Ashley Hatch: “Just realizing that it’s a waste of time to focus on these negatives or focus on complaining or whatever the outside circumstances may be.” (Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis Editor

Meandering the peaks and valleys as professional athlete can be ridiculously difficult.

One day you are on the of the world and the next day you find yourself struggling.

Which is why Ashley Hatch decided to get some help via a sports psychologist two years ago.

It has helped the Washington Spirit forward cope with the up-and-down challenges of playing in the National Women’s Soccer League and vying for a spot on U.S. women’s national team.

“Two years ago, I started working with a sports psychologist,” Hatch said during a Friday conference call with the media. “That’s really helped me with my mindset and just being positive, but also just realizing that it’s a waste of time to focus on these negatives or focus on complaining or whatever the outside circumstances may be.

“So just staying in a mindset where I can control, I can control and then giving it my best. That’s kind of how I’ve been rolling, and it’s worked out so far.”

Hatch said that she “found myself in a rut knowing that I could play better.”

“I feel like the only thing that was getting in my way was myself” she added. “So, I just knew that I needed to speak to someone to help me kind of unlock that next level, and kind of just get free my mind a little bit. I knew as soon as I freed my mind, I would be able to play more free on the field.”

Indeed, it has.

Last year the 26-year-old Hatch won the Golden Boot by leading the NWSL in scoring (10 goals) while the Spirit endured and overcame a coaching change when Richie Burke was fired with cause for violating the league’s anti-harassment policy.

Hatch’s stellar player earned her a call-up to the USWNT, and she not only tallied twice in a pair of friendlies against Australia, she struck for early goals.

In the 3-0 win on Nov. 27, Hatch scored her first international goal 24 seconds after the opening kickoff.

In a 1-1 draw three days later, the San Dimas, Calif. native found the net four minutes into the match.

Given her performance, it should not be surprising that Hatch was invited back to the team’s January training camp in Austin, Texas.

“The vibes at camp have been great,” she said. “I think everyone who is here is excited to be here, especially with the new year, fresh start.”

It certainly didn’t hurt that six Spirit teammates are in camp. That includes goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury, defenders Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett, midfielders Ashley Sanchez and Andi Sullivan and forward Trinity Rodman.

That’s seven players out of Washington’s Starting XI.

“Being here with six other Spirit players is fun,” Hatch said. “I was super excited when I saw the roster. It’s like a little mini reunion before we go back to season. It’s very well deserving of every Spirit player that’s here and I hope that we can continue to play together in this environment.”

Attending the January camp has allowed Hatch to train at a high level prior to the NWSL season.

“It makes a huge difference,” she said. “Anytime you get invited into this environment, whether it’s preseason [or the] middle of the season, it’s always helpful because of the players that you’re surrounded by and just the competitiveness of this environment.

“Also, just having numbers to play with makes a world of a difference in the offseason. Normally, you’re trying to scrap together small-sided games of whoever can play, and the quality is kind of all over the place. But when you get here, you know what the quality is going to be. So, it’s huge, and it’s exciting to be able to start the year off like this.”

And to continue into a successful year, especially with qualifying for the 2023 Women’s World Cup set for this summer.

Hatch’s ultimate goal is to become a regular member of the team.

She hoped that she will have an opportunity to make an impact at the 2022 SheBelieves Cup. The USWNT will play against the Czech Republic (Feb. 17) and New Zealand (Feb. 20) at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., and Iceland (Feb. 23) at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.