The Calm.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

[THE PITCH] You are enjoying fine food and fine company at a spring picnic when suddenly you realize the wind has stopped blowing. It’s eerily quiet… As if someone has turned off the soundtrack of whistling winds, chirping birds, and even rustling leaves. It’s calm… And in that moment of silence all that exists is a collective consciousness among cohorts…Not a cloud in the sky above…Hmmm…Instinctively you gather your belongings…A storm is coming.

The old adage “the calm before the storm” has been used for decades. Many believe it’s merely a wives tale or a myth, stemming from a sailor’s fabricated sixth sense. But we know now that under the right conditions, an unnerving calm can indeed befall the scene just before a system moves in. And the pressure from this storm-precursor is as real as it is perceivable. 

Two weeks ago after our 1-1 draw with Mallbackens IF (a team lingering on the bottom half of the Damallsvenskan table), a few players from our team stayed behind after the game. Caught deep in thoughts…It was quiet. The soundtrack of whistling referees, chirping coaches , and even the rustling crowd…stifled. It was calm… And in that moment of silence all that existed was a unanimous feeling of frustration made visible on the faces of my ‘coworkers.’ I look up to check for clouds. Clear skies. That’s strange… because I feel the storm coming.

As far as Mother Nature goes, a storm’s upward drafts suck up a tremendous amount of vapor and heat. The air swoops upward, compresses, and then cycles back down from above, but warmer and drier. The now more stable air forms a blanket over the lower troposphere, acting as a temporary shield, preventing more air from entering the storm clouds, and producing what we know as “the calm before the storm.”

What is more curious to me, however, is that if not for this cyclical and counter-intuitive process, the clouds would not have enough energy to storm at all.  And that much I can understand. If you’re an athlete, you are probably familiar with the feeling of anxious restlessness after a loss. Not every loss is like this, as sometimes you leave the field feeling flat. However in this case, the “loss” actually came in the form of an unacceptable tie; and as we stepped off the pitch after the Mallbacken debacle knowing we can do better, we were of collective consciousness and our mind was already at the next game: our chance for redemption.

The result both emotionally and physically exhausted us… sucking up our vapor and heat… I used one shaking hand to steady the other as my teammate clenched her jaw to suppress her anger… the air swoops up and compresses… and yet our hearts pumped and our muscles tensed…cycling back down…Regardless of its many and varied manifestations, the forecast was clear. A new energy was among us…a force …a disturbance of sorts. For then, we made it rain…


Behind The Band.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stockholm's Cherry Blossoms.

[THE PITCH] When I listen to a song on the way to practice, or a match, or just hanging out, I hardly ever contemplate the hours of hard work that went into making the music. I simply roll down the windows, turn up the volume, and cruise. Although there is a perceivable transformation in my disposition, it is driven by a blind devotion to attractive melodies. However, when I watch a live performance, in which the musicians, singers, instruments, and electronics blend before my eyes, the power emanating from the stage triggers a deep emotional reaction, as well as a greater appreciation for the art. Watching football is a lot like that… entertaining, exciting…emotional!  Franklin Foer, who wrote, How Soccer Explains the World said, “Soccer isn't the same as Bach or Buddhism. But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community's fabric...” I’ve always felt a link between music and football, but I really haven’t taken the time to try and connect the dots...

Two things sparked my exploration of the correlation between soccer and song… the first was an interview I had with Christian Brookes, whose blog covers both music and football. The resulting article, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading, can be found here

With my cousin Clark and my father.
Also, last week I met with my cousin Clark Gayton in Stockholm. (It’s always amazing to see someone close to me in this foreign, foreign land). Clark, a talented musician, is one year into a four-year world tour with Bruce Springsteen and was in town for a show. I appreciated chatting with my cousin about working with two superstars, (first Sting and now Bruce), as I’ve been fortunate to play with a few superstars myself. Our conversation was the second thing that really got me to thinking about the similarities and differences in great bands in music and great teams in football.

There are several similar qualities required for a successful band and a successful team: talent and skill, practice and dedication, tolerance for and management of a nomadic lifestyle, pursuit of harmony, and acceptance of the occasional sour note. Great music is considered Fine Art…and we call a well-played match, “The Beautiful Game.” Although there are some obvious differences (like the fact that I’ve yet to see the conductor sub-out a violinist because he was playing too slowly), one or two stand out the most to me. 

