STEPHANIE Labbé has graced the goalposts for her national team as well as those in the Swedish leagues. Her career has seen her be part of a Champions League qualifying side while on international duty she has won several competitions with Canada, represented the side at the World Cup and captained the team at the Pan Am Games.
However, Stephanie has so much more to her than just being a successful athlete. Passionate about giving back and working with young people she runs her own goalkeeper camps called ‘LabbeKeeperCamps’ and works with junior high and high schools whenever she can.
In this inspiring interview Stephanie talks about what it’s been like to play in the world’s biggest tournaments as well as giving us an insight into her views on women’s football and how we should all get behind the sport to give others the chances she has so relished.
To follow Stephanie’s blog and to find out more about her ‘keeper camps’ visit stephlabbe.com.
When did you first start playing soccer and who were any early influences in your progression in the sport?
I first started playing recreationally when I was seven on a co-ed school team, and I didn’t start playing competitively until I was 11.
I would have to say my first coaches were an influence in the sense that they saw something in me that showed I could be a keeper, so they kept playing me there, but I was a part time keeper/part time out field player until I was 17.
Growing up I didn’t have any role models in soccer, I followed hockey goaltenders more so.
Did you have any idea when you first started playing of the success you would later have and when did you start believing that it might be possible?
I definitely didn’t know when I first started. Like I said, i didn’t have any soccer role models, and I didn’t know about the national team. I didn’t realise where soccer could take me, I was playing purely for the passion and the love of the game.
When I made my first provincial team that was my first taste of achieving individual success in the sport, and then going to nationals and hearing about a youth national team was the tip of the iceberg for my national team career. As soon as I started to learn more about it, I wanted more and more.
When did you realise you were a goalkeeper and what do you love about that position?
Ever since I started playing competitively, I was playing half games in goal half out. I started to feel that I was becoming really good at the position, and had something special. Something came naturally, and I had a fearless nature to me. I have always loved the pressure I have as a goalkeeper, and I truly thrive on it. I have gone through many battles with the mental side of the game, but I love challenges, and I love pushing myself beyond obstacles. I have a never quit mentality, and when things get tough, I embrace it and it motivates me to work even harder.
Could you tell us about your career with Piteå IF and what was it like playing and living in Sweden?
I had a really great three years in Piteå, it was a really small city, with a lot of love for soccer. It was my stepping stone into the professional lifestyle, and I learned a lot about myself and my potential as a person and a player.
My next three years I played in Örebro, and it was another incredible three years, topped off with a best ever finish in the league for the club, and a qualification for the Champions League. One of my biggest moments in my playing career. Living and playing in Sweden was incredible, the soccer culture in Europe is incredible, and I absolutely love Swedish people, and Swedish food!
How did you feel when you won your first cap with the Canadian national team and what have been some of the highlights playing at international level?
To be honest, I was so scared and nervous during my first cap, it was probably one of my worst performances ever! I can remember every single touch on the ball I had. The game felt like it lasted three hours, and I only played the last 20 minutes or so!
After the game, I took a big sigh of relief, I had waited for that moment for six months, and I knew that from then on, I would work as hard as I could to continue to develop and improve, and be confident the next time I stepped on the field.
Some of my highlights would be winning both the Four Nations Tournament in Brazil in 2011, one of my best performances, winning the Four Nations Tournament in China in 2015 for the first time in history for Canada, this summer’s World Cup in Canada, and of course, captaining and leading the team during the Pan Am Games this summer.
How does it feel to be a role model for women in sport and what more do you think needs to be done to ensure women’s football continues to make progress on a global level?
It feels great. I am confident in who I am as a person and athlete, and I love giving back. Growing up I didn’t have female role models, definitely not in soccer. I take pride in giving back, and being that role model to young kids as much as I can.
I think we need to continue to push for more support in our professional leagues, and of course in Canada, we need a domestic professional league. Our games need to continue to be broadcast on TV, and our names and faces need to be pushed into being household topics. The more accessible we can be to kids, the more they will look up to us, and go after their dreams just as we did.
Could you tell us about some of your work with getting young people involved in the game?
Whenever I can, I run my own goalkeeper camps called ‘LabbeKeeperCamps’, and in my last one, I even brought in another national team player, Carmelina Moscato, to coach some outfield players as well.
Besides running my own camps, I always help out at junior high and high school academies when I am home, usually five days a week, as well as go out to youth team training sessions and work with either the full team or just the keepers.
I put myself out there, and do my best to get around to as many teams and trainings as I can when I’m home.
What are your interests and passions outside of the world of soccer?
I love training and working out. I would love to be a personal trainer, as I love working with people, and fitness and health is a passion of mine. I also love doing anything outdoors, especially in the mountains. Winter or summer, that’s my happy place for sure! Camping, hiking, boating, biking, snowboarding, cross country skiing, absolutely anything!
More recently I have got into yoga, which I feel helps my mind more than anything. Its me-time, where I can just shut everything else off, and just be there in the moment.
What’s next in terms of your soccer career and what are your ambitions as a player for the future?
I am making a big change in my soccer path right now, as I have decided not to play in Sweden again this year. I have decided on another league, another team, which I will announce in the next month or so. I believe it will be another challenge for me, and another step in the right direction.
Of course I want to continue with the National Team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and then we will see after that.
I haven’t made any decisions as to what will happen after, I will think about that when the time comes. I have been far away from home for many years now, so we will see what happens! I do know that no matter what, I will continue to give back in whatever way I can, whether still playing or not!