The Red Zone Blog.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

[THE PITCH] There’s a shirt in my closet that reads ‘The Red Zone.’ That’s the nickname for the Stanford students cheering section. Inspired by American football’s phrase denoting the critical area between the 20-yard line and the end zone, for me, this term evokes images of friends dressed head-to-toe in Cardinal red standing, screaming, and cheering for hours during sporting events. I learned in school that 'Zone Rouge' was also used in reference to a region of France destroyed during WWI (but that is a whoooole other tangent upon which to stray.) Recently, however, the term has taken a different meaning in my life.
Not a day goes by at USWNT camp without a few of my teammates talking about ‘The Red Zone,’ a phrase usually accompanied by a flushed face and a quick glace down at a heart rate monitoring watch.

Heart rate training zones are calculated by taking into consideration your Max Heart Rate and your Resting Heart Rate. Within each training zone, subtle physiological effects take place to enhance your training. The Red Zone is 90%-100% of your max heart rate. Training in this zone is only possible for short periods. It effectively trains your fast twitch muscle fibers and helps to develop speed. Only the very fit are able to train successfully within this zone. Today, the words: ‘The Red Zone’ represent hard work; They symbolize the USWNT #BloodSweatTearsToVictory attitude, thus dictating my every day and every training session here in Great Britain.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know how my move from the USA to Sweden was a transition away from the full-steam-ahead mentality. I have spent the last 4 months learning to appreciate the beauty of a more…let’s say… tempered game. And now, BAM! Out of the frying pan and into the fire. The team’s World Cup slogan "pressure makes us" works as a double entendre; an ostensible reference to the pressure of succeeding under the spotlight, while ‘pressure’—applied on the field, on the ball, the type that requires superior fitness—is a huge reason for the team’s success.

Monthly Yoyo fitness tests, Nike SPARQ training, a rigorous lifting program, detailed informational breakdowns of every training—including distance traveled, number and difficulty of accelerations, time spent in each heart rate training zone—enable this team to sustain a fast paced, high intensity game for 90 minutes: a game that few other nations can keep up with. I’ve learned again and again that life is a game of compromise. There are only so many hours in a day, and when you are always training at max speed, the total number of hours you can spend training decreases. Fitness is, after all, one aspect of soccer that is always in the player’s control. But it seems to me that spending so much time and attention on fitness might have its drawbacks.

When I have control over my own training, I like to find my rhythm within the game. When playing, I must pick the right times to take risks and go for a goal, and the right times to be patient and keep possession. While training, I try to balance the high intensity training sessions with slower-paced drills purely focusing on the technique.

I’ve learned a lot by taking a moment for verbal feedback between reps. I’ve found it useful running drills that push my mind, even if they don’t push my body to exhaustion. I remember when I first started playing soccer, a coach said to me: “You are really fast…but the ball is faster….and it never tires.” True dat! As a footballer in the age of Lionel Messi and the likes, I believe that technique is something the women’s game should concentrate more on. In the mean time, for a team on a mission to win, priorities must be set and attended to. And on this team, “The Red Zone” reigns.

2012 has been a year of adjustment for me. I’ve had to learn to let things go in order to pick up new things. I’ve had to learn how to acquire new skills while maintaining the best aspects of myself and my past. I’ve had to learn a new style of soccer and a new lifestyle. I adjust and readjust and now, it’s time to readjust again. It is time for another push, another scramble, yet another lesson. And of course it is…THIS IS THE OLYMPICS! While I will not play in games (you can find me decked out in Team USA gear in the Red, White, and Blue Zone), it is my role to be the best player I can be every day in training in order to push and inspire my teammates. That is my contribution to Team USA. I know it’s possible to fulfill my role and improve as a player just by being here, but like American football, it doesn't get good until you’re "inside the 20 yard line". To be at my best, I must find my niche in The Red Zone. On the road to gold, we must stay focused as we pass through a kaleidoscope of colors… and steady as we navigate a variety of zones. Some we push for (like The Red Zone), others just happen upon us...

