Locked into ‘The Last Dance,’ along with more than six million viewers over the weekend, Christine Sinclair watched the opening two episodes of the mini-series featuring the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. How during practices Michael Jordan had no issue openly criticizing teammates, veterans even – calling out Ron Harper and Toni Kukoc during one scene – when things didn’t go to MJ’s liking.
Training sessions for Team Canada are closed to the media and public, and anecdotally only a few details have emerged over the years of what has happened in those workouts behind closed doors. But under Sinclair’s captaincy, the tone could not be more different than what the Bulls experienced in those days.
“I’m definitely not the, like, Michael Jordan. I don’t get in people’s faces,” Sinclair told Sportsnet in a wide-ranging interview on Thursday. “I think none of my teams I’ve been on have operated that way. I’m definitely the leader by example. I put in the work. Both the national team and the Portland Thorns that I play on, it’s all about a growth mindset. A lot of small discussions happening.
“In basketball, one individual can just dominate a game. Soccer is truly a team sport. Tactics, working with each other, figuring things out.”
Which is what Sinclair, like so many of us, has had to do since the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America hard last month. She was with the national team in France when the crisis took centre stage. On her way home, Sinclair stopped in Florida to grab her dog – but then got word that a 14-day quarantine was required when landing on U.S. soil. She’s been in the Tampa area ever since.
“The golf course near me is open, so I’ve been working on my golf game,” grinned Sinclair. “I have never golfed as much in my life as I have in the last six weeks.”
Sinclair says she “desperately” misses sports, misses waking up on weekend mornings to watch the Premier League and hasn’t gotten into classics that have been replayed on sports networks. Her reasoning: “I can’t watch a game I know the score to.”
To pass the time, she has binged some shows and continued off-field training six days a week, knocking out running and interval drills. The strength coach with the national team has organized Zoom calls for players to get weightlifting sessions in, and on Thursday the plan was to take part in a virtual boxing class.
“It’s just limited time with the ball, which I hate,” said Sinclair.
All she can really do now with the ball that has made her the world’s most prolific goal scorer is kick it against a back wall, just as she did as a five and six-year-old. Said Sinclair: “It’s fun, but ideally you want to be training with your team, you know?”
Which she thought she’d be doing now, preparing for Tokyo 2020, originally scheduled to open three months from now. Sinclair called the decision to postpone this summer’s Olympics to next year was “100 per cent the right call.”
“For me, personally, I didn’t want to be preparing for an Olympics on my deck or on a grass patch down the road,” Sinclair said. “You want to be at your absolute best in those pinnacle moments. Now we have another year to get better.”