Own It & Take Risks
with Marie McCool
13 Sep, 2020 · Lacrosse
Marie McCool, Team USA Lacrosse Player, shares her journey in sport and sheds light on topics such as avoiding burnout in sport, the importance of communication, and the power of building confidence in sport and in life.
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Welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast. I'm your host, Stef Strack, the founder of Voice In Sport. As an athlete, professional, and mom, I have spent the last 20 years advocating for women and innovating across the sports industry. Now, I want to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice. At Voice In Sport, we share untold stories from female athletes to inspire us all to keep playing and change more than just the game.
Today, our guest is Marie McCool, a member of the US Women's Lacrosse team and a professional lacrosse player for the Braves in the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League. Marie is a VIS League™ member and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she became a 2x ACC Midfielder of the Year, landed the first team All-ACC honor three times, and played in the 2017 World Cup. She has even earned the title of, “the most decorated player in UNC women’s lacrosse history.”
Today, Marie discusses her journey in lacrosse, from her discovery of the sport in third grade to where she is now in her professional career. She dives into the very real topics of failure, eating disorders and body image issues, and the difficult transition to college. She provides insight on how she navigated and overcame these struggles to become the incredible athlete and woman that she is today. Communication, positivity, and determination have guided her through sport and we are so excited to have her with us today. Marie, welcome to the Voice in Sport Podcast!
Hi! Yes. Thank you so much for having me, I'm excited.
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It's an honor to have an amazing female athlete on here, but especially from lacrosse. It's a new up and coming fastest growing sport for female athletes in the U.S. right now for youth sports. So it's exciting that you're at the forefront of that. So thank you for joining us. Let's start with your journey since it's not as big of a sport in the U.S. as basketball and soccer and some of the other ones, tell us how you got started and, what other sports did you play at the beginning of your journey?
Yeah. So I was always a very active kid growing up. And my parents half hated me for it, but they also loved me for it cause I was outside running around. But then when I was inside, I never wanted to just sit down and relax for a second. But, every sport that I came in contact with, I wanted to try no matter what it was. And so I really started out with like Peewee soccer. I played with boys, and fell in love with it. I wanted to be the next Mia Hamm. She was really like the only female athlete I knew of at the time. Cause we really just didn't have that much exposure to women in sport when I was young. That's why I wanted to go to UNC. And then I got a lacrosse stick for Christmas in third grade and had no idea what it was. My parents explained to me what lacrosse was.
And, they never played lacrosse or anything. I just grew up in a small town in New Jersey, but it was a very, very big lacrosse town. And so, we went in the backyard. I remember I had my outfit ready to go for Christmas brunch to my aunt's house, but I did not want to go back inside. And my dad had his baseball Mitt and we were just playing catch and I was like, well, dad, I'm pretty good at this. Like I kept catching the ball. And my parents, since I loved it, signed me up for this clinic that was local-- a few days after Christmas, it was like their annual Christmas break clinic that they do for kids. And I just instantly fell in love with it and never put the stick down since. Like I said, my town, Morristown, New Jersey was a very big lacrosse town. So I continued to play, travel across.
And then, I signed up for club lacrosse in sixth grade, which is where I got to compete in different summer tournaments. And then in middle school I played middle school and I honestly had no idea that I would be able to play in college. I was always motivated and just the type of player that wanted to be like the best player that I can be. Again, my parents joke around that I used to like to make obstacle courses in my backyard and I would time myself. And every time I tried it, I would try to get a faster time. So that's just the kid that I was, but I didn't really know, like I said earlier, I wasn't exposed to that much women in sport in general.
