Saturday, May 26, 2012

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Friday, May 25, 2012

[THE PITCH] Falling in love is fun. I relish the rush while preparing for the big date. Everything has to be perfect: the outfit, hair, a puff of perfume…Oh wait! I mean … the right sliders, secure ponytail, a fresh pair of socks…

As a 23-year-old with an affinity for melodrama, I have done a lot of thinking lately about the state of being single. Yes … I am alone, but I am not lonely. I celebrated last Valentine’s Day by putting in four hours at the field … romantic, I know! And when I received red roses at the game this week, I thought the universe was trying to give me an ironic sign. As it is, my days are filled with both passion and pain. Passion in the form of a renewed love for my sport; and pain, a result of giving till it hurts.  Still, when it comes to long-term relationships I have to admit football and I are deeply committed.

This only-somewhat-serious revelation -- that football has taken the place of a significant other -- occurred to me when listening to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe. The song resonated with my hopes for making the U.S. women’s national team … Call me up, maybe? Then it was Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know reminding me of my pregame jitters. How will I know if football will be good to me tonight? Even Florence + The Machine seems to be doling out advice for dealing with post-game disappointment. Shake It Out! Shake It out!  So now, like a love-struck teenybopper, every dumb love song on the radio evokes my feelings towards … no, not a significant other, not a potential first date … but my fanatical relationship with football. Awesome.

With my headphones in and a serious bounce in my step, I’m off to rendezvous at Valhalla. I let my mind wander to potential outcomes as I glide through the streets of Göteborg filled with the giddiness of young love: scoring, winning, celebrating! I often catch myself giggling out loud with excitement. Candlelight and dancing await … hmm, make that stadium lights and tackling … oh well.  

The feeling of elation after a great game is uncannily similar to the feeling after a great date, too. Breathless, there is that moment when it’s over but you just don’t want it to end. Then there is the restless night to follow that comes with trying to relive the highlights in your mind over and over again.

But sometimes football’s no gentleman. Over the last year, there have been moments when the game has seriously broken my heart. It’s let me down in the most crucial of times. I’ve gone to bed crying furious tears, claiming I’d never love again. We all know, however, the opposite of love is not hate … it’s indifference, and that is one thing I have never felt. Just like any relationship, this love takes a lot of work. So, in the morning, I’ll be back on the market… well, field.

Like the relationships of my past, this love is not stable or easy; but it can be kind and it is fueled by intense emotions. No matter how many games I lose, or game-winning shots I miss, no matter how many mornings commence with aches and pains all over my body, my pre-game butterflies are as unwavering as the hope that floats them. My belief that all my dreams will come true is ever steadfast. And my love, well … it is one for a lifetime.

[Stoppage Time] When we do it, we do it BIG. Tuesday we had a BIG home game versus Linköping -- a team considered a contender for the league championship. We came out in a new formation, but more importantly, with a new mentality. Although a 4-5-1 may appear to be a more defensive formation, we actually wanted to use the change to become a more aggressive, pressuring team.

I have voiced my fears in the past about our team’s hesitation when not "on the same page." Well over the past week, we worked even harder to come together, with multiple meetings to go over tactics. The theme for our game was decisiveness. We didn’t care what the plan was, as much as that we went into it whole-heartedly.

After endless rain in Göteborg, the sun made a powerful appearance on game day. Since the spring sun sets around 9 pm here, a good part of our game was played in heat. Being the lone forward with a main responsibility to chase down balls, I walked off the pitch exhausted. But I would suffer the hamstring cramp I experienced on my walk home any day for such a result!

We have a two-week break from games before we face the league’s giants: Malmö and Tyresö. It is great to go into this part of the season on a high note. At this point, each team in Allsvenskan has at least two losses, so it really is anybody’s championship. And it feels like the next few games will be defining moments. Perhaps it is impossible to predict what will happen on any given game day. But if it’s up for grabs, then it’s ours for the taking!

Final Score
Göteborg FC 6 - Linköpings FC 0 Highlights

Rookie For Life,


Reign... No... Rain Over Me

Friday, May 18, 2012

[THE PITCH] There I was, down on the ground, physically … emotionally. I had gone to practice early to get in a pre-practice meditation. I thought it might be nice to get "my Ohm on" at the field.

