We spoke to Millwall Lionesses defender Leanne Cowan about how she got into football, what her training routine looks like, and what's next in her sporting career.
How did you get started?
I’ve always loved football pretty much from when I could walk when I was little. I started off playing at school in the playground with the boys and then I’d come home and play football with my older brother as well. I started to attend weekly Brazilian soccer schools and this helped me gain the confidence to go and trial for Millwall under 10’s, my trial was successful and since then I’ve never looked back.
What is your training like? Do you have a set goal per day or per week?
My training is quite intense where it’s the offseason at the minute, so I’m currently training about 5 times a week. Most of the work is in the gym based on improving strength, but once a week I travel to Birmingham to work with Glen at velocity training club. We work on loads of different things there from improving speed, agility and power to doing some really intense ball work to improve endurance as well. I don’t really have any daily goals but my main goal is to become a better athlete this offseason.
Can you give us an idea of what your diet is like?
My diet is quite balanced because it has to be to complement the training I’m doing. I eat a lot of protein: I love chicken and probably eat it way more than a normal person does. Loads of greens, fruits and vegetables, too: I try to vary what I eat them with from sweet potato to rice and pasta. I do have a sweet tooth, though, and occasionally I’ll have a cheat day if I’ve trained hard that week and made improvements.
What does your daily meal plan typically look like?
I usually have porridge for breakfast as it sets me up for the day with a lot of energy. I like adding banana and berries to it or, if I wake up in need of a real sugar boost, I add a little bit of Nutella, (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it -- it’s actually amazing). For lunch, I try and stick to things like pasta or brown bread sandwiches if I’m out and about keep my energy levels up on the go. I usually carry a load of fruit snacks in my bag too for energy boosts throughout the day. Dinner usually depends on if I’m working or training that night but it usually involves chicken in some form accompanied by rice, pasta or pitta with some vegetables. Along with the food, I try to drink a minimum 1-2 litres of water a day.
How do you stay healthy during your strenuous practice/training schedule?
I find that rest is the key to staying healthy along with a well-balanced diet. I take a lot of naps during the week to give my body some extra time to recover from the training and try to stay hydrated as I find that helps fight off fatigue. Things like foam rolling, stretching and wearing compression garments also help aid my recovery from the training.
What is your post-competition routine versus pre-competition?
Both of my routines are very relaxed I try not to get too hyped up until just before a game kicks off just to control my adrenaline levels. Pre-game, I tend to skip breakfast and eat more around brunch time so I can eat a full meal to fuel my body for the game. It’s usually chicken and rice/pasta with some vegetables and a fruit smoothie. I usually eat while watching clips back from old games thinking of things I did well and things I can improve on. I go and get loads of sweets and snacks like Jaffa cakes from my local shop I always bring sweets for half-time: I guess you could call it a superstition but for me, it’s just a routine.
On my drive to the pitch, I have a pre-match playlist filled with loads of hip-hop, rap and R&B; it just helps get me relaxed and focused. We listen to music in the changing room and I usually have a dance around with a couple of my teammates for a bit of fun. As soon as we head out for the warm-up it’s all about business and switching to that game mentality to go and get the job done.
Post-game routines depend on the result of the match. If we’ve won, we go and have a “disco” in the changing room. It’s something our manager Lee Burch got us to start doing after wins to build team spirit and make us proud of the results of our hard work. If the game hasn’t gone well, I’m usually quite anti-social as I’m very competitive and hate losing. I’ll get changed and head home without really saying much, instead quietly reflecting on my performance.
What does your recovery routine look like after a tough workout?
Recovery after tough workouts for me consists of eating a meal that will give my body the best chance of optimal recovery. That means loads of protein and carbs to replace the ones that have been burned. I like having ice baths after tough sessions to help me recover more quickly. I also wear compression garments like skins, and I’ll often sleep in them to help me recover in my sleep if I’ve been to the gym late at night.
What music do you train to?
I train to hip-hop, rap, grime, R&B: anything that’s not majorly pop. I like music with heavy beats and songs that make me want to dance as they help me get pumped up to get through a session.
Who was or still is your mentor?
A coach who’s always taken time out of his day to check in on me is Dan Mlinar. He first coached me when I was 13 at Millwall and I loved his energy and passion for the game as well as his knowledge of how to get the best out of every individual in our team. He was my first team coach at 19 and improved my game by believing in me and giving me a chance in the team alongside little tips on how to improve as a fullback. He still checks in with me every now and again; he’s like a big brother to me. He always looks out for me and the team.
What ambitions do you still have?
My dream is to play full time in England or possibly elsewhere if the chance came up. The idea of waking up and playing football every day is what motivates me in the gym and at training during particularly tough sessions. It’s always been my dream and something I’ve wanted to do since I started playing. I’d also like to play on the international stage at some point; a few of my friends have and there’s honestly no bigger feeling of pride in seeing people you love do well,.I just want to be there doing it with them.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
I personally think my biggest achievement so far is making it from under 10’s all the way through to the first team at Millwall. I made my first team debut after 10 years of being at the club and scored on my full home debut at the den: that was a very special day for me. It was something I’d dreamt about doing since I signed for the club so to achieve that was honestly a dream come true. I think another one that is very close is starring in Nike’s “Nothing beats a Londoner” advert. It was a crazy experience that I’ll never forget!
If you weren't a footballer, what you be?
I think I’d either play basketball or be a musician, like a drummer or a guitarist. I used to play basketball when I was at school and I still love the game now. It got to the stage where I had to pick between the two but football was always going to win that one. I love music and although I can’t actually play an instrument, watching drummers and guitarists live at concerts made me have a lot of respect for the sheer craftsmanship that it takes to play both instruments. It looks like a lot of fun!
What sets you apart from other athletes in your sport?
In a way, I think my light-hearted nature keeps a lot of enjoyment in the game for me. If you ask most people I know you can’t really have a conversation with me without me making jokes, singing or dancing around. For me, it’s all about the fun aspect and love of the game. I love having a bit of on-pitch banter and I’m usually running around with a big smile on my face. I like to think the hard work I put in during the offseason helps to set me up well for the year and gives me a little head start in terms of fitness and sharpness.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I think the best advice I’ve ever been given is to never settle for the level you’re at. You can always improve on something, whether it’s the mental, physical or technical side of the game. Never stop trying to improve and to play each game like you’re last; it’s the way to get the best out of yourself and those around you.
What advice would you give to girls/women wanting to take up football?
I would advise any girls or women wanting to take up football to just go for it! It’s the fastest growing sport in the county and the growth has been amazing. There might be people who try and tell you it’s not for you or that you shouldn’t play, I still get people to this day trying to tell me that, but just use it as motivation. Every person who’s ever told me I shouldn’t be playing or I should get a real job has only ever motivated me more to become the best I can be and get to the highest level possible. But yeah, grab a ball and get kicking: it’s a lot of fun!
What’s next for you?
For me, it’s all about getting through to preseason in the best shape possible as an athlete. There are some good sides who’ve been added to our league this year that will want to come in and make statements that they can compete at this level. I missed out on a few games last year through injury so I’d really just like to see out the season fit and healthy and get back to enjoying football again. I really want to kick on this year and play as many minutes as possible hopefully chipping in with a few more goals to help my team out. Some of you might have seen me in some of the DW stores wearing the England away kit: modelling is still quite new to me but it’s something I really enjoy. Hopefully, I can do a bit more of that work as well as it’s always a fun day on set.