It’s December. The average 16-year-old girl has finished exams and is splitting her time right now between hanging out with friends and making plans for the summer.
Grace Jale is not your average 16-year-old girl.
The talented young footballer is in Brazilian city of Cuiaba preparing for game two of the Football Ferns’ series on Wednesday (NZ time) against one the giants of the football world.
After standout performances earlier this year at the OFC U-20 Women’s Championship in Tonga with the New Zealand side, Tony Readings called Jale into the full senior squad for the first time and the youngster is soaking up the experience.
“It’s been really good,” Jale said, “I’ve been welcomed into the team really nicely and I’ve met all the people who are on the posters on my wall.
“I’ve learned a lot already, football wise and about self-management. I’m rooming with Jazz [Pereira], so it’s been good to room with someone I know. The players have been really good because they pass on their knowledge and everyone is just so nice!”
Jale said the major difference in the Ferns environment from others she has experienced is the level of individual professionalism on and off the field which ramps up several notches.
“From U-17s going to U-20s it was a big more freedom and coming here, you are with the team but you need to manage yourself properly because nobody is going to do it for you. This isn’t the U-17s now, I’m going into adulthood.
“[On the pitch] the intensity is way higher. Everything is quick and fast and everyone’s touches are really good so you’ve got to work really hard. Other players around you keep you accountable for your mistakes and tell you what you did wrong to try and make sure you do it right next time or try something else.”
With an individual skillset suiting a role as an attacking midfielder – something which fits neatly with the team’s focus of attention in the attacking third - Jale was stunned at her inclusion for the tour initially.
“I asked Tony at a training after the squad was named, ‘why did you choose me? What am I doing that others aren’t?’ because some good players didn’t make it in and I was surprised.
“Firstly he said my height helps me and he said I’m able to play in different positions and I’ve got an X factor and I can turn on the ball and look forward to play in the strikers.
“I like that position and it’s good to have real quality midfielders around me to teach me so I can pass on that knowledge to the different age groups as well.
After overcoming the early nerves which come with the territory the teenager his entered for the first time, Jale has adopted a mature outlook on her time in Brazil.
“I was really nervous to be selected and I don’t know if I will get on the field or not. But that doesn’t really matter.
“Being in this environment already teaches me heaps and not necessarily getting time – it doesn’t matter that much. I just need to put it in at training and get the most out of it that I can because I’m at a young age and I’ve got a lot of time left.”
See, I told you; Grace Jale is not your average 16-year-old.
The Football Ferns battle Brazil in Cuiaba on Wednesday at 1pm (NZ time) with LIVE coverage on SKY Sport.
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