In his book Mind Gym, the ‘bible’ of sports psychology, Gary Mack explains a sports’ phenomenon that to many is the underlying allure of being an athlete. He writes, “All great athletes know the feeling. They use different words to describe it. They’re on autopilot; they’re tuned in; in total control; in the groove; locked. Japanese baseball players have their own word for it. Mushin. Loosely translated, it means ‘no mind.’ Tennis star Arthur Ashe called it ‘playing in the zone.” These ‘unconscious’ moments of brilliance are the manifestation of muscle memory developed during the thoughtful practice of technique. Mack calls them, “white moments.” Hmmm…Maybe it’s just the kindergartener in me, but I’m pretty sure that White isn’t present in Red. Then again, the two work so well along side one another… like the stripes on the American flag…


Usain Bolt. The Fastest Man Alive.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Above is a link to BBC's intimate portrait of the Olympic Champion, Usain Bolt. 

Four years ago in Bejing, the Jamaican electrified the world with an 100m dash that reshaped the boundaries of human possibility by posting a new world record. Infamous for his cocky pre-race demeanor and ridiculous victory dances, the documentary reveals that there is a lot more to the man in the gold shoes. In the film, Bolt breaks down the phases of his race. He says, "at about 60 meters, well that's where I really turn into a beast..." The image of him at the 80m mark in the final became the symbol of the 2008 Olympic games: so far ahead of his competitors, Bolt reached his arms out behind him in an early celebration of what looked like an effortless victory. While it may seem that it took only 9.69 seconds to become a global icon and known as the fastest man alive, this documentary, filmed over the last twelve months as Bolt prepares for the London2012 games, shows the nuances of the hard work and dedication required to... well, run as fast as lightening.

At a time where media access is so strictly controlled due to sport star branding, I thought it was fun and inspiring to watch this up-close account of such an incredible athlete. 

The It's Your Move Blog.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Team activities including archery (watch out Katniss), flying lessons at Hogwarts (formerly known as Alnwick Castle), and a golf scramble.

[THE PITCH] “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.”- Serenity Prayer

I am learning a lot this year, as I stumble down my life path: realizing my power as both an athlete and human being. My experiences with football and living abroad are challenging me, and so, teaching me how far I can push my body, mind, and soul with the right tools. Although I firmly believe in my own ability to change both my environment and myself, I understand that there are times when life is like a game of Wheel of Fortune. I spin the wheel, but who has painted the board… Can I buy a vowel?

There are always power structures at play, but perhaps this game is more like Chess. Sometimes I am a Pawn, but even the Queen can be left at the mercy of her Knights. So, if I am not in full control of my opportunities/ limitations and therefore my future, who is? Who sits on the other side of the board? In chess, like football, it’s pretty simple, you implement strategies to fight your opponent… to exhaustion… every game. In life, we are often left fighting ‘the man.’ When your adversary is as nebulous as that, it’s a tougher and often futile battle. Success, then, comes with finding that delicate balance… that thin line… between when to accept your circumstance and ‘reframe’ them to make the best and when to strike back.

Each person’s life is defined by a unique realm of possibilities. I was blessed with a lot of opportunities. One of them, an education that taught me: 1) Anything is possible 2) Always fight ‘the man’ 3) Question everything that comes from the top… down 4) Never give up. However, while on my quest for… well… everything, I have learned that sometimes enlightenment is more expedient than enterprise, acceptance more effective than avarice.

More importantly, I’ve learned to spend my energy and put my attention preparing to seize the moment when it comes, rather than wondering and worrying about if that moment will come. Every thought spent stressing over that which I cannot control is a moment of groundwork lost.

This mindset is effective both on and off the pitch. Accepting the fact that I cannot control everything has made me a better footballer. On the field, I am one of 22 players, and much of what happens in a game is out of my jurisdiction. I’ve found it more valuable to stay ready for the next play, instead of stressing over the why’s and the how’s of the last one. I try to focus on being in the best position I can be in at any given moment. The key is accepting that sometimes the situation is “a given” (i.e. out of my control.) It seems simple, but it’s harder than it sounds; and it has made a big difference in my play. Less frustrated and more focused, when I do have a chance to make a play on the game, I am more adept to make it a successful one.

Football is a subjective sport with no uniform measuring sticks. That’s part of its charm. But as a player chasing a dream, I am left at the mercy of someone else’s opinion. For the first half of 2012, it seemed that an opportunity to try out for the Olympic team was one I would not be afforded. It was a hard pill to swallow. I dedicated myself even more wholly to my sport, swearing to do everything in my power to prepare for what, in my mind, were possible chances in 2013. I reminded myself that every second I spent thinking ‘what could I have done?’ was one less rep, and with that mindset, my spirit could not be broken.

