[THE PITCH: BLOG 35]When it’s finally over you will discover a newfound strength in your bones. Well, actually, your body will seem to deteriorate through the course of a long, tough season. Hmm… Perhaps your new strength will reside in your brain. It is funny how connected the two are: body and mind. Only you will be so fatigued that you may not recognize the new and improved you as you gravitate toward a post-season hibernation and find yourself sleeping roughly 12 hours at a stretch. But remember Rip Van Winkle… you will wake up to find change has happened. Through the ups and the downs, the cycles of games and breaks and then more games, through training after training after training, in the rain … oh the rain! ... and travel -- planes, trains, buses, and automobiles -- the season will tear you apart. And yet, in the most important ways, it will quite certainly leave you whole.
Resist the urge to attempt to “Americanize” your Swedish schedule. In the past, your seasons have been sprints. In which, you’ve trained hard to prepare for preseason, even harder in preseason, played a few months of games, began your “kick” in the playoffs, hit the finish line, then a big fat break. This season, on the other hand, will be a marathon. You cannot train for a marathon like you train for a sprint, but you will try to anyway; doing interval training … pushing and pushing, adding extra trainings, extra running, and lifts into your schedule as a form of “improvement insurance.” Don’t do it! You will soon learn, “Enough is a feast.” Otherwise, while you climb the peaks and valleys this year, you will miss flourishing in the rain of the plains with most of your Swedish teammates. One last bit of advice … When it is time to stop and drink some water … stop … drink, but be ready to resume the race.
As I reflect upon my last season, I look forward to preparing for my next. With this in mind, I hope I can do a better job of adopting the Swedish training mentality. Supplemental training feels great to my body … to my mind. As the endorphins flush through my body, I am reassured that I am doing everything in my power to be my best, giving me confidence and pride. But if I am going to embrace a more moderate approach to my practice regimen, I will need to fill in the ravine where the streams of extra endorphins and self-assurance used to flow.
My friend and former teammate is currently in a long, difficult recovery process following knee surgery. While chatting about her rehabilitation, she gave me clues into a possible method of coping with the extended season. Patience is paramount. Naturally, when first injured, she wanted progress to come as quickly as possible, and so, she too, was a sucker for over-training. But now, she is learning that, in the long haul, it’s all about the “little victories.” While she works toward the big benchmarks -- when she can run, cut, play contact … the wins, goals, and prizes of a season -- her physical therapist advises her to make sure she focuses on each small improvement; thereby consistently validating her hard work and progress and reassuring herself. In extended rehab, progress might be manifested in the form of a muscle twitching for the first time. In a lengthy season, it might be something as subtle as recognizing a teammate’s tendencies. While it didn’t seem like a big deal, in hindsight, appreciating these small achievements potentially could have helped to build up my self-confidence and allayed some of my frustrations.
Hmm … it seems that no matter how hard I try to get everything out of an experience, I am always inadvertently taking the advice of my father. After a long day at Disneyland growing up, my dad would plead to us girls: “Save some for next time!”
In my first blog entry in February, I wrote about the pickup soccer I used to play at the park in Manhattan Beach, Calif. In a tank top and in the sunshine, I would join what I called a cast of misfits in a Telenovela for two hours of fútbol. That feels like a lifetime ago. So when my teammate called this week and asked if I wanted to come out of hiding and join her and some younger boys at Valhalla for spontanfotboll, I couldn’t resist! So much for my “big, fat post-season break.” But like overtraining, perhaps that, too, must go in my adoption of the Swedish way.
Walking into our locker room with the blasting music and smiling faces from a few of my teammates, somehow felt surreal, like a clip out of a movie. We took the field in 0 degrees Celsius, wearing far too many layers of clothing, and the rain seemed only to add to the drama. Yes, the season had taken its toll on all of us. But there we were, beaming from ear to ear like we had never had the privilege of playing before. When one of the boys scored a goal, I could swear I heard him yelling “Jag är den bästa spelaren i väldren!” (“I am the best in the world!”)… and bathed in a perfect mixture of rain and sweat… we were all reborn!
Recently, it has been brought to my attention that the way in which I have explained the Swedish season is a bit confusing, so I thought I’d give a brief recap and clarification.
The Swedish League season runs from April through October, with a short break midway in the summer. Unlike the play-off models of my past, winning Damallsvenskan (the league) is the most noteworthy accomplishment within Sweden. We finished 4th in league.
Match vs. Piteå:
Match vs. Djurgården:
Match vs. Malmö:
Match vs. Linköping:
Meanwhile, the Swedish Cup (the tournament) runs concurrently with league. We played Cup games on Wednesday and league games on the weekend. We won the cup (2-1).
Most importantly of all, the UEFA Women's Champions League runs from September through the following June with a long break in the winter. CL is congruent with most European league schedules, but Sweden’s weather conditions force Damallsvenskan’s schedule to be flipped: spring-fall versus fall-spring. To qualify for Champions League, a Swedish team must finish first or second in league. However, because of the timing issues, finalists in Damallsvenskan for 2012 qualify for Champions League 2013. By coming in forth, the only way for my team to qualify for Champions League 2013/2014 would be, a la Chelsea, winning Champions League in May 2013.
Champions League games are also played on Wednesday during league, with each round consisting of a home and an away leg. We won the first round of Champions League against Serbia’s Spartak (4-0 Aggregate)
We won the round of sixteen against Denmark’s Fortuna Hjørring, thus advancing to the quarterfinals in March. The draw for the quarterfinals takes place on Nov. 27. (4-3 Aggregate)