April 24, 2012
GOTHENBURG, Sweden -
This is the latest blog by former Stanford soccer star Christen Press in her first season in Sweden, playing for Goteborg FC.
A Thousand Words on Keeping Your Head Up
I'm fairly certain that I've seen this street before, but then again all the streets have cobblestone, tram tracks, and heeled boots treading steadily over them both. The tiny Swedish android phone in my pocket, fully equipped with street-level GPS tracking, was designed just for this moment. In fact, a few quick clicks, and I'd find my destination in five minutes. No, put your GPS down and pick your head up! You can't be too far away.
I originally set out to write about how football teaches me about life. Upon reflecting on my past blogs, I've realized that, just as often, life teaches me about football. In fact, it is a two way street, football to life, life to football... Keeping my head up when I'm on the soccer field? No problem! So, why do I walk around the streets of the city staring at the ground? Maybe I need to stop investing so much in my shoe collection...! As you might imagine, this has gotten me into trouble, (no, I'm not referring to the dwindling number on my bank statement) as I have not quite developed that astute sense of directions needed to get from point A to point B; somehow I always end up at C.
Lately, I've made a concerted effort to erect a new posture as I explore this city. Head up high, I've taken to the streets of Göteborg, although I still struggle to get my bearings.
* * *
I've had my fair share of challenges throughout my career. I put a lot of pressure on myself to "make my way up," and I have to admit that there was a dark year or two where football and I were not friends.
I know I have been blessed by great teams and great environments and that I have had a tremendous amount of success in the sport from one perspective. Nonetheless, my ultimate goal -- to play at the international level -- has eluded me.
In retrospect, I am very proud of the way I have `kept my head up' through the long haul of my career. I have never given up hope and I never will let my frustrations bring me down. I fight a daily battle with my fear of not being good enough. That said the hardest part has been resisting the urge to give myself an excuse. I have had to swallow my pride and be honest with myself, even when that means I might have to bear the full extent of my failure. I continue to push every day and to go after my dreams, face forward.
Even in my weaker moments, I try not to go to that pity-me place. I've learned to harness all of my emotions, including anger. I've found that sometimes Weezy's Drop the World leads my iTunes Top25 Played Playlist... (I don't always listen to Tracy Chapman. Come on people!) Eventually, rage fizzles and what stays constant is belief and optimism. I believe in myself and I am optimistic about my future. This week, I have a paramount opportunity to begin working towards that goal to play at the international level. I got my first call up to USWNT training camp in Florida. And can I just say it? I AM SO UNBELIEVABLY EXCITED!!! My advice to everyone out there with a dream...like the Earth, Wind and Fire song goes, "Keep your head to the sky..."
* * *
Lagom Part II:
- "I have surmised that lagom means enough, sufficient, adequate, just right, in moderation, in balance, optimal, and suitable."
- " Okay ... moderation can be good for a lot of things, but sports...I'm not so sure."
- "So how does lagom fit in my life?"
The more I think deeply about this Swedish mentality, the more confused I actually get. However, what I do understand is that lagom means a lot of things, each self-propagating on its own, and yet inextricably tied with the other meanings. This week's blog seeks to flesh out a few of the relevant branches stemming from lagom and to answer the above question.
Finding lagom within myself
September 2008: Biking to the field. I'm so tired my eyes are watering uncontrollably. Note to self: do not pull all-nighters in season. My legs are heavy from my lift, but practice starts in 45 minutes. That means I only have 30 minutes to get in some extra shooting. If I do not get in these extra shots today, well I don't really know, but I'm pretty sure the result would be catastrophic. Yeah, yeah ... maybe this set of shots won't make or break my career or even affect the two games this weekend. But I need to take them anyway. I have to get out to the field early to confirm that I am working harder than the rest, so that I can feel like the best in hopes to play like the best. Suck it up and pedal faster, Christen.
Lagom means do what feels right. Too much of a good thing can actually be a bad thing! So much more can be gained from a situation when it is experienced with a smile. Lagom means being competitive and working hard, but not to the point of pulling out your hair, instead of wasting time stressing over every glitch in the road, working towards the solution. It's simple. When you are enjoying what you do, improvement happens.
