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Philadelphia Independence keeper Val Henderson gives a behind-the-scenes take of everyday life with the WPS expansion club. In the latest installment, Val talks about a pre-practice ritual that may be helping her club's latest hot streak.

With only a month remaining in WPS 2010, it’s the time when people start asking about our plans for the off-season: what we’ll be doing, where we’ll be going. With six hard months behind us, you might think some players are starting to get burned out are thinking about the upcoming break.

But that couldn’t be any further from the truth for your Independence.

With only four games left to solidify a good playoff spot (including a pursuit of number one), this is no time to lose enthusiasm. And luckily we’re not losing any.

Instead of dragging our feet out to practice and waiting to see what’s in Coach Riley’s game plan for the day, we still get to practice early. We like to have a little extra loose time to jog or stretch or chat. But mainly we get there early to play PIG.

PIG is the new pre-practice shebang, and if you’re not playing, you’re definitely watching. (And if you’re not playing, it’s only because you can’t take the heat).

The game itself is very simple. The players make a circle and juggle the ball. Everyone has one touch, so if the ball comes to you, you just have to pass it to someone else without letting it drop. If you mess up, you get a letter ‘P.’ If you mess up a second time you have ‘PI.’ A third time spells PIG, and you’ve lost.

Now is the fun part. You’re not just the loser; you’re the pig. You have to embrace your new identity and actually become the pig. And saying: “oink oink” will not suffice. You better be on all fours, snorting and eating grass, bowling people over and pretending to roll in mud, or the game can’t resume. Feel the pig; be the pig.

But once your pig personality is put to rest, it’s your turn to choose the animal. The name of the game could be SNAKE, BIRD, TURTLE: whatever you can come up with. Just keep in mind you could lose again and have to be whatever you chose.

With stakes so high, people really don’t want to lose. So that’s when we start taking cheap shots. If you take letters early, you can expect to get picked on. Everyone’s touches are going to you. At your shins. At your stomach. You still just get one touch. Deal with it.

And be careful who you’re standing next to. Danesha (Adams) is the queen of getting her neighbor. A pass will come to her, and she’ll flick it right off your kneecap in the blink of an eye.

Get distracted and you might get tricked into heading the ball. Heading is an automatic loss. Forget getting a letter. With one touch of the head, you’re now a shark, wondering what you’re doing on a synthetic grass field with no water to breathe and no fish to eat.

If you give an ambiguous pass to the middle, it could just drop and there you are one letter closer to stuffing a ball into your pants and hopping around, boxing at people - the mama kangaroo protecting her baby. (That was Lianne [Sanderson] by the way).

We get rowdy: bickering and trash talking, making fun of each other, and cracking up. Finally Paul yells: “Enough!” and it’s time for us to get going. A dynamic warm up later and we’re busting it in small sided, as intense and serious as ever.

Now I don’t know if PIG is the key to success. It might not be what helped Tina (DiMartino) score two left-footed bombs on Hope Solo, or what gave Jo (Joanna Lohman) the fire to come in and steal the game away from the Atlanta Beat, but it definitely keeps us fresh and excited to play. It keeps smiles on our faces and healthy competition in our blood.

So maybe if we score this Sunday when we play at Sky Blue FC you might see a monkey or a lion on the field. Or if Frida (Magnusdottir) scores, she can just be herself.

Hey New Jersey: be wary of the un-caged animals coming your way!


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