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06 Jan 2020
Ain’t no ice thick enough
Too cold? Never. Snowing? Don’t worry. No sand? No problem.
This is the can-do attitude of one of beach soccer’s more inspiring players who has to go to greater lengths than most to practice the sport that she loves.
In New Brunswick, Canada, finding the optimal conditions for beach soccer training during winter is a bit of a challenge. You have to improvise and create your own.
As the old saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, and NorCal defender, Louise Arseneault, certainly has the will. If you want it bad enough, there are no excuses for not improving and pursuing your dreams.
After a wide-ranging career in football (soccer), in which she played professionally in Europe (Finland) and at the USA's W-League with different clubs, beach soccer came into Louise’s life when some of her NorCal teammates convinced her to attend a training session with them in California.
"I can’t say that my first experience was too good, to be honest," she admits. "It was very difficult to get used to how the ball behaved on the sand, and it was really hard for me to do what I am best at: dribbling with speed. It was pretty frustrating."
But at the same time, her athleticism surprised her more experienced teammates: "They told me that I had good balance, and that I was still really fast on the sand. I immediately understood that if I wanted to succeed in beach soccer I would need to adapt my repertoire, master the flick and the bicycle kick."
A sandbox amidst the snow in the backyard
Soon afterwards, with those ideas in mind and the possibility of taking part in an upcoming international competition, Louise had to go back to Canada. That's where the hardest part began: training on her own, with no access to beach sand, and under very “un-Californian” skies. The winter weather conditions of Northern New Brunswick, with temperatures dropping way below 0ºC and snow for months on end, are far from ideal beach soccer training conditions.
The only solution was to create a "beach" at home. So, Louise’s father agreed to help her build a sandbox in the backyard. But, still missing the main ingredient, the father and daughter duo drove their pickup truck around town to find some suitable sand, and ended up at a nearby cement factory. They had tons of sand intended for the cement mixers, but agreed to sell the Arseneaults some of it.
However, the sand on top was frozen solid. So, Louise and her father had to shovel through the layer of ice and dig deep enough to get at the loose, dry sand they could use. Once they did, they filled as many buckets as they could fit in the truck, and drove back home to start working on their own little slice of Copacabana Beach.
"My family has been so supportive. I can’t thank them enough. Not only for building the sandbox and helping me cover it during snowstorms, but for their endless encouragement and support. Many days I had my mom throwing balls at me so that I could practice my traps and ball control. She kept joking, saying, 'I can’t believe I am throwing soccer balls at my 30-year-old daughter outside, during winter, in a sandbox!"
But the remarkable improvisation didn’t stop there, because what Louise may have lacked in resources she more than made up for in imagination.
"I realized that I was not getting enough power from my bicycle kicks, so I studied how the best in the sport did it. I watched videos of top class players, like Gabriele Gori, and realized I was not doing it right. I had to change my movement completely, which I knew would take a lot of practice, so I had to find a way that wouldn't be so harmful on my back…” So what did she do? She went and found a foam pit to practice her bicycle kicks. Another problem solved!
Also, in summertime, Louise would hang a huge plastic tarp over her clothesline so that she could practice kicking the ball as hard as possible without the danger of sending an uninvited beach soccer ball through her neighbours’ windows.
Besides the support of her family, she was also receiving a lot of help from back in California, where her NorCal teammates kept pushing her in her solo training sessions. "The girls were there for me every step of the way, especially Jeané (Sunseri-Wap). She was always telling me how to improve, what things to try, etc. I kept sending her videos so that she could see how I was progressing and could correct what I was doing wrong. She has been awesome. I am beyond grateful for her help."
First international experience
After so much individual training, the time came to put herself, and the NorCal team, to the test, in the first ever World Winners Cup, held in Alanya (Turkey) in late 2019. "That was a phenomenal experience. I was very honored to take part in this tournament and to be the first Canadian woman to play at international beach soccer level."
Despite the tough opposition they faced, NorCal and Louise put in strong performances. "I didn't know what to expect, because I had never faced those players, and was surprised by how good they were. Before the competition, I could only focus on arriving as fit and as mentally prepared as I could, in order to be up to the level we were going to face. Overall, the event was a fantastic challenge and a phenomenal experience. It was a privilege being able to play against those athletes, as well as to see that our team efforts had paid off".
A published author
Her drive, focus and talent of a different strain have also lead Louise to another huge achievement, one quite apart from the beach soccer world that we know her from. Louise Arseneault is also a published novelist.
"I always wanted to write, and my time in Finland gave me the opportunity to write my first book. I read a lot, and when I finished all the English books in their library, I realized the time had come for me to write my own. As a professional athlete I had free time I could invest, and I managed to write a little bit everyday".
The Blackout – A Novel Inspired by True Events, her first novel, is a story that explains how Lucy, a 14-year-old girl was faced with a difficult situation when travelling alone in the middle of the 2003 Northeast Blackout, and needed all her drive to trust her instincts and survive.
"This is exactly what I try to transmit to boys and girls when I’m invited into schools as a speaker.. I tell them to always be brave and to trust in themselves".
Actually, inspiring others is what gets Louise up every morning. What she does on the field, in the training sessions she conducts, in the presentations she gives as a speaker, and every time she has a ball at her feet, is a direct reflection of some of the acquired lessons she’s learned through soccer.
"Soccer has given me so many priceless learnings: you need a positive attitude to face difficult challenges; perception to better determine which road to take; teamwork to understand that helping your teammates is also helping you and making you better while always putting yourself to the test. These, in my opinion, are some of the most important factors on the road to personal growth."
What the future holds is something Louise is not too concerned about right now. "I would like to keep writing. It is something I enjoy, and knowing that I am a published author really thrills me. I don't know when my next book will be ready, or how many books I will write, but writing is definitely in my future plans, as well as speaking, coaching and playing beach soccer, of course."
Wherever she may end up, and in whatever way she chooses to get there, what is certain is that Louise Arseneault will keep inspiring others to overcome their limitations and develop, just as she does herself every single day.