I counted in my head, “Nine…ten…eleven. Nine…ten. Nine…ten…eleven…twelve. Come on, Yael, close the gap to 19!” Marlene “Marre” Sjöberg had changed her method of beading and I had no time to stop to improve my own system. She had overtaken me. For over an our, the two of us sat forward in our seats at the table, beading bracelets with the fury one might use to restart a manual car that has stalled just as the light turns green (which is becoming an all-to-common fear for me here as a new manual driver, but that’s a story for another day!). The rest of our teammates sat back, chatting, sipping water, and beading their bracelets, sometimes even taking time to make patterns with the multicolored beads.

My Swedish team, Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC, had gone on an outing to a local charity called Ung (Young) Cancer. The organization provides support for youth who are affected by the disease, either directly or indirectly, and sells bracelets that say “F*CK CANCER” to raise money for the cause ( All I heard was that we would bead bracelets for two hours— each one 19 beads, the letters F-*-C-K, three beads, C-A-N-C-E-R, and then 19 beads again—before I furiously got to work and naturally was well aware of my production rate in comparison to everyone around me. So much for a relaxing afternoon of bracelet-making.

I hadn’t beaded a bracelet in years. The irony of the situation was that this is exactly how I would have approached the task as a seven-year-old. Growing up, there was always concern that I should be more well-rounded. My parents and I were constantly warned that it was dangerous or unhealthy for me to pursue soccer as single-mindedly as I was doing at such a young age. But with beading bracelets, or anything for that matter, I was just as fanatic.

The truth is, I’m not well-rounded at all. In part, because I approach everything I do with the same intensity. That’s the only way I know how to do things or find them exciting. I can’t really do anything “just for fun” because what makes it fun to me is the tension of always trying to do it better or be the best.

Still, seeking this ever illusive “balance” that I’m told is so important in life has been an ongoing process for me. Although counterintuitive to the very essence of my being, balance is necessary for me to have the mental longevity to play soccer at the highest level for as long as possible.

Besides my everyday reminders that balance is just not for me—for example, my inability to focus on a TV show without feeling I should stretch or foam roll or do something productive—my experience at Ung Cancer made a stark statement about my nature. While I seek balance to help relieve some of the constant angst that tugs at me to maximize my potential, my intrinsic way of being usually wins out.

I guess the irony of balance is that it is actually a very fine tension. It is the pull between the necessary forces of contentment and ambition, cooperation and competition, catering to your strengths and giving energy to improve your weaknesses, being in the moment and planning for the future.

I am absurdly focused, insanely driven, obsessed with perfection, and every other quality that if not applied to a valid discipline would end me up in a psychiatrist’s office as opposed to a soccer field. Part of finding balance in my life has been to have friends outside of soccer, spend time doing non-competitive activities, and expand my mind to new and unfamiliar areas. Finding the ideal tension between those elements and my inherent nature is an ongoing process.

And, although I am making progress, in the heat of the moment balance often gets thrown out the window. As Marre and I furiously made bracelets, the only thing balanced about the situation was the number of beads on each side of the letters.

Season update: Our team is two games into the second half of the Damallsvenskan (Swedish league) season. We have two wins, most recently 1-0 away against Mallbacken, and face LdB Malmö at home on Sunday. We are currently sitting in third place with 26 points, just behind both Tyresö and Malmö with 30.