Clark told me that there is a major characteristic that Sting and Bruce have in common: super-sized EGOS. (Well, they don’t call the latter “The Boss” for nothing.) Both these mega stars dictate their bands as well as entertain their audiences. Rumor has it that The Boss has said, “I hate a @#$%! with an opinion.”  And, my dad claims to have witnessed Sting strutting around backstage after a show in L.A. wearing a silk smoking jacket with his nose in the air. The music industry is very much star driven. Great singers are center stage. Headliners are “the show” and everyone else is “back up.” In contrast, football is team driven. No matter how much football’s superstars—even Messi and Ronaldo—stand out, no matter how big the impact they have on the game, they never go “solo.”

In football, team captains are usually the inglorious center-backs who connect with the coach and orchestrate the team. Successful teams accept these reciprocal roles; as cooperation and a “team first” mentality are paramount to winning.

Ahhhh winning…that’s a big differentiating factor in music and football. Although often played in football stadiums, concerts are rarely competitive. As an athlete I have to admit, I love that part of the game…the chance to win! And as soundtracks go, I wouldn’t be the least bit opposed to hearing a tune like …We are the Champions playing after our final home match of Damallsvenskan!

[Stoppage Time] After our most recent 1-1 tie against Damallsvenskan newcomer Mallbackens IF, my teammate wrote on Twitter: “The war is long and you don’t win or lose until the end.”

It’s almost inevitable that during a 22 game season, every team will hit a little slump. It’s not so usual that that slump happens right in the beginning of the season. There is a good and bad side to this story. The bad side is: well, it’s really frustrating.

The good side is that the process of rebounding from these slumps is what builds team character. And for us to get that chance early on will be a clear advantage, in my opinion. It’s ironic that we’ve been struggling to play as a cohesive unit on the field, when I feel the team is quite in stride in every other way. We all feel it’s not good enough. We all are a little frustrated... with ourselves, and with the team. We all expect more.  And most importantly, we all trust it will get better. I have faith…and it’s better to sizzle like the Memphis Grizzlies than to fizzle like the LA Clippers.

Final Score:
TFF 1 – Mallbackens IF 1

[Off The Post!My dad has an affinity for self-proclaimed nicknames. I have written before about how he has spent my 24 years of life trying to get me to call him Big Daddy… Well, during his most recent visitation, he was at it again. Big Daddy was all too excited for his visit to Sweden when he realized my Spanish roommates gave him an excuse to practice his insuppressible and excruciating Español. After failing to convince everyone that back home he is known, like Bruce Springsteen, as El Jefe… he switched gears and told them that his golf club members nicknamed him “The Fresh Prince” because he was the first African-American member of Bel Air Country Club. Little did he know that las Españolas had taken one look at him and immediately recalled the TV series… So, for my team here in Sweden, he will forever be known as “Felipe!”


10. Games, Changes and Fears.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

HoH Family Portrait.
“Games, changes and fears
When will they go from here
When will they stop.”

Last year, when my family and I visited Stockholm during a break in the season, we made a point to see The Changing of The Guards at Sweden’s Palace in Gamla Stan. Official uniforms, a band, and synchronized movements are all a part of this ritual, celebrating national pride. A large crowd of tourists come together to, quite simply, watch the guards switch shifts. I’ve seen the Changing of the Guards in Oslo, Norway and London, England as well. It happens in many different countries throughout the world. And so it seems that I am not the only one to make a big deal out of change. To gain perspective (but mostly to make my case for being melodramatic) I have enlisted the wisdom of those far more astute than myself to play the role of provocateur.

TFF v Vittsjö
So many of my blogs have referred back to that moment when I decided to move to Sweden. In that instant, I changed my career path, relationships, and home. It seems to be the pivotal point in my life. After years of developing a style of play that I was both comfortable with and proud of, I was forced to change my style in order to fit a new role. Ugh!!! Noted neurologist, Viktor E. Frankl might argue,When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves.Good point… While all that changing happened to me, something changed within me.  To find happiness in Sweden, I had to change my perspective. I’m not sure of which I am more proud: taking the leap or growing the wings.

