself, on the field and off of the field. I want my fans and critics to see that I belong in the professional league. I want to promote the women's game and have it grow, in terms of participation and media exposure.
 
There are many women soccer players that would love to be in your shoes. What advice do you have for them on their quest to becoming a successful professional soccer athlete?
Believe in yourself and keep working hard. There will be hard times, and it's how you respond that will affect the outcome. Enjoy the good times by creating friendships with those teammates who can have a positive impact in your life.
 
To learn more about Manya Makoski, you can visit her official website at www.Makoski22.com

 

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