So, lacrosse is super small. I never got to watch games on TV, really have that lacrosse role model or someone that I could aspire to be when I grew up. But then when I got in high school, I started getting calls from these division one schools and I was like, wow, that's great. They're interested in me. And then, when the recruiting process started, I started reaching out to all of these schools from all different levels. Cause again, UNC was still my dream school, but I just thought that there was no way I'd be able to go there. They were number three or two at the time, they were a top five. And so I started reaching out to a bunch of different schools, D3 schools as well. And that's when things started to really pick up and I visited Duke, Princeton, UNC, Penn, Maryland, Loyola, a bunch of schools.
And, I just fell in love with UNC, The second I stepped on campus and it was my dream school since I was a kid because of Mia Hamm. I just couldn't turn down that offer. And so, went to UNC. Right after my freshman year, I tried out for the U.S. Women's National Team. I was 18 years old and I made that team, played in the world cup in 2017, right after my junior year, going into my senior year of college. And then after I graduated, just played in the women's professional league and it was the inaugural season. And so I've been playing in the WPLL since graduation and, still competing, hopefully playing in a World Cup next summer. It's actually in the United States. I'm excited.
You're one of the best players in the world in lacrosse and all the way through high school, you were still playing other sports. I think that is an interesting message for the girls out there. Would you recommend continuing to play multiple sports through high school? And what do you think that has gained you in the long run?
Yeah, I loved playing multiple sports. One of the main reasons as to why is because I love being a part of different teams and interacting with different people. Because when it was soccer season, I was with a group of girls who, most of them played lacrosse too, but it was still a different environment. I also got to work different muscles in my body. I wasn't constantly doing the same thing. Once soccer season ended, I was so excited for lacrosse season.
So, I think playing multiple sports one, not only exposed me to different groups of people and different environments, but also helped me look forward to something and avoid burnout. Because I think when you're focusing on just one sport and constantly playing it, no matter how much you love it, there's still that chance that you might get burned out because I love lacrosse. Absolutely love it. And there have been multiple times where I felt a little burnt out. So, I think that's really important for girls to know that you don't have to focus on just one sport, if that's a sport that you want to play in college and pursue, because even when I committed to UNC, I would have never quit soccer. It was so fun. I miss soccer so much and I loved every second of it. And, like I said, I just love playing different sports and it really gives me something to look forward to each time.
It's a very inspiring journey that you've had. As inspiring as it has been, I'm sure there have been challenges. So let's talk a little bit about the burnout challenge. You've had an amazing career, but we all know there's moments during the journey that can be really rough. Can you talk a little deeper about, you know, have you ever faced burnout or thought about quitting and if so, how did you sort of move past those or through those moments?
There's definitely been a couple times. And I think the first time was really my first semester of my freshman year of college, coming out of a high school program that is one of the top in the nation. I really felt like I was prepared for that next level. And, I honestly didn't really know what hit me when I got there. And it was tough. It was a huge adjustment. And, lacrosse was tough. Academically, it was tough. Everyone there is just as fast as you, just as strong as you, and they were the top players at their program. So it was a really, really hard adjustment for me.
There were times where I don't know if I necessarily wanted to quit, quit on lacrosse, but I wanted to quit on the school and I wanted to leave. And, I questioned why I chose UNC. I questioned why I didn't pick somewhere closer to home. My question, if I would be able to even step on the field, any of my four years there. And it was really, really hard because I think, one thing that I try to do is like, I was ranked the number one midfielder in the country and I personally don't think rankings mean anything. And what you do in high school does not mean anything when you get to college.
However, it put a lot of pressure on me, because I didn't want to let anyone down. And that's really where the pressure came from. I wanted to show my coaches that, there's a reason why they chose me and why they wanted me to go to UNC. And it was really putting that extra pressure on me to play the best that I can. And I think mentally that was really tough and I wasn't performing well because I was trying too hard to please people, rather than just going out there and playing.
So, yeah, it was tough. Definitely was burnt out. Definitely mentally wasn't there. I didn't want to return back to UNC for my spring semester. But, after staying home with my parents and my family for winter break, I decided to give it another chance. And, when I went back to campus, I had an honest conversation with my coach. I think it was really important for me to raise my voice and say something. Cause if I kept it all bottled up, I think that I would have continued to, just not be mentally stable with everything. And so me expressing how I was feeling and everything really helped.
