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Party of One
by Christen Press, June 16th, 2012 4:43AM
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TAGS:  americans abroad, sweden, women's national team


[THE PITCH] The primary question I am asked by friends from home and prospective American footballers contemplating the idea of playing abroad is what is it like to live … dum da da dum … alone in Sweden? Sometimes, their nervous voices startle me into thinking that perhaps I have overlooked something myself! I am, after all, living by myself in a foreign country, the setting for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo no less, so why am I not terrified or at the very least uneasy?

I recently met another foreigner in Sweden, who shared with me his thoughts of this country as a fellow "outsider." He told me that he thinks the Swedes are a lonely people. In fact, over 50 percent of the population lives alone. The country has one of the lowest marriage rates and highest divorce rates in Europe. Like many, he finds the inhabitants quite withdrawn and reclusive. He warned me, “And don’t expect them to open up over time.” After five years in the country, he still feels quite secluded. Yet, John Donne reminds us that: “No man is an island…If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.”—Still, shouldn’t I feel a little bit lonely?

Swedish Summer

Of course, the obvious answer is that I belong to a team with a built-in social structure: a group that has extra motivation to get to know me and incorporate me into their world. Without them, perhaps I too would feel like an outcast, estranged from Swedish society.  While being a part of a team might explain why I don’t feel completely alienated from Sweden, that’s surely not the whole story.

I think that living alone has actually had an inverse effect on my social sphere. My living situation has been quite a change from the last five years of my life, where I had a roommate and lived just a few minutes from my entire group of friends. But I’ve discovered a paradoxical effect of my newfound isolation, as living alone in this foreign country has actually prompted me to seek out others, thereby broadening my horizons.

I have been warmly welcomed and incorporated into this land of cobblestone and old buildings, this realm of fikas and lagom, this place where everything takes a little bit longer but is done with a smile. As for the occasional uncomfortable quietness of solitude, it motivates me to go out to meet and make friends at coffee houses, something I never did in America. Now, I take a daily fika, which usually entails lingering over both banter and laughter. No to-go cups and drive-through windows for me! As delicious as the coffee is here, the caffeine addiction runs secondary to the social fix.

Swedish Sunset: 10:30pm

I have come to cherish my moments of leisure spent in the pleasant company of friends. Whereas in "college life," I coveted … and I mean COVETED… any peaceful "me" time in order to just collect my thoughts; now, I enjoy going out to parks to write and be among the clamor of the people.  Not only do I appreciate each hug and laugh shared a little bit more, but also I believe that I actually hug, laugh, and even smile more often. The more I think about it; those statistics my foreign friend offered do not discourage me in the least. In an ironic twist of fate, living alone has actually made me feel more Swedish … if only in spirit.

This past rainy Tuesday, I laid back at my usual spot on the couch at Condeco coffee house happily contemplating this realization. And per usual, my mind began to drift to football… as I’ve mentioned before, in the last month, my team switched from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1, in which I am the lone forward. Suddenly, I had one of those House MD everything-fits-together moments. I live alone in Sweden, I play alone in a 4-5-1... (Ok, so it’s not as like I saved a person’s life by diagnosing a rare form of bacterial infection derived from a particularly stale box of cheese crackers...) Now, while our team possession and composure are improving, we have struggled to put together quality attacks in the final third of the field. Is it possible that my experience with solitude off the field can help me to improve my experiences on the pitch?

Swedish-style high school graduation celebrations

So I’m thinking … maybe this same fountain of knowledge can spill over onto the pitch as well. Splash! Living alone has actually allowed me to get closer to many friends, instead of just getting super close to my hypothetical roommate. Could the absence of a second forward (like the absence of a roommate) force me to make a better an effort to engage many and different teammates in the attack?

In the same way my efforts off the pitch have allowed me to develop better quality relationships, the same effort put forth on the pitch might help create more complex and quality football. Splash splash! By holding up the ball and waiting for numbers to get forward, our attacks will become more dynamic, unpredictable, fluid, and dangerous.

Still thinking … I am the lone striker now, but I am not a lone wolf. To go forward effectively…I need to run with my pack teammates. My point is to attack -- I am not the point of attack. To be dangerous … I need stay close and engaged with the rest of the team. I am a party of one, but it is still a party. To be successful in life and in football, I must remind myself that we are all in this together.

Stoppage Time:

Sunday, we played top dog Tyresö in what felt like one of the most important matches of the season. With a great crowd (that included some of my USWNT teammates) and a home advantage, there was extra pressure to take points. And while we played one of our best matches together, we, yet again, dropped the ball: conceding a late goal and losing 1-0.

There are two sides to this story. While the stark improvement in the quality of our play over the last two months is both promising and uplifting, losing games we should win feels like the ultimate failure.

I’ve been told that for great players/teams after both wins and losses, celebration or sorrow must be short-lived. The next day is about focusing on the next game. And so, I work hard to turn disappointment into a constructive analysis. My brain ticks and I mull over the details we need to improve. My head spins as I rehash the breakdowns of our team. We are such a strong team. We should be winning games. BAH! Thinking about what we need to do to be better is overwhelming.

I take pride in being a team player. I make an effort to stay emotionally connected to my teammates. I try to encourage them when they are down and demand more from them when I think the time is right. I ask questions. And I am a firm believer that a team is much more than its 11 individuals. I guess I’m still splashing in that fountain… But I also know that the best way for me to help the team push forward is to focus on being the best player as well as teammate that I can be. In the end, it starts with me, my role. While its easy to say we need to do this or that, this week I am asking myself what I need to do to help the team find success.

Of course, when I look closely at myself, the areas to improve seem vast: mental preparation, fitness, nutrition, attitude… (Hmmm…the list goes on.) But I’ll do what I need in order to break down each part, bit by bit, until I can chew what I bite off, and build from the bottom up.

Tyresö 1 – FC Göteborg 0  Highlights

Off The Post!

The United States women’s national team sports performance coach Dawn came to me this week with the results of some recent blood work, and informed me that I have had a recent plummet in Vitamin D ... aka … the sun vitamin. Seriously!? If she reported low levels of iron, I’d say: typical! If the test showed questionable levels of cocoa butter, I’d say: It’s possible. But … low on D? “You must be joking!” My sun-worshiping- ‘west coast is the best coast’ -self stood there, mouth agape. Stifling her own laughter, Dawn handed me some supplements and said, “Pressy, I’m serious.” Apparently, I have been justified in my weather complaints. Curse you, Sweden!  

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