Heather Mitts is a professional soccer player in the WUSA and is a team member of the United States National Team. She is currently playing the 2003 season for the Philadelphia Charge in WUSA while preparing for the 2003 Women’s World Cup. www.grrlathlete.com had a chance to catch up with Heather during her preparations for a World Cup tune-up match against England.
grrlAthlete.com: Heather, can you tell the readers a little bit about your playing experience and the road that you traveled to the pros and National Team level?
Heather Mitts: I have been playing soccer since I was 6. I began playing organized soccer around 8 and have been in love with the sport ever since. I played a lot of sports growing up and soccer just stole my heart.
After my freshman year of high school I decided to become more serious about soccer and concentrate on a college scholarship. I received numerous honors in high school and received a scholarship to attend the University of Florida. After winning the national championship my junior year and becoming an All-American, I was invited to be a member of the under 21 national team.
Following my senior year, I had heard there was going to be a women professional league so I crossed my fingers and continued training. Next thing I knew I was being drafted to Philly and being paid to play a sport I loved! After my first season I was given an opportunity at my ultimate dream, an invite to a national team camp.
Today I am writing from national camp in Birmingham, AL. We are preparing to play England tomorrow, and the countdown for the Women’s World Cup begins!
GA: Have you always been involved in off-season fitness?
HM: I had always done off-season training, but it wasn’t until the summer after my freshman year of college that I really became dedicated. My freshman season found me for the first time in a long time unsatisfied with my season’s performance. So that summer I decided I would work extra hard to improve in the off-season. It made a huge difference because it changed my attitude. I don’t think I would be where I am today if it weren’t for my yearly dedication.
GA: What benefits do you feel that off-season strength and conditioning have given to your game?
HM: Off-season training is the time to hit the weights, work on your weaknesses and become a better athlete. I try to stay in shape in the off-season, so when I arrive to preseason I can work on my soccer rather then getting into shape.
GA: The readers would love to hear about your typical off-season workout. What type of strength training exercises do you use and what are the benefits of some of the main exercises?
HM: In the off-season I usually do sprint work 2 days and distance 3 days a week. I lift weights 3 days on top of that, and try to play as many times as possible. I try to play other sports when I can to vary it up a little bit for my cardio workouts. Taking a soccer ball to a racquetball or squash court and hitting it against the wall for 30 minutes is a great way to get touches on the ball.
GA: You mention that you have your trainer “kick your butt” with your conditioning work? Can you share a typical workout or is that “top secret” information?
HM: Well this off-season I hired a sports trainer to kick my butt! I knew this next season would be very important for me, so I wanted to be in the best shape possible. I would come in 3 times each week and lift. The routine would involve a very intense upper and lower body workout.
Some of the upper body exercises would be dumbbell chest press, incline chest press, pull-ups, biceps and triceps exercises and each would be about 3 or 4 sets times 10-12 reps of heavy weights. We would do a lot of crunches and abs with the medicine ball. Legs would be lunges 4×20 with weighted vest and box step ups.
The most beneficial and most dreadful exercise was the shuttle. It was a squat machine that you lay down on with your legs slightly bent and feet against a board. The machine had resistance and we would do slow squats with heavy weight or jumping with lighter weight. We would do 2 sets starting with 60 reps down to 50 and 40.
Usually a day in between weights we would go to the track and work on speed drills. We would warm up with striders. Then we would run 5x300m under a certain time, finishing the final faster then the preceding time. To finish it off we would hook on the bungee cords and do a series of sprints with resistance, sideways shuffling and backwards running.
The further along in the program we got the heavier the weights and more reps! I never left without breaking a sweat. Then we would have to do at least 45 minutes of cardio on top of that!
GA: Do you work on speed and agility in the off-season? What are your favorite types of drills?
HM: I think my favorite drills were bungees, the speed ladder and intervals that involved the ball. The speed ladder is nice because you have a few options that you can vary it up and you can never master the ladder.
GA: How do you train to protect yourself against the dreaded ACL injury?
HM: I do some backwards running and weight training for the quads and hamstrings to prevent ACL injuries.
GA: Heather, we really appreciate your insight. Just to wrap up, can you tell us why Jenny Benson is your favorite player in the WUSA and what you and your teammates hope to accomplish this season? Any goals at the National team level?
HM: Jenny Benson is one of my favorite players just because not only is she an amazing person, but I think she is the best left fullback in the league. Benny as we call her is a great attacker from the back and can serve a perfect ball! Defenders don’t get much hype, so she is my hero!
As far as accomplishments go, we hope the third time is a charm. We have lost the last two years in the semis and we hope this year will be different. We are off to a slow start with some injuries, but I know we will turn it around! I think we will be in that final game.
The Women’s World Cup is right around the corner so for me the goal is to be on that team. So playing my best soccer and improving every day will hopefully get me there! I have to take great care of my body through weight training, nutrition and preventing any injuries. It is my dream so hopefully it will come true!
GA: Awesome! Thanks again Heather, and good luck!