And then, I changed teams again. New job…Bang…New relationships…Bam…New home…Boom! One might think that after I’d garnered all the benefits of change so many times before, the process would get easier. But it isn’t. I continue to miss. I continue to resist. “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” You’re right, Dr. King so I better stay tough.

My head coach Tony has made a point to tell me that he doesn’t want to cut off my edges to fit me into the team. “No need to change you,” he says, “we can find you in our system.” Hmm… But with these new players, this new system, and a totally different style around me, I’ve started to see the steadfast truth in life: Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Truth President Obama! If I am going to grow, I have to change.

No, I’m not saying that I have to force this “square peg” into a circle,—getting away from my strengths as a player—would be a mess. But I am not opposed to a little nip and tuck…here and there. (I am an LA girl after all!!) They say that football is a game of inches, and the small adjustments in timing and positioning transform the game entirely. If so, then maybe my role last year and my role this year are not so far apart…or perhaps they are colossally different.

In the past, it seemed as if change was something that happened to me. I, in turn, had to change to survive. But now as I look toward the season ahead of me, I can make the choices myself. I can choose to change; I can, for the first time, actively seek out the adjustments that will allow me to thrive. As of now, I don’t know much for certain: not what these changes will look like or when I will make them. But to that end, I think I’ll just let Winston Churchill have the last word here. To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

[Stoppage Time] The season is underway. It feels good to be in the swing of things. Preseason is long, hard, and here in Sweden…a liiiitle bit chilly. We are the favored team to win the league. So, automatically, that makes things ten times harder. We are the only team to have three wins in our first three games. But all three games were …well… hard.

To finish at the top of the table, we are going to have to find all sorts of different ways to win games. Our last two games are prime examples.

After squeaking out a 1-0 premier win against Umeå, we traveled down to Vittsjö. We played the game against, (arguably) Damallsvenskan’s most physical team, on (arguably) the worst grass I’ve played on in quite some time. In light of the pitch conditions and to minimize the risk of “bad field bad luck,” we changed our game plan to a very direct style, similar to how our opponents played. Our 2-0 win meant more to us than the box score, however, because we had to step outside ourselves to beat them at their own game.

And, then, this past weekend at home in our game versus Linköping, it was one of those games…one of those games… where you are playing really well, but can’t score. One of those games… where you are doing everything right… but can’t score.

Just moments before the end of the match, when the emotions of the game started to swell up in the stadium, I let out a deep breath and tried to remind myself, for the 1000th time, that I was sure that we were going to score. A teammate looked over to me and said, “you’re going to have one more chance” but I could see in her eyes she meant, “you’re going to score.” While the media would comment about another close game for a team that, perhaps, should be winning by larger margins (c/o Google translate and their oh-so-doubtful intonations,) the steadfast faith demonstrated by my teammates seems remarkable to me.

To remain unwaveringly confident when you’re playing against a strong opponent is no easy feat. To remain calm all the way into the final minutes of a match in spite of all of the pressure and expectations is no simple task. To ignore the soft whispers of self-doubt that grow louder as every scoreless minute passes is something of which we can be quite proud. And to score in the 88th and 91st minutes, snatching all three points… well that’s just fun!

Highlights here.

[Off The Post!] #ThatAwkwardMoment on the field when…

@knowles1313: getting sniped, missing the ball, and getting a turf burn on my face... see picture (i'm in white)

@CaitlinKyaw: scored a goal and went to hug my teammate, and both of us didn't know which way to face, and ended up kissing. Awk

@rootchino: Broken thumb, had a metal splint. Ref tied 2 big shinpads on my hand. Ran around for 90mins with a giant ghetto oven mitt :(

@dquicky: tried2 intercept a pass, foot rolled on top of th ball n i smacked myslf in th face wth my own knee, tried callin 4 a foul...

@megkuch: getting caught off sides 14 times in one game #notpayingattention #oops

@joenooft: scored my 1st career goal as sweeper the proceeded to high knee/sprint back to my spot arms in the air, holding up duces.

@suth: I was about 4 years old. While taking a breather I ended up standing in fire ants. Coaches had to strip me down on the field.
-only because I picture this happening to max. and then him running around naked.

@ANNA_gram: Corner kicks gone wrong (I'm in white)