Women's World Cup: Christine Sinclair's speech inspired Canada

She's known for her modesty, but Canadian women's soccer captain Christine Sinclair knew she had to open up to reach her teammates after a crushing loss at the 2012 Olympics.

Modest Canadian captain found right words after crushing loss

Team Canada's captain Christine Sinclair, centre, became a uniting force for her teammates. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

John Herdman usually doesn't speak to his team in the locker-room after games. The Canadian women's soccer coach prefers to talk later, when heads are cooler.

But in the wake of the crushing 4-3 extra-time loss to the United States in the semifinals at the 2012 Olympics, Herdman knew he had to say something sooner than later. As he walked though the tunnels towards the dressing room at Old Trafford, Herdman told team psychiatrist Ceri Evans his plan.

"He said 'Look I think you're right. Let's script some things and make sure we get the message right, because you won't get another chance at this,"' Herdman recalled.

As they approached the dressing room, equipment manager Maeve Glass came out. She was crying.

"She said 'Look, you don't need to go in there, it's done ... Christine [captain Christine Sinclair] just spoke to the team in a way she's never spoke to them before.' And there wasn't a dry eye in the room."

Said goalie Erin McLeod: "I get emotional every time I think about the speech."

The team huddled up. "You could hear a pin drop," said McLeod. And Sinclair, who scored all three Canadian goals that night in a memorable performance, rallied her troops.

"I just remember sitting in the locker-room at Old Trafford," Sinclair recalled. "Just everyone was heartbroken, rightfully so. Myself included. After a couple of minutes, it sort of hit me that three days from now we're playing for a bronze medal. Just this feeling came over me that I had to say something to this team.

"And I told them I had never been more proud to be their teammate. That the end result didn't happen against the Americans but I've never been more proud to wear that shirt. And that if heading into London, somebody would have said 'You're going to be playing for a bronze medal,' we would have taken it in a heartbeat. And I'm not leaving London without one.

"I don't know. It just had to be said. Cool if it had an impact on people."

Modest captain avoids spotlight

It's typically modest Sinclair, who avoids the spotlight as if it was toxic. She likes to reduce her leadership skills to little more than leading by example. But her post-game address at the Theatre of Dreams sparked the team.

The Canadian women picked themselves off the floor and went on to defeat France 1-0 for the bronze medal thanks to a Diana Matheson goal in stoppage time.

The medal came 13 months after Canada finished dead last at the 2011 World Cup.

Sinclair, who turns 32 on June 12, was 16 when she made her Canadian senior debut in March 2000. She has long been the face of Canadian soccer but prefers to stay under the radar.

She's no ranter, says Herdman. She leads in a very subtle way.

"I think often the best leaders, they don't say much but when they speak, people listen. Because they don't say much."

In recent years, encouraged by Herdman, the intensely private Sinclair has opened herself to teammates. And by doing so, she has strengthened the ties that bind the team and become a true leader.

Herdman has worked closely with Sinclair and a small group on the team on leadership, what it is and how it works.

"...It came right down to this group of women had never been vulnerable enough to promote a layer of connection where people could trust them. There had always been a guard somewhere put up — 'You don't need to know this about me, I don't want you to know this about me.

"Let's find out who the real Christine is, because once you do that Christine, that's when your players are going to connect. And if you're vulnerable, they're vulnerable. And when everyone's vulnerable, then you get a reality and a connection and an authenticity in your group.

"And Christine made herself vulnerable in front of the group for the first time in her whole career."


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