Manawatu's pocket rocket
Grace Smith wows with passion for soccerFAYE LOUGHER
Growing up with a father and brothers who all played soccer, it was inevitable that Grace Smith would have an interest in the game as well.
"I've played soccer since I was 5," she says.
"My dad was really good at it and I grew up with a passion for it."
Grace initially played for the Feilding under-11 team and now plays for the North End girls' team in Palmerston North.
Her father is Mike Smith, a life member of North End AFC.
"My dad coached me when I was younger. I just like the sport, it's really interesting. It's not like other sports, it's more challenging. In netball and rugby you have to try and catch the ball with your hands and in soccer you have to catch it with your foot."
Grace has been a Manawatu under-11 rep player for three years and is now in her first year in the under-13 rep team.
"It seemed risky at the start," she says. "I'm probably the smallest girl in my team, but now I've got used to it, it seems more normal."
She may be one of the smallest players on the team, but Grace doesn't let her size hold her back. For the past two years she has been a defender.
"I love defence. I have always liked it, since I started. I don't have any problems going up to taller and bigger people. I think of them as my size. We have a really good goalie, [but] I like to try and save the goal so there's not so much pressure on the goalkeeper."
Grace trains twice a week from 4.30pm to 6pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.
"We do a topic each week - this week it's vision and awareness. Snapshots, looking around for other players and your team-mates and where everyone else is and what they are doing and where you should be and what you should be doing."
She is also part of Feilding Intermediate School's Super Sports programme, taking part in triathlons and cross-country (coming second), and playing cricket.
"I am in a fitness centre at the school and do 45 minutes a day of fitness and go for runs. I have a thing on my iPod that takes me through cardio, abs, muscles and a workout."
Grace says the skills that footballers need are good footwork and speed. Starting playing soccer at the age of 5 and being coached by a football-mad father meant she learnt early on how to pass and kick the ball and bring it down into play.
Nicknamed Racy Gracie or Pocket Rocket, Grace is captain of the North End 12-13 grade team and hopes one day to play for the Football Ferns, the New Zealand women's soccer team.
"I'd love to play for them. You have to be 17 to be considered but they have an under-17 New Zealand rep team."
Being in the rep team sees Grace travelling to tournaments in New Plymouth, Taupo and Whanganui.
"There are two tournaments in Palmerston North too. We won the first one, 5-2 and we lost the second 3-2. We won 7-0 against Wanganui and 2-0 against Taranaki at Whanganui."
Grace's mum was worried that when Grace moved from Colyton School with its 52 pupils to Feilding Intermediate she would find it hard going, but she quickly made friends and says her teachers "are really cool".
Outside of school and soccer, Grace loves spending time with her dog, three cats and three lambs.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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