Instead, below sky of gathering clouds, I sit uncomfortably on a patch of turf at Valhalla … eerily alone. I can’t find my mantra. For those of you unfamiliar with meditation, well … first of all, I suggest you look into it … But, in the mean time, let me try to explain. The National Science Foundation estimates that the average person has about 50,000 thoughts per day and, of those thoughts, the majority, are neither new nor productive. A mantra “is a sound capable of creating spiritual transformation” (thanks Wikipedia) so… when practicing Vedic meditation, I repeat my mantra in my head, and she helps me move toward inner peace, as it were.

Currently, I close my eyes but instead of succumbing to her tranquil and soothing sound, I am bombarded by the clamor of anxious thoughts wailing for attention. Just two days after a 4-1 loss to Kristianstad, and I cannot stop re-living the three-hour bus ride home from the game. Who knew silence could be so loud? Everyone seemed so unsettled. As the wheels of the bus went round and round, so did the thoughts spinning in our heads. Frustration. Disappointment. Confusion. Frustration. Disappointment… As I sit cross-legged on the turf, I find no respite from the sudden drop in atmospheric pressure.  Where are you, mantra?

I am generally pretty good at leaving my emotions on the field as I cross the line and make my way back to real life, but this most recent loss has stuck with me. I feel like Eeyore, with my own personal rain cloud hovering above me. I cannot figure out what I could have done better. The feeling of power is enlivening, as is having a solution, or at least a plan. And I have none of these things. I am awkward without any control.

The game itself felt indomitable because I was not able to find the ball where I wanted it. I was not clicking with my team. When they zigged, I zagged.  When they played me the ball, I was standing offside. But the failure did not result from lack of effort. I was trying so hard. I was trying too hard. Too much was riding on the outcome of the game. Too much weighed on the inch difference between the shot I took that went flying off the crossbar and a golazo.

How can I fix a problem in timing, chemistry, in having experience together as a team? What tangible steps can I take to fix the intangibles? My head and heart are pounding. I need answers. I need them now.

Well its clear this meditation is not going well. Inner peace? I think I’m closer to finding my inner crazy … What’s that? Drizzle. Typical …

The rhythmic rain taps away some of my frustration and takes my mind off the game, just long enough for her to come back to me. The reemergence of my mantra lets me know that although this problem isn’t over, I can put it in the past. Twenty minutes later, I blink my eyes open. And I realize meditation in and of itself is proof that I can fix the seemingly elusive problems.

In meditation, through a supposedly simple task of closing your eyes and focusing your thoughts, you are able to control your heart rate, blood flow, and other physiological conditions. As you practice your meditation, you get better and better at regulating the things you thought were out of your control. So while I can’t instantly affect the team chemistry, the timing, the luck -- simply putting in the effort helps build the missing links. Each drill we run in practice, each day I do yoga and grab lunch together with my teammates, we get closer. Every smile shared, every high five helps to build a foundation for success and satisfaction.

As the cloud burst overhead, I sit sad and soaked. But suddenly the rain starts to feel good against my skin. And now, I am instantly invigorated. I am caught in a late spring storm. I am having a Garden State moment.

Sometimes, as one of 22 players on the field, I feel insignificant. Sometimes the game passes me by. But today my meditation has reminded me that I can control some simple things, and those things can indirectly change the game. I am not a victim of circumstance. I am not a pawn in a play. I am proactive. I am powerful. I am inspired. I must meet change with an open hand, not a fist. So maybe I don’t have all of the solutions. Maybe I don’t have the perfect game plan. But I have hope for our future -- a future where this team will really find each other, and for now, that’s enough.

[Off the Post!] My older sister Tyler and I are sitting on my big red couch in our pajamas watching some TV, when I see the time: 21.48.

“Tyler. We have 12 minutes.”

“Hurry! We have to go.”

We both get up quickly, throw on our shoes and coats, and head straight out the door.

My sister has busted out of the apartment building, and meanwhile, I am limping like I just got shot in the leg, trying to keep up. Earlier that day in practice, I got the world’s worse Charlie horse. Don’t judge: pain is pain people!

I hobble down to the local market, only to find it closed. Tyler turns back at me. “Oh my God. I have to leave you.” I watch her run down the slippery hill that I live on. And then she’s gone. “Chunky monkey!” I yell into the distance …

Tyler made it back to the apartment in a deep sweat, but with a big smile, holding two tubs of ice cream… Yes, all this in the name of ice cream, and nope, we Press girls also don’t share well.

