- Leat trained with New Zealand’s senior team at the age of 13
- Before football, she represented her country in karate
- She's the youngest player ever to start for the Football Ferns
You’re quickly reminded that footballers are more than just that when you talk with New Zealand goalkeeper Anna Leat.
Our conversation ranges from her desire to play a positive role in fighting climate change and helping the environment, to her days representing her country in karate before she slipped on the goalkeeping gloves.
“I grew up in the outdoors and the more I’ve learned in the past few years about climate change, it’s just crazy how little is being done, so I want to be a part of some positive change,” Leat told FIFA.com after keeping a clean sheet in New Zealand's 1-0 opening win over Finland at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018.
Leat grew up in a rural town called Arrowtown near Queenstown in the south of New Zealand, where her love for the outdoors grew. Her family then made the decision to pack their bags and move to the opposite end of the country to Auckland some 1,500 kilometres away in search of more opportunities for their children to realise their potential.
“If you’re not from the city centre, you’re at a disadvantage,” said her mother Jackie, who knew that Anna had an “aptitude" for it (goalkeeping) early on and that top-level coaching for such a highly-technical position was not going to be available in their backyard.
Anna Leat in her mother's words
- 100 per cent focused
- High work ethic
Anna got in to karate when she was five-years-old after seeing some other children at a demo; three years later, she was a New Zealand karate champion.
By the time she was 12 she made the decision to focus more on football because she “wasn’t enjoying it as much” as she had when she was younger and she “liked the whole team environment—karate’s very individual.”
By the time she turned 13 she was already training with the senior New Zealand women’s national team and two years later she became the youngest player in history to start for the Football Ferns.
One might think that going back to playing for the U-17 team could feel less exciting than suiting up for the full national team, but that’s not Anna’s mindset at all.
“It’s really cool being amongst a group of girls my age who are going through the same stuff outside of football,” she said. “I know a few of the girls from the U-20s and from just growing up. We’re really close. You just feel really connected with each other and it’s a really great vibe we have in the team.”
Just as she did all those years ago, her mother has travelled a long distance to support her daughter, this time holding up an inflatable Kiwi (bird unique to New Zealand and a national icon) in the crowd, a well-travelled Kiwi that is now at its third women’s youth World Cup.
“Most of us had tears in our eyes,” said Jackie. “To see your child on the world stage, singing the national anthem, it’s pretty hard not to burst into tears. There’s nothing like it.”