Aug 09

I wish I knew then what I know now: Preseason

It’s been a while but I’m taking to the interweb once again, this time on the other side of the equation.

4 years ago, I picked up a coaching job with a U-9 club soccer team, and little by little, I was forced into the realization that so many of my friends had known for years: I was destined to be a coach. My junior year, I could fight it no longer and began the pursuit of my career aspirations, college coaching. Fortunately, February of final year in college, I was blessed to be hired as a graduate assistant coach at a Division II school called Valdosta State University in Valdosta, GA. I now am blessed with the ability  to further pursue two of my passions; school and soccer.

I have been down here for about a week permanently now, and our focus has been on one word. A word that has given me nightmares since I was an itty bitty eighth grader back in Crofton, MD: PRESEASON (duh, duh, duhhh). But this time, it’s all different. Instead of preparing for my fitness test, I’m preparing the fitness test. Instead of getting the gear, I’m separating and distributing it. Instead of preparing to “get on the line!”, I’m painting it. My how things change.

This change in perspective has prompted me to reflect a bit on the notion of preseason, a word that can cause so much distress and sleepless nights. (Trust me, I’ve been there).

But first, as I prepared to write this blog, I found a post that I started and never finished. It’s clear to me that I just couldn’t bring myself to actualize the moment through words because doing so would mean that it was legitimately occurring (that, or I got really busy which is totally likely). I find that sometimes, reading the last pages of a book first make the rest of the book that much more important to read, so here was the start to my last few pages:

Well, against every attempt to avoid doing so, it happened.

 

I blinked.

 

And now, I sit with my college senior night less than a hand’s worth of fingers away, staring me in the face.

 

Every year our school paints the jersey numbers of our senior class on the field at the near sideline of the stadium. It’s a really awesome tribute to the girls who have given so much of their college years to the team and to the program. Every year, I watch respectfully and sentimentally as my elder teammates, my friends, take their obligatory pictures standing by their painted number with respective friends and family. Yet, it’s easy to appreciate the motions when it doesn’t pertain to you isn’t it?

 

As they drag out the 3 and the 0 stencil this year, I wait, with a host of emotions coursing through me.

 

Wow, that could have been great if I had had the courage to embrace just what those emotions truly were. Sadness, appreciation, joy, heartbreak, regret, denial…..? The list goes on.

And now, with just four days until my first preseason on the flip side begins, I think, what emotions do I wish I had embraced for all of my preseasons? What do I wish I knew then that I know now? Here are 6 things I hope all high school and college soccer players can come to learn about preseason, so maybe, just maybe, they won’t feel their wisest in hindsight, but perhaps can take a new approach when it comes to the “misery” of preseason.

1. Nervous energy means you care. Embrace it! We don’t lose sleep over things that we don’t care about. When’s the last time you got really nervous over a movie or a party? Everybody’s nervous, but that is because you want to do your best, as you should! Don’t allow the fear to over take you, use it as fuel instead.

2. Fitness test sucks, but the fatality rate is very low (aka you’re not “like, legit going to die”). Which means, for those 15 or so minutes of your life, you may hate every second, but at the end, you’ll be breathing (for the most part) and all the better for it. Fitness test are like taxes, an annoying fact of life. But at the end of the day, the feeling of accomplishment and relief you have when it’s over is one of the greatest feelings in the world. (Trust me, ask any of my old teammates, the fact that I am still here standing after 8 season of preseason, high school and college, is a testament to the fact that anyone can survive, and even pass fitness tests!)

3. Along that same line, MYTHBUSTER: Your career isn’t over if you fail a fitness test. Does it make your life harder? Darn right. But if you want it bad enough, putting in the work to pass the test is enough of a lesson to know that you never want to fail again. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. (See #3 again.)

4. Breaking down together to rebuild stronger is a real thing. Why else would the military still be using it as standard operating procedure? Every championship team you’ve ever witnessed had a time when they were at their weakest, but what put them in the place to ultimately be successful is almost definitely the fact that in their most vulnerable moments, they made the decision to rise together and strengthen. Again, the harsh reality that preseason is a necessary evil.

5. Preseason reveals true character, not only of those around you, but of your own character. No better place to find out what you’re really made of then on fitness test rep number 6 of 8. And not just when you are struggling or succeeding. How will you respond when the person next to you threatens throwing in the towel, when they say “I can’t”? This is where camaraderie, loyalty, and true love for each other is discovered and revealed. Amazing (crazy is more like it) things can happen when you’ve got 25 people pining for the same goal.

