U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath loves to watch soccer on TV. In fact, she can’t get enough. It could be one of the reasons why she’s one of the most skillful players in the United States.
There are many things that separate U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Tobin Heath from the hundreds of thousands of players in the United States: sublime ball skills, an unquenchable thirst to play and the fact that she nutmegged an opponent on her very first touches in her very first cap, to name a few. But if there is one thing Tobin Heath does more than perhaps any other female player, it’s this: watch soccer.
They say the best ways to develop your game are playing with great players and watching great players and if that’s the case, Heath has been fortunate to have experienced a huge dose of both in her young career.
In America, a major problem in the development of young female players is that they don’t watch enough soccer, if any at all.
If there is an argument to be made as to how important watching high level soccer is to developing ball skills and a feel for the game, Heath would be Example No. 1. She has long been known as one of the most technically proficient, skillful and creative players on the U.S. team. Some things she does with the ball on the field not only are incredibly unique to the American game, but also highly entertaining as well.
See: first touch, first nutmeg.
If there is a big game on, you can bet Heath is watching it. In fact, she’s the de facto team expert on where to find a game streamed online, even if it’s a random Russian site that no one has ever heard of. Her email even includes these words: Soccer Junky.
She watches international matches, English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, the Brazilian league, Japan’s J-League, MLS games (she supports FC Dallas because her best friend Casey Nogueira’s fiancé, Zach Loyd, plays right back for the club) and any top-flight women’s game that happens to be on TV. She invested, she’s emotional and she loves to root on her favorite teams, which are (in order):
“When you identify with a team, it becomes more of an emotional experience watching them play,” said Heath, who traveled to London in the fall of 2011 and got the VIP treatment from the Gunners, taking in several matches and getting a tour of the facilities. “You almost feel as though you are winning and losing with that team. You want to follow them on the journey, whatever path they go down, and be there during their success and also their failures. If you love playing the game, you will love being a fan of the game.”
Like every soccer fan, Heath remembers her “first World Cup,” the first time she was able to feel the power, pageantry, color and intensity of the greatest sporting spectacle on Earth. For Heath, that came during the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. She was 10.
“I just remember watching on this really tiny TV and being really close to the screen,” said Heath. “I was mesmerized. Someone gave me a France ’98 T-shirt and I wore it everywhere. It was such an awesome T-shirt. I wish I still had it. Every photo from that year, I was in that T-shirt.”
Now, Heath rocks the big screen, unless she happens to be on the road with the WNT, which is more often than not. Then she takes in games on hotel TV, or if the hotel doesn’t have the channels she wants, she’ll find a sports bar or at the very least prop her laptop on a chair in her room and stream a match.
“I think I enjoy watching soccer because it inspires me as a player to do the things I see and I love and enjoy watching,” said Heath. “Every time I watch a game, all I want to do is go out and play afterwards. It gives me ideas and they are never the same.”
Heath, whose ball skills have been on display not only on the field with the USA, but in several highly-popular ussoccer.com videos, is a strong proponent of young players watching soccer.
“It’s important to have something to look up to, something to cheer for, something to emulate,” said Heath. “By watching games – really watching them and paying attention – young players can learn different tactics and become more tactically aware of what’s going on in a game. It’s really valuable to be able to put yourself in different situations and scenarios on the field, seeing how the different positions are played and the expectations for those roles. It’s great for a quality coach to tell you these things, but to see them is even more powerful.”
The world of an international soccer player features never-ending travel across the USA and the globe, which brings with it the chance to experience different cultures and the different styles of soccer that in many ways reflect the people, their philosophies and their mores.
“Each country has its different style, and within that style, players are unique,” said Heath. “You want to watch players who play your position and see if they have some qualities that you have or want and they can give you ideas about how to maximize your own abilities on the field.”
The confluence of events that has brought the USA to Sweden during the 2012 European Championships is perfectly crafted for Heath. Her days consist of training in the morning, relaxation in a fantastic European city in the afternoon and two monster matches in the evening.
“Watching the Euros in Europe is a dream come true,” said Heath. “We can watch the games at night, which is how it should be. We can take part in the culture and the people, we’re joining in with fans from all around the world and we are getting to see the best teams and players at the highest level. It’s so cool that we are here.”