You know how your keys always turn up the moment you stop looking for them? Well, when your keys are your dreams, finding them will bring you to tears even if the carpool has left without you. In the end, I feel like the attitude—of acceptance, of patience, of focus—really did put me in the best position when my chance with the national team came this April.

And now, I find myself a part of London2012 named an alternate on Team USA. Ironically, I am the ultimate pawn, unable to earn the opportunity to play. I am thankful for this opportunity to learn, to grow, and to be a part of such an amazing international sporting event. From the sideline I will not question when or how I will be called upon. Alternatively, I will spend my time, energy, and concentration preparing to be in the best position if the time arises. Once again, I play the game.

[Off The Post!Last week my family—little sister Channing, mom, dad, and my dad’s mom Grandfran—came to visit me in my quaint hometown Gothenburg. We also visited the spectacular Swedish capitol Stockholm and ended our trip in stunning Santorini, Greece.

Again and again, my very grateful grandmother announced that the trip was “…like dying and going to Heaven, suga’ lump!” At 79-years-old, she’s trekked for miles sightseeing through the cities and scaled steep stairways up and down the sloping Santorini cliffside. Throughout, she was an absolute gem.! Of course, she had her limitations. And while we all know she is currently telling her friends it was all “Sheer heaven”, we also heard her when she stood at the bottom of one steep hill yelling up to us, “Aww Hell no!”

The following video is a clip from our trip. With some help, Granfran trekked down a winding and steep donkey-poop infested path  beginning 400m high down to dinner at sea level. Full of both laughter and obscenities, it was really a walk to remember. Watch at your own risk J


Rookie for life, 

The Climb.

Monday, July 16, 2012

“Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance towards the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vantage point.” -Harold B. Melchart

Free Concerts.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lenny Kravitz rocking. Liseberg.

At the Timbuktu concert with some teammates. Liseberg.

B.O.B. jamming. Avenyn.

During Nelly Frutado's performance. Avenyn.

Swedes watching their idol Loreen sing at sunset. Avenyn.

Don't Work. Be Hated. Love Someone.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Don't Work. "Resist the temptation to get a job. Instead, play... Find that pursuit that will energize you, consume you, become an obsession. Each day, you must rise with a restless enthusiasm."

Be Hated. "It is far too easy to be liked... There are a great many bad people in the world, and if you are not offending them, you must be bad yourself."

Love Someone. "In loving someone, we become inspired to better ourselves in every way. We celebrate being human. Loving is good for the soul... Love someone without reservation or apology. Let it consume you. You will be reborn, and all the better for it."

Some borrowed words of advice from a 2008 commencement speech by Adrian Tan.

Santorini: The Last Stop Before Heaven.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fira by day.

A stairway too steep for my shoes, let alone a 79-year-old. Kudos Granfran!

Transportation in Santorini: the only traffic slower than the 110.

Along for the ride!

Swimming in the Aegean Sea.

In Oia.

Long strolls in long dresses.

A walk to remember.

Sailing into the sunset.

Greek Goddess in the doorway.

Fira by night.

The Stretch Yourself Blog.

Monday, July 9, 2012

With my parents in Stockholm, Sweden.

[THE PITCH] I have a secret. In 9th grade, I failed the physical education exemption examination. Even the cheerleaders were able to pass the 10-minute mile run and skip PE… But I was required to participate in 3 separate high school sports all because I could not touch my toes.

In college, when someone told me that inflexibility runs hand in hand with speed, instead of scrutinizing the theory, I just ran with it. Hmmmm.

About the same time I stopped (… okay, tried to stop) eating grilled cheese sandwiches with extra butter for lunch, I started (… okay attempted to start) getting more cut at the gym, and dedicated myself to making healthy lifestyle choices (…okay okay I admit that is a stretch…), I simultaneously acquired a natural nemesis in the form of tight hammies! (… and tight hips, tight lower back, tight calves…Essentially,  I was about as flexible as a robot.)

So, it looked like this not-so-well-oiled machine would have to spend some quality time in the off-season limbering up.  20 minutes a day of stretching in the hot tub is not so much to ask, right? Right. As you may be aware, the most challenging aspect of any healthy living plan occurs in the first few weeks; the adjustment period, when there are no visible perks such as getting thinner or faster, let alone becoming flexible. During that time it seemed that the only things stretched out were my patientience and conviction, and both were on the verge of snapping. But I pushed and pulled on…albeit gingerly. I never realized just how close my head could get to my knees if I got my mind behind it.

