There’s a small, modestly furnished room tucked in a corner of 11.11 Training where select groups of female soccer players sometimes gather, if only momentarily, before or after workouts. It’s a mini sanctuary, a tiny transition zone that India Trotter and Blakely Mattern designed exclusively for students of 11.11, a Greenville-based training center the two athletes-turned-entrepreneurs launched in January 2016 to provide specialized soccer instruction for girls between the ages of 10 and 22.

This section of the 11.11 facility pales in comparison to the centerpiece of the 6,200-square-foot indoor complex: a workout space that stretches 30 yards from end to end and is covered with thick artificial turf. Yet when considered in the context of 11.11’s mission, which is “to help female soccer players transition into the truest and best versions of themselves,” the players’ lounge can and should be viewed as a place where they’re free to laugh, cry, unwind, or unload anything that might be on their hearts or minds, whether it relates to life on the field or life in general.

As such, it’s an integral component of a larger transformational hub for young athletes who are on a journey of self-discovery. “This is an environment where it’s safe to make a mistake,” says Mattern, a former J.L. Mann soccer standout who went on to play for the University of South Carolina and later joined forces with Trotter to start 11.11 after competing on several professional teams. “We provide a place where you have the opportunity to try, and it’s okay to fail.”

A Different Approach

At the core, 11.11 strives to help students realize who they are and who they can be, both as young women and as players. Trotter and Mattern use their proprietary Infused Training Method, an innovative program that blends intensive technical work with speed, strength, agility, and fitness training, to hone soccer skills, and rely on their collective life experiences to reach each student on a personal level.

“First, it helps that Blakely and I were those girls—we were female soccer players, so we know what they’re going through and can relate to them,” explains Trotter, a South Florida native whose playing résumé includes Florida State, stints with domestic and international professional clubs, and years on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team roster. “The second thing is, we’ve found that most of the time with girls, there are a lot of rooted issues.”

For instance, the underlying cause of a technical mistake like not keeping a toe pointed down when striking the ball might be linked to low self-esteem or a lack of confidence. Addressing the emotional issue removes a mental barrier that, more often than not, leads to improved athletic performance. “The longer you’re with certain girls and spend time with them, you become more than just a trainer,” adds Trotter, who also served as an assistant coach at USC Upstate from 2011–2013. “You invest in them, and they confide in you because this is a safe place—not just with soccer, it’s a safe place with life.”

If this sounds a bit metaphysical, it is—and that’s exactly how Trotter and Mattern intended 11.11 to be. Both are professed “believers” who’ve competed as, with, and against elite athletes throughout their own journeys. They understand the connection between body, mind, and spirit, and weave these elements into their training strategies. Even the name itself, 11.11, has spiritual undertones, signifying a doorway to divine guidance. “It isn’t only about soccer,” Mattern says. “That’s just a tool we use that allows us to say, ‘It’s okay to fail.’ It’s more about the girls learning who they are and being able to grow towards that.”

Photography by Will Crooks