Christine Sinclair: The Canadian Soccer Player Paving the Way for Female Athletes

The Olympian is about to break a world record, but her ultimate goal is to improve women’s sports in Canada.

Christine Sinclair soccerPhoto Credit: Jackie Beale
Photo Credit: Jackie Beale

Just a few days after Nike’s latest campaign video—which celebrates the power of the female athlete—went viral, I find myself in the south of Portugal, watching Canada’s national women’s soccer team at practice during the Algarve Cup. I’m here to interview Christine Sinclair, dubbed “the best player in the world,” who’s close to breaking a world record for the total number of goals scored. She’s within reach of current world record holder Abby Wambach’s 184 goals.

“It’s not something that I think a lot about,” says Sinclair, when I ask her about it. “It would be a huge honour and a massive accomplishment, but I’m more focused on trying to help our team succeed, especially at the World Cup.”

Sinclair plays for the Portland Thorns FC and Canada’s national team, for which she’s captain. The Burnaby, BC, native first came to Portugal to play in the Algarve Cup almost twenty years ago, when she was just 16, and became the lead scorer on Canada’s under-18 national team. At the time, Mia Hamm held the record for the most number of goals scored, and Sinclair recalls being in awe of her. “I remember thinking ‘that is so many goals, no one’s ever going to get close to that,’” says Sinclair. Of course, she has in fact surpassed Hamm’s 2004 record of 158 goals, yet it wasn’t something she set out to do. Her main objective is and has always been getting her team to victory. “But the ultimate goal,” says Sinclair, “is trying to improve women’s soccer in Canada.”

Women’s sports in Canada

Last October, following an oversaturation of men’s soccer-focused tweets by the Official Twitter account of Canada Soccer, Sinclair tweeted, “Hey @CanadaSoccerEN when do the women start their World Cup qualification tournament?” She aims to bring awareness to the lack of attention women’s sports receive compared to men’s—but she’s also first to admit that, thankfully, things are starting to improve.

“When I started on the national team, it wasn’t a big deal—no one really cared about our team or how we did,” says Sinclair. But with both her personal and her team’s accomplishments—including winning two bronze Olympic medals—she’s helping to bring women’s sports into the well-deserved limelight in Canada. “Now, young girls are dreaming of playing on the national soccer team or on our hockey team,” says Sinclair. “It’s not unrealistic for young girls to have aspirations of playing in the Olympics.” And that proves true for Sinclair’s very own teammates. “We have Jessie Fleming on the team now, and she remembers watching the 2012 Olympics, which was the moment that inspired her [to pursue her soccer career],” she says.

Christine Sinclair Team Canada soccerPhoto Credit: Jackie Beale
Photo Credit: Jackie Beale

Women supporting women

How has Sinclair earned the title “best player in the world”? Lots of hard work, she says, and a healthy amount of pressure and support from her teammates, she’s only too quick to add. That’s the thing with Sinclair—when I ask her about her own career, she changes the conversation from being about herself to her teammates, divulging how much she appreciates the camaraderie of her team. “What motivates me is not wanting to let my teammates down,” she says. “You never want to be the weak link.” That’s a lot of pressure, but Sinclair uses it as motivation to work even harder. “It’s about being as prepared as possible,” she says. “That way, in the moment, I know I’ve done everything I can to put myself in the best possible position to succeed.” Sinclair believes there’s always room to grow and ways to improve personally and as a team, by helping and pushing each other. “I’m just one of those people who is never satisfied with where I’m at,” she says.

Showing “what crazy can do”

We chatted about the Nike video, its powerful message, and what an exciting time it is to be a woman. “Barriers are made to be broken—and I’m looking to continue to break those barriers,” says Sinclair. “What we thought was unachievable at one point is now possible.” And she’s not just talking about herself, and she’s not just talking about on the field/court/rink. Recently, Sinclair took to her Twitter account again in an effort to bring attention to fellow women doing great things. “Let’s work together to boost the representation of women in news,” tweeted Sinclair, highlighting Dr. Palemla Valentine, the president and CEO of MS Society of Canada.

“Enjoy what you’re doing,” is Sinclair’s advice for girls. “Find something you’re passionate about and give it everything you’ve got.” And it doesn’t have to be a sport, Sinclair stresses. You’ve heard it before—no matter your interest, if you love it and are willing to put in the extra work and time to achieve it, you have the power to reach greatness. “Everyone on our team is proof that those crazy dreams can come true,” says Sinclair, changing the conversation once again from being about herself to her teammates.

She’s just what the world needs right now—a barrier-breaking woman showing the world “what crazy can do,” while guiding the spotlight onto other crazy women, doing crazy things.

For more inspiring stories from Canadian women, check out #BHmoment.