Courage Country sat down with North Carolina Courage‘s veteran midfielder, Heather O’Reilly. Like all our interviews so far, she concluded the interview by answering the Starting XI Questions. Read her answers below.
Starting XI Questions: Heather O’Reilly
1. What’s a pre-game ritual you’ll never change?
A pre-game ritual that I’ll never change is that right before I leave my apartment or hotel room, depending on if we’re home or away, always take a shower about 45 minutes before departure. It’s a routine that I started in college and for some reason I kind of visualize it being like a washing away of any doubts or any negative thoughts and moving forward with only determination and positivity and confidence going into the game. It’s a recentering thing for me that I’ve been doing for a while.
2. What’s your best suggestion to youth soccer players to up their game?
I always tell people the same thing and people are looking forward to all these complicated secrets. I say two things. Outwork everyone and spend time with the ball. I think if you outwork everyone, every single day at training. If people walk away scratching their head and saying, “So and so was the hardest working player once again at training. I think that person does amazing things.”
I think that it’s absolutely critical nowadays to spend time with the ball. I would go back in time and spend more time with the ball. Now, I think I’d be a little bit more proficient with my technical side. You look at players like Messi, or players like Tobin Heath on the women’s side and you think that they are these magicians. But no, they worked at their craft. I know that Tobin has been juggling a soccer ball ever since she was eight years old — in her house, megging her mom in the kitchen, all that kind of stuff, and then she’s able to do this on field. Spend time on the ball, and outwork everyone.
3. What’s something people don’t understand about you?
I think that what you see is what you get a lot times with me. So I’m not sure there would be a ton they don’t know about me. I think that what people do see is that I’m a real mixture between being very intense and very laid back. I don’t know how or why, but as soon as I get between the lines at training or a drill, I get very focused. But then generally after, I’m pretty upbeat. I consider myself fun. I don’t know if other people would. But I consider myself pretty laid back and try to enjoy life and relationships and things like that. I’m an interesting blend of intense and laid back.
I think another thing that people don’t maybe know about me is how much I value relationships. I’m a real team-oriented person and I’m very sensitive to team dynamics and taking care of each other, and all those kind of things. I think I have a big heart.
4. What’s the best praise someone could give to you on or off the field?
The best praise somebody could give me on the field I think is that they enjoy being my teammate. I think that’s a really huge compliment. I think off the field if somebody told me that I make the world better, that that would be a big compliment because I try to do that.
5. What’s the first thing you do when you get home from a match?
I’ve actually changed my tune a little bit with that recently. I used to watch every game right away before I went to bed just because I was replaying things. I just needed to see it before I could let it go. But I’ve recently changed my habits to try to get a lot more sleep and taking care of myself. So I have changed my tune there. I try not to watch the games right after. I try to get a good sleep. Stay off electronics — I’m trying. Stay off phones. Stay off social media — that kind of stuff because it only makes your brain churn further — whatever you can do to decompress. I’ve realized for me, reading is something that really focuses me and puts me at peace. I’ve learned that’s good for me.
6. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of advice that I ever received is to just be myself and be true to myself. I think everybody has these wonderful gifts to offer and I don’t think you’re doing your team any justice or the world any justice if you don’t bring your true colors and your true self to the table. Be proud of your uniqueness and individuality. Definitely work on things that you need to work on — your weaknesses. But be proud of your strengths as well. I think as females, we’re super-humble and try to hide our strengths some times, but I try to tell young people to be super proud and brave with your strengths.
7. What person outside your family has done the most for your soccer career?
I am blessed that I’ve had a number of really good mentors and coaches. Anson Dorrance at Carolina was a really inspiring figure I think in my life. I have one coach from back home, Mike O’Neill who is sort of my go-to mentor when it comes to the highs, the lows — you know tough times or when winning World Cups. He’s the first phone call after my husband. A lot of coaches have been influential and I consider myself lucky. They’ve seen me grow up and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.
8. Of all the teams you’ve played with, wherever you go, what’s the one thing that always stays the same?
All the teams I’ve always played with, I think what stays the same is a work hard, play hard mentality. A lot of people misinterpret hard work as no fun. I’ve always tried to encourage the teams I’m on to embrace hard work, to embrace the grind. That’s actually fun. It’s not fun for me to not compete. It’s fun for me to compete. It’s fun for me to get better and to work hard. I think that’s the common denominator for all teams I’ve been part of.
9. Who’s the last soccer player you texted?
Julie King, my teammate and I are getting food after this. So I think before training, we texted about getting food after this.
10. What’s your best guilty pleasure?
I have a very bad habit of picking and biting my nails. I don’t know if that’s a guilty pleasure, but I guess I enjoy it in a sick way. I cannot break the habit, and people are always smacking my hands because they know I want to stop and I just can’t stop.
I also really like dessert and chocolate. I think I have a sweet tooth. I put in the work and burn enough calories that I think I can treat myself every now and again.
11. What brings you joy off the pitch?
I think what brings me joy of the pitch is like socializing — like getting coffee with people, connecting, definitely things like the coffee shop at Carolina, my UNC community is really important to me. I follow Carolina sports.
I think off the pitch too, I like following the Premier League. I like following Arsenal now. I went to England as a Man U fan actually. Only a couple weeks of wearing the badge, I was like, “I’m sorry. I’m switching over.”
My teammates said you can’t just switch over. That’s so American of you. It happened. I’m a Gunner now, so I follow Arsenal.
I like hanging out with my husband and family. I also like dogs. That’s why I’m getting a puppy. But my husband said I can get it till I stop playing. So this is a new chapter. I think we’re going to get a yellow lab.
Bonus #12 question from NC Courage’s Manager of Communications, Morgan Brown — What are you most looking forward to while you’re in France besides soccer?
Well going back to my sweet tooth, probably some pastries, some croissants. We’re going to be based right near the Eiffel Tower, so we’ll be totally embracing the French culture I think. It’s going to be a great opportunity to meet people in the game from around the world — meet cool people. My husband will be able to come over for a little bit. It is the City of Love, so I think that will be pretty cool — just kind of completely embrace Paris. Hopefully, I’ll be there for five weeks so I’ll get to know the city pretty well.
Give me a question for the next player doing Starting XI Questions? Next interview looks like it’s going to be McCall Zerboni.
You definitely have to ask about all her pre-game speeches because that’s so interesting to me. She is so intense too — speak about somebody that’s very intense, yet full of love and full of light. She has two sides as well. She has a very intense competitive edge to her, but also is a shining light for a lot of people. Maybe ask her preparation too. She’s very in the zone. You talk about some players bouncing around, dancing in the locker room, goofing off, that kind of stuff — staying loose. McCall is somebody that doesn’t engage in that. She is just super-focused, staying in her zone, doing her thing. So I thought that was pretty cool — that she’s a total pro when it comes to preparation.
Other Starting XI Questions
Check out our other Starting XI Questions from the 2019 season so far:
Look for a follow-up article on Heather O’Reilly shortly.