But it gets better. Tyler informed me that, alas, we are not the only crazies out there. Lunatics unite!! She said that there were two others that came clobbering through the grocery store doors at 9:55.

According to her, she kept company with a scantily dressed older woman who purchased a single tall boy beer… and thin man in his twenties who left with two boxes of cookies and a six pack of coke.

No comment.

Rookie For Life,

Faith, Fate, Football

Friday, May 11, 2012

[THE PITCH] Although baptized in the Church, I am not the world’s most devout Catholic. I am, however, a spiritual person. In creating my own set of beliefs, I have scrutinized philosophies, challenged authority, adopted and rejected dogmas, and come to cherish a fundamental belief that I have the power to write my own future. I pick my own path and in doing so, I make my own luck. This is my creed. W.E. Henley’s eloquent words hang on the walls in my bedroom: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Lately, however, my relationship with football has challenged me to reconsider my steadfast faith in determinism. Are the forces of fatalism at work here? Is it possible that things happen for a reason unknown to me?

“Team Faith:” With little time to prepare for season in Göteborg, I have had to work actively everyday to develop what I hope becomes an unwavering conviction in the power of my team and our system of soccer.

Through recent revelations I have realized that my latest role of “rolling in the deep” puts me in a precarious position. The notion of “staying high” means not only that I must trust my team to contain the other team’s attack, but also I must play with the belief that my team will play me quality balls in dangerous places. In the past, a lack of patience and faith has drawn me deep into the midfield searching for easier balls. I am discovering how starting in dangerous positions on the field can change everything in a positive way.

Furthermore, as players we must display faith in one another, which seems to have a mutually beneficial effect. I’ve found that teams that truly trust in their game plan generally are winning teams. Something magical happens on the field when 11 players think with one mind. Coaches call it “being on the same page.” Captains call it “buying in to the system.” I call it having faith.

And while I am trying my best to keep the faith, I still proceed with caution. The operative word being "proceed," but I defer to the wisdom of the great spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi who said, “Faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into.”

“Me Faith:” My year as a professional football player has been a tumultuous one. Every year has its ups and downs, but the last 14 months have been extreme for me. Through smiling firsts and tearful lasts, full-volley goals and mental breakdowns, living simultaneously in paradise and a personal hell, my football career has stretched my limits. In doing so, it taught me to trust myself as a player. I have found one way to ground myself amongst the drastic changes and chaos that comes along with being a professional women’s soccer player: positive self-efficacy. Believing that I am a consistent player actually enables me to be one, regardless of circumstances over which I have no control. So, I look back on all of the times in my career when I thought something absolutely horrible was happening to me, and can now see how it was the perfect opportunity for me grow.

When I signed with KGFC in February, I had no clue what the football would be like, no insight into Swedish culture, no choice, and no take-backs. It was a total risk. And perhaps, like a sip of perfectly brewed cappuccino in the morning, Sweden is exactly the pleasant jolt I need in my life.

I have mentioned before that I try to leave room in my "luggage" to bring home a thing or two, but after rifling through my bags while packing and unpacking for games, camps and relocations, I have discovered that faith has been a stowaway in my life all these years.

Faith, at least in the role it plays in my life, is about trust. I’ll be real with you. When I first realized I would be unable to attend USWNT camp in May because of my responsibility to my club, I thought it was some kind of a sick joke. Perhaps the gods have conspired against me to give me the worst timing ever…

But then, you see, I have the ultimate faith in my path. Life makes no promises. I may never again have the chance to compete at camp for a spot on an Olympic team. But I’ve come to realize that this unfortunate timing is less of an evil plot to destroy me, and closer to … yupp … I’m going to say it … my destiny. This is my unique path; and as it happens, it is the road less traveled. I’m proud of that. Life is not a game of numbers, and I am sick of tallying up the probabilities anyway. With faith and a little push from the game itself, I trust that I am where I am supposed to be. Setbacks? Disappointments? I play on. For, like Michael Jordan says, “I have something more important than courage, I have patience.”

[Stoppage Time] Tuesday we played our “derby” game against local competitor Jitex. It’s safe to say I have never been a part of such a strong and emotional rivalry or held such intense loathing for a team my team has always beaten.