Understanding lagom within the game
October 2009: Just get out of eyesight Christen. What is wrong with you? How could you not score on such a bad team?? Great, you were standing point blank. TWICE!! You're team won 4-0 and you didn't score? Ugh. Alright, alright. Put it behind you. A win's a win.... Ok, no checking goStanford.com this week...
Lagom stresses recognizing the importance of the whole. Within the game, lagom comes from an understanding that putting the team first is the best way to reach any goal. My team here has mentioned a few times that during their successful 2011 season, the team was not made up of stars; the whole was more than the sum of its parts. With a lagom mentality in the game, there is less pressure on the individual. There is also room for everyone to share in the successes and commiserate together in the failures. With football, lagom means keeping a healthy perspective of one's role.
Accepting lagom within my life
November 2010: Sitting on the stairs outside my dorm on yet another beautiful California day. "I hate soccer..." I bark into the phone. "I really hate soccer. There is just so much PRESSURE. It's making me miserable." There was only one cloud in the sky that day, following me around.
Lagom means finding balance. It's easy for me to accept that I need more balance within myself (hello meditation!) and more balance within my game (hello Swedish football!) but not so easy to accept that I need balance in my life as a whole, too. Soccer is just piece of the puzzle. I have been shocked by the fact that almost every girl on my team here has some "other" great talent outside of soccer. Spending time on something else? What? But I, too, am much more than a soccer player. I am forever a student in the class of life. I am a traveler. I am a writer. I am a friend, a sister, and a daughter. I also realize that if I am to be the best fotbollsspelare I can be, I must make time to be all those other things as well.
Keeping lagom within lagom
Horace Porter wrote," Be moderate in everything, including moderation." That is, however, not as easy as it sounds. For me, the process is not static but one of constant adjusting and readjusting. I have to resist the urge to go overboard sometimes and remind myself not to beat myself up over setbacks. While it is early in the game, I think I am realizing some benefits already. I believe that true success comes when applying this lagom philosophy moderately... Lagom squared?
February 2012: Just another day of pick up in Manhattan Beach. Per usual, Peru is giving me a hard time and Colombia is chasing me around the field like his one goal in life is to stop `the girl.' Spider is claiming he is the best in the world and Brazil is trying really hard not to smile at him. On the sideline of this fútbol free-for-all, there is a high school girls' soccer team looking on skeptically. I hear a, "Wow, people actually play soccer for fun?!" ...
These words bring me back to a different time, a time when I made myself miserable overdoing it every day, a time when I only cared about myself, a time when I really think I hated soccer. Although I still have to keep myself in check from time to time so I don't pitch a tent at Valhalla, I am sure that I am on my way to the middle. And hopefully, finding the middle can take me to the top ... The middle ... the top ... lagom ... Ugh!
Off The Post!
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."~ Mark Twain
I have been trying to learn a Swedish Word of the Day. Today's word was typisk: typical. I think those who know me can affirm that for me, this story is pretty typisk.
After my first few weeks in Göteborg, I started to morph into the anti-Vampire. No, not Jacob Black, but more like someone with achluophobia (fear of the dark.) By sunset, I was always safely tucked away in my room, in for the night, making my worrywart aunt Arlie proud. But that small box of a European hotel room with a twin bed and no space to stretch my legs out started to feel like a prison. I shouldn't have seen the "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" right before moving alone to Sweden! Two weeks in, and I still hadn't seen what Göteborg looks like at night. I realize this is ridiculous. And I realized this had to end.
One night as I was having my usual chocolate cravings, I decided to do something about it. I bundled up to prepare for the cold and trepid walk to the nearby store. As I walked down the low-lit ally, I wished I had Harry Potter's invisibility cloak or Katnis Everdeen's Night Vision goggles... or at the very least pepper spray. There were not many people out, but I felt someone lurking behind me. Instinctively I picked up my pace, but I heard his pace quicken, too. WHY did I have to be adventurous tonight?! It's fine Christen, you're over reacting. I turned left, and checked over my shoulder. My stalker turned left, too. I began to run. Better safe than sorry! Of course this would happen to me. I recently broke a huge mirror so I am doomed for 7 years ... if I live to suffer that long. I should be snuggling with Brown Bear in the hotel room! I never even got a chance to say goodbye!
He caught me. I'm dead meat. I looked into the eyes of my attacker, and see a young face with pale blue eyes and a big smile. He says something to me in Swedish and holds out a credit card with my name on it. Hmm ... How do you say `I am an idiot' in Swedish?
