Jan. 26, 2013
TYRESO, Sweden -
This is the first blog by former Stanford soccer star Christen Press as she approaches her second season in Sweden, and first for her new club, Tyreso FF, the defending champion of Sweden's Damallsvenskan.
Bouncing Back to Sweden
I spent the first half of my short off-season traveling and the latter half at home for the holidays. Everywhere I went, indecision and insecurity accompanied me like my passport; what to do in 2013 ... Every person I talked to asked me about my plans for the upcoming season, and their dogged inquisitiveness rattled me. When I was living abroad, I felt like I had come so far toward solidifying my self-confidence, but once again I found myself standing in the same place that I was in a year ago rifling through the same bag of uncertainty: The hopeful but uneasy little girl inside me searching for a sign of what to do ...
So, in a period of vulnerability, I backslid and resorted to the most basic form of therapy I know. To quell my anxiety I trained. But, unlike last year, this time I cross-trained. I pushed weight, I jumped rope, I swam, and, most notably, I played tennis. While my goal in all of these exercises was to make physical progress, in playing tennis I actually received an even more important payoff: mental progress.
Working out in an unfamiliar domain is a mind gym. In this case, however, the gym was a court, green and lined like the pitch, but that is where the similarities end...or is it?
Just keep it in play!
I began each game handicapped...While there is something liberating about playing just "for the fun of it," there is also a prohibitory feeling for a professional athlete playing against opponents with "nothing to prove." So, as my body pushed and shoved, huffed and puffed to master that which it had not attempted in years, my mind chased and stretched like a true rookie trying to keep up.
My shoddy skills left me no room for mental error. Years of repetition in football have trained my muscles to do the right thing even if my mind was momentarily failing me. Not true in tennis. If I let my mind wander for just a second...hmmm ... Where should I play next year? Back at Gothenburg I will be comfortable and there is much to build upon from last year's successes. Or, I could move on to a new team with new challenges. Either way, there is plenty of room to grow... I look up only to see my father doing his rooster strut victory celebration.
It was almost eerie how much my state of mind dictated my play. I had to stay completely focused during the point and be so positive with myself just to hit the ball over the net and within the lines. However, the second I questioned myself: bottom of the net ... I changed my mind at the last minute: off the fence. And if I chastised myself for a past mistake, I had no chance at all...Hmmm ... Chances...How does playing abroad affect my chance to make the national team? After all, what really matters...where I play or how I play?
Dig deep...focus on the next point...But what is the point? Should I sign up for a team where I know the quality of players, level of the league, and resources available will certainly push me every day? Or is it more important to play at home in front of family and friends to help "grow" the game in the USA? But football is the world's game ... and maybe the best platform for growth in the women's game is the world ...
In tennis, I am a retriever. Lob over my head? I'll turn and run. Drop shot? I'll get there to scoop it up. Instinct signals my first step on the court... but why not off the court? Don't overthink it! (I'm pretty sure I'm allowed to scream when the ball is in my court.) One of the differences in tennis and football is the lack of a time restraint in the former. No matter how much you might be struggling, you can't lose as long as you win the last point. In this way, hope does spring eternal, but staying patient and keeping confident is paramount!
What's this? My opponent is getting tired.
And that, for me, is where this match ends and begins. In a way, back at square one ... all even ... and yet so much has changed during those six points.
Being a mediocre tennis player ended up being a blessing in disguise. While repeatedly losing to my non-professional-athlete family members thoroughly frustrated me, it taught me a very valuable lesson.
When playing recreational tennis it rarely mattered what I decided to do as long as I played the point out. This is also true for my football career. This year, I was very fortunate in that there were no bad options. All this second-guessing over which path to take set up roadblocks where there were none. On the court, I chose to stop stressing over the what and the where and take comfort in knowing I control the how. There is no way for me to see the future. I have no crystal ball. What I do have is my skill, my work-ethic, my state-of-mind, and my resilience... and I'll take these with me wherever I go. And for 2013, that is Tyresö FF ... And you know what? I like my chances there!
There is a lot of "new" to adjust to: new home/ city, new teammates/ new leadership, new schedule/ new soccer philosophy ... I checked back to my first blog from Sweden last year ... "In meditation, I learned that the three most stress-inducing agents in life are change of home, change of relationships, and change of job." So I guess the one thing not so new to my life is all the newness! Am I making any sense?
During my first week at Tyresö FF, two-thirds of the team was away due to national-team commitments. With just a few faces to learn, this week gave me a chance to get my feet wet ... and I should mention that here, wet feet freeze solid into ice cubes!!! At -15 degrees Celsius (I don't think that little symbol does it justice: NEGATIVE 15), I was met with the nice little surprise that the Stockholm area is quite colder (and snowier) than Gothenburg ... Brrrrrring it on!!
So, as I bundle up in bed each night, I warm myself up with thoughts of all the exciting new things in my life! For example, I live in what is infamously known as the House of Happiness (HoH) with two of my teammates: fellow American and Olympic roommate Meghan Klingenberg, the 2011 WPS Player of the Year, and 2012 Damallsvenskan Midfielder of the Year Verónica Boquete. This year, when I hear a creak in the house, I won't panic! Meanwhile, HoH is just 15 minutes outside Stockholm, Sweden's proud capitol, and I am looking forward to experiencing this amazing city.
This week I also got a little taste of a novel (yes, I just looked up a synonym for "new") challenge that lies ahead of me in football. Tyresö trains a lot! With double days Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, time-wise it might feel like I have a normal office job. Throughout preseason we will play an inter-squad scrimmage on Friday and a training match on Saturday. If you see a new blog post next week, then you will know I survived my first back-to-back 90 minutes... But actually, the fotbollsidiot inside me is uber excited to be on the pitch so much! This year will be a big leap toward my 10,000 hours!
Of course it's hard, and sometimes I really get tired of moving around and starting over again and again and again. I think about how tired and scared I was this time last year, and how great that year turned out to be. So, with a few kronor in my pocket and a few friends just a few hours away, I know it's going to be a good one. Here's to 2013!
Off The Post!
I admit it. I'm an addict ... a junkie these days, and Starbucks just won't cut it. As soon as I stepped off the plane back home I was on the make for a fix. Jonesing big-time, I hit the streets.
My mother took me to a little spot tucked into a Torrance Strip mall called L'Almonde ... freshly baked croissant served in a cute ceramic cup? Oui oui! Coffee? Comme si comme sa! After yoga one morning, I met my sisters in Hermosa Beach for a tasty flat white from Two Guns Espresso House. I had to admit: it was smokin'... as were the fumes coming from a steady stream of cars passing by on the way to LAX. There was talk of a great spot in Silverlake, but that was over an hour away in traffic. Tyler claimed that a Daily Grinds was under construction at the Redondo Beach Pier, but I would be long gone before it opened. It was getting bad. Under extreme duress I forced my mother to French Press, delicious, but it just wasn't enough.
Just a few hours after I had landed back in Sweden, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop sipping a strong cappuccino. With a smile plastered on my face like I'd reached an itch on my back that I'd had for a month, I suddenly realized that what I was addicted to was not the caffeine, but rather the experience: the sublime brew, the pretty cups, the comfy chairs, the laughter of friends ... and the passage of time ... the sweet time spent enjoying a true Fika!