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My Valhalla aha! Moment
by Christen Press, March 8th, 2012 7:08PM

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TAGS:  sweden


[THE PITCH] Why is it that the minute the alarm goes off in the morning the bed feels so warm and cozy? The weight of the covers is secure but not oppressive. Sometimes I think I could lie in bed forever and be perfectly content, snug and safe…

The morning of Feb. 15, however, was not one of those dreamy-eyed mornings. It was the beginning of a long day spent anxiously awaiting word from Göteborg FC. And even though I signed my contract that evening, I spent that night tossing and turning under what now seemed like suffocating sheets. What did fate have in store for me? Neale Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Nine days later, I touched down in Gothenburg, Sweden. Well … hello world… I’m here!

By the time my alarm went off on Feb. 25, my eyes had long been open and my heart racing.  In meditation, I learned that the three most stress-inducing agents in life are change of home, change of relationships, and change of job. Today I would see my new city, meet my new teammates, and have my first practice at Valhalla Stadium … in the snow! I had, it seems, scored the stress trifecta.

Coming from Southern California, I had braced myself for the effect the cold weather would have on my personal comfort, but I never really considered the impact it would have on my game. The first touch I had sharpened over the last six months failed me time and again as the ball slipped under my boot, and it wasn’t long before my feet were completely numb. I know I had 10 toes when I arrived ... What’s more, the savvy layering technique I employed to keep my body warm eventually agitated me in every way as my clothes bunched up and rubbed in all the wrong places.

Unluckily, the physical challenge was the easy part. As it turns out, the biggest iceberg would be the language barrier. While one of my teammates tried to convey the gist of the coaches’ talks and practice rules, I apparently missed a word or two. As we began a finishing session, I was pleased to see that all my practice was paying off. I consistently drilled the ball into a target placed at the low corners. “This cold isn’t messing with me,” I thought, “I’m on fire!” The coach stood sideline, smiling and shaking his head all the while … oh wait, is he laughing …? Twenty minutes later, I realized that the fence was actually not a target; the objective of the drill was to avoid the fence and shoot into the Upper V. This is what my dad likes to call “a bonehead move.”

The constant state of confusion stripped me of my confidence. Since I could not understand my teammates on-the-field commands, I was hesitating and second-guessing myself. Unable to problem solve, I was forced into a passive role, a lost lamb inside the herd.

Luckily, the human body is built strong and something amazing happens when a person loses one of their senses of perception. Physiologically, the plastic brain re-wires creating more room for the other sensory pathways; in essence the impaired individual develops exceptional perception in their other senses as compensation. (Thank you Bio101.) This biological phenomenon is a dramatic illustration of what happened to me on the field on a much simpler level.

Listening was clearly not an option, so over the last week, I have started to cultivate new ways of dealing with the “uncomfortable.” Now, blow-drying my toes is a pre-practice ritual. I go out to the field early to warm up and shed some layers so chafing and bunching are no longer an issue. I’ve started picking up signals from my teammates and coaches’ body language. (I can actually figure out which direction my team is attacking ... Viola at Valhalla!!) And when I make a mistake, we are all laughing together! Sometimes you step out of your comfort zone, sometimes you're pushed … but either way, you’re better off…

I wake up every morning here and know it is going to be an adventure. You see, new friends come with new hopes, and new hopes lead to new goals, and all three are welcome changes. Stepping outside of my comfort zone is also building a more resilient version of myself. The days in Sweden are harder, but I find the harshness of the wind and the awkwardness of the language invigorating, not comfortable, which is good, as I know I will thrive in the discomforts of day and do my dreaming at night in my brand-new, cozy IKEA bed…

Christen Press, Rookie For Life

Off the Post !

Five Tips for a rookie trying to survive in Sweden:
1) When in Sweden, do as the Swedish do! Except when it comes to eating pureed shrimp out of a toothpaste-like tube … then you’re better off Roman.

2) Do not borrow a blow dryer from the locker room, unless you want your hair to smell like sweaty socks!

3) Try to avoid using a Spanish accent when speaking Swedish … Espanswenglish?!

4) Do not tell the chef "inte bra" when you mean "mycket bra" unless you want spit in your meatballs.

5) Try to think of as many words that sound silly next to Valhalla … and laugh at yourself. You will be forgiven for botching Swedish culture in every way, shape, and form.

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1 comment
  1. Ryan Zimmer
    commented on: March 9, 2012 at 12:54 p.m.
    Love this article.


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