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When Marie-Antoinette Katoto is charging down the wing of the soccer field, she can’t think too much. She has to trust her heart and her instincts, letting them carry her towards the goal. This is how she’s helped her team win tournaments and championships. This is how she’s become the top scorer year after year.
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Once upon a time, there was a girl in France named Marie Antoinette. Not the Marie Antoinette from French history with all the huge ruffly ballgowns and bedazzled hairdo’s. This Marie-Antoinette was too busy sprinting and dribbling to wear frills and jewels. This Marie-Antoinette was making history though, as one of the all-time greatest scorers in soccer.
It all started in 1998, in a little suburb of Paris, known as Colombes. That’s where Marie-Antoinette Katoto was born, surrounded by winding streets, majestic old buildings, and the famous Yves-du-Manoir sports stadium, where the Olympics were held many years ago. Marie felt the pull of that stadium from the time she was a little kid. She knew some of the greatest athletes in the world had touched this ground — running, leaping, tackling, and kicking. She felt the energy and excitement charging through every blade of grass in the arena. And she was determined to play on that field one day too.
When Marie was just seven years old, she joined a soccer academy in Colombes where she quickly became a star defender. That meant her job on the field was to keep her eyes on the ball at all times and intercept anybody heading towards her team’s goal. Marie was focused and fierce, staying on her toes and meeting her opponents head on. She didn’t talk much — she was too busy taking in everything that was going on and figuring out her next move. But she felt like there wasn’t enough for her to do as a defender. She kept inching farther down the field, where there was more action. She felt like the other team’s goal was drawing her in and she wanted to have a chance to kick, dribble, and score.
So in between practices, Marie started studying what it took to be a striker – that’s the player who chases the ball down the field and tries to strike or kick the ball into the opposing team’s goal. Strikers have to be swift and decisive. They have to know when to make a run, when to pass to a teammate, and how to change directions and strategies in a split second. Marie looked up the best strikers in soccer and watched videos of them playing over and over again. She was amazed at how fast and flexible they were, zigzagging across the green expanse and weaving through the other team’s defenders. That’s what I want to do, Marie thought. And I will.
She trained hard with different soccer clubs in Paris. Again, Marie was quiet and thoughtful, practicing her runs and dribbles, and astonishing her teammates with her calm even when the games felt pressured.
Then, when she was just twelve years old, Marie got asked to be on the professional team called Paris Saint-Germain. This was a huge honor, putting her on the field with some of the most skilled players in the world. As she laced up her cleats alongside her new teammates, and slipped on her new royal blue jersey, Marie felt her whole body trembling. This was it. This was what she’d been training for the past nine years. She had to channel all of her nervous energy and block out the fears and self-doubt in her head.
You can do it, she told herself. You will do it. You’re strong, you’re smart, and you’re ready to strike!
In May of 2015, just a few months after starting on the professional team, Marie found her moment. She was charging down the left wing of the field, her dark braids pulled back in a long ponytail that bounced and flew behind her. Paris Saint-Germain was up against a very skilled team and when one of Marie’s teammates made a shot at the goal, the keeper deflected it quickly. But that’s precisely when Marie went full steam ahead. Literally, with her head! She tilted her body under the arc of the rebound and POW! knocked the ball in a stunning header that sent it flying over the keeper and into the net.
[SFX: cheers and applause]
The fans went wild. Who was this new kid? And what would she try next?
Since that first goal in 2015, Marie has been scoring goals year after year, match after match. Wherever she’s positioned on the field, she is always on high alert, ready to sweep in and connect a pass or dodge a wall of defenders so she can take a corner shot that sails above everybody’s head.
Her teammates have come to admire and count on her incredible speed, focus and spontaneity. She is constantly adapting to what is happening in the moment and coming up with new plays. When people ask her how she gets her mind into the game, she says she doesn’t. She can’t think too much about strategy or scoring any more or else she’ll lose her momentum. She has to just trust her heart and her instincts, letting them carry her down the field. This is how she’s helped her team win tournaments and championships. This is how she’s become the top scorer year after year.
[SFX: Announcers saying Katoto in the upper left corner of the box! Katoto is on fire! Marie Katoto is incredible! ]
Of course, there have been lots of challenges too. Playing this competitively almost always leads to some injuries and Marie has had to sit out a few important matches because she had to take care of her body and heal.
She’s also had to take breaks that she didn’t necessarily want to take. In 2019, she was left out of the women’s line-up for a very big tournament in France. In fact, this was one of the biggest tournaments in the world. Lots of people were surprised and upset that Marie wasn’t included, including Marie herself.
But again, she was determined to stay positive and trust the process. Marie knew she was still young and had a lot to learn about the world of soccer. Even if she was watching the match from the sidelines, she was determined to soak up as much knowledge as possible. She studied the teams’ tactics, and kept her eyes on the field, cheering her teammates on with all her heart. Marie wanted to make sure that next time there was a worldwide tournament like this, she was truly at the top of her game.
This spirit of learning and growing has made Marie not just an incredible athlete, but also a role model. She is always daring herself to be bold and spontaneous, to run in new directions and dive into whatever happens next. And in 2022, Marie broke a world record for the highest scorer on Paris Saint-Germain.
[SFX: kick and cheers]
With her long braids dancing down her back, Marie smiled for the crowd and pumped her fists in celebration. Her teammates crowded around her to scream and cheer too. Because they knew she’d worked so hard to get to this moment — training physically and mentally; dedicating her whole life to this beautiful game.
And for Marie, this was only the beginning.