Creative Soccer Culture

Sam Kerr on Life in Chicago & Leading the Nike Dream Speed Campaign

Bossing the dream, Sam Kerr is touching the sky in Chicago. We caught up with the Australian trailblazer as she continues to break waves in the United States on a journey that has seen her flip records, inspire change and cross the globe leaving nets rippling in her wake.

Chicago is where she now laces up the Nike Mercurial ‘Dream Speed’ as one of three athletes to exclusively wear the boot on pitch. Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe are the other two. That's a huge play of confidence on Nike's part, but that selection is backed up with stats and justified on hard work. Kerr is one of the most deadly strikers in the game, and her journey to Chicago is one that comes from self belief, as she explains to us on a walk around her new home.

Sam, going back to when you were a kid, what did you ever dream might be possible?

The best thing about being a kid is being able to dream big and I don’t think you really know what it takes. For me it was always to be one of the best players in the world. I was growing up watching Ronaldo, so for me it was just about being a superstar, that’s what everyone wants to be. Playing for my national team and being the goal scorer was always the dream.

Do you still think back to yourself as a kid with those dreams and aspirations?

Yeah, I do, always, because the reason I started playing this game was because of my love for it, and that started back then, so sometimes when times are tough or maybe I’m not playing all that well and I’m missing home a bit I think back to those times and think about how grateful I am that I get to live out those dreams.

What was it like to go from Australia to a Chicago?

It was a big move, obviously. Australia and America are very different, and living in a huge city like this is quite scary. But I was really excited and I love Chicago, it’s an amazing city so it was an easy transition. But there was definitely some scary moments.

How would you describe it as a city?

Chicago’s awesome. It’s got lots of vibe to it. Lots of history in sport, which I love about it. There’s not just one sport that’s huge, the sporting culture’s massive her with Michael Jordan and the Bulls, and it’s just amazing to be a part of it. I feel like football’s up and coming here so it’s been awesome to be a part of it. There’s just a whole other vibe in Chicago that I love.


Are there elements of American culture that you particularly like?

Yeah, I like the sporting culture. It sounds weird, but the American sporting culture to Australian is very different. Everyone here is very out there and has this almost huge personality off the field and on the field to be fair, and in Australia it’s a little bit more restrained. Everyone kind of keeps in their own lane and does their own thing. But I like in America how athletes are allowed to be themselves and talk about what they believe in and be really out there, I really like that.

When you first got here did you try and do the cliche things that you see on the films?

Yeah, I’ve tried a few things. Obviously the deep dish pizza is a big one here. I’ve done a few mob tours, which have been pretty interesting, what with Al Capone and all that starting here. I’ve done a few things and been to a few sporting events, so it’s been interesting.

Everything’s so massive here. Do you see that as a reflection of how far you’ve come?

I think so. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself. I wake up in my apartment and look out of the window and see the city of Chicago. I’m from Perth, which is a small town. We barely have two million people that live there. I think for me it’s just an awesome moment to be able to live in a city like this. Kind of paving the way of Aussies to move to America.

It must feel like you’re in a movie sometimes!?

In some of the games this year I’ve felt like I’m in a movie, but nah. It seems crazy from the outside, but it’s pretty chilled.

What do you think moving here has helped you to achieve as a person and as a player?

I think moving across the world has helped me grow mostly as a person. It’s challenging. You face a lot of challenges. There’s a lot of alone time, so a lot of thinking. But for me it’s just been about growing up really. Being away from home and having to do things for myself. It’s not easy being away from family and I’ve had to focus on myself and my football and that’s reflected on my playing.

Can you list some of the milestones in your career that have meant the most to you?

I think for me the first one that sticks out is winning the back to back Golden Boot. When you achieve something once, you think it might be a little bit of a fluke. Then I changed team and got traded, so to do it twice back-to-back was just huge for me. It’s kind of that moment that I proved to myself more so than ever that I could be consistently be one of the best goalscorers in the league and in the world for that matter. So that one for me.


Was there ever a make or break moment when you thought that you had to do something else to propel your career?

I think I looked at my stats one year and I had, I think it was 11 goals in 50 games and for me it was obvious that I wasn’t a goalscorer. That was the lightbulb moment for me where I just had to wake up and change my ways. I was always kind of a good player, but never really a consistent player. For me I wanted to be a goalscorer and I dreamed of being a consistent goalscorer in the team.

There’s always that combination of needing talent and a hard work ethic. Is there one that wins for you or is it a combination of the both?

I think I’m extremely lucky in that I’ve been blessed with a lot of athletic ability, there’s no denying that. I’m very lucky with family tree that I’ve been gifted with. Also there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. I would be lying if I said I hadn't sacrificed so much to be here. But there’s only so far talent can get you and I think that’s where talent did get me, 50 caps and 11 goals, and from then on the rest is hard work.

