Canadian international goalkeeper Steph Labbé has hit the heights with KIF Örebro DFF over recent months, but as much as Sweden is in her heart, the sweet sounds of home strike a chord like no other.
A National Team player for a number of years, the Alberta-born stopper began her professional career with Piteå IF in Sweden in 2009. Her third season with Örebro was completed recently and it was a campaign in which she enjoyed excellent personal form as the team achieved a historic 2nd-place finish in the Damallsvenskan.
International duty continues to call for Steph, as Canada edge closer to next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil, and alongside Erin McLeod and Karina LeBlanc she forms an enviable goalkeeping roster. A number of the squad have featured on here previously, as well as head coach John Herdman, and as with each interview on the site, music has formed the basis of the discussion.
There is so much more to a team than just on-field play and it is fair to say that there is a strong identity and culture to the Canadian side. Music contributes to this in a whole host of ways and the likes of midfielder Desiree Scott and the aforementioned Erin McLeod know how to hit the mark with their singing talent.
It is far from unheard of for a team to put a song out with a major tournament approaching, but if Steph was to get a small group of her own together, how would that be likely to go?
“If I were to do a cover of a song, I would probably choose Carmelina Moscato, Kaylyn Kyle and Melissa Tancredi. No matter what, the dancing would be memorable, I could hide my voice behind them, and we wouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, so it would be a completely memorable music video more than anything!
“I love every time Carmelina gets into a song and gets singing and dancing. It’s more of an interpretive dance style, but her dance moves are some of the most diverse I have ever seen!”
Whether it’s the liking for Celine Dion, or even captain Christine Sinclair’s pre-game ‘jam’ ‘Man in the Mirror’, music helps bring out the undeniable personality in the Canadian ranks. Steph, who was part of the squad in the 2011 World Cup in Germany, gives her take on how big a role it plays when the group are together, also sharing her own best-loved artists and genres.
“Music is a large part of our National Team. There is almost always music being played on a portable speaker on the bus to and from training to get us all singing together and having lots of fun with it.
“I love all kinds of music really; it totally depends on my mood. My top two would be techno pop and country.
“Specifically, I like Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Avicii, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Blake Shelton. Music plays a huge part in my life; I listen to it all the time.
“I will only clean my apartment if I have music blasting, I love driving because I can listen to my favourite tunes and jam out, even though I have a terrible voice. Working out without music is just impossible for me, and it is a total necessity pre and post-training and games.”
From the days of representing and captaining the University of Connecticut Huskies, and rising up through the age groups at international level, to enjoying an outstanding 2014 season in Sweden’s highest division, Steph, 28, has always had a soundtrack behind her. She paints the picture of how music has permeated her days inside and outside of soccer.
“I have a lot of songs that mean a lot to me, because they remind me of certain times in my life or certain people in my life. Any Spice Girls or Backstreet Boys songs remind me of my youth years at home.
“Making up dances and routines with my best friend and performing them for our parents and siblings was a daily thing for us. It’s too bad I didn’t actually get better at singing or dancing from all that practice!
“Any Yellowcard, Box Car Racer or Matchbook Romance reminds me of high school and my club soccer days. Those were the bands I always listened to with my friends on the way to school and when just hanging out.
“Dashboard Confessional, My Chemical Romance, The Red Jumpsuit (Apparatus) are definitely the first two years of university. One of my best friends, Meghan Schnur, introduced me to those bands, and I really started falling in love with lyrics and what the artists are actually singing about.
“I started seeing music in a totally different way thanks to her. I started listening to songs that had influential lyrics and great quotes and I’m now obsessed with quotes because of it.
“After university I moved to Sweden to play professionally, and got really into techno, house music and all different types of remixes and mash-ups. Country music has always been a love for me, a constant, and something that always reminds me of home, no matter the artist or song.”
Coming from the small town of Stony Plain in Alberta, Steph is of course a proud Canadian, and the first tape she ever had to herself came from an Ontario band. However, for many people, their most famous song, ‘One Week’, will always bring back memories of Jim’s dad dancing in the first American Pie movie!