6. Despite the fact that preseason feels like an eternity when you’re in it, before you know it, they’re all gone and you’d do anything to run just one more 120 if it meant another year of college soccer. Yes, I said it! You’d be hard pressed to find a graduated player who at one point or another hasn’t had that feeling (even if just for a fleeting moment, or in a fit of envy seeing all of the sick gear their old teammates are posting on Instagram).

 

At the end of the day, or dayas it so happens to be, preseason is like illustrating the cover of the book of your season. If you close your eyes and just get through it, the cover is just a reflection of what’s to come, a chronicle of survival. But, if you as an individual, and ultimately as a team, can truly get after it together and make it something special, just imagine what you can do when the fun actually starts. When the first chapter sets the stage right, the rest that follow is sure to be worth reading. And the ending? Well, the best part of course.

Aug 14

Reflections of a(n in denial) Senior Student-Athlete

Today marks one of many last “firsts” in my soccer career.

Last first day of preseason. Check.

Last first full field scrimmage of the year. Check.

Today: My last “first” home exhibition of the year.

When you start recognizing these things, as I’m sure many of my fellow seniors will agree, it can quickly propel you into a state of mind that can be labeled (politely) as reflective. (Others might call it panic, bitterness, sadness, denial….) And so, reflect I will.

When you’ve been doing something as long as myself and my fellow teammates, you come across your fair share of folks who question your mental state for being so committed to something so taxing. They wonder (sometimes internally, other times to your face) “What is wrong with you? It’s just a game.” They stare at torn knees, busted ankles, bruises, scars, and schedules a high-achieving CEO would admire and they  continue to inquire, “Is it worth it?”

Well, I can say there were more than a few times that I may have wondered the same thing. When I was 10 and my best best best best best friend was having a sleepover and I had to tell her I couldn’t go because I had a soccer tournament, I wondered “Is it worth it?” I wondered again as I willingly (okay, okay, semi-willingly) woke up at 7 a.m. in the Spring (our off-season mind you) to knowingly enter into torture (alright, others call it conditioning, whatever). Again the skepticism creeped in as I sat in the hospital with my third concussion in three years. As I watched teammate after teammate suffer torn ACL’s, concussions, broken bones, their words echoed in my head:

“What on earth is wrong with you? It’s just a game. Is it worth it?”

Yet, here as I sit counting down the hours to my last “first” exhibition, it is not doubt or skepticism or regret that dominates my emotions. Instead, it is thankfulness. Because when the trophies get lost, the memories begin to fade, game scores and statistics become simply numbers on a page, and when I finally hang up my cleats and my gloves for the very last time, there will be one thing that endures forever: the relationships.

Soccer brings people into your life that you would most likely never have had the chance to meet otherwise. Whether it be due to geography, or personalities, or any other normal circumstance that interferes with relationship beginnings, soccer takes fate into its own hands. I have friends scattered across the country thanks to the beautiful game. Up and down the East Coast I’ve got girls who I can say I had the fortune of playing with. From Michigan to Florida, my crazy expansive web of soccer friends and acquaintances spans time zones and generations, as does any girl you ask who’s been at it long enough. It has brought me lifelong friendships that without it, had infinitesimal chances of ever beginning.

Another amazing thing about being a part of a team is that just about every year, you’re bound to get somebody new. Whether it be one person or perhaps a big group of freshmen, you find quickly that not getting along only lasts so long when you’re trying to accomplish the same goal. Whether you truly like them or not, you learn to respect each other, and eventually, maybe against both of your better judgment, you find yourself willing to do anything for them. This is what makes a team, a team.

Sports are unlike any other groups that you could imagine. Sure, every “team” has their bonding exercises and trust falls. They have their social time and their serious time. But I bet most people in an office couldn’t tell you a time when one of their coworkers sacrificed the well-being of their body for them. Or a time when they witnessed their “teammate” in a moment of pure joy, or pure defeat.

Tears. Blood. Sweat. Victory. Defeat.

These are what make athletic teams more than teams. These are the bricks that have built the families that I have been a part of for the past 18 years of my life. These are the ties of sisterhood impenetrable to time or to distance.

And these families, the girls who I have met over the years — the ones who I have celebrated with, cried with, fought with, struggled with, lived with, learned with, and oh yeah, played with — each and every one of them are the individual reasons that remind me that I’m not crazy.

They are the reminders that no matter how much I have given to the game — physically, mentally, emotionally, temporally — it has given me thousandfold more.

So, I guess there are plenty of things wrong with me (why I else would I blissfully throw my body in front of balls flying 40+ MPH at my face?), but soccer is not one of them.

And yes, it was, and still is, very much worth it.