As you’ve progressed in the game and moved to bigger stages, have you felt your voice in the game also reach further?

Yeah, that’s one of the learning curves. Your voice is important to people. I always try and use my voice in a good way, but it’s definitely a learning curve, but I enjoy that side and I enjoy being who I am and standing for what I stand for. It’s something that comes naturally, but also something that you really have to think of, because people are really listening to what you’re saying.

Have you ever had a moment when you’re about to go out on the pitch before a game or after a game, and you’ve sat back and thought ‘this is what I wanted, this is what I set out to achieve’?

I’ve had many moments like that, and I hope there’s many more to come. Last year after the last game of the NWSL I was sitting by my locker and I just had a moment to myself. Yeah, I’ve had a few moments like that, with so many milestones along the way, whether they’re big or small and hopefully there’s many more of those massive moments to come.


Being a lead Nike athlete and being in a campaign for the World Cup just gone, was there a moment of realisation at all?

Yeah, I think that’s the coolest part. As a kid you dream of being a professional athlete, but you dream of doing cool ads and being part of huge productions. For me the Nike launch for the World Cup was just an amazing experience. Being up on that podium with all those other athletes and other footballers was just a surreal moment, and it was a dream come true and it was awesome that Nike put on that show for women’s football. It’s been a long time coming ad it’s been awesome being part of a brand that believes in women’s football like we do.

How does it feel to have that platform now, does the opportunity excite you?

Yeah, it is exciting and it’s something that I don’t take lightly, I take it very seriously I think it’s something that you can have fun with though and that’s how I connect with fans is by being myself and standing for what I stand for and I think that’s the cool thing about women’s football, is that we connect with fans on a different level. They feel like they know us personally and we feel like we know them personally. For me it’s just about being myself and being true to who I am and that’s something that I enjoy.

How excited are you about what’s happening not only in the game right now, but what that can do for the next generation?

Yeah, it is exciting. I think the game’s evolving every day and every year and it’s awesome to be a part of it. I hope it keeps growing, and that this isn’t a one off. It needs to keep going and to keep moving up. I’ve noticed the difference since I started playing, with the amount of young girls and boys for that matter, that are interested in the women’s game. It’s awesome to be a part of it I remember when I first started playing football it was nothing like this. So hopefully in ten year time when I hang up the boots I will have left the game in a better place. That would be an amazing feeling.

If we put your name into Google, your celebration will definitely come up. How much does that personify your character?

Obviously it’s a bit of fun, and I think it reflects who I am very well. It’s kind of become a thing that I really love and that’s what football is about – knowing who you are on and off the field. I love that it’s become a thing. It’s fun and it’s also fun to tease the fans that it’s going to happen and when it’s not going to happen. It’s something that I enjoy doing and I think the fans have caught on too.

What warrants it in your head, what goes through your mind just after scoring a goal?

You know, it’s kind of a weird thing, sometimes it happens on the first goal, sometimes it happens after a hat-trick and it’s just one of those things that’s just in the moment. And that’s what’s so cool about it, that it’s not all the time. I think it’s just a spare of the moment thing. If it’s a big goal sometimes it happens. Then sometimes the emotions are way too big to try and do a flip, but it’s a spur of the moment thing, for sure.

With the celebration in mind, is there one goal that you’ve scored that meant more than any other?

I think in the tournament of nations, the first year of the tournament, when I scored my first-ever hat-trick for the Matildas, against Japan, that was a changing moment for me. That was the first tournament where I’d set out to be a consistent goalscorer and to do it against a team like Japan, who were previous world champions, they’re a team that we hugely respect and it was just a turning point for me, scoring my first-ever hat-trick, and yeah, that’s probably my favourite-ever backflip celebration.


You’ve obviously got a confident tone of voice. How would you describe yourself?

I think I’m pretty laid back and a bit of a jokester. I’m always trying to have fun and keep it light hearted. But I’ve definitely got the serious side to me. When you hit the football pitch the serious side comes out. But I also love to have fun on the field. All in all I think I’m a bit of a jokester who likes to enjoy themselves.

The last couple of years have been amazing for the women’s game. How has it felt for you?

I think it’s awesome. I think there’s been so much change over the last few years and it’s definitely earned. Female footballers around the world have done their part to grow the game, and show different aspects of football, not just on the field. They’ve shown that there’s so many badass athletes out there that have so much to prove and that it’s worth watching. And I think the public has really caught on to that'd appreciates that side of the game.