“My first cassette tape was Barenaked Ladies and I listened to it on repeat. ‘If I Had a Million Dollars’ was my jam for sure.
“I would guess I was around 12ish.”
Representing her country at the 2004 FIFA Under-19 Women’s World Championship, and two years later as it became the Under-20 tournament, Steph debuted for the seniors against Singapore in July 2008. She was an alternate for Canada at the Beijing Olympics and made her first foray into professional soccer with Piteå IF the following year.
Named the 2009 North Sweden Player of the Year, it wasn’t just the goalkeeping moves she had to demonstrate when she first arrived, as she explains.
“I had to sing and dance for an initiation my first year in Sweden. It was a Swedish song with incredibly inappropriate lyrics; thank goodness I didn’t really know the meaning at the time.
“It was probably one of the most embarrassing things I have ever had to do, but at the same time I had a lot of fun with it and I try not to take myself too seriously in those types of situations!”
The 2008 Big East Goalkeeper of the Year during her collegiate career, Steph spent three years with Piteå, experiencing relegation, promotion back to the Damallsvenskan as champions, and survival. In her first season with Örebro, the team had immense struggles but avoided relegation before improving to finish 6th in 2013. This year, Rickard Nilsson’s side have emphatically exceeded expectations and the silver medal for their runners-up berth goes down as their first ever medal at the top level.
While helping to push her team forward, Steph has progressed significantly in recent seasons and was named in the Damallsvenskan’s best eleven for 2014, as voted for by the league’s players. Cementing her reputation as a respected and noteworthy keeper in the upper echelons of the women’s game is one thing, but she has also had a taste of one of the biggest jobs of all this season!
“I was the team DJ in Sweden this year for the pre-game playlist, which I really enjoyed, but it’s a lot of pressure! You want to please everyone but it’s actually impossible!
“In Sweden, we have also used a common playlist on Spotify that everyone could add to, so it was always a mixture of everyone’s favourite songs. I always threw in some country songs which would quickly get cut out – not much of country fans over there!”
After featuring in the Cyprus Cup earlier this year, Steph won her 16th cap for her country last month as Canada were beaten 3-2 by Japan. That encounter in Vancouver was the second of a double-header with the World Cup holders and she is currently with the squad as they prepare to take on Sweden behind closed doors at home this month.
When it comes to Canada’s three established senior keepers, musical appreciation is something they all have in common. Karina LeBlanc is often seen wearing headphones, Erin McLeod is a very impressive singer and also discussed her music background on here last year, and besides all she has talked about so far in this interview, Steph also stepped up to the DJ mark with the team in October.
“I did the pre-game music at the last National Team camp for our Japan series and it gave me a bit of anxiety, but I think I coped well! Our DJs change around: Robyn Gayle usually makes the pre-game playlist, Kaylyn Kyle and Adriana Leon always have the latest remixes, and I can always count on Carmelina Moscato for a song that you have never heard before, but has an amazing message through the lyrics.”
Örebro coach Rickard Nilsson was honoured as the Damallsvenskan Coach of the Year as he led them to a runners-up spot behind FC Rosengård that sealed qualification for the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Steph, playing alongside compatriot Marie-Eve Nault, was a pivotal part of the success as she clocked up ten shutouts in 20 league games.
The feat was made all the more enjoyable after the growth of the team in recent seasons amid the hardships they have faced. Their defender Marina Pettersson-Engström told her colleagues, ‘you don’t bring the small groups into the big group’, and that mentality has ultimately served them extremely well.
Steph reflects on that and also gives some insight into her Swedish language skills and the extent to which they have been called upon.
“This season was absolutely incredible. On and off the field, my team in Örebro became so close and we had so much fun together.
“We had such a high level of respect for each other and we really had gone through so much in terms of ups and downs. It really shaped who we were as a team.
“I am pretty fluent in understanding Swedish now, it’s been six years, but because we had so many internationals on my team this year, English was the common language and it was spoken for 99 per cent of our locker room discussions and on-field communication, which made it difficult to practice my speaking.”
