It’s been nearly four years since Julie Ertz and her teammates won the 2015 FIFA World Cup, defeating Japan in a high-octane showdown to secure the first title for U.S. Women’s Soccer Team since 1999. Ertz (née Johnston), who then, at 23, was the second-youngest player on the winning squad, served no small role. She played every single minute of the epic tournament, and her breakout performance earned her a spot on the World Cup All-Star Team.
In the time since that history-making milestone, much has changed for Ertz, both in soccer and in her personal life.
For starters, the Mesa, Arizona native added more accolades to her resume, including Olympic athlete and U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year (2017). She changed positions on the field from central defense to defensive midfield. And she also changed her name, marrying college sweetheart and fellow pro athlete Zach Ertz, a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, in 2017. Together, they started a nonprofit foundation last year, the Ertz Family Foundation, that promotes access to education and sports.
Through all the newness, though, one thing has stayed the same: Ertz’s passion for the sport of soccer.
“I joke that I could play this game until I’m 60 because I love it so much,” Ertz, now 26, tells SELF. “I love coming together to score a goal—as basic as that is, I love every aspect of it.” That pure passion pushes Ertz as she continues to train with the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT), which is headed to the 2019 Women’s World Cup this June. (The official roster for the U.S. World Cup team has yet to be announced, but Ertz has been a consistent key player in WSWNT games, including the World Cup qualifying game last October.) Ertz also plays for pro women’s team the Chicago Red Stars.
In the lead up to this summer's 2019 Women's World Cup, we chatted with Ertz to learn exactly how she’s been training for the high-stakes season ahead, how she handles the pressure of competition, her future goals with the sport, and more.
As you might imagine, training for the World Cup takes many months of long, intense preparation.
“It’s so wild now,” says Ertz of her current training schedule with the USWNT, which began in December and involves an average of three and a half hours of training every day, six days a week. These 20-plus-hour weeks include “a ton" of running (either outside or on the treadmill), weightlifting, and technical soccer drills, plus recovery-focused activities, like yoga and Pilates.
When it comes to weight training, Ertz doesn't typically lift super heavy, but instead focuses on targeting certain muscles. “It's really important to hit the big muscles, but a lot of people forget the smaller muscles, which are just as important, especially in such a multi-dimensional sport where you are running up and down in every direction," she explains. To target these smaller muscles, particularly the stabilizing muscles in the lower half of her body, Ertz does various movements on a BOSU ball.
She also loves band work and single-leg movements, like single-leg squats and lunges, to improve stability in her lower half and core. Because having a strong core is so important in soccer (it's key for stability, strength, power, and coordination), Ertz does lots of toe touches, standard crunches, and bicycle crunches, as well as classic core moves with a twist, like planks with step-outs or planks on an exercise ball.
And yet, as intense as her routine already sounds, “this is just the start of the climb,” says Ertz. “There is a lot coming, and I’m really excited for it, but it just gets harder from here.” For now, she and Zach reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, though in March, she will relocate to Chicago to begin training and competing with the Chicago Red Stars. At the same time, her workouts with the USWNT will ramp up even more—both in intensity and duration. “I couldn’t even put hours on it,” says Ertz of the time commitment this upcoming training season will require.
Through it all, she'll stay focused and motivated with the help of her favorite gym partner: her husband. “We don’t get to see each other as much as we want, so any time we have together, we want to use it,” she says. Though they don't do the same workouts when they hit the gym together, they motivate each other in other ways. “It’s awesome to have the same mindset of how we approach our workouts and what we want to get out of them,” says Ertz. Zach also provides important emotional support. “He is my number one fan but also my number one coach because he knows my dreams and aspirations and really wants to help me get there,” she says.
Ertz also handles the intensity of training by putting things in perspective.
As mentioned, Ertz really, really loves soccer. But she knows it’s not a forever job. “I just have gotten to the point where I don’t know how long [I will be able to play],” says Ertz. That’s why her approach with every training session and every game, now matter how difficult they may be in the moment, is to not take anything for granted. “I really think that every time I go into the training room,” says Ertz.
This mindset isn’t always automatic though. At the beginning of every year, Ertz creates a new playlist with songs spanning different genres that remind her to stay grateful. She'll listen to it before workouts and big games. This year's list includes “Bad Liar” by Imagine Dragons, “Going Bad” by Drake, “I Am Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong, “Someone to You” by Banners, and “Born to Be Yours,” by Kygo.
To stay energized through all that training, Ertz eats often throughout the day.
“Nutrition in general is one of the most important things for me to stay healthy and have energy,” says Ertz. She typically keeps breakfast light (think: smoothies or oatmeal) so she's not too full during morning workouts.
From there, she’ll snack throughout the day. Fruit and almonds are staples in her ever-shifting schedule (Ertz recently partnered with California Almonds), and she and Zach also love to cook together. Their favorite dishes include tacos, burritos, and “a big old salad” with kale, mixed greens, fruits, vegetables, homemade dressing, and more. Essentially, “whatever we have in the house, we’ll throw in,” says Ertz. “I enjoy going to the farmers market as well and having what’s available there,” she adds.
During especially big games, she relies on her support system to keep her nerves in check.
The spotlight of big-name matches like the World Cup and the Olympics can be incredibly intense. During the final match of the 2015 World Cup, for example, more than 50,000 fans packed into the stadium, and an additional 25.4 million viewers watched live on TV, making it the most-watched soccer game ever on an English-language television channel in the United States. The pressure must be nerve-wracking, right?
“I can’t say I don’t get nervous, but I am also probably as excited as I am nervous,” Ertz says. “Every time you put on the crest [the symbol on the USWNT jersey], you are representing the country, and that’s such an honor that you don’t want to let [anyone] down.” To stay calm, Ertz relies on her primary support system—her husband, teammates, and trainers—for words of encouragement. “It’s so amazing how much positive feedback helps, and they [give me] that,” says Ertz, who also credits her faith with helping her handle the pressure.
Beyond that, she takes comfort in knowing just how hard she’s worked for that moment. “The more prepared you feel, the less nervous you are,” she says.
As she looks ahead to the upcoming season, Ertz has a few goals (pun intended) in mind.
First, the obvious: “Everyone who goes to the World Cup wants to win it, so that definitely is a goal, probably the ultimate goal,” says Ertz. “Our team is continuing to grow and we want to go out there and play the best soccer that we can play, year in and year out.”
As for her individual goals: “I want to be the best teammate that I can be,” says Ertz. “I know it’s not a numerical [goal], but I think that’s really important in the tournament.”