Well… after 45 days of stretching, at the age of 23, I touched my toes for the first time in 10 years, and that was all the motivation I needed to kick into full gear. Progress is a powerful promoter. Not only was it reinforcing, but also it was inspiring.

I felt so empowered that I began a strict diet and my body became leaner, added 20 minutes of agility drills to my daily workouts and I starting moving quicker, added 20 minutes of skill work to my routine and was becoming more and more comfortable on the ball. I was learning the lesson that I can do anything with patience and practice.

Yes, some people are born more flexible, stronger, faster and sometimes its good to focus on your strengths and just accept shortcomings. However, through a wider angle, I saw a glimpse of how much more I could squeeze out of my own body.

As you have probably guessed, I had to trim down my routine, as there are only so many hours in the day.  It seems that now, my body is flexible but not my schedule. Lately, I’ve been experiencing a difficult time in the season. With some bad timing on top of exhaustion, it’s safe to say this break came at the right time in my life. Still, I’m counting on the self-assurance I’ve gained from ‘power stretching’ to pull me up from this mental slump. When things begin to drag, I focus on the small stuff that is in my control to put the pep back in my step, starting with a simple stretch.

For that time in my life that I was a ‘machine,’ I felt invincible and limitless. In a lot of ways, I still do today. I stretched out my body and my mind, and in doing so, I flexed my power to affect my life. Nothing is out of my reach!

 With my little sister Channing at the Botanical Gardens. Gothenburg.

[Stoppage Time] Tuesday marked the team’s last game before a 6 week Olympic break. I was excited to play against one of Allsvenskan’s top teams Tyresö and in front of my family. For me, my family watching always makes football seem infinitely more important. I guess a lot of the fun in being a professional athlete is to be able to bring people, and especially the ones you love, joy and pride.

However, I have been struggling with a strained groin and could not play many minutes in the match. Coming into the final minutes of an intense match is an interesting experience and takes a totally different mentality and understanding as a player. There is a momentum and feeling already established on the field, and a substitutes job is to change that balance to the benefit of their team. There is no time afforded to get comfortable, taking some simple touches to settle in. Sitting on the sideline watching my team made me want to play to the point I felt a bit desperate and completely antsy.

My team kept quality possession and took the lead, going into half up 1-0. Halfway through the second half, however, the tide seem to have turned, and I entered the game just after we went down 1-2.

I came on the field eager to run, kick, and fight, and that’s what I did, but to no avail. It was a sad loss: in front of my family, our last match for a long time, and the final game for one of our center backs Jane Törnqvist. At 37, Jane retired and just left for a spiritual trip to India. Over the last 4 months, I have come to think of Jane as both a good friend and a strong role model. She is one of the most grounded people I’ve ever met. And she will be missed.

Our next match is August 18, and there is much to be done before stepping back on the pitch in my KGFC jersey.

Final score:
Göteborg FC 1- Tyresö FF 3

Rookie for life,

Trip to Stockholm

Friday, July 6, 2012

On the 'Under The Bridges of Stockholm' Boat Tour.

Rose Garden in Skansen Open Air Museum.

My dad exploring Stockholm's Old Town.

From Feather Island.


Sightseeing in Sweden's capital with Channing.

Strolling through Stockholm's streets with Granfran.

My mom and Granfran at Grodan Restaurant.

Lunch Beat.

Monday, July 2, 2012

"When it comes to lunch breaks, the laissez-faire French like to take two hours out of their workday to savor their food in the company of colleagues while workaholic Americans prefer dining solo in front of their computers. Well, in Sweden we have a whole other vibe going. Here, more and more workers are forgoing both leisurely lunches and "al-desko" dining in favor of daytime raves."

Lunch beat is a Swedish ‘organization’ that puts on daytime discos for companies during their lunch hour. These substance-free raves have gone viral in Sweden, supposedly letting workers dance it out while helping form a community within a company. Sounds like a lot of fun to me!

I have yet to experience a Lunch Beat event first hand, but as soon as I can figure out a way to apply this phenomenon to professional soccer, it’s sure to be my newest obsession!