Steph has coached men and women of various ages and runs Labbé Keeper Camps, which has an aspect dedicated to preventing knee injuries. The former Spruce Grove Composite High School student has reflected before on the time she missed out on selection for an Under-16 camp with the National Team.
After telling her National Training Center coach how she would prove her worth, she went on to make the next camp and she has made it all the way up to the first team in the years since. Every player and person has their own story and the low points count for an incredible amount in shaping each individual’s path.
There have been those rough times to overcome for Steph but she is thankful for the journey up to this point. She is the youngest of three very good keepers on the National Team and looks primed to challenge strongly for that number one jersey in the months and years to come.
She gives her assessment on what the game has given to her in terms of learning experiences and also reveals the advice she would give herself if she could go back and guide the Steph Labbé who was just starting out in soccer.
“Soccer has really taught me how to work alongside people from all different backgrounds to come to a common goal. It has taught me how to leave negative feelings, thoughts and life happenings off the field, and really enjoy that hour or two hours on the field for what it is.
“Soccer has been my outlet and has been the constant in my life. It’s where I can ‘get away’ and really be myself away from all distractions.
“If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would tell myself to trust my gut. It is what I have always done and I wouldn’t change anything I have done in my life up to now.
“I am who I am today because of what has happened, I have absolutely no regrets, so I wouldn’t tell myself to do anything different. My only true advice would be to trust my gut and enjoy every moment for what it is.”
A qualified personal trainer, Steph also has a degree in Early Childhood Development and Education. As thoughtful as she is determined, she believes in stepping outside of her boundaries and takes a great deal of happiness from spending time in the mountains, when opportunity allows.
Family is vital to her and she emphasises that as she delves a little into her life outside soccer, beginning with her fondness for body art.
“Tattoos are one way that I love to express myself. Linking back to music, and my love for lyrics, I have a few quotes tattooed on me, representing different experiences I have had in my life and reminding me of those times, whether good or bad, and how I grew from them and how they shaped who I am today.
“Away from football, I love to just be around my family and friends and just enjoy life basically. I am not too hard to please; as long as I have good company I am completely content.
“I am also extremely passionate about inspiring others to lead a healthy lifestyle. For me, it’s not about teaching everyone to be a professional athlete or what it takes to be super-fit; it’s just about being healthy, not only physically, but emotionally, mentally, socially etc.
“That’s what living a healthy lifestyle is all about, finding a way to be healthy in all these different aspects of your life, and truly being happy inside and out. I am starting a N.E.W. – No Excuse Workouts – project to enforce this passion of mine through my website and I am excited to hopefully help others live a truly healthy and happy life.”
All that remains here is for Steph to take on the ‘challenge’ of the regular final question. For this, she is asked to put herself into fantasy mode and select a 5-a-side team comprising some of the best players she has ever had the pleasure to work with.
The line-up includes herself and she is required to pick four outfield career teammates to play in front of her. As is the case with each interviewee, Steph could easily select a few teams here and it is difficult to leave certain players out, so this is not her definitive ‘best four’, rather just a sample of those she would enjoy playing alongside.
It is over to Steph to introduce her team, and just like her cover song group from earlier in the interview, it is dominated by Canadians, but with one Swedish guest this time!
“I would choose Marina Pettersson-Engström as a defender. I played with her for three years in Örebro and she is one of the best all-round defenders I have ever played with, and we have created such a great partnership over the years.
“Marie-Eve Nault – defensively she is incredibly smart and can play anywhere in the backline. She also brings an offensive threat that is so quiet and subtle, but makes a loud impact in terms of attacking chances.
“Her ability to find the forwards both on their feet and in the space is world-class. I would choose Diana Matheson as my midfielder.
“She is extremely hard-working, very technical, gets stuck into tackles, and is one of the smartest players I have ever played with. Lastly, no surprise, I would have Christine Sinclair up top.
“She is a world-class striker, you can always count on her to put the ball in the back of the net when she gets any sniff of a chance, and she can also create something out of nothing. World-class on all levels.”
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