And, my coach just told me, you know, what she saw out there areas where she saw, I could improve areas that I was excelling in because that's important to know too. You don't just want to look at the negatives. You also want to look at the positives, and it was really helpful and I ended up being a starter about halfway through the season and playing a really huge role in our playoff run and national championship run. Unfortunately, we didn't win.
And, then after that, my coach told me to try out for the U.S. Team and I felt that he was crazy. And, I was like, Phil, there's no way I am going to make the U.S. team. Like, what are you talking about? And he was like, “but it will be a great experience. It doesn't even matter if you don't make it, imagine just going to play for a weekend with some of the best players in the world.” And so I was like, “okay, you're right.” And so, I signed up. Tryouts were in June, I think on Saturday, they started Friday. I called my mom up. I was like, mom, I think I could actually do this. Cause I went into the weekend with no expectations. I was like, this will be fun. And I wasn't playing with pressure on me, I was just going out there and playing and I was playing really well because of that.
Then, they called my number at the end of tryout, saying I made a 36 player roster and it was an amazing feeling! I was just really proud in that moment. Not because I got to represent my country, obviously, that is the best feeling in the world. But just thinking back about what I experienced six months prior to that and how I thought that I wanted to leave campus and didn't think I would even step foot on the field for my four years there and then making the U.S. team. I think that that was just something that really helped with my confidence going into my sophomore year and the rest of my career at UNC.
I'm really curious to know what helped you through that sort of shift, because it sounds like it was a mindset shift. First of all, you were vulnerable enough to go and ask your coach for feedback. What was it coming out of that meeting in that period of the break at home with your family, that you sort of shifted?
Yeah. It definitely was a mindset change and shift. I physically was fit. And was one of the most fit players on the field. And so it wasn't anything physical, it was all mental. But I think talking to my coach and hearing it from her on things that I need to work on and things that I am doing well, I think actually hearing it because I just assume that they're thinking things and that's what makes me mad. I'm like, she doesn't think that I'm gonna do well anymore. She recruited me to be one of the top players to ever leave this program.
And, now she thinks that I'm not going to be able to do that. And I think when you have all of those thoughts running through your head, that probably aren't even true, it's really hard to play well. So when you just have those conversations and hear it from your coaches and hear that they still have that much confidence in you, it's like, okay, yeah, she has confidence in me. I think that's definitely what helped me shift my mindset. Because it made me stop worrying so much about what was going through her mind. And I think that was really the most important piece to all of it and why it was important to go in there for that feedback and talk to her.
It's great that you were able to shift that and now I'm assuming it helps you be a little bit more mentally agile so that even when you're just prepping for a game, you have this ability to check your internal voice and shift it in the right direction.
It is definitely easier said than done. And I think that because of my experience my freshman year, that has totally helped me. It has had such a positive impact on how I compete today and how I am. And just being mentally agile is so, so important because it's really hard to compete at a high level and perform well when you have a million thoughts running through your head, especially negative thoughts.
And so for me, I always, always try to tell myself, Marie, control what you can control and I catch myself when I'm thinking negatively, because whatever I'm thinking about, that's negative, I'm not going to be able to control that. All I can do is think positive about a situation and do what I need to do, both on and off the field, in order to have a successful outcome. When I'm thinking negatively about a coach's decision about a play that just happened, about a play that my teammate just made, that's not helping the situation at all, nothing's gonna change from that, and all you can do is move forward.
And so for me, I think constantly training myself to think that way is how I stay mentally agile. But again, going through the experiences that I did in college, have helped me do that. And so, that's why I always say, as much as it seems like it was such a negative experience for me, it has had such a positive impact on me and the way that I think now, and the outlook that I have and perspective that I have on life in general, not just in sports.
