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Whatever comes next, Chicago Red Stars defender Kayla Sharples is ready

“I feel like I’ve really grown to embrace the unknown”

Kayla Sharples
ISI Photography

After starting every match of her college career at Northwestern, Kayla Sharples played only 13 minutes as a rookie for the Chicago Red Stars last season. So, remaining prepared is something that has become second nature to her.

In Hot Time’s interview with Kayla last week, it became abundantly clear she’s using the stay-at-home order to make herself a not only better player, but a better person.

The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Kayla on how she’s doing:

I’m actually doing pretty well. I’m trying to stay positive. I’m actually quite thankful to have my health and a safe place to say. I’m happy to be with my family. I’m living in my house in Naperville. So, that has been a blessing just being surrounded by people I know who I love. And it’s in addition to that, I’m just lucky in general to live and be from Chicago because my family’s here. Not everyone in the NWSL is lucky enough to be placed where their family is. So I’m taking advantage of that for sure. And it’s a blessing.

...on staying fit:

I’m really lucky because I actually have a lot of resources at home. Not everyone has that on my team, or throughout NWSL. So, I think I’m benefiting during this time. I have a treadmill— with the Chicago weather you never know could be 70 degrees one day and then snowing—so when the weather isn’t suitable for me going outside, I’ll run on the treadmill. I have dumbbells. I have bands. I have medicine balls, yoga mats. I have a Smith machine for squats and things like that. So I have a lot at my disposal, which has been really nice for me. So I am getting my workouts in daily. I try to get in two workouts a day, whether it’s conditioning, a lift, or strengthening circuit or playing soccer.

I get workouts from the Chicago Red Stars strength trainer, and she has been great during this time. She’s constantly giving us workouts and tailoring it specifically to an individual. Every single day she’ll text me, asking me how I’m doing, how I’m feeling. And then on top of that, she will ask, “What can I do today to help you?”. Somedays, I will say, “This week I want two more conditioning circuits,” or I’ll say, “Can you give me two more leg circuits for strengthening?” Things like that. So she is just really helping and adapting to what’s happening right now.

…on staying soccer fit:

I’ve been doing soccer workouts in my garage, outside, grass—anything you could think of just to keep moving. And then for soccer specifically, I’ve been working with a trainer in Michigan who posts all his workouts virtually. So I’m able to do that a lot, and he switches it daily. Whether the space you need is a four by four grid or something bigger, like a 10 by 10. So, it’s adjustable to what you have accessible at home. That’s been really great to get my soccer touches in daily.

I think it’s the perfect time, since we have all this time to at our disposal, to work on those soccer techniques and skills that aren’t your strong suit. I have been working on my technical skills every single day, just trying to get those touches and improving. So when we can go back and play at the start of a season. Hopefully I did improve, and that’s all you can want out of this time. Just looking at the positive.

…on keeping up with the team:

I talk to my strength trainer every day. We’ve had a couple of Zoom calls with Rory and our coaches and our teammates. Depending on what news has been coming up throughout the past month, because that’s constantly changing, they just want to make sure they’re voicing our concerns and everything is being answered. So we have contact with the coaches. We’ve had a pretty detailed and thorough homework assignment. So throughout that time, we had a week span to do that, which was analyzing video and coming up with a twenty PowerPoint slide presentation. During that time, we had contact with the coaches, asking questions and involving teammates as well. So that was a great experience, just stay in contact with them. I’ve been trying to reach out to teammates, here and there whenever I can. Every couple of days, I’m just trying to, to reach out, talk to them, text them, call them. I’ve talked to Arin Wright, Casey Short, Bianca St. Georges, Zoey Goralski, Katie Johnson, Savannah McCaskill, so a lot of girls. Just because we’re all confined to our specific space, and you want to continue to build that team camaraderie and that chemistry and just above anything, just making sure that they’re doing okay during this time because it is such an unprecedented time. I would say overall I’ve had pretty good contact with my team, which is almost critical during this time, so you don’t lose that chemistry and just continue to build so that if the season does start, you’re able to get the ball rolling right away.

