James Galanis and the story behind Carli Lloyd's success

When Carli Lloyd completed her hat-trick in the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ Final after 16 minutes, it was not destiny. When she stood in front of the football world to collect her FIFA Women's World Player of the Year award, it was not fate; it all came from hard, unparalleled work.

Among the people she thanked in her victory speech was a name many would be forgiven for not knowing: James Galanis. His name may be unrecognisable, but his influence and mentorship with Lloyd is most important when trying to understand the No10’s charge to becoming one of the greats in the women’s game. FIFA.com sat down with the man from Melbourne’s suburbs to learn how he created a star.

FIFA.com: When did you start training and mentoring Carli Lloyd? James Galanis: When Carli was 16 years old she was playing for a club called Medford Strikers. I happened to be working at the same club and with the goalkeeper in Carli’s team, and I watched Carli play for a couple of years. I saw a player with great skill and savviness without the ball, but she really didn’t have the right habits on the field – she worked hard when she felt like working hard. Her father approached me four years later while I was putting some training gear in my car. He said, “My daughter needs you.” I said, “Who’s your daughter?” He said, “Carli Lloyd.” I said, “I remember her from back in the day.” Her father then told me she was on the U-21 team and got cut and she was going to quit completely at the end of the college season, but it turned out someone got hurt, and she had been re-invited back in. He thought with my reputation I could reignite everything in her, because she had her mind set on quitting after her college season. Two weeks later, she gave me a call and we set up an evaluation.

How did you know she was going to become one of the best players on the planet at some stage? I met her at the soccer field where she grew up playing and did a skill evaluation and discovered a player that had good skill but was obviously very unfit. I basically discovered a player that really didn’t know how a professional thinks. Based on what I remember from her off-the-ball movement, I knew she was skilled, and I knew that she had a street savvy. She knew what to do without the ball, and she was real crafty. I knew that if I could get her physically fit and fix her mind, teach her how a professional thinks, turn her into a fierce competitor, instil some discipline in her, I could have an amazing soccer player here.

What did you do specifically to guide her through that mental process? I sat her down and explained that there were five pillars in order to be a champion player: Technical skills, tactical awareness, physical power, mental toughness and character. I told her she had the first two, but if we can grab her weaknesses and turn them into strengths, she could go on and be the best player in the world. I told her that back then and she didn’t believe me. In fact, nobody did, not even my wife believed me! She was a sponge, she was just looking for someone to guide her.

What convinced you, even when everyone was telling you that you were crazy, that she would become a star? She was this athlete that was a sponge and willing to do anything. I explained the changes she needed to make in her personal life, and she made them right away. I told her it had to be her priority: forget about family, forget about friends, forget about boyfriend, forget about everything, they’ve got to come second. If you really want to do this, it’s got to be No1. She said, “I’m in.” We trained six hours a day, three hours in the morning, and three hours at night. Never once did she look disinterested or look like she was bored. She’d go home and prepare herself for the next day. I knew within a month she was buying into everything, and that’s what convinced me.

I told her that back then and she didn’t believe me. In fact, nobody did, not even my wife believed me!

How did you go about turning her mental weaknesses into strengths? I told her that she doesn’t compete against anybody, but only against herself. I told her that her competition is who she was yesterday and to make sure she was better today than she was yesterday. I told her, “You don’t play against anybody on matchday. You’re playing against your previous performance.” Carli took to that, and she understood that and still today, she plays against that. She never plays against Japan, Brazil or Germany, she plays against her previous performance. That’s a big reason why she continuously improves. I told her to worry about the things she could control, that was a really big one. Today, she’s a master of it. Moving on from your mistakes is another big one. You learn from it and you move on, right away. Having two lives: your life with your team and helping your team achieve its goals and then having your own personal training life. The mental part is ongoing, it’s every day. These are the things I’ve been able to guide her through over the years.

How did you balance coaching her but also letting her grow and develop on her own? There’s times when I stay silent because I want her to learn on her own. And there’s times when I’m there guiding her. The non-important games, I let her fail and under-perform, so she can feel like she’s got a lot of work to do and get back to reality. In the big tournaments I’m there for her 24/7 to help her out. I don’t hold her hand the whole time. After the 2008 Olympics, I just let her go. She had a horrible season, went to Chicago Red Stars and I wanted her to have a horrible season because it sort of brought her back down to reality. She got back to the underdog mentality again. In 2012 she was put on the bench, and that was good for her. I didn’t speak to her for 4 or 5 days about it. I let it burn inside of her. And then I spoke to her about it. I’ve picked my moments of when to get in her mind and help her out and when to stay away and let her figure things out on her own. I think a combination of the two has built the mental machine that she is.

How important is it for players to have a mentor in the game? I think every player needs a coach or a mentor. There’s a lot to navigate through as a professional player – everything from dealing with team-mates, coaches, losses, wins, injuries and media. There’s a lot that comes your way and just to have somebody that you can bounce things off and they can redirect you, I think it’s huge. Every single professional athlete needs somebody they can talk to.

What is your advice to players in the early stages of their development? The biggest thing is to not rely on your team to make you better. You need to take ownership in improving. The more you can do away from your team, the better off you’re going to be. The players that reach the top, they get there simply because they’re clocking in more hours than everybody else. If you’re a player that relies on your team to take you to your dreams, it’s not going to happen. You need to make sacrifices in your own personal life and find ways to get better.

You attended the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala with Carli, what did that moment mean and symbolise to you both? (Laughs) For me, I wasn’t surprised at all. She deserved it. This is what we had been working for. I know that there is nobody in the world who has worked as hard as Carli to get there. I knew all along that if she kept working, she’d get there eventually. When she got picked, the first thing I said to myself while I watched her walk up there was, “I told you, you could do it.” That’s what I said to myself. When I saw Carli afterwards, she goes to me, “Man, you were right all along. I can’t believe it.”

*With thanks to Universal Soccer Academy for use of the photographs