Thursday, March 1, 2012
[THE PITCH] When I signed my contract with Atlanta Beat in early November, 2011, I took a brief sigh of relief, then came to an exhilarating realization that, for the next six months, soccer was truly my own. What to do … I could have revitalized my on again off again relationship with the ever faithful Southern California sun … The beach was calling … so loudly I could not even hear my mother’s voice reminding my 12 year old self that Pele took at least 200 shots a day.
I could have packed my bags and headed south to my family’s time-share in Mexico. The sun was shining … so brightly that I could no longer picture my old Stanford fitness packet that highlighted the dreaded mile repeat test. Having the license to choose my soccer experience has been empowering and enlightening. With no commitments, no training mates, and complete freedom, I began scheduling, all day every day, with each 15-minute interval marked neatly in my planner in permanent ink. Lifting, fitness, technical trainings, pick-up games … one after another, filling my days, until my soccer freedom became a well organized, invariable, regimen.
Soccer is my passion, my talent, my outlet. It is inextricably tied to my family, my friends, my education, and my dreams. Soccer is also my job. My game is the product I am selling and my approach for building a fine-tuned machine had always been business-like. When I go out to train, I am on the clock: I count reps and time rests. Since I was now in charge … I would have to be both the production and the quality control departments.
This is a typical day:
160 Shots in 30 minutes, 25 minutes Agilities, 25 minutes Sprint workout, 2 hour pick-up game
This is a typical shooting session:
80 shots per foot (10 of each of my favorite 4 shots, from 2 angles with alternating dribbling patterns) 30 second rest between sets
This is what happened:
The closer I came to preseason, the more intense my sessions got. The words, “You are either getting better or you're getting worse. You never stay the same,” echoed in my head all the while. But one bright December morning, I was 76 shots into my training when a young Colombian guy asked to join me. I checked my clock -- 20 minutes until pick up started -- and I tried to explain that I was not out there for fun. I was training. “Hmm,” he said, “Maybe you need to train yourself to have fun!”
This is when I realized I had it all wrong:
Had my training had become so inflexible that it bypassed the spirit of the sport I love? Sometimes what seems comforting is actually stifling. I had compromised efficacy with expediency. I had focused on the product and overlooked the process. I'm not playing American football, where there are a finite number of plays to perfect. Soccer is, after all, a fluid, free-form sport; it is the world’s game, la joga bonita, but somehow in my zealousness, this essence had gotten lost in translation. I had lost it among stopwatches and measuring tape, buried it underneath timetables and deferred dreams, and hidden it behind the everyday grind of my assembly line training.
This is when I got it right:
Skeptically, I let him join in. We worked on crossing and finishing, skills impossible to develop alone. We talked, we laughed, we shared with each other, which is also impossible to do alone. When the pick-up game started, I felt better about playing than I had in a long time. You see… I had a choice to make. I could have given in to the old me -- rigid and easily frustrated -- or I could have followed the example of the game itself and go with the flow. I decided to embrace the latter. I started coming to the field without my planner. I let my body and mood guide my workouts. I varied my training sessions, relaxing, improvising and enjoying the feeling of sweat on my face mixed with joy in my heart.
This is the pay-off:
When the WPS league suspended operations for 2012, I, like other players in the league, was left in a state of anxious uncertainty. Once again, I found myself at a crossroad. While the old me tried to rear a rigid head in panic … Wasn’t my contract written in stone? ... The new me decided to take stock of my situation and look beyond the horizon for a new opportunity. Right now, I do not know what type of preseason I am preparing for or what system I’ll be playing; I do know that as long as there are fields and soccer balls, there is a place out there for me. And so, I will do my best to enjoy the journey, and most importantly, go with the flow…
[Off The Post!] I play pick-up games at the public park in Manhattan Beach three times a week. The regulars look like the cast of misfits in a Telenovela. Some are fit, some are not; some are technical magicians, some are not; some are young, some are … not. But they all love fútbol, they are very competitive, and they are eager to teach… I’ve learned a lot of Spanish curse-words! One of my favorite guys, Spider, is not the most technical player on the field. He laughs at himself as he trips over the ball, and teases his teammates when they miss an open net. Every time I go out to play, he, somehow, scores the game-winner. After he does, he throws his hands up in jubilation and declares “YO … SOY … EL … MEJOR … DEL … MUNDO!!” (I AM THE BEST IN THE WORLD!)
An infectious grin spreads across his face like a child who spots his favorite character at Disneyland, and everyone on the field cannot help but shake their head and laugh along with him. I think his words capture the feeling every player in the world covets: the feeling of being unstoppable. It is a fleeting emotion, usually lasting only until the whistle blows, but the boost it gives our spirit sustains us long after.
Labels: The Pitch