Apr 22

Book Review: The game and the glory

“The Game and the Glory,” an autobiography of Michelle Akers, is a story of perseverance, dedication, and triumph.

 

And that’s just the first chapter.

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Michelle Akers is a female soccer player who played for the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) from its inception in 1985 until she retired in 2000. To this day she holds records for both the USWNT as well as her alma mater, the University of Central Florida.

 

But what makes Michelle’s story so gripping is not her stats and records. Rather, it is what she had to overcome to get there.

 

In 1991, after finding herself to a point of insurmountable exhaustion, Michelle Akers visited a doctor to attempt to find out what was wrong with her. It was that year that Akers was first diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

 

According to McCleary and Vernon in a study done in 2010, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), as its name suggests, “is an illness that is marked by fatigue—a severe, incapacitating fatigue that isn’t improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity.” What’s even worse, a distinctive characteristic of the illness is “postexertional malaise, a worsening of symptoms following even very modest physical or mental exertion that can persist for days or weeks.”

 

Imagine that as a parent. Imagine that as a working adult.

 

Now, imagine that as an elite athlete.

 

That was the life that Michelle Akers faced.

 

“The Game and the Glory” takes the reader on an adventure through the mind of Michelle Akers as she deals with coming to terms with living with this crippling diagnosis. Akers shares her despair, her hopelessness, her fears, and conversely her happiness, her triumphs, and her successes while living life through these difficult circumstances. But outside of soccer, this book shows the reader Akers’ life off the pitch, including her parents’ divorce, her college years, and her struggle with faith.

 

This book is gritty because it’s real. Akers pulls no punches when it comes to how much life sucked at times. How the disease made her hate her body and life and how it would result in her shutting herself off from the people around her.

 

Yet, she was still one of the most successful women’s soccer players, and more than that, the most successful athletes of all time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83Q4PSuR34c

 

I’d go as far to say that Michelle Akers is one of the best athletes that most of the people in our generation have never heard of. She not only was one of the best women’s soccer players to play the game, but she did it while overcoming a disease that completely disables ¼ of those who are diagnosed with it. This book is a testament to the struggle that she went through, and what it took to get through something that difficult.

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As a side note, ESPN recently caught up with Akers in her post-soccer days. Nowadays, Akers actually runs a horse rescue shelter. Quite a fitting next chapter for someone who always poured out her heart to those things which she committed to.

 

Apr 17

NWSL season underway

They boys girls are back in town!

Women’s professional soccer is back.

The NWSL kicked off its inaugural season this past weekend, with all eight teams taking to the pitch for a full weekend of soccer.

The first game on Saturday (April 13) had FC Kansas City hosting the Portland Thorns to a 1-1 draw in Overland Park, Kansas. The most exciting news?

The game was a sell-out.

That’s right. 6,784 fans packed Shawnee Mission District Stadium to capacity to watch the teams battle for 90 minutes. The action started fast and furious with the first ever NWSL goal being scored in only the third minute by Renae Cuellar. Cuellar, a FC Kansas City forward, is a player joining the league from the Mexican National team. The crowd got a double dose of international flair as Christine Sinclair, the most prolific scorer in Canadian soccer, evened things up in the 66th minute off of a penalty kick.

Sunday hosted a full slate with three games all kicking off within an hour and a half time frame. Chicago hosted Seattle, Sky Blue welcomed the visiting WNY Flash, and the Washington Spirit visited the Boston Breakers for the final game of the evening.

Ties seemed to be the theme of the weekend as two of the three, and three of the four games overall ended in 1-1 draws. Only Sky Blue FC was able to come away with a win on the weekend, defeating the Western New York Flash off an own goal in the 42nd minute. Brittany Cameron, the Sky Blue FC goalkeeper, accumulated the only shutout on the weekend, earning her NWSL Player of the Week honors.

Two former club mates in Christine Nairn (SEA) and Tiffany McCarty (WAS) gave their teams goals in their games against Chicago and Boston respectively. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, neither were quite enough to get the victories, as both games ended in 1-1 ties. The two go way back, both members of the Freestate Shooters for their pre-college club days.

Another exciting start to the weekend action was the fact that all of the games were streamed live online. With this capability, fans are able to watch their hometown teams no matter where they are playing.

Overall, the women are off to a nice start for this inaugural season of the new league. NWSL and fans alike are hoping that this buzz continues throughout the entire season. Check in here every week to find out how your favorite team did!