As silly as I feel about the whole episode, I reflect back and think perhaps I needed this moment to wake me up. My mom likes to remind me, "Consider taking risks first, on the field, and safety first everywhere else!" But I can't spend my time here hiding in my room, so instead, I am stepping outside of my room, outside of myself to explore, dream, discover!
* * *
I'm starting to think of this section of the blog as "My Weekly Bonehead Moves."
This week, after getting in an extra training session, I went out to lunch at a Thai restaurant with several of my teammates. We had a lovely time and upon leaving, we ran into our speed coach Erica Johansson, a Swedish long-jump national record holder, who has been with our team twice before.
I have been trying really hard to be more gregarious here, so as my teammates began to chat with her in Swedish, I stood sideline, plotting how I could join the conversation. "How was the snow?" I piped in, referencing on a conversation we had about a sky trip she had taken. Erica's attention suddenly shifted from the others to me. "I wasn't in the snow. I was in Stockholm and it wasn't snowing."
"Wait, I thought you were going to the snow for the weekend."
She looked quite puzzled. "No..."
I recall vividly Erica showing me pictures on her computer from a webcam of the conditions in her snowy destination. Maybe she had taken a mean tumble on her snowboard...Confused but adamant, I continued to press (albeit gingerly now), "What? We talked about this. You showed me pictures on your laptop of the snow..." When I saw her bewildered I began to wonder if I had been the one who had taken a fall in the snow. The, she shook-off the befuddled look from her face, "Ah... you don't know who I am."
Uh oh Christen! "Yes I do..." I tried to sound confident.
"Well, then do you know my name?" I could feel the awkwardness spread through the room.
"Sure..." I had no choice but to call her bluff.
"Well, then what's my name?" Ok. Time to show my hand. In the seconds before I answered the question, I'm pretty sure nobody took a breath. The air was so thick you could cut it with a knife and I was sweating profusely. "Erica (ironically pronounced sort of like `eureka!')" I squeaked. There was a HUGE communal sigh of relief in the room. (Later, my teammate confessed that the whole scene had made her so nervous that, for the life of her, she could not think of Erica's name in the moment.)
As we walked out of the restaurant, happy to escape, the five of us burst into laughter. About an hour later, I realized that I had confused that conversation with one I had had with the team's athletic trainer: Karin. So much for adding my two cents.
* * *
April 11 was our Allsvenskan premieren at home against Djurgarden. The looong two-week anticipation period had fostered quite the energy inside me. My pregame vigor coupled with a little coffee verve was the only energy I had left that day, as the electricity was shut off in my apartment! Brrrrr ...!
The 2-0 victory was a solid start to what looks to be a long, tough season; but once again, I walked off the field with the feeling that we have so much more to offer. How to get there... "It's good to be winners again..." said our head coach Torbjörn Nilsson post game, and he's right. The win and the goals were a bit of a relief for me, and although there is much better football to be played, I am riding this wave to shore.
Highlights from the game can be viewed by clicking the link below. Apologies for the poor quality; I had to search hard to find this one for you Soccer Americans! Enjoy!
Click here to see highlights of Christen's two-goal performance.
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This week we traveled to the frigid north of Sweden to take on Piteå in our second Allsvenskan game. We landed the morning of the game in a snow covered small town. The sun princess in me thought, get me to Florida! The Viking in me yelled back "Brrrrring it on!"
It still feels like we are in the very early stages of developing and becoming a team, but during this game, we showed glimpses into `the promised land.' Although we can be undisciplined and panicky at times, there were periods where we dictated the flow of the game like a championship-caliber team. Progress! Next step: consistency.
As for me, I had been using an insane amount of self-talk during my first games here (and my game-time self-talk is always out-loud, so the defenders in this country probably think I'm nuts). My mindset for this game was to just let myself go a little bit and enjoy the moment. I usually try to focus on something the morning before a game, and this game's goal was to "shoot like you have never missed before." Bad news is I felt uninvolved and not so dangerous. (Maybe I'll go back to being a looney-tune!) Good news is I had been working on my runs behind the defense and finishing crosses all week, and it paid off. The turtle (the most unfortunate nickname bestowed to my head in college) put one away! Yet another reason to keep your head up ...