So we know the importance of mental health and stability and flexibility, in order to perform at the highest levels in sport, but there's also a physical component. So we're going to talk about the body image part. You know, a lot of girls actually fall out of sport due to their body images or what they think society says about what is beautiful and what is not. And this is something that I want to talk about with you because you're at the top level. You've played at a division one school. You've seen your body change. It's not the same body as it was when you were 13 or 17. So talk to us a little bit about that journey, through the lens of body changes and the struggles you went through, and how you pulled through it.
Yeah, definitely. I think it's a very important topic and something that I personally did struggle with, when I got to college, like you said, our bodies change and we're not always going to have that 13 year old body that we have. And in high school, I did have that 13 year old body and could eat whatever I wanted and then go play and perform well and not have a worry in the world. And then you get to college and you are training so much and lifting very heavy weights and building that muscle mass. And on top of the muscle mass, you're gaining weight from other things.
And, I definitely gained a lot of weight, and I struggled with it and I think that I definitely would say that I had an eating disorder and it's not that I didn't eat, it was kind of the opposite. Like I always thought about what I was putting in my body, and then I was like, oh, I need to go run it off, or I need to go work out now because I had this or I just would skip a meal. And, then I would binge eat and eat a ton for dinner or snack at night time.
And so, I definitely struggled with that and I think it's really because we catch ourselves scrolling on social media and we feel that society wants females to look a certain way or the way that they look is normal. And there's just no normal way a female should look. We all have different bodies. And that's just so, so important to stress and something that took awhile for me to come to terms with. And, now I'm the happiest I've ever been and never worry about what eating or, or anything.
And, I have to be honest, it did take a while for me to get that way, but I would not give away my thick, muscular legs for anything. I love them. And I love how they make me strong and powerful and fast on the field and help me compete at the highest level possible. I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world. And, I think for athletes, we have muscular bodies and I mean, growing up, I was called a man, like Marie is only good at sports cause she's a man. And for me, I was like, Yeah. You know what? I'm better than males at sports.
So, I think it's also just like owning it and realizing what we have, not many other people have, rather than looking at it, like, oh, I should look like that girl, on Instagram posing in her bikini, how do I look like that? It's the opposite. Like, no, I'm the strong one. I'm beautiful. No matter what I look like, and I'm athletic and compete at such a high level. So I think it's just really owning what you have and there's so many positives about it and just thinking more positively about it and knowing that everyone has a different body type and no one looks the same.
Yeah, and it can be so hard, when you're in it, those first years in college where we all sort of experienced the effect of the lift, it can be tough. Some of the tools that I've learned along the way that I wish I would have done more of, is positive affirmations, writing things down that I'm appreciative for, not paying attention as much to social media or comparing myself to other people. What do we tell these young girls out there that might be feeling that way? Or they're in that part of the journey that's way harder.
It's tough, but with body image and with anything in life, anytime I think negatively about something, I like to think of three things that I'm grateful for and I think that's so, so important. And it's something that I've been doing a lot right now cause, obviously, we're living in a global pandemic and it's been so helpful for me and has really, really changed my outlook and I honestly mean that. And so related to body image, same thing, just anytime that I do think negatively about my legs or my stomach or anything, super important for me to remind myself of three things that I'm grateful for. And it's really, really been helpful for me.
Thank you for sharing that. So let's talk a little bit about the importance of nutrition. I'm sure it wasn't always easy. You probably didn't always do things right.
So what have you learned and what advice can you share to the other female athletes out there?
Yeah, it is so important. It does go hand in hand with the body image because when we want to look a certain way and look differently than what we currently look like, we tend to resort to what we're putting in our body and changing those habits in order to try and change the way our body looks and most of the times when we do that, it's not the correct way to fuel our bodies, especially as athletes, and in sport it's so, so important to make sure that we're fueling our bodies with the right nutrients and, we as athletes burn a lot more calories and energy than the normal people.