 

Apr 09

Movie Review: ESPN Films 30 for 30 — The band that wouldn’t die

About a year ago, I remember seeing advertisements for this new series on ESPN about 30 directors creating 30 varying sports stories entitled “ESPN Films 30 for 30“. Needless to say, I waited in joyful anticipation for the release of such a series on DVD.

When the box came with Volume 1, I scanned the titles looking for those that stood out most prominently to me. I distinctly remember relegating some movie about a marching band to the bottom of my watch list. Why watch a movie about a band when there is one about Allen Iverson, one about Reggie Miller, and one about Ricky Williams?

So, about a month after I got them, I finally got around to the bottom of the barrel, and “The Band That Wouldn’t Die” came across my desk. I figured well, might as well give it a shot so I can say I’ve watched them all. I popped it in, and man did I regret waiting as long as I did to watch this movie.

 

“The Band That Wouldn’t Die” is a documentary that explores the history of the current Balitmore Ravens marching band, now called the Marching Ravens.

Most bands are simply an extended component of their team, almost like a necessary piece of tradition. They are born out of the franchise, and live and breathe by that franchise. However, this band was a breed all its own.

From 1947 to 1950, and then again from 1953 to 1984, the Baltimore Colts franchise was perhaps the most beloved team. in a sports town with little reputation to stand upon, the Colts gave Baltimore a team, their team. And in between New York and Philadelphia to the North and Washington D.C. to the South, some of the most prominent sports towns in the country, the people of Baltimore took pride and rallied behind a team who provided a pretty successful opening decade of action. But spirit reached a new level when a young guy named Johnny Unitas came along in 1957. Behind Unitas, the Colts won back-to-back NFL Championships (pre-Super Bowl era) in ’58 and ’59, and are deemed with helping launch the NFL into fame after the 1958 Championship game against the New York Giants.

From 1947 to 1984 the Baltimore Colts were a staple of Baltimore culture. And yet even through tons of coaches and quarterbacks and players, and furthermore through the period when Baltimore didn’t even have a team from 1950 to 1953, one thing remained constant. Every game the fans and players alike could count on the sounds of the Baltimore Colts’ band from the beginning of the game to the end. They were always there, even when the team was not for that short period from ’50 to ’53. Little did the Colts’ band know that soon, they would become the only reminder of the Colts for the city of Baltimore for some time.

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 12.04.33 PMOn March 28, 1984, the Baltimore Colts infamously packed into Mayflower moving vans and relocated to Indianapolis to become the Indianapolis Colts (a pithy recollection of the facts of the night can be found here). And yet, the Baltimore Colts’ band stayed. And they would stay, as a remnant of what was and an advocate of what could be. The band marched on, becoming advocates to bring a team back here to Baltimore.

Through tear-filled interviews, and tons of wonderful, authentic Baltimore accents, “The Band That Wouldn’t Die” recollects the story of one of the most important crews in Baltimore sports history. When the Ravens came to twon in 1995, owner Art Modell brought the marching band into the franchise, and renamed them to be the Marching Ravens. Back in their rightful place, the Marching Ravens are recognized as one of the best band corps in the nation, and still have the right and responsibility of performing at halftime to this day.

And those once die-hard Colts fans that composed the Baltimore Colts’ Band have now become the most loyal Ravens fans you’ll ever find. (I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that in their short history, the Ravens franchise has won two Super Bowls, and are current defending World Champions). Even still, some might wonder, how were they able to switch their long-standing allegiance from the Colts to the Ravens?

According to the Marching Ravens members,

you can heal all wounds with a fight song

Apr 04

NWSL preseason underway

The teams have taken to the field, unveiling the newest crop of women’s professional soccer here in the United States. The NWSL has decided to create a preseason lineup with their teams pitting themselves against women’s college soccer opponents. Some of the opponents include ACC powerhouses Maryland, Duke, UVA, and UNC, among other strong women’s collegiate programs like Portland, Notre Dame, and Ohio State.

 

For many of these teams, the rosters are full of players that have just finished their collegiate careers, and that is what makes this college showcase preseason so exciting to keep tabs on. The average age of the Washington Spirit for example, is 24 years of age. Most of these girls are one to two years removed from college, and this preseason was a chance for them to go back and match up against their old schools, and their old rivals. On April 3, the Spirit visited the University of Maryland, the former home of two of their players (Domenica Hodak and Skyy Anderson) and the former ACC rivalry grounds of 10 of the other players for the Spirit. Maryland came away with a 2-0 victory, but the teams played in front of a crowd of 1000, reminiscent of those ACC Championship days.

