[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…