And so we are going to need to refuel more than anyone else who's not as active as we are. And so that's something that I really needed to accept again when I was struggling with, these issues in college, and you need to make sure that you're not skipping meals. We should be having five meals a day. It's not just two or three, eating snacks, eating right before practice, making sure we're fueling our body with carbohydrates and after practice, making sure we're refueling, for recovery. And, we want to avoid injury as well. That's so important.
And, I think something that we need to understand as well, it's not just that performance on the field and having the energy to perform at the highest level, but it's also the direct impact that nutrition has on your body and avoiding injury. And so, I definitely encourage anyone to use all the resources that they might have. I was very lucky we had a sports dietitian on staff that helped us and I loved her. And used her all the time as a resource to make sure that I was eating the right things and preparing for games but with nutrition and recovering after practices and games. Sleep and nutrition is the way to recover from those hard games. And, like I said earlier, we're burning a lot of energy and we're a lot more active than normal people who aren't as engaged in sports as we are.
Totally. And the importance of just understanding your own specific body type and what it needs, everybody's going to need to fuel their body differently. Obviously every body type is different. So it's so important to learn about like, okay, how does my body best perform? And then be consistent with those things as you lead up to your games.
Okay. Well, Voice in Sport, we are always talking about untold stories. S,o I would like to know if there's an untold story that you would like to share with other female athletes out there about your journey in sport.
So, my untold story actually goes back to the U.S. National Team. I know I already talked about how my coach told me to try out and I told him that he was crazy, but tried out, made the team and it was an off year and the U.S. Team plays in the world cup every four years. And so the world cup wasn't for another two years. But, after that training year, we had about four training weekends together. They were cutting the 36 player roster down to 24. And that 24, that summer, was going to England to compete in a world tour. So it was the year before the World Cup and I got cut. I did not make that team.
And so, obviously I was disappointed, but, that following year, the World Cup year, I didn't want to try out because if I didn't make a 24 player roster, why would I make an 18 player roster? And that was kind of what my mindset was and I wasn't doing it out of spite. Like I didn't not agree with the coaches. I wasn't like really trying to think negatively. I was just trying to look out for myself because it was also the summer right before my senior year. And I thought that I needed to be able to study abroad or do an internship, because all of my other friends, who didn't play at the highest level who still played division one lacrosse, but didn't compete on a national level or anything, were interning at JP Morgan and KPMG.
And, they were those internship programs that, if you do well, you're guaranteed a job out of it when you graduate. And I was like, now I need to do an internship. Like if I try out, I'm going to miss that opportunity. And if I don't apply to them, because I think I'm going to make the World Cup team, then I'm not going to have anything. And then, I'm going to graduate college and I'm not going to have a job.
And so, I have like all of these things running through my head and I was freaking out. So I called one of my teammates and she was like, Marie, you have to try out. And I was like, but I don't think I'm going to make it. I didn't make the 24 player roster, I would never make the 18 player. And that's fine. I just want to focus on my professional career outside of lacrosse because lacrosse isn't going to be here for the rest of my life. And then, another player, one of the girls who had played, and this would have been her third World Cup. So she had already played in two, and she was a veteran texted me this long text message. And I think my friend told her and she was like, Marie, you have to try out, you have to, just, don't be discouraged.
And so, I actually called my coach and just flat out, asked him, what do I need to improve on? And he was very honest with me again. And the reason why I did, is I thought about that freshman year experience that I had. So I called him and he told me everything. He was very honest, gave me that feedback that I needed. And I worked on everything that he had told me. And again, it wasn't from a physical fitness standpoint, it was more just really mental and understanding the flow of the game. So really just working on my team defense and other things. And, I went to try outs, made a 36 player roster, and then they cut it to 24 and I made it. And, then I honestly still did not think I was going to make the 18 player roster. So, that last training weekend, before they make cuts, I played my ass off. I don't think I've played better lacrosse.