...on being a part of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “We’re Not Playing” initiative:

Our communications people in the front office reached out to the entire team in an email giving us several examples and saying this is what Chicago’s Mayor is doing, and asking for anyone who wanted to get involved, just to kind of spread their awareness because it is so important for people to stay home right now. And staying home does save lives. So just showing that us as professional athletes, we’re not playing, we’re not going outside, we’re trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 and that the public should do that as well. So I totally bought into it because it’s the it’s the biggest way to keep everyone healthy. And then a lot of a lot of girls also bought into it as well. And so, all the people who really wanted to volunteer and to participate in it, they just voiced that they wanted to do that. And then then it happened. I believe we had several girls do that this stay at home, the Chicago Mayor challenge and then there will be another one, I think, later down the road that girls have also participated in.

…on the new jersey due to be unveiled on April 30th (and if she has seen it yet):

I don’t think I have, honestly. I mean, just the first week of preseason went by so fast and we had a lot of things on our mind. So I don’t even think we got an opportunity to see that. We tried on jersey sizes, but I believe it was the one from last year. So yeah, I haven’t seen that

I’m sure it will be great. Last year was an amazing reveal. Absolutely love that jersey. So I don’t expect anything less coming from this year. We have great colors, the star and everything. I’m excited.

…on life at home with the family and quarantine life:

I’ve been doing so much. Let’s see, I’ve been trying to cook a lot with my family, especially my mom. I’ve also baked a lot. I think I’ve perfected that chocolate chip banana bread at this point. It’s very good. I’ve been trying to keep busy doing that learning new recipes every day.

Yes, I have been binge watching some Netflix shows. I binge watch Ozark, in I want to say less than two weeks. It was a great show. I can’t wait a full year for the next one, honestly. We’ve been watching on American Idol, Homeland, all sorts of TV shows. We finished Tiger King as well. That’s a great time to again get together as a family and watch a show that we’re all interested in. I’m actually very excited for the MJ docu-series that’s coming out, (Editor’s note – “The Last Dance”). So I’ll be watching that for sure.

I’ve been Zooming a lot with different parts of my family, but also friends, just trying to stay connected. We play Pictionary over Zoom, we try to play fun games like that too. So, that has been a great outlet. I’ve learned a lot of new games as well. So just like board games, card games, things like that. My parents taught me Texas Hold’em the other night. That was a lot of fun. I learned how to play backgammon. Catan is another board game. I’ve completed several puzzles.

I’m just trying to do a ton of different things just so not getting bored of doing the same thing. And I honestly would say, I’ve been so busy with workouts, with other work I’ve been doing and then all these different activities, that I’m almost never bored. I’m just constantly finding myself wanting to do something else. I’ve been trying to also focus on stretching and mobility and doing some more yoga just because I have this time to focus on my body so I should take advantage of it. And then I’ve also been reading as well. So yeah, I’ve there’s really not one main thing I think I’ve been dipping my toe in quite a lot of things.

…on being ready for the season:

This time has been difficult. I think the important thing right now is to try to mix up your workout, so you don’t feel like it’s repetitive, or you don’t feel like you’re doing the same thing. That, in itself, will keep you motivated. And for me, I feel like I’ve really grown to embrace the unknown, and this time is definitely unknown, because it’s such an unprecedented time. I think that for me stems from last year. Being a rookie and not getting a lot of playing time, but still always having to be ready for my chance if my name was called. So during this time, since it is unknown, I’m just trying to embrace it. I’m trying to stay fit, maintain my strength, my fitness, everything that I can control. And really just focus on that and then seeing how it plays out when season can start. I mean the toughest thing out of all this is the delaying of our season. So I’m very excited to get back out there and I want to do whatever I can right now that will help me perform at my highest level when the season begins.

Hot Time also recently interviewed Red Stars defender Zoey Goralski about living with Emily Boyd and Bianca St. Georges. Check out that story!