[THE PITCH: Blog 28] How often is smaller actually better? Hmm maybe with puppies and prices, but most of the time, the old cliché, “The bigger … the better” holds true. However, one important lesson that I have learned in a whopping two-year-career as a professional soccer player is that the “bigger-is-better” mentality does not apply when thinking about my game.
When it comes to how my brain works in the game, I try to follow the same philosophy as when I indulge in eating one of those delicious Swedish chocolate bars: take small bites.
Taking small bites lets me savor every bit and makes my “happy chocolate time” last longer. With soccer, I try to break things down to their simplest form in order to keep my mind from drifting off to a very panicked and out-of-control place. Maybe you’ve been to that place too? Like when you’ve devoured so much chocolate, too fast to even taste it and make yourself a bit sick … or am I the only one that does that? If it weren’t for a concerted effort, I know exactly how my mind would run, and by run I mean race. My legs move at a snail’s pace compared to my unfiltered mind… I just took a bad touch → I am playing horribly → I am never going to score → What if I never score again? → What am I doing out here in Sweden? → Where is my career headed?
All these thoughts in the time it takes for my bad touch to travel to the defenders foot. Warp speed? More like warped.
In an effort to avoid this crash course, I’ve developed some don’t-let-your-thoughts-get-crazy strategies to keep my mind as productive as possible during a game.
1) Stay present, as the past and the future are dangerous places to live. Luckily, the present constantly bombards us with information and stimuli, making this a rather natural concentration of thoughts. Taking things for what they are in that current moment makes life a lot less overwhelming.
*I should note that I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of careful reflection and retrospection and am an even bigger advocate of what I best describe as loud, public dreaming. However, there is a time and a place for these types of thoughts… not during games.
2) Take control. Along similar lines, I’ve found making a concerted effort to concentrate on the controllable parts of my game allows me to improve my play on the fly, where focusing on intangible goals only distract me from the task at hand. So, missing a shot is, “I picked my head up too early” rather than “I’m choking because I really need to score a goal today.” I can’t control if I score, but I can keep my head down.
3) Keep it simple! Breaking ideas down to their smallest forms make everything more manageable. Furthermore, it allows me to think more deeply about ideas if I spent time with each detail separately. For example, thinking about the simplest aspects of the game can be effective when the game itself presents a tough spot. Instead of projecting to the possible negative effects of a setback, break it down to small, feasible “challenges.” If I am not getting playing time then it is “I need to create more crosses and shots, so I will work on my dribbling,” not “maybe I’m not good enough… the coach clearly hates me… this is going to hurt the progress of my career.”
4) Center yourself around a key word. Psychologists have long suggested that during emotional moments, focusing on a “trigger word” can be calming. In the last few games, I’ve tried to apply this tip to a soccer-specific setting. Each game I chose a new word that is present, controllable, manageable, and positive. At important moments during the game, I chant my mini-mantra in my head and will it to be true of myself. When my self-dialogue heads south, I block it out with the soothing sound of a specific, single word that can bring me back up to a happy state.
5) Incorporate positive self-talk. I understand the ironic wisdom behind the words of Yogi Berra, “Ninety percent of the game is half mental…” Pumping myself up with positive self-talk is the most powerful and effective tool I have, on and off the field. Yes, to many I might seem crazy … my teammates often tease me as they see my mouthing and gesturing to myself and I’ve witnessed many a sideways glace from a nearby defender. Still, I defer to the wisdom of Muhammad Ali, who said, “I told myself I was the greatest long before I knew I actually was.” I can actually feel the power of these little, self-directed lies coursing through my veins when I’m on the field. They serve as a positive reminder of the player I strive to be and leave me feeling more resilient and determined to make them reality.
Our game versus Kristianstad marked the beginning of a three-week, six-game stretch that will put our team to the test. Riding a six-game winning streak, we look forward to Damallsvenskan on the weekend and our more important games mid-week: Champions League and Swedish Cup. Last Saturday we played a familiar opponent (for the third time this season) Kristianstad on familiar ground (Valhalla turf) in familiar conditions (cold weather). We knocked the ball around with confidence and ease. We created a good number of quality chances and the goals came. Then, we played a foreign team (legitimately had no idea what to expect) ZFK Spartak, on foreign ground (the lumpiest grass field in Subotica, Serbia) in foreign conditions (I’ve heard it’s called “sun” and it warms the Earth.) The ball popped up over our feet and left us scrambling as we struggled to connect final passes or put ourselves in front of the goal. We won both game, however, and that’s what counts. We now have a good idea of what we will have to do to have a successful end to this season: Fight … no matter who … no matter where … no matter what.
Final Score:KGFC 3 – Kristianstad 0
See Promo video here:
Final Score:KGFC 1 – ZFK Spartak 0
See Promo video here:
Off the Post!
My sister Tyler has been visiting this past week. She planned this trip a while ago, before our Champions League schedule came out. When I found out that we would be traveling to Serbia for three days in the middle of her trip, I gave her the option: come to Serbia or explore Sweden alone. Without hesitation she replied, “Serbia here I come!” Sometimes I smile just knowing that she would travel to the end of the world with me. Just a few days after 24 hours of traveling to get to Sweden, Tyler flew with my good friend Cami’s parents to Subotica, Serbia, which turned out to be a great place to take a quick trip. We found the town a beautiful paradox of lavish detailed architecture amid a crumbling facade. The warm weather was welcoming, and we were spoiled by the cheap prices of delicious food and spa services! Sitting around the table the night following a hard fought win, we all were thinking… what a success!
At one point during the fun and boisterous celebration, someone on the team mentioned that it was a liiiiittle bit crazy that the three of them (Tyler and Des and Diane Levin) traveled all the way to Serbia for this match. As the details were flushed out, the level of ridiculousness became more and more clear. They had flown at the crack of dawn from Sweden to Germany to Hungary, then, rented a car and drove over two hours through the border to Subotica. Dr. Levin jokingly announced, “We can never tell anyone about this trip. It’s our little secret!” Well…Sorry, but the word is out… we have the most amazing support system in the world!