Ashley Lawrence, 22, grew up in Caledon, Ont., and Toronto, but lately she’s been calling Paris home. Lawrence is living the dream as a member of the renowned French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain, having signed a two-year contract on the heels of her graduation from West Virginia University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sport and exercise psychology.
You may remember Lawrence from that nail-biting soccer match back in 2016 at the Rio Olympics, where Canada narrowly edged out Brazil to win the bronze medal. At the end of the game, Lawrence bounded toward Captain Christine Sinclair—alongside her teammates—for a huge group hug (you can see all the smiles in the video below). It was an awesome moment for Lawrence, who started playing soccer when she was five before joining Team Canada on the women’s national team at 17.
Now that she’s signed with her first professional club, Lawrence is looking to make a career out the sport she loves. Here, she talks to FLARE about how she made it and what it’s really like to play soccer professionally.
When did you realize you wanted to turn soccer into a career?
My family helped show me I had this talent. They would always tell me, “You should continue; you’re going to go far,” but I didn’t really think about it as a career. I just loved the game, and I was so passionate every time I played—I just had this feeling that I can’t describe. I started considering it as a career just before I went off to university. That’s when I realized there was more out there for me with this sport.
How has your education in sport psychology helped with your game?
It really helped me develop the tools and visualization methods to get in the right headspace and learn how to deal with the pressure of competition and performance, both internally and externally. Now when I’m on the field, my only focus is on playing—no distractions.
How do you get yourself in the zone before a big game?
The day of the game I always take a nap. I’ll take a shower and have this period where it’s just silent. I don’t listen to music, and I just practice imagery of the game. I see myself doing positive things, and I’ll do that for 20 minutes.
You’re not really on a 9-5 schedule. What’s a typical workday like for you?
It’s definitely not conventional. At Team Canada, for example, a typical week would consist of training pretty much every day, which varies between on-field training, where we focus on technique, and team training, where we review tactics and prepare for the opposition or upcoming match. There’s also the physical component, which involves conditioning and strength training with weights. Then there’s the mental aspect that I touched on before. We actually do a lot of team activities to really build that connection. We will watch footage from earlier in the day and go over ways to improve, too.
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What do you eat in order to fuel for such high levels of activity?
In the morning, I love protein shakes—vegetable-based and fruit-based—and just getting creative with those. For lunch, most of the time I’ll have a big salad with chicken, beef or fish, and then I’ll have a carb with it, so rice or pasta. For dinner, that’s when I usually eat a lot: I’ll make sure I have a protein, a carb and lots of vegetables. I’ll also snack in-between meals: yogurt with nuts, or fruit. I eat a lot every day.
How does someone make money from playing soccer? Does it differ for men and women?
A man could sign a professional contract and get millions of dollars, but that’s not really offered to women right now. There are female players who are making a good living on a salary, but there are also players who aren’t. Right now, for me it’s about taking advantage of the platform that I have. Pushing my brand and finding additional ways to make money. It takes a bit more work on and off the field. So yes, getting a salary, but also I’m really embracing connecting with communities of younger players and doing various kinds of activities—whether it’s soccer camp, meet-and-greets or empowerment workshops. It’s really forced me to have an entrepreneurial mindset, which is cool because it’s another one of my passions.
Knowing the way that women’s soccer is progressing, I hope one day women will be able to sign those contracts and make millions just through their salaries. But until then, I think it’s about reaching out and finding other ways.
The U.S. women’s team recently led a highly-publicized fight for equal pay, and the Canadian team created a landmark players’ association to better protect their interests. Do you think that we’re going to start seeing some real change in how women’s teams are treated?
I definitely think there will be some changes. For Canada to speak up like that, it helps give everyone a voice and a platform. We won a bronze medal in 2012, and we won another one in 2016. There’s been a lot of sacrifice from the players that were before me, and they set that foundation for us all. I want to do the same for the players that come after me. It’s an exciting time right now to be a woman’s soccer player not just in Canada, but around the world.
Have you encountered any sexism on or off the pitch?
I can’t say that I have experienced it directly, but it is present. I mean in terms of pay—that’s a huge example. There’s also the stereotype around female soccer players that we’re all gay when that’s not the case. I wish people didn’t try to categorize us and could just recognize that we’re individuals who we come together because of a shared love of the game.
You played for Canada in the 2016 Rio Olympics and won bronze. What was that experience like?
That was my first Olympics with Team Canada. I didn’t know what to expect. It was surreal seeing some of the top athletes in the world. When I look back to all the sacrifices and hard work that I put in with my teammates, and then to be there in that tournament and just play as well as we did, it was really cool. And when we won the bronze medal, we actually played Brazil, the host country. It was sold out, it was packed, it was loud. We ended up beating them 2-1, and it was a moment that I’ll never forget. So right after that, our eyes were set on the next Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo, and we’re already working towards being the number one in the world and winning the gold medal. It’s a huge testament to Canada and soccer, and where we are, and where we were, and how far we’ve come. We’re not afraid to say that we want to be number one.
Growing up, did you look up to any soccer players?
Christine Sinclair! I remember watching the 2012 Olympics, I wasn’t part of the team, but just seeing Canada and her in particular, she was always my idol. So when I actually got to play with her, it was pretty crazy.
You’re taking part in a mentorship campaign right now where you’re showing aspiring soccer stars what it takes to play in the big leagues. Tell us about that.
The “You Can Be Anything” campaign by Barbie is a wonderful concept. Initially when they reached out, I was so excited because it’s consistent with what I stand for. The message is really to help young girls imagine the possibilities through play. And I think that’s so important because your imagination is such a powerful tool. As kids, it’s so easy to dream of the impossible as if it *is* possible, but as you get older, reality sets in. But I really think that very young girls should know that anything is possible if they set their minds to it. And I hope that I can help with that.
How do you unwind after a long day on the field?
A typical day for me is really busy so to unwind, I really don’t like to do too much. I’ll spend time with family or I’ll read. I like to have a quiet space because I know that in order to be the best version of myself, I have to be energized. Having that alone time to mentally and physically relax helps me like refuel for the next day.
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