What would you say to other athletes in terms of encouraging them to use their voice in the same way that you do to help change the game and progress it?

I think it’s just about being yourself and being confident in who you are as female athletes. Historically we’ve been afraid to speak out and be who you are, but I think times have changed now and you’d be surprised who has your back, so for me, it’s just being confident in who you are. There’s no loss in being who you are.

How would you describe the empowering nature of what Nike have been doing around the World Cup?

As I said before, it was kind of a spine tingling moment being up on that podium. It was really empowering, and looking at all the other female athletes, people see us as competitors but at the same time we’re all on the same team fighting for the same thing. So to look at some of the players and athletes that were there and even some of the people that were in the crowd supporting us, it’s a huge movement and it’s one that we’re all really proud to be a part of and we feel like we owe it to the game. It’s something that you can’t really explain because from the outside it just looked like a jersey unveiling, but to us it was so much more than that, it was a signal of changing times.

As a Mercurial player, what are your characteristics and what are the characteristics of other people that wear this boot?

I think that everyone that wears this boot is a bit of a character. I don’t think there’s anyone that flies under the radar in them. And that’s what I love about them; they’re an out there boot. Obviously most people that play in them, myself included, are built off speed and agility and that’s what I love about them. I think there’s a little bit of pressure that comes with wearing these boots. You don’t see many defenders in them, it’s all about forwards and scoring goals.


Your name now sits alongside Mbappe and Ronaldo in pushing this boot. How does that feel?

It’s pretty surreal and I’m still pinching myself. I go to training and the girls freak out about it. They’re the kind of moments that you just smile and pinch yourself, because they’re my idols. I grew up watching Ronaldo, and Mbappe is an up and coming player who’s taking the world by storm, so just to be in the same sentence as them is amazing.

What is it about Ronaldo’s game that you have particular appreciation for?

First of all he’s a consistent goalscorer, which I love. But for me when I was a kid growing up, you always wanted to be the player on the team, and whatever team he’s on, whether it’s international or his club team, he’s that player. I’m sure that so many teams over the years have tried to stop him and they just can’t. He’s been consistent for 10 years and beyond that, so I think that’s something that I strive to be. But people don’t understand how hard that is to be the best player consistently for that long, but it’s something I hope for too.

What’s your outlook on winning and how much does it hurt when you lose?

I’m the worst loser in the world. I’ve only just recovered from my training session yesterday! Whether it’s training, soccer tennis, whatever it is I frickin' hate losing. For me, he’s won so many trophies, so many games and won so many awards that he is a winner. He’s the definition of a winner. It’s not easy, but that’s something I want to be, adding a few trophies to my cabinet. It’s the best feeling, winning.

You’ve done so much in the states and in Australia, and on the global stage as well. Can you feel the impact that you’ve had on the game?

It’s one of those things where it’s hard to feel it right now. I guess for me, when I go home to Australia, that’s when I feel it the most, coming from America to Australia and seeing that what I’ve done in America and at the World Cup and around the world is having an impact at home. That’s something I’m really proud of. You don’t notice it while you’re away but when you come home it’s massive. The amount of Matildas jerseys you see now, even at Socceroos games, it’s huge. It’s not just me though, it’s the whole team. You have to pinch yourself about it, seeing girls rolling around in Matildas jerseys rather than Socceroos.


Where do you set your sights in terms of what you want to achieve? Are life achievements as important for you?

For me, at the moment, my focus is football. I want to win trophies. I’m sick of coming second in everything. For me it’s winning the NWSL, winning the World Cup, winning the olympics. It isn’t an easy thing, but you’ve got to dream big. For me, people say the Matildas can never win it, the Chicago Red Stars can never win it, that’s just fuel to the fire for me. I can’t wait to lift more trophies and just feel complete. I guess as a footballer you’ve never really feel like you’ve done enough, but I think lifting trophies is what makes you feel the most complete.

Is it a matter of you hitting one milestone and then immediately wanting something more?

Yeah, it’s a never ending story. It’s just one thing after another. You win one Golden Boot you want to win another. It’s that mentality that nothing’s ever good enough. I feel that’s the best thing about sports;  you always can get better. For me the next thing is lifting team trophies.

Is that advice that you’d pass on to kids coming into the game?

When you grow up we all think we know everything, and you’re kind of naive to the game. But my advice to young kids is that the team is always most important. Without your team you can’t achieve anything. So individual awards will come if you’re a good team player. And for team success you need a good team culture. I’m a huge advocate of team before yourself. I think everyone should be more like that. It’s so true that you can’t win anything if the locker room is off. I think you see it through all football, men’s and women’s, once the changing room’s lost it’s a bad thing. So for me, being a good team player is the most important thing

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