So, I made the world cup team 18 player roster. They were only going to take six midis and they took seven and, he always says, like Marie McCool played her way onto the team he admitted it. He was like, we had our minds made up, we were going to take these people, but she made it very hard for us to cut her. And, so that's really my untold story because I think there's a lot of different lessons in that. Obviously don't give up on yourself and the main thing is, anything is possible. I think that's just so, so important. And, I'm so happy that I decided to go back and try out that year because some of my best friends are from that team and my best memories. And, again, it's given me even more confidence, and has helped me so much, not just in my athletic career, but also in life.
It's so inspiring. Thank you for sharing that. I love stories like that. Okay, so let's talk about, then, your journey. If you just take a step back and you had to describe your whole journey in sport as a female athlete, what would be three words that you would use to describe your journey? They don't have to all be positive. They just have to be real and honest.
I would say challenging, transformative, I think it's changed so many different times and I've had a lot of ups and downs. And then my last word is amazing. It's been such an amazing journey and I'm so, so happy that I'm an athlete and I wouldn't give up being an athlete for anything in the world. And it's helped me grow individually. It's given me so many opportunities that I don't think I ever would have had without sport. And also just like the relationships and friendships that I've made. Sports, they're going to be there for a lifetime and all the memories and my best friends are from sports. It's been such an amazing journey, but it definitely hasn't been an easy one.
So, when you reflect, then, on yourself and who you have become because of sport, what super power have you gained and how are you going to use that to drive something positive outside of sport?
The super power that I gained was confidence. I wasn't always confident and it is a lot easier said than done, to be confident in something and to be confident in yourself, but all of the hardships and adversity that I've faced have only made me stronger and made me more confident in myself, not only as an athlete, but as a person, and that's going to help me in the rest of my life, no matter what I do. I think it's so important to be comfortable being uncomfortable and with confidence, I've been living life by that motto because when you're not taking risks in life, or you're not willing to fail, then it's really hard to succeed and learn from your mistakes. And so the confidence to do that and to be comfortable being in uncomfortable situations is definitely going to help me in the rest of my life. No matter what it is.
The last question here is one that we ask all of our guests. What is one single piece of advice you would give to all the girls in sport out there?
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I know I said this a lot in this podcast, but it really is control what you can control. And I think for me, I had trouble doing that at first. And so that's why I think of that being the biggest piece of advice, because when we're thinking about things that are completely out of our control, nothing is going to change unless we start to think positively about things and control all of the things that we can, with it being your work ethic, your attitude, that's ultimately going to help you be successful. And for athletes, coaches are going to see you as being someone that's coachable as well. And that's really, really important. That's definitely my biggest piece of advice and also be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Thank you so much, Marie. It was a pleasure to have you on the Voice in Sport Podcast and we're excited to continue to follow your success.
Thank you so much for having me and I'm really excited to be a part of Voice in Sport and this platform that you're building. I think it's awesome. So thanks for having me. I'm honored.
Thank you Marie for sharing your stories and being so open about how you overcame the challenges that we all face as female athletes. The most crushing defeats can lead us to our greatest successes. We know that your lessons will help so many girls that are following in your footsteps.
Your determination, passion, and positivity make you an amazing athlete, teammate and VIS League Member. You can sign up for mentorship sessions with Marie on the Voice insport. Platform and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @mariemccool4!
Please subscribe to the Voice in Sport Podcast and give us a rating. You can follow us on instagram, facebook, twitter and tiktok @voiceinsport and if you are interested in joining our Community as a member you will have access to exclusive Content, Mentorship from female athletes like Marie and Advocacy tools - check out voiceinsport.com. And if you are passionate about accelerating Sports Science and research on the female athletic body check out voiceinsporfoundation.org and get involved. Thank you for listening!
Host: Stef Strack
Producer: VIS Creators™ Libby Davidson and Anya Miller