Natasha Keen has spent the past few years playing her football over in America, enjoying playing against new opponents and challenging herself to become a better player.
Dan Andrade caught up with the island footballer about her experiences so far, hopes for her last season and asked for top tips for the islanders debating on taking the jump into college football in America.
The full interview is below!
How has your time over in America been so far?
My time over in America has for sure been amazing. I’ve had the chance to play for two top teams, both in different states and divisions. I made the transfer to a new college last August. It’s given me the ability to meet new people, explore different states and cultures, and play an almost different style of football.
How quickly did you adapt to the style of play over there – what are the key differences?
When I played for Jones College at Junior College level, that was I can say more advanced to what I’m used to backing home, for example, the speed of the game, fitness, and other things that come into play with that. At Jones, in my second year, I can say that it was easier to adapt since I had already played with them for a year and I was with some of the girls that I was with the year before so they made it easier. Now that I’ve moved to a different team in a more advanced division, with Hastings College, Nebraska, there are some things that you have to adapt to as I’m playing with freshmen up to seniors, so all 4. My first season was hard to adapt to and I also suffered an injury in the preseason so I think that set me back away from the high potential that I know I can reach!
What has been your highlights over the last few years of playing in America?
I think one of my top highlights in my college career would be when I was with Jones College and we had a pretty successful season, we won most of our games, but unfortunately lost our state final. Although we lost the final, we were ranked high enough to make it to Nationals which were in Georgia! I had so much fun because it meant that we went on a week’s trip together and also played against new teams. We made it to the semis, but unfortunately lost to the college that ended up winning the nationals title that year! Even though we didn’t win, I definitely can say I was proud to even go to nationals and be with the team because we had an amazing experience!
How much have the coaches over there helped – what are they like?
The coaches over there have been great. Both old coaches and new. I think what makes it better is that all of them are English, so they understand having to adapt to life in America but I can also bond with them about things that Americans wouldn’t get! They really take the time to ask how you are and really want to be that support system because my family isn’t over with me! I’ve definitely benefited from the high level of coaching and I think that is really important to make myself a better person and player.
Spring Season now! How important is this ‘pre-season’ stage for athletes in America? How intense is it?
So I have been in spring season training for a while now and I can say for sure that it is intense. In the previous weeks it has been strictly been in the gym with a short futsal tournament, but now I am happy that we are back on the field and kicking the ball around again. This off-season phase is super important because it is easing us back into the season and it gives us athletes the chance to work on things that they wouldn’t have time for in the actual season, which is good. We also have a few friendlies coming up in the next few weeks that I am looking forward to!
How much are you looking forward to your final season before graduating? Will it be an emotional one for you?
Next season I think will be the most important one for me, of course, but I try to go through every season just to enjoy it and leave everything I have left out on that field. Although I didn’t play much last season, I will do everything I can to make sure I leave an impact on the team on or off the field. Also, I’m hoping we end the season with a ring but we will wait and see! It will be an emotional one for me because it means that my time as a college player is almost finished but all I can do is look back at my college journey and be proud of the person that I have become!
What goals do you have for the season ahead?
Since the season ahead will be my last one, I do have the goals that I want to put in place so I can be the best player I can be. Since I’m in the spring season right now, I want to work on simple things like touches, defending, and other things. But also a big one is my fitness, since the injury last year, it did have a setback on my fitness, so working from now until August, will be the biggest goal that I need to achieve. Once I have got that cracked, then I can do better on the fitness test!!
How pleased are you that you made the move to America?
It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made. To be able to have the chance to play at a higher level, with brand new people and to just explore the States has been such an amazing experience. I’ve had the best time and yes, I have had some bad days but there are always people here that pick you back up and will give you that support! I think my family are the ones to thank, because, without them, I wouldn’t have had the chance to go to two top schools and be here at Hastings today.
How much would you encourage those who are maybe thinking about making the move to do it? What are your top tips for them?
If players are thinking about moving to play football in America, it really does take time to think about and to be serious about, because you are moving halfway across the world to live a new life. For me, I always knew that I wanted to move away and play football so that decision was easy for me. But to get started in wanting that move to America, the best option is to join a recruiting agency. In this agency, they create a highlight video for you, invite you to trials, and also they get in touch with coaches for you, so that a conversation will start about maybe wanting to join that college. So top tips would be to be patient as it is a long process, research deeply where you want to go and what division, and think about if that is something you really want.