Ahhh! The power of emotions ... We play emotive football, and the "state" of the game often clouds the quality of our play. So, when we conceded an early goal in the game, we dropped our heads. When we let in a second, we fell apart. When we gave up a third ... well ...  I’m pretty sure everyone in Valhalla had lost faith that we had what it takes to crawl out of such a deep hole  I, personally, spent the first 80 minutes frustrated with the game and simultaneously disappointed in myself. We went on a scoring rampage for the last 14 minutes and were able to tie things up, I was so overwhelmed by emotions I could hardly form intelligible sentences.

The whole game is a blur to me now, except one final moment. When it was 3-3 in the final minute of stoppage time, the ball was served into the box and behind the defense. Playing on pure adrenaline at this point, when I saw the ball leave my teammate's foot, I decided that, despite the fact that the ball was served head high, I was going to slide the ball into the goal. What transpired was a last-ditch effort to fling my body, feet first, at a ball 5-feet high like a flying squirrel doing a karate kick. In my mind, I was so close my toe grazed the ball.

Better yet, my teammate had decided, despite the fact that she might need a full minute of “hang time” to get to the ball, that she was going to do a diving header. She started from so far behind me that I had landed on the floor before looking back to see her “flying” into me.

All I can say is we wanted to win so desperately. Talk about emotions. Talk about a comeback.

Final Score:
Göteborg FC 3 – Jitex BK 3 Game Report

[Off the Post!] This past weekend, I met my older sister Tyler in Copenhagen to kick off her 18-day trip visiting me. And although I’d like to think I rock my Canon camera like paparazzi, I’ve found that I’m not good at being a tourist. Instead of snapping a quick pic in front of the city’s most talked-about sites, we spent our weekend drinking coffee at seaside cafes, relaxing as we soaked up some precious Scandinavian sun, and tasting a wide range of local flavors. Saturday night we enjoyed a multi-course, Michelin-starred fine dining experience; while Sunday we ate a quintessentially Danish pølsevogn -- hot dogs -- from a street vendor.

To wrap up the trip, we went to a swanky bar for a late-night delectable custard desert. It was nearly midnight when a small boy, about six years old, walked into the place with his mom and posted up at a barstool. Surprised to see a child out so late at the "adult" bar, my sister leaned over to me and whispered, “This is what I don’t get about Europeans.” (Yes, we Press girls can be a bit judgmental at times.)

I, however, had no idea what she was talking about. So engrossed in my cream-a-licious treat, I had not come up for air in at least five minutes. I hadn’t noticed the mom and son come in. When I decided to take a short break from licking the bottom of my bowl, I looked up to see the boy’s mom staring at me. As I wiped off my whipped-cream beard with my napkin, her raised-eyebrows expression said exactly what she was thinking, “THAT is what I don’t get about Americans!”

Rookie for life,

Cozy in Copenhagen.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sure Press... It's Called Pressure!

Friday, May 4, 2012

[THE PITCH] When I was young, my sister Tyler and I could be found at our local tennis club swinging racquets wildly. As we chased errant balls on one side of the court, my father hovered near the net on the other side feeding us a seemingly infinite supply of balls delivered with a finite supply of patience. I was pretty good, but my ability to retrieve set me apart. As an 11 year old, I steam-rolled my way through a summer of satellite championships without ever dropping a set. And then I was told I had to play up an age group. A quick nod and thumbs up from my mom assured me that this was no problem! And initially it was no problem as I cruised into the finals, my perfect set record unblemished. “Enfuego!” my mother called me. And on a fateful August afternoon, it was very hot indeed.

Steam rose from the scorching court. I was en route to clenching the first set when my signature drop shot changed everything. The ball bounced twice on her side, the point was mine. But my opponent denied it. Suddenly, I was unnerved. I tried to play on, but I dropped the game, then the set. My first set loss. I was so upset that the tournament director awarded me a break after the set, during which my mother followed me to the restroom insisting that I douse myself with cool water, then get back out there and “destroy the little cheater.” But it was too hot…and it was too late. I was gasping for air. The pro came in and asked if I was ready to go, and before I could think, the words escaped like air out of a balloon popped by a tiny pin, “I can't breathe. I can't play.” With the nod of his head … game, set, match. It was over.

For several years, I was haunted by the memory of quitting. My dad's condemning words echoed in my head: “I didn't raise a quitter,” he said. “Losing is part of life, quitting is unacceptable.”

