Sometimes I wonder when I watch veterans like Christie Rampone and Heather O’Reilly — does it ever get old? What does each game, meeting each new teammate and warming up for each training session feel like to a player like that?
It dawned on me recently that I am now in that veterans category. I’m starting a season with my fifth professional club. And, no, it doesn’t get old, ever. Each time I embark on a new voyage.
Seeking New Landscapes I can be at home in New Jersey, in Russia, Sweden and now in Washington. The landscape — the situation — is not what matters. Every preseason is somewhat the same, no matter which side of the world it’s on. You meet a new set of people, are exposed to a fresh slate in terms of results and are pushed mentally and physically to prepare for the grueling demands of a full season of games. The beauty is while it’s always much the same, each time it can also be vastly different.
Having New Eyes As I begin preseason with the Washington Spirit, I look ahead with excitement at what’s to come in the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League season. Beyond the grind of weeks of double sessions — legs aching and sore, mind saturated with tactical ideas — is a full season representing a new club with new teammates led by a new coach. Most important, I finally have a teammate who sweats as much as I do. Thank you, Lori Lindsey!
A new perspective has led me to identify three ways my approach has changed since being a rookie:
■ I’m Not My Absolute Fittest I’ve always come into preseason at the peak of fitness, ready to push my body to its absolute limit and make a statement on fitness testing. Playing in Sweden opened my eyes to a different approach. There, the players take their short off-season off(imagine that!). Then they have a long preseason to build back into match fitness as a team. It’s nearly impossible to arrive at preseason in top fitness and then to maintain that throughout the entire season. It’s vital, however, to enter the relatively short and intense N.W.S.L. preseason with a solid base to be able to absorb the training load and avoid injury. My approach in this off-season was to work to get better as a player, not to prepare for preseason. Preseason is the preparation.
■ I Don’t Need to Be Best Friends With Every Teammate Playing for a college soccer team is the ultimate fakeout. I literally had 20 best friends who were all about my age and lived within two miles of me. So, naturally, I expected that every team would feel that way. It’s not that I don’t want to get along and share mutual respect with every woman on the Spirit, but I no longer feel the need to bond in quite the same way. I have some great friends on my team, and I enjoy time off the field with the group. But sometimes it’s nice to have friends who have different jobs and interests and can take the discussion away from the latest team drama and tactical concepts.
■ I’m Not Taking Total Responsibility for My Performance Because I’ve played in so many different environments and often trained on my own for months at a time in the off-season, I have often felt responsible for my own performance. Don’t get me wrong, what I produce on the field is absolutely dependent on my focus and work rate, and I will never allow those aspects to waver. But I’ve come to the point where I need help to get to the next level, and I am ready to put my development in the hands of others. I am trying to shift my focus away from myself and onto being a positive and valuable member of the team. I have bought into Coach Mark Parsons’s approach and will trust that he will provide me with the environment and feedback to improve and succeed. Similarly, I will gladly turn my physical development over to the strength and conditioning coach Kevin Boyle. I will always invest the same desire, eagerness and high standards for myself, but now I’m ready to accept help when it comes to the final product. I believe that if I invest my energy in the team, the team will buoy me.
Once again, I find myself learning to strike a new balance in a familiar situation. When I step onto the field at the Maryland Soccerplex to warm up for our home opener on April 13, I will be facing a clean slate once again. Yes, for me this is a new landscape, but my new eyes are what make all the difference.