 

For the fans it has been exciting to get the chance to witness a lot of free soccer. The Sprit’s tour, “Free Spirit,” has included free admission to all of their preseason games, home and away. Attendance has reflected the excitement building for the NWSL season, with teams averaging about a 400-500 person attendance. For the coaches of both teams, it has been a great way to get an early test for their rosters as the NWSL teams head into season and the college teams prepare for their long and arduous offseason.

 

This has actually been an incredibly effective marketing strategy for the league, as they have now invited the fans of these college teams to become a part of the fan base for the professional teams. By giving them their first taste free, the fans now know what they can expect from this new league and its teams, and thus, has introduced a large crop of soccer fans into the mix of potential consumers.

 

Even more exciting, the season is beginning very soon, and this preseason lineup has helped to fuel the anticipation for the season opener which is less than 10 days away!

Mar 26

Spain Blog!

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This past spring break, our women’s team took an abroad tour to the incredible country of Spain! Check out the blog of our adventure here, complete with photos and videos!

 

 

Mar 06

NWSL team highlight series: Seattle Reign FC

NWSL Team Highlight Series

Seattle Reign FC

Head Coach:

Laura Harvey

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Stadium:

Starfire Stadium

Tukwila, Washington

Capacity: 4,500

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Team History:

The Seattle Reign FC  will be inheriting a soccer-crazed town as their home field crowd thanks to the European-type appreciation for the game that has swept the city since the 1970s. The Seattle Sounders women, who have competed in the W-League since 2001, have proven that there is a solid base for women’s soccer, and have passed some of their alumni onto the Reign, including Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe. Solo gladly returns to her home state, a Richland, Washington native and former University of Washington Husky. Competing in the Starfire Stadium, the Reign will share a home field with the Sounders, but promise to deliver the next level of women’s soccer.

 

Full USWNT Players:

Amy Rodriguez

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(Will not be playing for the reign this season, taking a season off to have a baby.)

Megan Rapinoe

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Hope Solo

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2013 College Draft First Pick:

Pick #7 Overall:

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Christine Nairn — Penn State University

 

2013 Supplemental Draft First Pick:

Pick #2 Overall:

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Nikki Krzysik — University of Virginia

Mar 06

NWSL team highlight series: Portland Thorns FC

NWSL Team Highlight Series

Portland Thorns FC

Head Coach:

Cindy Parlow Cone

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Stadium:

JELD-WEN Field

Portland, Oregon

Capacity: 20,438

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Team History:

The Portland Thorns FC are another brand new team, starting their program history with the inaugural season in the NWSL. Similar to places like Seattle and Kansas City, the Thorns will benefit from the soccer culture that has been growing in Portland with the inception of the MLS franchise the Timbers in 2009. In fact, the Thorns are the only team in the NWSL with direct MLS affiliation, sharing ownership by Peregrine Sports LLC, and more specifically, Merritt Paulson. The Thorns will also be sharing their home field with the Timbers, hosting the largest home crowd in the NWSL. With the dynamic duo of Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair up top, the Thorns have one of the most prolific scoring threats in the league.

 

Full USWNT Players:

Rachel Buehler

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Tobin Heath

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Alex Morgan

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2013 College Draft First Pick:

Pick #8 Overall:

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Kathryn Williamson – University of Florida

 

2013 Supplemental Draft First Pick:

Pick #8 Overall:

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Tina Ellertson – University of Washington

 

Feb 26

NWSL team highlight series: FC Kansas City


NWSL Team Highlight Series

FC Kansas City


Head Coach:

Vlatko Andonovski

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Stadium:

Shawnee Mission District Stadium

Overland Park, Kansas

Capacity: 6,150

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Team History:

FC Kansas City is the first team we’ve highlighted that is new onto the scene of women’s professional soccer.  Sporting Kansas City (formerly the Kansas City Wizards), the men’s side, established a solid base of soccer fandom in the Kansas City area since their inception into the MLS in 1996.  After being announced as a site for a team, the women’s team found ownership from the same owners of the Missouri Comets, the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) team of Kansas City. No surprise then that the coach who was selected to lead the women’s squad came from the Comets’ coaching pool, Vlatko Andonovski, a former Comets’ player and most recently assistant coach for the team. It will be interesting to see how this team’s cross-league promotion and connections between the MISL and the NWSL result in attendance for the club, who will be playing in one of the largest venues in the league.

 

Full USWNT Players:

Nicole Barnhart

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Lauren Cheney

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Becky Sauerbrunn

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2013 College Draft First Pick:

Pick #3 Overall:

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Kristie Mewis – Boston College

 

2013 Supplemental Draft First Pick:

Pick #6 Overall:

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Courtney Jones – UNC Chapel Hill