“Pressure” according to tennis great Billy Jean King, “is a privilege.” But to me pressure is a feeling, and it doesn’t feel like a privilege. It is an intangible weight. At its worst, it’s an unbearable anchor, at its best, a fragile balloon. Good or bad, like it or not, pressure is a significant part of both football and life. From my earliest memories, I’ve felt its presence, occasionally weighing me down, but often lifting me up. So mostly, I’ve been trying to hold on to that balloon.

Literally speaking, pressure is a necessity on the field. The first responsibility of a striker is to know when, where, and how to put pressure on the other team’s defensive line. Defensive pressure is about teamwork and communication. It just so happens that in both English and Swedish, when a player needs to communicate that it is time to step to the ball, she shouts out “Press!” I’m pretty sure you can see where this is going … I can’t tell you how many times I turned around and hollered back in frustration, “What!?” It is ironic that the one direction I should be able to easily understand can still cause confusion. Yet, my role in pressuring has changed quite a bit as I moved from a high pressure American soccer system to low-pressure Allsvenskan football.

Then, there is the pressure felt as a team… For the six games I have played here, I have taken the field filled with hope and aspiration. Don’t get me wrong, I have always experienced a pre-game "buzz," but in the past, the flutter was more a result of knowing “what was at stake” rather than excitement derived from possibility. In college, I knew what we were capable of achieving. Stanford women’s soccer was a fined-tuned machine: putting in the work, churning out the wins. Yes, I have mentioned the benefits of expecting to win. But expectation can sometimes be a burden. And we carried quite the load during my four-year career. We had to execute; there was no other option, always aware that we had to win every game to have a perfect season. Since we had the tools, there was no excuse for failure. Unfortunately, we eventually succumbed to the indelicate fangs of pressure … year after year … ending with a Pop!

In Sweden, the feeling of pressure has been replaced by promise. Instead of feeling relief in victory, we really rejoice! Being part of a growing team and focusing on the progress is actually a lot of fun … and very uplifting!

While there will always be external pressure, what both motivates and haunts me is the pressure from within. Every striker feels pressure to score, to put up stats; that is the nature of the beast. I’m sure every professional athlete feels pressure to be the best. It seems that as soon as you rise to the next level -- at the level you swore you wanted to be -- you somehow find yourself needing more. I made the team? Now I need minutes! I get playing time? Now I need to start… It is both a vicious and endless escalator.

For most of my life I have believed that, like the Nike Soccer ad, this pressure really did make me. As the ever-present motivator, pressure got me out of bed every morning, off to the gym, track, field, and on my way to my "10,000 hours." But pressure is a relentless taskmaster, sometimes refusing to let me sleep at night. It is a whisper in my ear that no matter how much I do I can always do more.

And during games, I spend 99% of my mental capacity thinking about scoring: how every situation can turn into an opportunity in front of the net. Defensive corner … counterattack! When I connect passes in the middle of the field … my touch is on, my shot will be on. When I make a tackle and win the ball … my confidence is up, my shot will go in. And that’s the scenario when I am having a good game.

However, after reading Sapolsky’s Why Zebras Don’t Have Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping, I am starting to wonder if living under constant pressure is really good for my game, let alone my health. Once again, I look to lagom for balance. 

Pressure both deflates and inflates us. Without it’s constant company, I’m not sure where I would be today.  With my new perspective I’m back at work, trying to find the right amount of helium to pump into my personal balloon. And when I get it just right, I plan to hold on tight, for I know it will be quite the ride!

[Stoppage Time] After legitimately 24 hours of travel, I returned to Sweden on the evening of Friday, April 27, only to wake up and get on the bus first thing Saturday morning to travel to our away game. During the three-hour bus ride to Örebro, I was so tired it hurt, but my eyes just wouldn’t shut. I spent the time trying to convince myself that I can do anything for 90 minutes.

Ahh, the power of adrenaline! Come game time, we took the field like champions. My dad is a big proponent of “the 6 P’s”: Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Well … I believe in “the 8 P’s” (actually, I just made this up) Proper Pressure, Patience in Possession, Plus Pride Produces Prevalence. And prevail we did! Funny thing … on the way home … I wasn’t tired at all!

Final Score:
Göteborg FC 6 - Örebro DFF 0 Game Report

Rookie for life, Christen Press