With just two days left until the start of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the USA women’s national team has been preparing in New Zealand for almost two weeks. Players began answering questions from the media for the first time on Monday and will continue to do so almost daily throughout the tournament. ESPN will be with the USWNT every step of the way, providing coverage from the USWNT camp throughout the World Cup.
AUCKLAND, New Zealand – As the start of the Women’s World Cup for the USA women’s national team approaches, social media has been buzzing about the competition itself and USA’s chances of winning a third consecutive title. Just don’t expect players to keep track.
Following the victorious plan of the self-described “bubble” the team created at the 2019 World Cup to shut out outside influences, many players on the team are once again taking the same approach. So feel free to criticize the team or send mean tweets if necessary, but most players won’t read it.
Starting goaltender Alyssa Naeher says she pretty much left her phone on airplane mode in 2019 and she plans to stay away from social media again, albeit to a less extreme degree. “This time I turned my phone on, so I got out of airplane mode, but I still don’t have the social media stuff — I’m going to avoid a lot of it,” she said. “I may keep a little Instagram to keep in touch with friends and family back home, but for the most part I’ve decided to stay off social media for a month.”
Midfielder and World Cup debutant Kristie Mewis takes a similar approach – and makes a similar exception.
“I love Instagram so I don’t think I can live without it,” Mewis said with a lopsided smile. “It kind of helps me to relax a little and look at unrealistic things like travel – beautiful things that distract me from what’s happening. So it’s a good distraction and I’m not going to give that up.”
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OK, so: no Twitter, a little bit of Instagram. How about Threads, the company’s new Twitter rival behind Instagram? “I’m not going to set up Twitter or the new Threads thing — I’m still not entirely sure how that works — but I need my Instagram,” Mewis said.
What about Tiktok? “I don’t really know what TikTok is,” Naeher joked.
Midfielder Andi Sullivan hasn’t retired from social media just yet, but she will until the USWNT’s opening game against Vietnam on July 21. Yes, even Instagram — that’s the same exception she wanted to make but won. T
“My plan is to go into the dark. This is tough because like Kristie I enjoy browsing but I think it’s just too easy to see something I don’t want to see and I’m sure a little social media break is good for that .” Every now and then. So my plan is to just turn it off in a few days.”
So why avoid social media during a World Cup? These players compete at a high level throughout the year – there are friendlies and the SheBelieves Cup, the NWSL regular season and playoffs, not to mention the NWSL Challenge Cup. What makes the World Cup an exception?
Well, a World Cup is, as Sullivan put it, “crazy,” and we’ve all seen the running gags of celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves. This will be Sullivan’s first World Championship, but she says the more experienced players warned her: “The veterans on the team explained and exemplified the madness of the past, or they just said, ‘It’s going to get even crazier.’ ,’ and reiterated that we should lean on them if there’s anything we’re struggling with.”
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Sullivan has already started limiting her time on social media — she stopped using Twitter more than a year ago and has reduced her time on other platforms, which is a natural progression. Forgoing social media will allow her to maintain perspective during a tournament that feels like the eyes of the whole world are watching.
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“For a World Cup, there’s more attention, more commentary, more coverage, which is great, but at the same time I want my perspective to be just around my circle — the people who are here, who see me every day,” she said “The inner circle – that’s what I want to focus my attention on and not necessarily noise.”
Sophia Smith, another World Cup rookie, is on the same page. “Delete Twitter? The best thing I’ve ever done. I have no idea what’s happening,” she said on Wednesday.
The “bubble” the team created in 2019 was extraordinarily effective. When asked about non-football issues – which was fairly common given then-President Donald Trump’s vocal criticism of Megan Rapinoe – players pleaded ignorance. Even then-coach Jill Ellis was in the bubble – her answer to a question unrelated to football was typical: “When you’re in your bubble, that’s not something that penetrates you.” Whether the team because of that Won the World Cup in 2019 or not is impossible to say, but obviously it didn’t hurt.
If the lure of social media was strong in 2019, it should be no less enticing in 2023, but for now, players remain steadfast in their social media blackouts. Well, except for a bit of Instagram of course.