Trusting the process: Madison Hammond’s path to NWSL success

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Hammond faced inconsistent playing time early in her career. However, after developing a routine and changing her approach to training, she has thrived in the NWSL.

Los Angeles is a city of stars, and Angel City has many of them. Many fans know the likes of Christen Press, Sydney Leroux, and Alyssa Thompson. But the dependable play of Angel City’s defensive midfielders and back four was crucial to their accomplishment in 2023. One such players was Madison Hammond, a defensive midfielder, who thrived in the late stages of the season.

Her path of triumph was not simple, though.

Hammond began her NWSL career making many starting XIs despite joining an OL Reign team loaded with veterans like forward Megan Rapinoe, midfielder Jess Fishlock, and defender Lauren Barnes. She relished playing a role. However, within months, she was regularly out of the starting XI or off of the match-day roster entirely. The taste of NWSL action, once savored, was quickly gone, leaving her scared to take risks because of the consequences she thought lurked behind each potential mistake.

“When you’re young, and you’ve gone from having that taste of playing a lot, that change is really hard to deal with when you don’t have the tools to process what that actually means,” Hammond told The Sporting Tribune. “I’m somebody who assigns a lot of value to things even if it’s not necessarily the situation.”

Then, after one full season with the Reign, Hammond was traded to expansion team, Angel City. Still, she was not frequently making the starting XI through her first season and a half with them. However, one of her traits differed during such time as she leaned on advice from her Reign teammates. One recommendation from Fishlock stood out to her: trust the process.

“Sometimes, you can do everything absolutely perfect, and you’re still not getting minutes,” Fishlock said. “Sometimes it’s not simple. It’s really hard. You have to trust the process, trust yourself, trust your manager, respect to teammates, all those certain things. And give yourself some grace at the same time… It might be one year, two years, three years, but by the end, if you trust that process, you will be where you want to be.”

Many top players faced situations similar to Hammond’s early in their careers, including Fishlock. Fishlock had similar doubts as Hammond when she played for AZ Alkmaar beginning in 2008. However, she trusted in the team’s direction and has since had a lengthy career, playing a prominent role for multiple clubs.

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Trusting the process is what Hammond did. She pushed hard in training, looking to “win” each session. She increasingly understood that even if she was not receiving the playing time she felt she deserved, her efforts in training could amount to something. 

“It’s really hard sometimes when you feel like if you make mistakes, then x happens, or if you do this, then this bad will happen,” Hammond said. “And that was when she [Fishlock] told me, approach training. Because if you think about it, you train 100 times more than you’ll ever play a game. So, if you’re approaching training on a training session as, ‘how am I going to win the training session? How am I going to get better in the training session?’ And approach it like that. It all builds towards something.” 

Hammond also modified her routine and bought into it. Rather than allowing external factors to determine her perception of her value, she allowed herself to decide that.

Hammond’s routine begins at the start of every week as she tries to complete self-set goals such as taking “a night for herself” and sleeping an adequate amount two nights before match day.

On match day, Hammond starts by watching soccer and breakfast (usually pancakes). Then, she eats a snack and lunch before completing an activity to take her mind off the match. Hammond tries not to concentrate on the match on match day until shortly before it to lessen any nerves she may have. She believes in the preparation she does during the week, and her routine helps her have such faith. 

“I have bought into routine because, as a young player, there’s a lot of things that you can focus on that are outside of your control,” Hammond said. “Whether that’s a coach or teammates or injuries, there are so many things that we have zero control over. But what I’ve started to realize is how much relying on our routine actually just prepares you to do what you need to do.”

In 2023, Angel City wanted Hammond to change positions, moving from the back line to a No. 6 role (defensive midfielder). However, she did not fear the switch. Instead, she employed her consistent routine and a modified approach to training to make the change as seamless as possible.

“I had a position change. I didn’t really know what that was going to mean. I was just along for the ride. I liked my position change,” Hammond said. “Having more of that mindset, it was a lot easier for me to be stable in what was happening that wasn’t in my control. I was like chillin’ every day because I was like, ‘well, I won the training day, and if I won 12 training days in a row, that’s probably going to garner some type of result.’”

Hammond gained playing time as the season progressed, and she started eight of Angel City’s final nine regular season matches. In the starting role, she thrived. Notably, she scored an all-important goal against her former team, the Reign, to double Angel City’s lead in an eventual 2-1 victory.

Every match was crucial for Angel City in the second half of the season as they climbed from No. 11 to No. 5 in the NWSL standings. They made the playoffs for the first time in club history, on the number. Hammond’s match-winning goal against the Reign was one of her numerous contributions during the run.

“We spoke about making her [Hammond] predominantly a six and what were those qualities needed for that position on this team. She took it with both hands and said she’s going to do this,” said Angel City head coach Becki Tweed late in 2023. “The growth of her game has led to her having to be a leader. All those things come with added responsibility, and she’s dealt with it really well. We’re getting the best out of her. Again, it just comes down to a clear role and clarity in what is expected of her, and she stepped up.”

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After Hammond showed her talent in 2023, she entered restricted free agency (RFA). While her approach to the offseason will remain the same as previous years, she understands what she offers as a player and does not plan on selling herself short.

“I don’t necessarily think it [being an RFA] changes my approach,” Hammond said. “It’s just more so understanding what I have to offer the game and what I have to offer this team and not selling myself short on that. It’s more of an internal belief as opposed to anything externally changing.

Hammond made fewer mistakes as 2023 progressed and wants to build on such development. She was a key part of Angel City’s run to the playoffs, as her routine and approach to training allowed her to find consistency.

Hammond no longer fears risk-taking. In 2024, she wants to increase her level again. 

“Next year is about taking more risks, scoring more goals, and being more of a presence,” Hammond said. “I have a lot more skills that I can continue adapting into my game. I can dribble, I am good in tight spaces. Being able to take those risks so we score more goals next year and put ourselves in positions to not only have to rely on crosses or work from Sav[annah McCaskill] in the ten.”